Dear PoPville – Antenna for TV Reception

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

Dear PoPville,

I wanted to ask you how much luck you’ve had with antenna-only reception. (HDTV but no cable) I can get a dozen channels, but no matter what I do, I have been unable to get a PBS channel. It’s particularly strange given that Howard University’s PBS-affiliate is only a couple of blocks away. Has anyone else run into a similar problem and/or have a solution?

On a related note for those who use an antenna – have you noticed that NBC 4.3 (the one that showed sports) has disappeared? Where will I watch my world cup skiing!?!?

90 Comment

  • Do you also wash your clothes in the river?

  • I receive WMPT, WHUT, and WETA all fine with my cheapie rabbit ears in Brightwood. Any small, multidirectional antenna should be able to get all local channels in DC.

  • bfinpetworth

    Flashback to 1970, my father on the roof messing with the antenna while my mother is in the house screaming out to him “bad” “better” “worse” “good”… and inevitably a major argument breaking out! There were certain times I knew it was best to just stay in my bedroom – tax preparation, putting up the christmas tree, working on the car, closing the pool, and adjusting the antenna!

    • I use rabbit ears with no roof antenna and get all the local HD channels, including PBS. I’m in Columbia Heights. Helicopters screw up the reception, oddly. No, I don’t wash my clothes in the river. I just don’t watch that much TV, and between broadcast and Netflix, I’ve never seen much need for cable. Plus, I don’t have to deal with Comcast.

      • Sorry-that was meant as a general post, not a reply to bfinpetworth.

      • Anybody who doesn’t watch TV that much would be wise to follow your lead, kenyondweller. A one-time antenna purchase, occasional loss of signal, and no bill … ever. Very smart — like wash-your-clothes-in-a-machine-smart. The no-dealing with Comcast really kicks it up a notch.

        I wish my wife and I could give up some of the crap we watch and ditch the cable bill, but we’ve yet to muster the willpower.

      • I’m pondering losing cable and just going the rabbit ears and internet route. What are my best options for paying for wireless without going through Comcast? I know there are a few options, but I’d be interested in hearing folks’ experiences.

        • bfinpetworth

          Well, if you mean getting wireless internet at home, its easy if you have the right mobile phone. I’ve got a VZ 4G Droid and added a mobile hotspot for $25 per month, and up to 5 devices can use my wireless connection at any time. Faster than Comcast broadband and portable!

  • binpetworth

    I get terrific reception with rabbit ears–about 30 channels (many HDTV). I had the same problem getting WHUT but did a re-run of the scan for all channels in the TV settings and got it back.

  • I could get only WHUT (the Howard PBS affiliate, which doesn’t seem to be on the same “Masterpiece Theatre” schedule as other PBS affiliates) and not WETA (another PBS affiliate) with my rabbit-ears antenna… but then with a different, more powerful antenna (which has to be plugged in) I was able to get WETA.

    So it’s worth experimenting with different antennas, moving the antenna around, etc.

  • To answer PoP’s question about NBC Sports Universal, that channel no longer exists. NBC rebranded the versus cable channel NBC sports. Besides adding a sports center type show and a show on Sundays that previews football they haven’t changed the existing mic of hockey and outdoor shows that had been shown on versus.

    I personally miss the bobsledding that Universal Sports showed.

  • Stores don’t even sell DTV tuners any more… I bought one a year ago for 30$ and someone stole my remote. I went to Radio Crap yesterday and they had them, but highly over priced at 60$ each. Its all a big conspiracy to get everyone to buy a new TV. The missing channels are intentional, their whole campaign was a lie.

    • They’re on Amazon for about $40. They’ve always been about $40; in fact the government handed out $40 coupons to whoever wanted them so that people could get free DTV converters. The rest of your comment makes… no sense.

    • I think a universal remote should work with the DTV converter box (although maybe not as seamlessly as the original remote would have).

  • If your antenna is too powerful and you are too close to Howard I think it is possible to over-amplify and not get the PBS channel.

