Is free TV worth what you pay for it?

By now, you probably know that most people can hook up an antenna and get dozens of channels in crystal-clear HD picture and sound. You probably also know that once you hook up that antenna, you’re done paying the cable company, period. That sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

You’re darn straight, right

Over-the-air television has been with us for seventy years and it’s been a big part of our lives. Through most of that time, it was available exclusively through an antenna. The 1990s and 2000s were the low point for broadcast TV, as cable and satellite offered so much more. But, cable companies especially got greedy. People didn’t want to pay $150 a month for what used to be free TV. People started coming back to antennas and free television.

In the meantime, technological changes in TV broadcasting meant a lot more content. In the past, most people were content with 3 to 6 channels for local TV. Now, they had 20 or 30. But are all those free channels worth what you’re paying? Or is it just a load of stuff you don’t want to watch?

Here’s the good news

Consistently, all ten of the top-rated shows on TV are available with an antenna in most areas. They’re all on broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, and that means that with nothing more than an antenna you can be watching the stuff that everyone out there is paying to see. Don’t believe me? Take a look at what Nielsen has to say. Every single show you’ll find listed at this link is on broadcast TV and fully available for free with an antenna.

It doesn’t stop there. Most areas have about double the number of local channels available with an antenna as are available with cable or satellite. You’re missing out on shows that toy remember from your youth… as networks like MeTV, AntennaTV, ThisTV and Buzzr! bring the past back to life. You’ll find channels that carry local sports, news feeds, and educational programming that isn’t carried on cable at all. If your area has a large non-English-speaking population, you’ll very likely find a lot of channels dedicated to serving that population.

No matter how you slice it, free TV is a great value

The quality is as good or better than cable or satellite, it’s not affected by rain or snow (except in really, really extreme conditions) and you’re never going to have your free TV reception ruined because your neighbor digs in the wrong spot.

It’s also easier to get a lot more channels with a smaller antenna now. Most broadcasts have moved away from channels 2-6, collectively known as “VHF-Low.” Those channels are the ones that need the biggest antenna in order to work. A lot of channels have moved to the UHF band of 14-36 where you can use a much smaller antenna to get the same results.

Antenna technology has improved, too. The invention of inexpensive, low-noise digital amplifiers means that smaller antennas have the potential to perform as well as larger ones. Even if you have an HOA or can’t put an antenna outside, most people will be able to get live TV channels with a small antenna.

So is free TV worth what you pay for it? Absolutely, no questions asked there. The only question that remains is why you’re not already shopping for an antenna at Solid Signal so that you can get in on the action!

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 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.