Can you use an indoor antenna if you’re 85 miles from the towers?


There are some folks who won’t go up on the roof, no matter what. Some people just physically can’t, some don’t have roof access because they live in a high-rise, and some people’s spouses don’t let them. Unfortunately, if you want free over-the-air TV you’ll have to decide if a trip to the roof is in the cards for you.

Why is an outdoor antenna important?

Most people who live more than 40 miles from the broadcast towers will need an outdoor antenna. There are several reasons for this. The most important is that broadcast signals get very weak once you’re that far away. There’s something called the “rule of squares” that applies to every form of broadcasting. It says, as you double the distance from a transmitter, the signal loses 3/4 of its power. At 40 miles away, a broadcast signal can be so weak that only a very large antenna can pick it up.

That’s the second part of the equation here. Large antennas will generally pick up signals better than small ones. There’s some fancy physics involved, but the bottom line here is that ideally your antenna should be the same size as the wave it’s trying to pick up. In the case of broadcast TV, that means the ideal antenna is between 3 and 7 feet wide (roughly.) If an antenna is smaller than that then it won’t be as successful in receiving broadcasts. At 40 miles plus, you need all the success you’re going to get.

Indoor antennas are for local use.

Indoor-only antennas are designed for places where the signal is nice and strong. An indoor antenna has a lot going against it. It’s generally too small, as I said in the last paragraph. It has to deal with the loss caused by the walls and wires in the building. Just passing through walls generally saps about half the signal. Even putting an antenna near a window is no guarantee of success — the same things that make a modern window so efficient actually block antenna signals. It may not make sense in your mind, but your window may actually block signals more effectively than your walls.

An indoor antenna at 85 miles?

So, it’s very unlikely you’ll get any reception at all using an indoor antenna if you’re 85 miles away. It’s not impossible, though. I hear all the time from people who say they didn’t take our recommendation, they bought a $10 antenna from the drugstore and it works “great.” I’m not sure that it really works “great” but if people are happy then I’m happy for them.

I can’t recommend using an indoor antenna at that distance because I can’t be sure it will work. However, there are all sorts of weird things about TV reception that mean it’s possible you’ll get reception at some truly remarkable distances. I’ve never gotten a TV signal from 100 miles away, not using any antenna, but I did once get KSL Salt Lake City radio while I was 100 miles away from Los Angeles. The signal could bounce off the clouds or be carried by unexpected means to your antenna a long distance away. Or, maybe you just happen to have a good line of sight and absolutely nothing between you and the towers. It happens.

Usually when I hear these stories of people getting signal at 85 miles it’s one or two channels, for a few hours every day. That’s not what I would call “great” but hey, if it’s enough for you than I’m glad to hear it.

When we recommend an antenna for you, we’re recommending one that we think will work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That sometimes means an antenna that’s bigger than what you want. It may mean an antenna that goes outdoors.

Don’t go it alone

Luckily, you don’t have to guess what kind of antenna will work for you. Solid Signal’s free antenna recommendation service is here to save the day.  Qualified technicians will review everything about your situation and recommend the best antenna for you. If an indoor antenna will really work, they’ll recommend one from our catalog!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.