    I also live near Howard and use an HD roof antenna and I get it.

    The only thing I have trouble with is occasional fuzziness on Fox.

    • T

      similarly, if the signal is strong and you’re in the city (around lots of larger buildings) you can have major multipath problems. Essentially, this is caused by the signal “bouncing” around off of the buildings. With analog TVs, this meant ghosting. With digital reception, it usually means either no picture or lots of blocking/drop outs.

  • Yes, you get HD if your TV is HD because the stations broadcast in HD.

    I put an inexpensive antenna on my roof and get a bunch of channels with awesome HD. The weird thing is I had a hard time getting WETA on my downstairs TV, but could get it upstairs. I moved my downstairs TV to a different corner and now get it fine. I have great reception, but sometimes Fox goes in and out if it’s windy outside, which is a problem during football games. Sometimes I miss a replay, but the picture is spectacular. And FREE!

  • I am not sure if I get PBS, but I was more surprised that I am unable to pick up ABC and CBS, not that there is anything much I want to watch on those stations, but I still figured they would be easy to pick up.

  • We have rabbit ears in Mt Pleasant and enjoy pretty great reception of all PBS and many digital stations. Satellites, helicopters, and some metro buses can cause stutters, but it’s free. The best antenna we have is a $15 one that I bought at Target. Save on, y’all.

  • I use a slim-profile, indoor HD antenna (in Adams Morgan) and get the PBS channels most of the time. For some reason, those do seem to be the spottier channels, with the main American networks, foreign networks, and random movie channels coming in perfectly nearly all the time.

    For those questioning whether this is possible, I’ve been using an HD antenna combined with Netflix/Hulu streaming for some time now. It’d probably be a minor adjustment for most, and the quality of the picture on the many over-the-air channels is crisper than Comcast and obviously cheaper (free). If interested in trying it yourself, you can search Amazon for HD antennas. They make them flat now and they blend in discretely with your other components. No more bunny ears.

    PoP, I hadn’t noticed that Universal Sports had disappeared, but it might have something to do with NBC merging their sports channels and promoting an ESPN alternative to cable providers. Too bad. It was a great way to catch the rugby world cup as well as the skiing.

    • I do the same. Flat white HD antenna that looks somewhat nice near the internet router, and Hulu/Netflix accounts with Roku. Haven’t had cable in more than a year, and honestly, the only thing I sometimes miss is the food porn channel, but I definitely have more free time now!

  • If you are able to install an outdoor antenna, I use the Winegard Metrostar MS-2000. Bought it from an outfit called Summit Source online. It is an omni-directional antenna, therefore you do not need a rotater. I am in Alexandria and get about 45 channels, some duplicate. This and Netflix is what I use. The local channels “over the air” are a better picture than they were when I had Dish network. is a good resource for researching antennas, and they have an app that helps you figure out what kind of antenna is best for you.

    If you need a good online program guide, I use

    Good luck! My life is much happier and I waste a lot less time since I cancelled the cable/satellite.

    • I get great quality with my cheap rabbit ears. I have read the quality of single you get that way is superior no to just dish network, but to cable. The over air broadcast are a high quality since the cable companies re-sample images and sound down to reduce transmission costs.

  • “I’ve been using an HD antenna combined with Netflix/Hulu streaming for some time now.”

    Ditto. Netflix streaming+HD through an antenna = amazing. I think I’m on about month 15 of saving $100+ a month from my cable days and honestly enjoy TV more now since basically everything I watch is on demand/no commercials, except when I’m watching sports on NBC/Fox/CBS.

  • PDleftMtP

    I have a rooftop HDTV antenna in MtP and have really crappy over-the-air reception on most of the DC stations. I think it depends a lot on where you are and what buildings are around you – we’re on the slope down toward the creek.

    • I should note that my antenna is amplified, so that may make a difference. Again, the links at are very useful to help determine what is needed. You enter in your address and it generates a map of where the transmitters are.

