How to Get a Better Radio Signal

tuning radio to find a signal

These days, radio isn’t the most popular method used to listen to music, but it’s highly available and free to use. But listening to the radio isn’t without its drawbacks. Depending on where you live or where you’re trying to listen to music, whether it’s on the road or on your camping trip, you may run into issues with signal quality. In this guide, I’ll discuss how to improve radio reception, using some helpful troubleshooting tips, so you can enjoy your favorite FM radio stations, wherever you go.

How to Get a Better Radio Signal

An FM antenna is used to help achieve better radio signals. FM is a type of audio signal that’s sent via radio waves and it provides high-quality audio, with little to no static, so you’ll enjoy a clear, clean sound.

The FM signal also has many barriers, such as intermittences and walls. Because of this, it’s necessary to have an antenna, such as a directional antenna, amplified antenna, or some type of external antenna, that can help improve signal quality.

An antenna can impact everything related to FM radio waves, including sound quality. Antennas are available in a variety of designs and sizes and differ greatly, depending on the type of device they’re installed into.

Choosing the correct FM antenna and installing it in the right location is the best thing you can do to improve a radio signal.

Without buildings, mountains, or hills to impede its progress, diffraction, an FM phenomenon can cause the broadcast signal to conform to the curvature of the earth for approximately thirty miles beyond the average line of sight. Diffraction provides fringe reception or long-distance reception of the FM broadcast signal. This type of FM reception can often provide a listenable signal, however, it’s usually low audio quality and often very noisy.

Interference Impacts Radio Reception

looking for radio signal

Issues with interference can occur more often as the distance between the receiving and transmitting antennas increases.

Obstructions can include mountains, office towers, buildings, and small hills. This causes partial absorption, which reduces received signal strength.

Outdoor FM Antennas for Improved FM Radio Reception

In cases where it’s a matter of the radio signal being too far away, installing outdoor antennas may be just what you need. These antennas must be installed on the top of a building or house, then connected to the device via wires.

An outdoor FM receiving antenna that has several elements is highly directional. This means it’s more sensitive to FM radio signals that are received perpendicular to active elements, compared to signals that arrive in the opposite direction or in other angles. For an outdoor antenna, this type of directionality is ideal.

Below, I’ll go over the other outdoor FM antenna options available.

Directional Antenna

Highly directional antennas have higher gain. Gain provides better signal strength. For FM antennas, the gain is usually referenced to a basic half-wave dipole.

Directional antennas receive only radio stations that are within the defined beamwidth. An antenna’s beamwidth is the measure of the amount of directionality. Beamwidth is defined by half-power points of an angle on the front radiation hemisphere. Angles that are too great will receive the desired FM broadcast, in addition to any reflected signals from horizontal directions that can cause interference.

Omnidirectional Antennas

Omnidirectional antennas have much lower gain and lack significant directionality, but they can be adequate for certain applications.

Unidirectional Dipole

This type of large dipole antenna has two elements and offers slightly more gain compared to an indoor lead dipole FM antenna. The unidirectional antenna concentrates signal reception in one direction. This antenna can be used when desired stations are within twenty miles and in one general direction.

Turnstile

A turnstile antenna provides an omnidirectional receiving pattern. However, the turnstile has low gain in all planes.

Multi-Element Array

Another unidirectional antenna, the multi-element array can receive distant stations, thanks to its high gain. However, the gain is directional and can require rotation each time the user attempts to tune a station.

Indoor FM Antennas to Boost Radio Signals

adjusting radio settings

For suburban or urban situations where installing an outdoor antenna isn’t an option, a high-quality indoor FM antenna can provide great reception.

If you want to amplify the signal on your radio, an indoor radio antenna booster may be the way to go. However, these antennas aren’t as readily available as they once were, so you may have better luck ordering one online, since the models available in stores may be somewhat limited. Once you have the antenna, it can work wonders for your portable radio when the original antenna isn’t powerful enough.

Keep in mind, this type of antenna comes with its own set of issues.

The radiofrequency environment around and in urban areas is often packed with data and voice transmissions, FM multipath, and over modulated broadcasts, each of which is competing for airspace. This can cause interference issues.

Amplified Indoor Antennas

Most of these antennas have a tradeoff when it comes to signal to noise, which can make it difficult to receive a signal in an urban environment.

Unamplified Indoor Antennas

There are a couple of standard antenna designs that are found in unamplified indoor antennas:

  • Bidirectional dipole
  • ½ wave vertical

Both have their pros and cons and both are dipole-style antennas.

How to Receive Radio Signals to Listen to Your Favorite Radio Stations

If you want to improve your radio’s signal, first, you’ll need to find the right type of antenna for your setup. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stereo player at home or a car radio. You need to make sure you have a compatible antenna. Most systems will come with an antenna.

Next, check your radio device for an antenna input. If it has an input, but no antenna, then you’ll need to purchase one or make your own.

