FM Reception Guide for FM Tuners, FM Antennas, Coax, and More
This guide is brought to by FM DX Antenna Co, providing the best FM reception since 2004.
You are reading this because you are interested in FM broadcast radio and it is generally for one of 3 reasons: you are an FM DXer that enjoys listening and identifying distant FM stations often that arrive to your location via skip (signals that go up from the transmitter antenna and bounce back down to the receiving antenna), you are a program listener that loves your music such as jazz, classical, or rock, or you are a combination that is trying to pick up particular programming from an FM station or stations at a distance, usually line-of-sight rather than skip.
As with any hobby there are tons of myths surrounding FM radio reception and some very knowledgable FM experts even buy into to a few myths. This guide will cut through much of that and point you in the direction you will need for great FM listening without spending a ton of money.
There are essentially 3 areas to consider when planning and purchasing your FM reception system:
The FM tuner or receiver is offered in many varieties by several electronics manufacturers.
The FM antenna is critical because it is often the least understood part of the equation. The two basic types to be considered are directional and non-directional.
Coaxial cable that runs between the FM tuner and the FM antenna is usally an after-thought but it is just as important as the other 2 areas and should be considered carefully.
Please remember, and I’m talking to you and me right now, that you get more out of your investment if you research carefully and determine your needs before making any purchases rather than just rushing out and buying the most expensive items available.
FM tuners are stand-alone units that require amplification of some sort while receivers are a combination of at least an amplifier and the tuner. Some tuners include both AM and FM and some are FM only. My preference is FM-only tuners, but there are many AM-FM combo units that are excellent and home theater receivers are very popular items today. You can see an excellent selection of new and used tuners of any variation at the following link:
I spent less than $100 on my current FM tuner (Onkyo T-4087) and it is excellent.
Two of the most notorious FM tuners are the McIntosh MR-78 and the Onkyo TU-9090MkII. These two FM tuners are known to be excellent tuners both sonically and with distant signals. However, there are better units available for less money that can be purchased easily. In fact, those 2 units are of such a reputation now that they fetch a premium price.
Specifications are always very important when considering FM Tuners. The following offers a very good explanation of the specifications to be considered when purchasing an FM tuner:
- Todd Emslie fleshes out specs mainly for FM DXers.
- Archive of Fanfare FM Tuner Specifications Explained
A site that is dedicated to vintage FM tuners but invariably discusses current tuners as well is the fantastic Tuner Information Center. Spend as much time there as you can to learn all you can about the tools of FM reception for both the program listener and the DXer.
A very popular and highly recommended current FM tuner has fantastic reception specifications, picks up HD FM and is usually less than $100 is the amazing Sony XDRF1HD HD Radio Tuner
The following is a great community for discussing FM tuners/receivers and other reception issues:
Many FM enthusiasts spend thousands of dollars on an FM tuner and completely overlook the FM stereo antenna system (coax and FM antenna). The FM antenna system will make the difference in whether you get full-quieting on an FM signal or can get an FM stereo signal vs. only a FM mono signal. The greatest, most expensive FM tuner available works no better than the FM antenna that is plugged into it.
There are many factors that have to be considered when trying to determine potential distance including FM antenna height above ground, surrounding terrain, local height above sea level, nearby noise sources and other potential forms of interference including high-power FM transmitters or ones located close-by that can de-sensitize even very good FM tuners or FM receivers. Of course, the FM broadcast station at the other end has the same sort of variations including FM transmitter antenna height, FM broadcast station power, and even FM frequency can play a factor with FM stations at 88 MHz having an advantage for distance over FM stations at 108.
THE FM RECEPTION ANTENNA you choose is very important. The best outdoor FM antennas available are large directional FM yagi antennas; any outdoor directional antenna will out-perform any non-directional antenna. The directional FM antennas require a rotator (unless your FM targets are all in one direction) and professional installation; check with a local TV shop that handles TV antennas for FM antenna installation resources. A great value in an FM yagi is the Antennacraft FM6. It has an excellent reputation and can easily be stacked for additional gain and a more narrow beamwidth which is also an advantage.