  • Yes you can receive HD channels with an antenna. What really matters — 1.) Giving your antenna a clear view of the sky 2.) Not having tall buildings immediately around you (more than 3 stories) 3.) Lastly, buying a decent antenna. If you can satisfy all three, you should receive 20+ channels, some in HD some in standard.

    Re: Universal Sports (channel 4.3) — call 800-GET-US-NOW

  • A related question – does anyone know if it is possible to record from Comcast cable on a regular old-fashioned VCR? I’ve asked Comcast at least 5 times, and was told – yes of course – I think so, it should be – if you hook it up right (it is – three tries with savvy friends) – and “what’s a VCR?”

    I just want to record things to watch upstairs on my little tv with built in VCR while on the eliptical.

  • I’ve been using an HD antenna and Hulu/Netflix for a while now as well. I love how much money I save. The only channel I really miss is ESPN. I miss my morning Sportscenter.

  • I’m so happy for this thread as I’ve been considering leaving the dark side of Comcast and considering this solution for quite some time. Does anyone have any suggestions on which antenna to buy? Do you still get ESPN with the antenna?

    • Oh I see the comment above me now. Is that no ESPN for everyone? That would be sad.

      • If you have Comcast as your ISP, you can watch ESPN3 on your computer, Xbox 360, and probably a bunch of other devices (Roku, AppleTV, PS 3, etc.) The selection for college sports seems to be quite good, although from what I can tell the pro-stuff is non-existent.

        For baseball and basketball, you can buy the MLB or NBA internet packages, hook your computer up to your TV, and watch them that way. While not cheap, they’re less expensive than a multiple month cable subscription. You’re mostly out of luck when it comes to out of market NFL games, though.

        • we don’t get espn, but we manage via espn3 (which we can hook up to our tv…we don’t have comcast internet, though, and i’m not entirely certain how it works) and the mlb package (which my husband normally just watches online or on his phone).

          you can also you know, go to a bar or something if there’s something you’re really desperate to watch.

        • don’t forget NHL Center Ice

        • NBA games are now available by subscription on Roku’s NBA Channel and NFL Sunday Ticket is available to stream through the PlayStation 3. NFL Sunday ticket is pretty costly at $340 for the season, but it beats the hell out of only getting Redskins and Ravens games on Sundays!

        • With the MLB internet package you’re still blocked from local market games (no Nats, no O’s). We cut the cord over a year ago and I don’t really miss it. If you use a mac, EyeTV is a usb device with software that functions as a tuner and DVR; HDMI from the mac mini to the TV, and you never have to switch inputs on the TV to go between broadcast and streaming.

        • saf

          You can’t get the Nationals that way.

      • Actually, I did manage to get a Monday night game over the internet through some huckster site, but ESPN or whoever, looks for this stuff and snips it off immediately. I made it through half of the third quarter before going blank.

  • I switched over to a laptop tuner – basically this but not as expensive

    And with Windows7 Media Center it works almost flawlessly as a DVR – I record digital programs over the antenna. It is great to be able to watch network TV and skip the commercials.

    But I’ve been pretty hard on the antenna part and it doesn’t pick up as well, so I’m in the market for a new HD antenna and welcome any additional suggestions.

  • I noticed the exact same problem and will assume that the question was also precipitated by a disheartening inability to watch Downton Abbey. I was able to finally get the Howard station but not WETA.

  • LOVE this discussion thread. I’ve already ditched cable, partly because Comcast blows, but also because the vast majority of content offered is complete and utter crap. There’s something empowering about not financing garbage like the Kardashians, ESPN college football mafia-esque racket, pretty much everything on the Food Network, or Fox News. It’s like a colon cleanse for the soul.

    Yes it means limited options for some sports, missing a few good shows, and but between Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, that’s more than enough tv for me.

    The new challenge is getting broadband other then Comcast. The options within DC are as awful as Comcast, which has a long running sweetheart monopoly on DC.

