Problems with your antenna? Try rotating it 90 degrees

This doesn’t seem like it should work. But sometimes it does. If you’re having problems getting the great reception you want from your antenna, try aiming it waaaaay off axis. Like, try rotating it 90 degrees from the towers. When you do this, you’ll sometimes catch signals bouncing off hillsides or mountains, signals that were blocked by something between you and the towers that you can’t see.

In our Southern California labs, almost all the antennas are aimed due north, despite the fact that the towers, many miles away, are west-northwest from the lab. Old or new, not one TV antenna you’ll find in the neighboring residential areas are pointing west. It seems almost like a conspiracy.

And yet, when I started testing antennas I tried pointing north instead of west. The reception was much better! The secret? Tall hills to the north that catch the signal and bounce it back without it being caught in the buildings and trees between us and Mount Wilson.

This was a common fix in the days of analog broadcasting, because when signals bounced off nearby hills they created ghost images on the screen. Today’s TVs do a good job of filtering out this “multipath interference” but sometimes you’re still better off with a bounced signal than a direct one.

Other than pointing the antenna directly away from a program source, you shouldn’t be surprised by any results you get when aiming. Always be sure to aim not only directly at the towers but quite a bit off-axis as well. If you don’t have a signal meter that can give you really accurate results (and you don’t think this one is worth the investment) you can get reasonable results with a simple signal finder. It won’t tell you which station you’ve locked onto, but it will tell you if there’s a signal there and you can watch the lights go up and down as you rotate the antenna. Between that and the built-in meters on some TVs, it may not get you there in style but at least it will get you there.

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.