The best choice in omni-directional (all directions) FM stereo reception radio antennas is the FM reception half-wave dipole antenna available from FM DX Antenna Company. The FM half-wave dipole antenna can be mounted in an attic or closet but for best results mount it outside in the clear. The FM DX Company FM half-wave dipole actually gives the performance originally promised, but disappointedly lacking, from the end-fed FM half-wave antennas available from different manufacturers. Even if you use one of the large FM antenna arrays, you should also have an omni-directional FM antenna along with the large FM array for flexibility.
MOUNTING HEIGHT is generally the key to quality FM reception. Mount your FM antenna as high as possible and clear of obstructions such as trees, buildings, and power lines. Mounting the FM antenna as high as possible will both clear the FM antenna of nearby obstructions and it will overcome the curvature of the earth that blocks distant FM stations. In spite of the fact that longer runs of coax have higher loss, we get better signals from higher FM antennas that more than compensates for cable loss. Oddly enough, though height is usually best, certain types of FM DX (distant signals that bounce, usually off the earth’s atmosphere, but not exclusively) are picked up better with big FM antennas mounted 20-25 feet. When FM DXing, rather than trying to pick up distant stations direct, height approaches the point of diminishing returns somewhat quicker.
For an FM reception antenna inside near your FM stereo setup, your best choice is plain rabbit ears that can be tuned to the FM broadcast band; these will give the best performance in the room with your FM tuner or FM receiver. Without question, the best indoor FM antenna available is here.
An exciting offering for an attic mounted antenna has shown to work fantastic in the attic or a crawl space and is available here. It is a rhombic FM antenna that is horizontally polarized and is somewhat directional but picks up nicely in all directions but has gain over a wide beamwidth in the direction it is pointed. It is important to understand that a metal roof or metal siding on your home will block FM signals to any antenna so this must be considered when determining whether to mount your antenna inside or outside.
A fantastic amount of information on FM antennas is available at the following Web sites:
FM Antenna Coax
QUALITY COAX is very important to solid FM reception; it is a critical part of the antenna system. Coax is a source of loss of signal from the FM antenna to the FM receiver and can also be a noise introduction point. We lessen the amount of loss by running the coaxial cable as directly as possible to the FM antenna to keep the run short and buying the lowest-loss cable needed for your setting. Fortunately, with satellite TV being so common, RG6 satellite-grade cable is commonly available. This will work great for our needs in most cases. RG11 is a larger coax that has even lower loss. Do not scrimp on your coax; buy the best coax for your FM antenna setup. You have to make the decisions for your setup but my choice would be RG6 for up to 50 feet and RG11 for any runs longer than that and I absolutely get the best coax I can find; not necessarily the most expensive, but the best. Look for the coax you need at this link to quad-shield coax.
FM Antenna Connectors
FM antenna input connectors on FM tuners or receivers can be confusing so we have created a guide for these with pictures to help you to easily identify the connector on your tuner. FM Antenna Connector and Adapter Guide
FM PREAMPLIFIERS are usually not something recommended but for two exceptions: On a long coax run where cable loss can be a factor or when using a splitter and running to several different FM stereos an FM preamplifier can overcome cable loss. In the case where it is determined that an FM preamplifier is necessary, mount the FM preamp as close to the FM antenna as possible, preferably mounted just beneath the FM reception antenna. An example of an FM pre-amplifier that will work perfectly for this is this FM Preamp Booster. After using a Magnum Dynalab 205 tuned FM preamplifier for several years and, though really wanting it to work, never saw that it helped the FM tuner (Onkyo T-9090 MkII) at all. Some people have claimed that it provides a better FM signal for them and it certainly may in some conditions, particularly where the FM tuner or FM receiver are not the best, but no one really viewed as an FM DXing guru or serious FM enthusiast recommends it to my knowledge. If you have a very large investment in your FM reception system, it couldn’t hurt to give the Magnum Dynalab 205 a try, but understand the limitations ahead of time.
Each FM antenna setup is different and what works great in one setting may not work at all in another. The best investment is to get those components that have been shown to work in most settings. Your enjoyment of the FM listening hobby does not have to cost a tremendous amount. It is very easy to get excellent range and quality FM signals without too much investment though it does take research and knowledge.
An outstanding site that allows you to determine the potential for receiving an AM or FM station at any given location by Zip Code.
Another excellent resource is the Radio Locator, the wonderful database of radio stations that includes their coverage maps:
Additionally, you can search for FM signals at the following Web site: