Digital TV over-the-air reception hints

WSMV Antenna in west Nashville. (WSMV)
WSMV Antenna in west Nashville. (WSMV)

If you’re having problems receiving Channel 4 with an antenna, here are a few hints. Before you do anything else, try manually punching in channel 10. WSMV-TV actually transmits on channel 10, though the software in the TV sets displays it as channel 4. If we do come in on channel 10, do another channel scan and we should come in on channel 4 like we’re supposed to.If that doesn’t help, the most likely problem is your antenna.

Our station and PBS channel 8 broadcast on VHF frequencies. It’s like the difference between 90.3 Nashville Public Radio and 107.5 The River. Both radio stations are full-power - 100,000 watts - but NPR at 90.3 is a lot lower on the dial.

What this means for you is that channels 4 and 8 use a different part of your antenna than the other stations in town, VHF instead of UHF. Remember the old-fashioned “rabbit ears” antennas?:

The two long “ears” are for the lower VHF frequencies; (channels 4 and 8) the round “loop” in the middle is for the higher UHF frequencies (all other stations in town).


Some newer “digital” antennas don’t have ears. These antennas (which often look like flat books) will work poorly if at all on channels 4 and 8. Rabbit ears are still the best indoor antenna you can get. Luckily, they’re also inexpensive!

“Amplified” or “boosted” antennas are a bad idea in Davidson County and bordering areas.

Within 30 miles or so of our west Nashville tower, signals will be more than strong enough. Reception issues aren’t the result of weak signals - they’re the result of interference. An amplifier will boost interference just as much as it boosts the desired signals. In some circumstances, digital signals can actually be too strong. This is, of course, more likely to happen if you have an amplifier!

Again, interference is often a problem for indoor antenna reception. Keep your antenna away from electronic equipment. Computers, Internet routers, laptops and tablets can be problems. The charger for some cellphones generates considerable interference! It’s also a good idea to keep your antenna away from large metal objects. Refrigerators, filing cabinets, metal racks, etc. can cause reception problems.

Is there any new electrical equipment that was installed at the same time reception problems developed? Fluorescent and LED lighting can cause problems. Try turning it off and see if we come back.

Try moving your antenna in the room. Try tilting the ears up and down, and extending (or retracting) them. Try rotating the entire antenna. Do all this while the TV is force-tuned to channel 10.

We realize outdoor antennas are often not a practical option. Where they are a possibility, they will nearly always work better than indoor antennas. An outdoor antenna installed in the attic will often work well and avoids aesthetic concerns.


As with indoor antennas, newer “digital” antennas are not as effective as the older designs. You want an antenna with multiple “crosspieces”. Several of them should be at least two feet in length; these are the ones that will receive VHF channels 4 and 8.

If you have an old outside antenna you used for analog TV, try connecting it to your digital set. If it’s still in good condition, it will work fine.

When working on an outside antenna, be careful. There is of course always a risk of falling. There is also a risk of high voltage. Be sure to stay away from power lines.

Check the connections on your outside antenna. Make sure they’re clean and tight. Inspect the connecting cable, make sure it’s intact (sometimes animals will chew on wires). Make sure the antenna is secure. Digital TV has serious problems if the antenna is moving around in the wind.

Amplifiers or boosters are often used with outside antennas. These are a bad idea in Davidson and bordering counties. Digital signals can be too strong, and amplifiers can “overload” and generate interference on their own. Sometimes amplifiers can fail in a way that will affect only channels 4 and 8. Try bypassing the amplifier, connecting the cable from the antenna directly to the TV.


Antennas are often advertised with a reception range - “70 Mile Deep Fringe”, “40 Miles”, “sometimes as far as 100 miles.” These figures assume perfect conditions. Do not assume you’ll do that well.

WSMV engineers are not aware of any firm selling outdoor TV antennas locally in Middle Tennessee. (If you know of one, please let us know!) For installation, I’d call any reputable satellite antenna installer. The technology of satellite antennas is different, but the skills necessary to install them are the same.

Some reputable firms selling antennas online include: MCM Electronics Solid Signal Antennas Direct Channel is another resource for helping with antenna issues.

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