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Why are you paying for cable when the channels are free?

Well, not all of them are free. But we're not kidding you: in many areas, major networks are free over the air. All you need is an antenna – you know, those rabbit-ear things that you always see in old photos and TV shows. They may look old-fashioned, but they're a must-buy for any cord cutter who wants to reclaim major network programming.

What You Get

Major Networks
Ready for some free programming?

No, you won't get 3,000 channels over the air. The Food Network doesn't have local programming, so there's no reason for them to have a broadcast station in every city. But certain channels – like CBS, NBC, Fox, and ABC – usually do have local stations, and that means that they're often available for free over the air.

This is huge news for people who can't live without prime-time programming or the nightly network news. Many of these programs aren't available on Netflix, Hulu, or any of the other streaming services. With an antenna, though, they're yours free. And don't forget about the NFL! You'll get several games a week (all the ones you could get with regular cable) over the air if you have CBS, Fox, and NBC within range. That's why we listed an antenna as one of our essential accessories for sports fan cord cutters.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but you can get an idea of which channels are within range for you by using an online tool like this one from NoCable. Tools like this can also give you a simple measure of your distance from local stations, helping you to figure out which type of antenna you need.

Which type? Yes, there are different types of antenna. But don't worry, there are really just a couple of major types – and it's pretty easy to decide which one you'll need.

How You Get It

Rabbit Ears
This little guy is your new best friend.

So what kind of TV antenna do you need? Well, that all depends on where you live. City dwellers are likely to have their own local broadcasts of CBS, NBC, and the rest of the major channels coming from nearby, and can therefore get by with a small indoor antenna. Suburbanites might have to spring for a bigger outdoor antenna. Rural residents could be out of luck entirely. Mark Heisenberg breaks it down nicely in his book My TV Without Cable:

¢€œIf the broadcast stations are within 22 miles from your location, the signal should be strong enough that you can use an indoor omnidirectional antenna. If the distance is greater than that, you may need to buy an outdoor antenna and it should be at least 30 feet above the ground to get good reception.¢€

So what does that mean?

It means that if you live in a place like New York City, you can get by with a cheap omnidirectional antenna like this one. (¢€œOmnidirectional¢€ just means that you don't have to point it at the source of the signal.) If that antenna looks cheap, it's because it is – but don't worry, it will work just fine in any major city. Hey, look, your high rent is finally paying off!

If you're more than 22 miles from your local major network affiliates – this is you, suburb-dwellers – you'll have to spring for an outdoor antenna. Just look for one with good reviews, like this RCA antenna available on Amazon.

And, finally, there's one more factor to consider. If you're too far from your broadcasters to get reception even with an outdoor antenna, there are a few things you can try. Grab a directional antenna (as opposed to an ¢€œomnidirectional¢€ one) and point it right in the direction of your nearest broadcaster. You can also look for amplified antennas, which boost distant signals to give you clearer reception.

An antenna won't work for everyone – some rural residents may find themselves out of range – but for many cord cutters, it's a godsend. So we ask again: why pay for NBC, CBS, Fox, and the rest when they're being given away for free over the air?

27 thoughts on “TV’s Biggest Channels Are Free – If You Know How to Get Them

  1. Denny's TV Antenna Source says:

    Good information! I would like to add some comments.

    When using an indoor TV antenna the distance from the broadcasting location is import but just as important is the building materials the signals must penetrate to reach the indoor TV antenna. If your home is brick, has aluminum siding, concrete walls or any signal reflecting material it will effect the TV reception.

    In addition to the major networks there are sub channels available. These channels offer news, weather, classic TV programming, movies and much more.

  2. Charles Terrell says:

    Is there a DVR that you can record OTA and OTT, such as Sling TV?

    1. FERD BERFEL says:

      I found a used VCR on Amazon for ~$50. Audio is not that good BUT it allowed me to record certain programs that were NOT transmitted on satellite or cable as well as watching hundreds of VHS recordings including home movies that I had transferred to tape (long BEFORE DVR’s, etc.).

  3. Joe says:

    Thank you for the article and information. I have that exact antenna above and receive my local channels and many others in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. I just wish I could find another internet service provider because I dislike Comcast and Verizon is too expensive.

  4. Dan says:

    I’m a Fox News junkie and I haven’t found anything other than cable to get it; any advice?

    1. James says:

      Yes. Quit watching news sources that lie. Google “FOX News lies”, see studies that have been done, THEN RATIONALIZE YOUR ADDICTION to lie.

      1. MaxEffectUSA says:

        If you don’t watch it, how do you know they lie?

        1. Evelyn Rogers says:

          Thank you MaxEffectUSA! I’d rather listen to Fox News’ so called lies any day than all the other channels lies all added together!!!!!

      2. Norma says:

        WHAT???You’re saying this on an informational feed?? WHO THE HELL CARES!!!!!!!!!!!!! People are on here because they are looking for help in watching TV without the expense of cable. Go preach your poison elsewhere.

    2. Anonymous says:

      cheapest way to get fox news…blue package on slingtv $30.00 a month

    3. JoAnn says:

      Pluto has all stations Fox, Newsmax, all kinds of old movies and new movies …British movies, cooking etc. And it’s free ..just download Pluto…love Fox. Newd

  5. Mama says:

    FOX NEWS CHANNEL is the only one that does not lie. The rest are VERY FAKE NEWS.

    1. Nan says:

      Trump lies and Fox parrots Trump. Luckily you know what’s coming!

      1. Ronald Hendrix says:

        So I just hook up this antenna then screw it into the back of the TV I am good to go

        1. Stephen Lovely says:

          Almost — after plugging the antenna in, you’ll just need to scan for channels (look in your TV’s menus for the option). Then you’ll be good to go!

  6. Robb says:

    Go OAN News, better than Fox! Get it on Klowd. Fox doesn’t like cord cutters, but if you want, try Mobdro.

  7. Robb says:

    There seems to be cypher blocks in ATT for free streaming apps. Is anybody having problems with Tubi, Mobdro, Cackle? I’ve replaced apps, reloaded, APK… Still locking up, and freezing, buffering.

  8. Frederick Nelson says:

    Is it possible to do in Mexico?

  9. Pam Fulgham says:

    Fox News was labeled entertainment because they do not want to be sued! See the video that CEO stated! Not a news station.

  10. Jesse Edwards says:

    This was insanely helpful! Thank you and God bless

  11. Sharon says:

    I want to put an outside antenna on my house and use the old coaxial cable to run it to my three TVs but I’m having a hard time finding a company to do that. Any advice?

  12. Fredrica Skov says:

    I have a roof antenna for local stations (ABC NBC etc)–we are rural and need a strong signal. But I want to use an Amazon fire stick on my TV via internet (we do have that) to get live steaming and Amazon Prime. How do I use both on my TV? Do I toggle between the two remotes, or is there something else I need to do?? This is all new to me and I need specifics. Thank you for your hep

  13. Linda says:

    Why would anyone watch Faux news, Trump people are aliens

    1. Gary says:

      Trump people are patriot’s! Period👍

  14. Mary says:

    That is not as easy as you say…please advise better

  15. says:

    What is the best set up for the most channels, for least monies, or free? Including firestick, please.

  16. Harold Demel says:

    I get many stations over the air but none of them are desirable channels. I receive all the biased channels like cbs, abc and nbc. I also get the biased npr channel. I already am paying for satellite internet connection so don’t feel I have money to spend for additional services as my budget is limited. There is one other channel but it runs everything but fnc, mostly weird dark shows. They also throw in some sports but that is not for me.

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