Tower Locator Blog Over the Air Digital TV

What It Is and How to Get It

How It Works | DTv Channels | Antenna's

Typical Tower Map Get free TV with just an antenna. Pickup major networks, local stations, and a growing number of entertainment channels. Over 100 TV channels are available near large cities, over 70 channels near mid size cities, and over 30 channels near small cities (top 200 market cities). The number of available channels keeps on growing.

How It Works
A Digital Television station will transmit a 3 to 1000 kilowatt signal over the air (OTA) from a broadcast tower antenna typically mounted 300 to 2000 feet above the ground. Broadcast towers are often concentrated within a 10 mile radius near or in a city. Some towers broadcast more than one TV station, each TV station broadcast 1 to 4 or more channels. Reception range varies from about 30 miles or more for low power stations to over 80 miles for full power stations.

TV Broadcast Tower
You need - an Antenna
- a Digital TV
Get - Major Networks
- Local TV Stations
- Entertainment Channels
- and More
Resolution - Ultra High Definition (4k UHD)
- High Definition (HD)
- Standard Definition (SD)
Audio - Multi Channel Surround Sound
- Stereo / Mono
Data - Program Guide
- TV Channel, Callsign, Network
- Closed Caption (CC)

Viewing Devices
Most Digital Televisions have a Digital Tuner for receiving OTA broadcast. Television's that get OTA broadcast will have a coax connector labeled "RF In" or "Antenna". Set Top Digital Tuners are available to connect to your computer / network, or monitor. Analog TV's need a Digital to Analog TV Converter to receive OTA broadcast. See Digital Television's.

All Digital Televisions (with digital tuners) can receive TV Channels in High Definition (HD) or Standard Definition (SD) using the ATSC 1.0 protocol. Televisions that are 4k / Next Gen can also receive Ultra High Definition (UHD) broadcast using the ATSC 3.0 protocol. Television stations that broadcast Next Gen 4k ATSC 3.0 signals will also broadcast HD/SD ATSC 1.0 signals on a different RF channel.

TELEVISION Resolution Standard(s)
Analog SD NTSC
Digital SD, HD ATSC 1.0
4k / Next Gen SD, HD
ATSC 1.0
ATSC 3.0
-- Standard Definition
-- High Definition
-- Ultra High Definition
-- pixels per inch
480 PPI
720, 1080 PPI
2160 PPI

Televisions with a screen size less than about 45 inches diagonal will not see much if any improvement from a UHD broadcast.

Picture Quality
Digital TV receives a perfect picture or no picture. There is virtually no or very little in between for weak signals. A signal that is weak but above the TV minimum required has as good a picture as a strong signal. Signal power just below the television's minimum the picture starts to pixilate, and quickly gets worse as the signal decreases. Just a few decibels (dB's) below the minimum the picture disappears. See TV Minimum Signal page.

Picture resolution is as good as or better than cable or satellite TV. Cable and satellite operators often compress local channels before re-broadcasting. The compression reduces picture quality. Compressing signals opens up more bandwidth and allows providers to squeeze in more channels nobody watches.

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Digital TV Channels

69-1 Network
1080i Stereo

The early Analog TV stations (1947 to 2009) used their FCC broadcast license RF Channel number as their station TV channel. One TV channel per RF channel. Digital broadcast can contain multiple TV channels in one RF channel and use 2 numbers for TV channel (Station channel - Sub channel), and another number for broadcast RF channel. Each TV station has 1 or more sub channels (e.g. 38-1, 38-2 etc.). The TV station Channel may or may not be (probably not) the same as the broadcast RF channel. During the transition from analog to digital most stations changed their RF channel but kept their old analog channel number as station channel.

-- Federal Communications Commission
-- Radio Frequency

Over the Air TV has two types of channels.
TV Channel
Main channel - Sub Channel.
• 1 or more Sub Channels.
• Also called Virtual Channel.
RF Channel
• Broadcast Channel.
• Can be from RF 2 - 51.
• FCC Licensed Channel.

Channels RF 2 - 13 (VHF) became common in 1947. Channels RF 14 - 83 (UHF) became available in 1952. Channels 70 to 83 were eliminated for TV broadcasting in 1983. Channels 52 to 69 were eliminated in 2020.


Your location and antenna are the main factors that determine the number of channels you can get. The higher the antenna is mounted (above ground level -- AGL) and the greater the antenna gain (dBi), the more signal captured. An indoor antenna will work when relatively close to a broadcast tower, within about 25 miles. Greater distances will require an attic or outside antenna.

Reception Range
Antenna Range
Indoor 25 miles
-- attic mount
-- roof mount
40 miles
> 80 miles

A TV station will transmit in either the UHF or VHF frequency band. The VHF band can be sub divided into VHF-Lo and VHF-Hi TV bands. See Television Broadcast Frequencies.

Band RF
UHF 14 - 51 470 - 698
VHF 2 - 13 54 - 216
RF 7-13
RF 2 - 6
174-216 MHz
54 - 88 MHz

Most stations transmit in the UHF band, and most antenna's are designed to receive UHF signals. Many antennas are designed to get both UHF and VHF signals. In some cases a UHF antenna will receive a VHF signal at reduced power, but still strong enough for reception.

Tower Locator Your antenna should be pointed in the general direction of the broadcast towers, and have a relatively clear path in the towers direction. TV signals are Line-of-Sight, large obstructions (hills, building, trees) can reduce or block reception. See Signal Factors.

Find towers in your area and
the direction to point your antenna.

Outdoor TV Antenna Restrictions Prohibited
-- Federal Communication Commission (FCC)
Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule

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