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A Quick Way to Test Your Reception – No Antenna Required!

By Brian Shim | Updated 

Here is a way to see if you can receive digital broadcast TV signals. You can do this even if you don’t have an antenna and don’t want to buy one right now. Note this is just a test, not a permanent set up!

Before you start, type in your zip code into the Station Finder to see what channels are available in your area. If you got green or yellow channels, you can proceed. If you got only red channels or none, there are no broadcast TV signals in your area, and you won’t be able to use an antenna to get TV. But, you can use low-cost streaming TV services that are cheaper than cable.

You Will Need Three Things:

1. A TV that is capable of receiving digital TV (DTV) signals. Most flat screen TV’s made in 2006 or later have this capability. (Old tube-style TV’s will need a converter box.)

2. A length of coax cable. This cable is usually white and the ends look something like this:

Coax cable
Coax cable

This cable might already be plugged into your TV. If so, unplug the other end and leave the end plugged into your TV. Unscrew the cable from whatever it is plugged into by rotating the hexagonal cuff counterclockwise. The shorter the better in this case (a few feet is ideal).

3. An improvised antenna. Any piece of wire or cable that is not shielded or grounded can work. Here are some examples of cables that can work as a “quick and dirty” antenna:

  • power extension cord
  • lamp power cord
  • wire coat hanger (with the paint scraped off at one point so it can make contact with the coax cable)
  • piece of wire (a few feet long will do)

Here are some types of cables that won’t make a good antenna:

  • USB cable (it is shielded)
  • another coax cable (it is shielded)
  • audio cables (RCA, 1/4″ instrument, etc. These are shielded)

Now, Let’s Begin!

Take the length of coax cable and screw it into the CABLE/ANTENNA input on the back of your TV. There is usually only one plug where this cable will fit. If there is already a cable plugged in there, unscrew it at the other end and use it for this experiment.

Back of TV showing where to plug in antenna cable
Back of TV showing where to plug in antenna cable

Leave the other end of the coax cable dangling for now.

Turn on your TV and go to the setup menu to put your TV in “Antenna” mode (as opposed to “Cable” mode). This is what it looks like on my Sony Bravia:

Selecting the antenna input on your TV
Selecting the antenna input on your TV

Next, go to the menu option on your TV that says something like “scan for channels”. Here is what it looks like on my TV:

Scanning for channels on a Sony TV
Scanning for channels

Now, you’ll have to put the TV in channel scan mode while touching the center conductor of the coax cable to something that is metal to act as an antenna. It’s best if someone else does it for you, or you can start the scan and quickly hold the coax to your improvised antenna. Don’t worry, on my TV it didn’t take 30 minutes. It took about 5-10 minutes.

Get whatever piece of wire that you’re using as an antenna, and touch the metal part to the center pin of the other end of the coax cable. Here is an example using a power cord:

Touch the center conductor of the coax to a wire or piece of metal to act as a temporary antenna
Improvised temporary antenna for testing

Be sure not to touch the outer metal part of the cable to your improvised antenna, or else it won’t act like a good antenna. Only touch the center pin of the cable to your antenna!

One thing I should emphasize: the other end of the power cord should NOT be plugged into the wall or else you could shock yourself and damage your TV!! Just let the other end hang free, not plugged into anything.

Go ahead and kick off the scan while holding your improvised antenna to the coax cable. Most of the channels it found were at the end of the scan process, so don’t give up early!

Note, this is not intended as a permanent TV antenna solution, because someone will have to hold the cable while you watch TV! It’s just a test to see the minimum number of channels you can get so you can decide whether you want to try to get free broadcast TV. A real TV antenna will get you more channels.

The Results

If your TV found any channels during the test, congratulations!! You are a Cable Disabler!! You can receive broadcast digital TV for FREE!

The next step is to buy a real antenna. The setup above is just an experiment.

An outdoor antenna will get you the most channels. However, if you want to start with an indoor antenna, I recommend the Mohu Leaf (which is what I personally use).

Since this test uses a very crude antenna, you can will get significantly more channels if you go out an buy a real antenna like the Mohu Leaf. Even if you only got a few channels this way, it’s a good sign. Remember, this is just a quick and dirty “antenna” – it’s primitive and not ideal in any sense. It’s just a way to see if everything is working.

If your TV didn’t find any channels, all is not necessarily lost. You might be able to get some channels if you get a real indoor antenna (which costs $40 or so) or an outdoor roof/attic antenna. Check on my antenna section for more info on what types are available. But before buying, check the Station Finder to see what stations are available in your area.

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Brian Shim, DisableMyCable.com
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Ask a Question or Tell Me Your Story

If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. I personally read and answer each one. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story! Note, I cannot answer individual email sent to me; please leave your questions here instead. - Brian

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