If you decide to make your own, use metal wire. You will need to connect it to your device’s input by making your own or using an output from another antenna. Once it’s connected, you can test your new antenna out by placing it as high as possible so you can receive signals. Then you can switch on your radio to determine whether or not the new antenna is effective.

Amplify

If your antenna isn’t strong but your FM signal is, then you can try amplifying the power of your antenna. Below, you’ll find a few ways to do this:

Attenuate if Needed

Attenuating a signal can be a great option. Attenuating is an important technique to learn, especially if your FM radio is too close to an FM transmitter.

To attenuate the signal, you’ll need to purchase an attenuator. There are many different models to choose from, however, a small inline unit that goes between the antenna and radio will do just fine. This type of device will reduce the gain from the signal, from 12dB, 6dB, or 3dB to the correct one. It’s tricky to determine how much gain reduction the radio needs to correctly capture the signal. However, with a few adjustments and some proper testing, you’ll get to the right attenuation in no time.

Keep in mind, you won’t need to use an attenuator for all radio signals, so you may need to remove it from your radio when you’re changing stations.

Antenna Connections

The antenna connection of your device is another thing that can have a major impact on radio signal reception and radio noise. The connection terminals of some antennas and the inputs in some radios can fray, rust, burn, or break. Take a close look at the connection terminals to determine if they need to be replaced or fixed. Check the connections or cables on both the radio and the antenna to determine if there is an issue.

Remove Obstacles

In some cases, your current antenna may work well and your radio may capture the signal but it still feels deficient. This may occur due to any obstacles placed around the radio such as thick concrete, a metal roof, or a wall. Keep in mind, you can always move your radio to a less cluttered environment. This means relocating the radio device to an area where there aren’t as many obstacles. An apartment balcony or your front porch are both perfect solutions. You could also place your radio close to an open window and test it out.

In many cases, the antennas the devices have are enough to capture most radio signals but because there are too many obstacles around the radio the antenna and radio do not work as well as they should.

Test the FM Frequency

Most FM radios have radio frequency testers that are designed to search the air for a radio signal.

The scanning system that tests the frequencies of the signals is referred to as a tuner. The tuner’s sole purpose is to check around to see if any signals are good enough to capture. Next, the tuner will show whether or not you can play it. Before you fix or replace anything, you may simply need to test the frequency of the signal.

Redirecting the Antenna

Whether you have an indoor antenna or an outdoor antenna, or a simple telescoping antenna, you can always redirect it to a different place and see where it gets the signal. If the antenna you use isn’t attached directly to your radio, you can move it around to a place where it can capture the radio signal quickly.

Another option is getting a rotor. A rotor is a type of kit that allows you to reposition the antenna wherever you want to. It’s especially handy with an outdoor antenna since it allows you to get the most out of your outdoor space. Here, the entire focus should be on redirecting the antenna to a location where there are no obstacles or obstructions around.

One Antenna Per Radio

Last of all, consider how many radios are connected to the antenna. It’s not uncommon for people to use several radios with the same antenna. Of course, this often ends up in a very weak signal for each radio, which makes it difficult to send the right signal. The best solution for this is to purchase an FM antenna for each radio you have. However, if you want to improve your signal without spending a lot of extra cash, you can always get a distribution amplifier.

This device distributes the radio signal coming from the antenna, sending it to different devices at the same time. A device’s amplifying capacity helps to send a stronger signal to every radio in the process. The device goes between the radios and the antenna and it’s an effective way to use an antenna to provide FM signal to stereos, TVs, radios, and other devices all at the same time.

Is Satellite Radio Better?

satellite dish

The biggest difference between satellite radio and FM radio is the broadcasting technologies used. Satellite radio relies on satellites to transmit, while FM radio is a digital extension of terrestrial broadcasting.

FM radio is only available in certain markets, while satellite radio is available over entire continents. Additionally, FM radio is free, while you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to use satellite radio

In North America, Sirius XM is the only satellite radio provider.

There are pros and cons for both satellite radio and FM radios, especially in terms of reception. Since you don’t have to rely on local radio reception and FM signals to reach your portable radio or car radio, if you live in a rural area where radio reception is very poor, then satellite may be a better option. However, you won’t be able to listen to your favorite radio station once satellite radio, which is a huge drawback for many people.

Whether you decide to stick to FM radio or sign up for satellite radio should ultimately depend on your listening and driving habits.

Final Thoughts

These days it can be difficult to improve radio reception, especially with so many technological advancements that now make regular radio use a thing of the past. However, having a radio can be beneficial in many ways and they’re still used in places where other forms of communications, such as the Internet, have not arrived yet. With these tips, you should be able to significantly boost a radio signal so you can enjoy your favorite music or FM stations wherever you go. Keep in mind that improving your radio signal can be a matter of trial and error, especially if you’re in an area full of obstacles and obstructions, or you’re in a rural part of the country where an FM transmitter is over thirty miles away. But with the right type of antenna, setup, and following the troubleshooting tips found in this guide, you can boost an FM signal and have your portable radios up and running in no time.

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