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

By Brian Shim | Updated 
10/27/2021

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.

Did You Like This Article?

Brian Shim, DisableMyCable.com
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Check out my other site, thefrugalnoodle.com, with ideas on saving money and living simply.

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. 

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I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story!  Thanks! - Brian
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Jeff Carbine
Jeff Carbine
22 days ago

I appreciate it when you said that before you start, type in your zip code into the Station Finder to see what channels are available in your area. We have found a hard reception on our tv. Good to know your post will help us to find an antenna service in town. http://ritewayantennas.com.au/services/

Vincent Magallon
Vincent Magallon
11 months ago

Traced a coax drop near my tv to the outside box/splitter where my cable internet comes in. I plan on just using the cabling on this drop for an external antenna of some sort. My house faces south here in kennewick WA 99337. The box splitter is on the west side of my house. Where should I face my antenna?

Brian
11 months ago

Hi Vincent,

You have strong signals from the south and weaker ones from the southeast. Therefore, ideally, you'd point your antenna to the southeast if possible.

Best,
Brian

Debra
Debra
1 year ago

What can I buy that has a high DB gain to help boost my antenna. The signal has to come down passes over me the hits a mountain and bounces back and hits me.
Is how I get reception. In don't know how or what to to make my DB gain
stronger to pick up more channels. I live the mountains and I think I need higher BD gain to be able to receive from far away. Like 100 miles or more. I've aad three different antennas and they have worked , but few channels on most days and up to 95 other days. But that only once in a while. How can I have 95 all the time and clear not in and out ?

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Debra

Hi Debra,

An amplifier can sometimes help, but sometimes it does not good. You just have to try. I recommend the Amplify preamplifier from Channel Master:
https://www.channelmaster.com/Amplifiers_s/23.htm?Click=45690

Be sure to put the amplifier as close to your antenna as possible (i.e., not at the end of the cable near your TV), even though that may not be as convenient.

I assume you have an outdoor antenna? If not, an outdoor antenna will give you the best reception.

Best,
Brian

Diane
Diane
1 year ago

I still have direct tv. I have a dvd recorder set up, a roku set up and direct tv. I just bought 3 different indoor antennas to set up to see if I can get sling and use own antenna as opposed to paying $400 to have their antennas set up on 3 tvs. I connected one antenna but how do I check if it's working with direct tv and everything else already hooked up to my tv? I'm confused.

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane

Hi Diane,

Most TVs only have one coax input for either antenna or cable/dish, not both at the same time. So, to use both in practice, you'd need a switch like this one:
https://amzn.to/2QHOYAl

But, before purchasing this, be sure to test your antennas to make sure you get the channels you want. You'll need to unplug DirecTV, then plug in your antenna to do this test.

Best,
Brian

EricY
EricY
2 years ago

I live in ZIP 07060. That's 23 air miles from NYC. Five years ago, I cut the cord. I bought a $25 antenna and my maximum amount of channels were 72. Channels and reception were OK until a few days ago. I am using the TV anntena that's in the attic, from the apartments converted to condos. I have a new anntena that's an outdoor one, that I use with a splitter with the old TV anntena, in concert with mine, 2 anntenas, both indoors. I have an 2006 SONY Wega 37" TV. I have an analog converter box. I was getting 62+ stations, including WNYW Fox 5 NY. Well, not anymore I'm not. After the blackout in NYC and Fox5 NY warning of a rescan after August 1, 2019, for OTA users, I cannot get channel 5 no matter what I do. I have a second rooftop anntena for getting weak signals, which I open inside my condo. I cannot get Fox5 NY at all. I don't know if they moved the frequency range beyond what the analog converter will find. I do not want to buy a new HD TV just for channel 5. I'm calling the FCC on this to see if they have any advice. I've had this problem before and I was always able to adjust my antenna to receive most signals. Now I am stumped as to what occured to lose Fox5 NY.

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  EricY

Hi Eric,

Here are some reasons you might have lost channel 5:
https://www.disablemycable.com/blog/broadcast-tv-channels-disappear/

If you find the answer, please let me know what it is.

Thanks,
Brian

Tom Chuang
Tom Chuang
2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

I was kind of surprised thatI can still watch OTA TV after I took off my indoor antenna. Seriouly, CBS, NBC and a few others are in very good quality, while FOX and ABC signals are not even detectable. Still, this is very inspiring and beyond my expectation! Wow!

Bill in NW Austin, TX
Bill in NW Austin, TX
2 years ago

Is there any kind of meter available to test signal strength in order to place my leaf-type antenna in the optimal spot? Can you use two or more leaf-type antennas in different areas to improve reception?

Brian
2 years ago

Hi Bill,

I did find some broadcast tv signal strength meters on ebay and amazon:
https://amzn.to/2HbTva6

But, I'm not sure how accurate they are. I usually just connect my antenna to my TV and aim until I get reception. The thing is that an antenna location that works for one channel often doesn't work for another. So, using your TV as your meter might be the most accurate.

Yes, you can connect two antennas for better reception using a coupler. Scroll down to item #16:
https://www.disablemycable.com/blog/antenna-tips/

Best,
Brian

Sandy
Sandy
2 years ago

On my tv 50in the thing u screw in for the antenna broke off from tv order one for 70 dollars took the other one out put new one in it want pick up nothing before it broke I picked up 40 channel will I have to buy the hole pannal board no telling what that will coast

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

Hi Sandy,

Sorry to hear that. Unfortunately you might have to get that professionally repaired.