  • thebear

    I’m in west Dupont with clear line-of-sight to the TV towers up Wisconsin and get all of the DC stations (including PBS WETA and WHUT). For an antenna, all I’m using is a coiled-up piece of coax that used to connect to the cable outlet. I have been saving $135/mo since I canned Comcrap in 2009. I can’t get MPT or any of the Baltimore stations that some friends on the east side of town can.

  • A $10 RCA antenna from Best Buy (loop + rabbit ears) works great in my Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights apt for probably 20+ free channels including multiple PBS stations

  • So glad to know how many folks are doing this. We took the plunge a year ago and haven’t looked back. We are in a rowhouse in north country and use rabbit ears bought on Amazon for den tv – didn’t even bother getting them for basement tv. We don’t have luck with WETA but most times get WHUT. We have intermittent problems with Fox. We use Verizon DSL (wireless to roku) to stream both TVs. We encounter a few problems trying to stream the two at once, but the need to actually do this is rare. Yes, I sorely miss ESPN but for the amount of sports I NEED to watch, I can go to a friends or to a bar. So sad to hear I can’t continue my fascination with Rugby. Dang! For those on the fence on pulling the cable/dish plug, DO IT. It’s just as freeing as stopping smoking. Spend your $ on what you want – not on what they feed you. It’s easy.

  • To expand on the discussion but hopefully not go too far off track:
    If you love having a DVR and want to record stuff, look at Tivo Premier. It works with an antenna so you can record off-air, plus it has streaming functions (Netflix, HuluPlus, Pandora etc., etc.). The downside is you still have to pay for a monthly Tivo subscription.

    Another option for recording off-air is the magnavox mdr515h, which is a DVR that you program by time (just like an old VCR), but no fees. One shortcoming for some people is that it records in SD not HD, but I use it and love it.

    • Thanks for the info on the programmable DVR. I refuse to subscribe to TiVo; it’s good to know there’s a non-VCR recording option that doesn’t require a subscription.

  • Television is teh Satan.

  • I just boguht the Leaf Plus Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna on Amazon and it works great.

  • Antenna value proposition:

    “A $30 device that allows you to steam real-time TV in high definition with no monthly fees….ever!”

  • Ditched cable several years ago too. WETA was finicky at my old apartment but it was a garden level unit. I ran a coax cable out to our patio and put the antenna outside. I got my antenna at the 17th street hardware store across from Safeway and it works fine. I think it’s a RCA ANT1400 (google it and it’s under 20 bucks). Now I’m on a 3rd floor condo in AdMo and don’t have much trouble getting reception. Bottom line is it helps to put the antenna outside or as close to outside or next to a window if you’re not on a higher floor. Also to see the channels you can get, check out

  • This is such an interesting thread. I live on the top (8th floor) of a bldg in Adams Morgan with no taller buildings nearby and I use one of the flat antennas you can buy at Best Buy for $30. Strangely, while I get MPT-PBS clear as a bell, I often have problems with WETA and Howard’s stations. Similarly for some reason I get many MD network stations more clearly than DC’s stations, ie., Channel 2 ABC (MD) instead of Channel 7 (DC). I’ve often wondered why that is and I now wonder if it caused by what others have described as the “bouncing” effect of a too strong signal. Anyway, even with the hassles, I get plenty of channels, and love not having to deal with Comcast or pay a cable bill. i would highly recommend it.

  • I too am so glad for this posting as I am planning on getting a new tv just to get rid of cable. I want to get a roku and then an antenna.

    My question relates to antenna and tv location. My tv is located in the basement, does anyone have their’s set up in the basement and use an antenna…do you get reception in the basement? thx

  • I’ve used an amplified indoor antenna for nearly a year. I’m on the first floor of a 2-story apt. Once in a while I get a little digital static. I get all of the local stations plus their digital channels with about 95% reliability. The antenna cost me $40. Bye-bye cable bill.

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