How to Get Basic Local TV Channels Without Cable Service

By David Weedmark

With the cost of cable outpacing inflation nearly three-fold each year, it's not surprising that so many people are looking for cheaper alternatives. In January 2013, the average price of an expanded basic cable service was $64.41 per month -- not including taxes, equipment rentals or other fees -- and the cost is still going up. Thirty years ago, everyone knew how to get free local TV. You simply attached an antenna to your TV. Today, few people seem to remember that Over the Air (OTA) signals are still around. Actually, OTA signals are better than ever. You just need an inexpensive digital antenna to get them.

Step 1

Find out if your TV has a built-in digital antenna receiver. Any TVs sold after 2007 have this built-in by law. If your TV is older than 2007, look for this information in the user manual. (If you can't find it, write down the model number and search online.) If it doesn't, you need to purchase a digital to analog TV converter box.

Step 2

Buy a basic digital flat digital antenna at your local electronics store. These are usually priced under $50. If you live more than 25 miles from the closest broadcast towers or if your TV is in the basement, you might need an outdoor antenna. These are more expensive but can be mounted on your roof, your balcony, or even in your attic for better reception.

Step 3

Connect the antenna to your TV's antenna input using the coax cable it came with. Read the antenna's instructions for the best placement, but in most cases it can lie flat on a shelf, table, or on top of your TV cabinet.

Step 4

In your TV's settings, look for the autoprogram option. The TV needs to scan for signals itself and calibrate its settings before you can get any channels. If you skip this part and just start going through the channels, you probably won't get a signal.

Step 5

Select the "Antenna" option and run a scan. It can take five minutes or so for the TV to find the available channels.

Step 6

Reposition the antenna and try again If your TV doesn't find any channels, or if it doesn't find more than one or two. TV signals can be blocked by metal objects.

Step 7

Select the "TV" input option using your remote and press the channel "+" or "-" buttons to surf through your free digital high-definition TV broadcasts. If the antenna doesn't match your room's decor, or messes with your feng shui, just tuck it away when you're not using it. Depending on the reception you may even be able to hang on the wall behind a painting -- or disguise it as a drink coaster.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you get your antenna from a store that offers free returns, get a basic flat digital antenna first. If it doesn't work well, you can take it back and get an outdoor antenna for better reception.