BASICS Step 03: Local Channels


Back in the 50's local TV channels were it. No streaming, satellite, and no cable. And now, local channels are making a comeback. They offer local news and local programming. They have picture quality that beats all the other video services (Yeah, I said it!). On top of all of that, these channels are free.


This Step is all about if you want to have local channels or not have local channels. Local channels are your local news, sports, and the big networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX). There are three ways you can get these local channels, a TV antenna, Cable TV or Satellite TV, and finally, streaming media services. If you can live without local channels, you can skip this step and go on to the next step.

Local Broadcast Channels

These local channels are known as "Local Broadcast Channels or OTA (Over-The-Air) Channels. Somewhere in your community, town, or city, there are one or more broadcast transmitters in towers or tall buildings. These transmitters have a limited range. As you travel further away from the broadcast transmitter, the signals get weaker. Additionally, large physical barriers like other buildings, mountains, or valleys will block these signals from reaching you. So, receiving these OTA (Over-The-Air) Channels is not a sure thing.

The ideal place to start cord-cutting is to replace your Cable TV or Satellite basic channels with a TV antenna. You get rid of the monthly Cable TV or Satellite bill for the local channels, and you then get these channels free over-the-air on your antenna. Of course, you will only get the channels that are available.

😎 WordCutter: If you already get your local channels from a TV antenna and you are a happy camper, skip ahead to the next step.

TV Antenna

You already have an existing rooftop TV antenna, and it is working. You are all set. 

Cable TV or Satellite

As you already know you can just stay with your Cable TV or Satellite service to receive these local broadcast channels. Before you choose to stay remember that you are trying to save some money here. If there is any antenna solution available, you really should take it.

Streaming Media Services

Several of the streaming media services offer local broadcast channels. For example, FOX news has national and local news coverage. The local coverage is your local TV station in town. So, you can get the news for your community. This is the same for ABC, CBS, and NBC networks.

Do they have local unaffiliated TV stations? Not likely. It's just a matter of shopping around to get what you like.

😎 WordCutter: Remember, you can subscribe to more than one streaming service. You may have one for local channels and another for movies and TV shows.


Getting your local channels with an antenna is the best choice. Good picture quality (in most cases) and no monthly fee. Cable TV, Satellite, or Streaming Media Services is the second choice. You need to shop around and see what you get for the monthly price.

No antenna solution? How bad do you really want your local channels?


Existing Rooftop TV Antenna

In 2009 the FCC mandated that all TV broadcasts in the USA switch from an analog format to digital format. This had an enormous impact on older style TVs with analog tuners. You remember buying a new TV.

But the analog to digital change did not have such a substantial impact on existing TV antennas. Antennas are designed to receive specific frequencies and the analog to digital change did not change the frequencies. Confusing? Don't worry about it. I mean that your old antenna will be fine. You can tell by going outside and looking at it.

If it looks like this, you have an older style TV antenna. This is OK. If you live near the broadcast transmitters (in an urban area) the signals may be strong enough to give you good picture quality. Not. It's worth trying it out before you decide to upgrade to a newer style antenna.

You can try it out by hooking up one of your TV's to it. Use the existing antenna wire if you have existing antenna wire.

No antenna wires. Well, that's a problem. At this point, without any existing antenna wire (cable), recovering the use of your existing antenna may not your best option.

😎 WordCutter: CAUTION: Going up on the roof yourself can be extremely dangerous. Hire a professional antenna person. Seriously, losing your balance and sliding down the roof and over the edge is dangerous!

You can hire a professional antenna person. When you hire someone to test out your old antenna you might just as well replace it with a new antenna. They are going to be up there so why not replace it at the same time. You don't have any existing wiring so add that to the work order and let them run the new cables from the antenna through the attic and the house to your three TVs and to your computer. Prices depend upon how hard the job is going to be. Big houses will cost more than a small house. Outlet locations will make a difference. Flat roof vs. pitched roof and so on. New antenna $50 to $100, cable and connectors $50 to $100, labor $100 on up.

Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V TV Antenna

60+ Mile Range, UHF/VHF, Multi-directional, Indoor, Attic, Outdoor, Mast w/Pivoting Base/Hardware/ Adjustable Clamp, Sealing Pads, 4K Ready, Black – C2-V-CJM

If you do have a newer antenna on your roof or in your attic (like the one shown) and there are already cables in place, you are in business. You can test the antenna picture quality on your TV.

You need to test the picture quality as antenna reception is a tricky thing. Your neighbors may have great reception while you are not so lucky. Only by hooking it up and looking can you be sure. If the picture quality is good you are there.

You may need to move or extend the antenna cable outlets to match the locations of your three TV's and your computer. You can do this yourself. You need some RG-59 coax cable and connectors. Some RG-59 "barrel" or in-line connectors and a cable splitter. If this is not your cup of tea, it's time to call the professional antenna person.

Indoor TV Antenna

If the rooftop antenna is not an option, there still is an indoor wall-mount TV antenna option.

Winegard FL-5000 FlatWave Digital Indoor HDTV Antenna

(4K Ready / High-VHF / UHF / Ultra-Thin), 35 Mile Long Range

This style of antenna is a better version of the old "Rabbit Ears" set-top antenna. Better reception but not as good as a rooftop antenna. It is not too pricey, $20 to $40. However, depending upon the physical locations of your three TVs and a computer, you may end up buying one antenna for each location. Still not too bad (no antenna cabling required), if they give you good picture quality.

I would buy one and try it. If you like the results, you are in business.

We are done with antennas. At this point, you either have successfully brought the local broadcast channels into your home or you have not. If you were planning on using a TV antenna in the earlier planning steps, it's time to go back to the drawing board. There are Streaming Services or Cable TV solutions for local broadcast channels.

Cable TV or Satellite

Cable TV and Satellite services use signal compression to get more channels squeezed into less bandwidth. This means that your local channels may not have remarkably high picture quality as compared to an antenna signal. It's not BAD picture quality but if you plan on DVR (recording) your programs and keeping them for your digital library you may be disappointed down the road.


Personally, local channels are the best deal in town. Even after buying a $100 antenna, it's still a great deal.

ACTION ITEM: Perform a "Walking" Antenna Survey

Do you live in a good reception area? Go outside and take a walk around the neighborhood. Look at your neighbor's rooftops for TV antennas.

If you live in an apartment or condominium, you probably have a built-in house antenna system. Looking to install satellite, do you see satellite dishes on balconies?

If you see a lot of antennas in your nearby neighborhood, you are in a good reception area. If you don't see any, it's either a bad reception area or antennas are prohibited by an HOA (Homeowners Association) or other local building codes.

😎 WordCutter: Tip - There are some web sites that will tell you what off-air reception is available for your specific street address. These are engineering guesses and only an actual TV antenna will tell you the real story, but you can check them out. FCC Digital Reception Maps which will tell what's being transmitted over your house. Also "Antennas Direct" will tell you the same thing (hopefully).

Your "walking" survey will clarify your local channels options.