Yes, the digital TV transition was supposed to fix all this. TV broadcasting should have left the so-called “VHF-Low” band that includes channels 2,3,4,5, and 6. In fact at one point the hope was that all channels would go to UHF, meaning smaller and more efficient antennas for everyone. There are still a lot of VHF stations out there, but at least most have moved to the “VHF-High” band of channels 7-13 where a smaller antenna can be used.
The lower channels need a larger antenna because as you get into those lower frequencies, the waves themselves get longer, and a longer wave needs a longer antenna. In fact that’s sort of the key part of antenna design — there’s a very precise relationship between the broadcast frequency and the length of antenna that receives it best. As wavelengths get shorter, it gets easier and easier to have one antenna that does a good job for more frequencies, which is why UHF antennas can be very compact.
A little research led to a list (accurate as far as I know) of markets with VHF-Low channels. Here’s what it boils down to:
- There are 29 markets with one VHF-Low station. (Only Philadelphia has more than one.)
- The most populous market with a VHF-Low station is Philadelphia (#4), followed by Las Vegas (#40) Grand Rapids (#41) and Memphis (#50). All the rest are less populous.
- If you limit the list to just cities with VHF-Low network affiliates (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW, PBS) there are only 18 markets, of which only Philadelphia, Grand Rapids, and Memphis are in the top 50.
Of course this doesn’t mean that our friends in smaller markets are less important, but it does mean that the actual number of people who deal with this issue isn’t as big as you might think.
If you are in one of these VHF-Low markets, you have a bit of a challenge ahead of you if you want to cut the cord. If you’re in the city center, you’ll probably be able to pick up the channel you want no matter what antenna you use. Out in the suburbs you’ll have to rely on one of those old-school Yagi antennas like you see at the top of this article. It doesn’t have to be the massive 8200XL, but you will need something that’s optimized for VHF-Low frequencies.
There’s another option too, and that’s putting up a separate VHF antenna and combining it with a UHF or VHF/UHF antenna. This is often the best choice because you’ll be able to fine-tune the reception from that finicky VHF antenna and then aim the UHF antenna to get the channels you’ll need there.
If you’re not sure about which antenna to purchase, ask your friends at Solid Signal! We have a free service which will choose the right antenna or antennas for your area!