How do you know if you need a VHF antenna?

This is a BIG antenna. It’s not only a big antenna, it’s the biggest antenna that’s sold for consumer over-the-air antenna use. Not only that, it will pick up any kind of TV broadcast there is, plus FM channels, from distances over 75 miles in many cases.. It’s super-duper, but it’s also pretty huge — 84 inches long (that’s over two meters.) It might be the antenna you need.

On the other hand, take a look at this antenna:

It’s a lot smaller, especially front to back. It’s also a lot less expensive. Yet, it can pick up signals from pretty much the same area. Why is one antenna humongous and one much more reasonably sized?

The larger antenna picks up VHF signals much more effectively.

Back before TV went digital, almost all of the network channels in big cities were on VHF. It was mandatory in most cases. However, since the digital transition, almost all stations have moved up to UHF because you get better range with less power. (Confused about what the difference is between VHF and UHF? Check out this article.)

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it used to be to see if your local stations are actually in UHF. The PSIP system means that even though you think you’re watching channel 4, you could actually be watching channel 36. That’s a good thing because it helps you remember where your favorite stations are, and if the station changes transmitters, you just need to rescan for channels.

Almost all channels that still broadcast in the VHF band do so in the “VHF-High” range of channels 7-13. There are a few high-profile exceptions in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago but in most of the country those channels using 2-6 tend to be low power and appeal to specific groups.

The largest part of that top antenna is designed to get channel 2. The lower the channel number, the larger the antenna needed to receive it. So, in many markets, the largest part of that big antenna goes unused. Most of the action is in the small part shown on the left side of the picture at top. That’s where the UHF reception happens.

How do you know what frequencies are in use in your area?

So, that’s where the internet comes in. We prefer sites like tvfool.com to help regular folks aim their antennas, and their reports also tell you the “real” channel as opposed to the “virtual” channel. If the real channel listed is 13 or lower, that’s VHF. If it’s 6 or lower, that’s “VHF-Low” and you’ll need the really big antenna. Just make sure that you’re looking at the channel’s “real” frequency and make sure it’s a channel you really want to receive.

There’s no point in getting the largest antenna sold in the US when the channels it picks up aren’t interesting to you. Check out the TVFool report for your area. Yes, there are probably  VHF channels. But do a little more digging and they may be foreign language broadcasts for a language you don’t speak, or religious broadcasts for a religion you do not adhere to. It’s very common.

One goal of the digital transition was to eliminate all VHF broadcasting, but it didn’t quite happen. There are bound to be a few VHF stragglers out there, but ask yourself — do you really watch anything on that station? Wouldn’t you like to save a few bucks on the antenna instead?

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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.