Brian

John Weedston
John Weedston
2 years ago

I did the scan and it found and listed the channels but when I select those channels all I get is channel not available. Any ideas? Thanks

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  John Weedston

Hi John,

Here are some things to try:
http://disablemycable.com/blog/antenna-tips/

Best,
Brian

Eric Beagles
Eric Beagles
2 years ago

I'm a halfway smart person, but I can't figure out this problem at all. Ever since I got rid of cable/satellite, about 5 years ago, my TV picks up 5 PBS channels as long as the coax cable is plugged into the TV. Nothing is on the other end of the coax cable. I took the Dish down but left the cable on the roof in case I ever wanted to put an antenna up. About a year ago I tried a cheap antenna that's range said 60 miles. The channels in my area are about 30 miles away. No luck. This past weekend I bought an antenna that's range says 150 miles and hooked it up. Still no luck. Yesterday I was doing some yard work and stopped to talk to my neighbor and noticed that he had the exact same antenna that I had just hooked up. I asked him if it works for him and he said that he gets 12-15 channels. Both antennas are 12-15 feet off the ground and about 50 feet apart. His works and mine doesn't. I've made sure the TV was on antenna and scanned several times. All I ever get is those 5 PBS stations that I get even with no antenna.
Any ideas?

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Eric Beagles

Hi Eric,

Yeah, antenna behavior can seem like magic at times, with no rational explanation.

Note that the "range" ratings of antennas are often bogus. There are so many factors that determine the real reception range that it's impossible to simply assign a range to an antenna.

Experimentation with position usually gives the best results. More details here:
https://www.disablemycable.com/blog/antenna-tips/

It's possible that your TV's tuner is not as good as your neighbor's, or even flat out broken. Try swapping the cable as well.

Best,
Brian

Michael Vegas
Michael Vegas
2 years ago

Hello, I am having a strange situation, I have an outdoor antenna but it is facing the opposite direction from the broadcast towers and there is nothing I can do to fix that (I live in an apartment with my windows and balcony facing North and the towers are South and only about 15 miles away) now I tried MANY antennas and found one that works somewhat, but I had to add a pre-amp and a Amp (the amp came with the antenna) now the strange things is I get almost NO channels on the TV that is about 10 feel from the outdoor antenna and a ton of channels on the TV about 30-35 feet away. I am thinking its because the pre amp and the amp is bringing a signal to strong for the TV closest to the antenna, but great for the TV furthest away. Any Suggestions? Thank you.

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Michael Vegas

Hi Michael,

It's hard to answer for sure without knowing the exact location of the amp along the cable relative to the antenna and TVs. However, there should only be one amp, as close to the antenna as possible. Try removing the other amp.

Best,
Brian

Bud T
Bud T
2 years ago

Hello Bryan, I have a new Sony and have cut the cable. I use You Tube TV, and a 15' copper wire, stripped on one end and plugged into the antenna connection for over the air. I now get the channels (27 total) I was missing on You Tube TV. My question is, would my reception or total number of channels improve by purchasing an indoor antenna. I am in zip 66216, at the top of a hill about 13 miles from most broadcast towers. Also, do you know the best/cheapest way to record over the air TV for viewing later?
Thanks

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Bud T

Hi Bud,

Based on the number of channels in your area, and the number you're getting now, I don't think you'd get a huge number of useful new channels if you purchased a new indoor antenna. You might just get more foreign-language ones that you don't really need.

My favorite recorders for broadcast TV are the Channel Master Stream+ and the Tablo. More info here:
https://www.disablemycable.com/dvr/

Best,
Brian

Cathleen
Cathleen
2 years ago

Thanks for this article. Who knew one could do this??? Very cool.

Someone gave my hubby an old 39" Samsung LCD tv and when I hooked up an antenna to it yesterday, the picture on every station was choppy and squiggly. The antenna is good, it was hooked up to a different tv and worked fine but doesn't get some stations due to not having an amplifier. In my quest to try to troubleshoot the choppy signal, I connected a coaxial cable to the tv intending to connect it through a small AV receiver I had lying around and discovered the channels were still there before I even connected the other end to the receiver. What?! Mind officially blown. Furthermore, the picture on all available channels cleared up after awhile. I turned it on again today and the air channels are still viewable and clear despite just that coaxial cable being connected only on the tv end, with the other end dangling. Only a handful of channels are coming through so I guess I will need an antenna with an amplifier for this particular tv. But how cool to have some channels without an antenna!

Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Cathleen

Hi Cathleen,

Yes, you must have some strong signals in your area! Some folks even use a paperclip as an antenna for testing purposes. Note that an amplifier does not always improve reception, in my own experience, and from hear from a lot of readers.

Best,
Brian

Alpha Beta
Alpha Beta
3 years ago

I took a length of coaxial cable, chopped off the connector at one end and stripped off about 18 inches of the braids and shields. You can leave the white foam insulation. I draped the exposed end of the cable over my TV cabinet and ran auto tune. The TV picked up 58 channels here in Reston, VA 20191. All the TV channels came in nice and clear. 4, 5, 7, 9, 26, and more. Works great. No need to buy anything.

Brian
3 years ago
Reply to  Alpha Beta

Hi,

Great, thanks for sharing!!! Yeah, a piece of wire, coat hanger, or even a paperclip can be an effective antenna if your signals are strong.

Best,
Brian

mike barber
mike barber
3 years ago

My digital tv does not have a built in signal strength meter. Can I hook up a digital/analog converter to use it's signal strength meter and if I do, does the tuner in the converter override the tuner in the TV?

Brian
3 years ago
Reply to  mike barber

Hi Mike,

If you use an external tuner, then yes, it will override the tuner in the TV. You can't just use the external strength meter with your TV's internal tuner.

Best,
Brian

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