There’s plenty of great programming on AM radio, whether it’s news, talk, or sports broadcasts.
The only problem? Reception and sound quality can be a little dubious at times. Static is a real bummer.
If you want to stop all the crackling, popping, buzzing, and hissing, though, there are some steps you can take to ensure a better listening experience. That’s what we’ll be looking at in this guide.
Listening To AM Radio – Why It Can Sometimes Be Problematic
The truth is that many stations, programmers, and content providers just aren’t aware of how popular AM radio still is. They’ve moved onto new horizons with new technologies, and as result, their AM radio coverage can be a little limited. It’s an older technology too, and that can make it prone to interference.
But a lot of people still love AM radio. It’s convenient, portable, and fun to listen to. There’s plenty of programming that’s worthwhile from a listener perspective.
If you don’t know your way around AM radio, or how it works, or why you keep hearing interference, then you may have assumed there are no solutions. The truth is there are many simple tricks and hacks that can sometimes make a dramatic difference.
In the sections that follow, we’ll be looking at several key factors that can affect your listening experience and how you can navigate those challenges.
At the end, we’ll be looking at some possible alternatives to listening to AM radio, just in case you aren’t able to solve all your problems.
Let’s get into it.
Turn Off And / Or Unplug Your Appliances & Electronics
It might sound silly, but there are multiple household appliances that are known to interfere with AM radio signals.
Most of us live in homes where many appliances and electronics are plugged in / turned on at a given time, meaning the culprit of your AM radio reception problems might have a lot to do with other household electronic devices.
If you have a portable radio and can walk around your home, you can get a better sense of which devices are ultimately affecting your radio signal just by bringing your radio closer to the electronics in question. This isn’t practical in every situation, mind you, because you might be listening to AM radio on a larger system, or it doesn’t take batteries.
But if you do have a portable radio, it’s worth going through this process to find the source (or sources) of the problem.
If you don’t have a portable AM radio, though, you’d basically need to try appliances one by one (turning them off and / or unplugging them). Before you do that, though, it’s worth pointing out which appliances are known to cause interference.
These include TVs, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, cell phone chargers, scanners, monitors and computers, incandescent lights, fluorescent lights, Christmas lights, electronic bug zappers, electric motors, ultrasonic motion detectors, and electrostatic air purifiers.
It’s worth pointing out that figuring out which device is causing the issue could be a lengthy process depending on how many electronics you keep plugged in at home. It will prove rewarding, though, if local interference is the issue.
Another key point is that, in extenuating circumstances, you might not be able to turn off interfering appliances. Aquarium heaters, hard-wired smoke detectors, automatic yard lights, or faulty electrical switches would all fall under this category. This will limit your ability to affect signal reception.
Fortunately, you aren’t between a rock and a hard place if there’s interference you can’t do anything about. Improving your radio’s signal reception is still an option. That’s what we’re going to be looking at next.
How To Boost Your AM Radio Signal Reception
There are several ways to boost your AM radio signal reception. It should be said, though, that extending your radio’s antenna won’t boost your radio’s signal. As the onboard antennae is only meant for FM radio stations, unfortunately, it won’t make a difference for your AM reception. You may have known that already, but just in case.
The mechanism that picks up AM signals is inside your radio and is usually located at the back of the unit. And since AM radio is generally directional, it would be a good idea to keep this in mind. But we’ll be talking more about the directional nature of AM radio throughout this guide.
Anyway, here are the main ways to improve the quality of your signal without spending a lot of money or making big changes to your setup:
- See if you can determine the direction of the transmitting tower. By facing the back of your radio in that direction, you may be able to improve signal quality. Antennas are directional, so they will tend to pick up signals better when facing the right direction. Note that some stations change the direction of their transmissions at night versus during the day.
- Place your radio near a window. This has been shown to work nearly 100% of the time, especially if the siding of your home cancels out AM frequencies. If, however, there are power lines right outside your window, this could cause more interference. Move your radio away from the window if it’s close to power lines or try another window.
- Play with the equalizer settings (if your radio has them). This is a method that’s been shown to work in some cases, though it will reduce your radio’s dynamic range. Simply boost the bass and turn down the treble and see if that helps. You can try other settings too. Keeping playing with the frequencies until a desired result is achieved. Not all radios come with equalizer settings.
The above steps are simple, but they can work. But that’s not all we’ll be looking at in this guide, so hang in there if you haven’t found a workable solution yet!
Other Solutions That Can Help Improve AM Signal Quality
Sometimes taking a few simple steps can reduce static and improve your radio listening experience. Of course, there are also times when none of the above will have a tangible impact on reception. Again, there are many factors that can affect the quality of your reception.
Fortunately, there are other solutions that can improve AM radio reception. They are as follows.
Find A Better Antenna
In case there was any doubt, antennas do make a big difference when it comes to AM signal quality. A better antenna will, in almost every instance, improve your listening experience. You could even say that antennas are the essence of AM radio!
Most antennas are quite affordable, though there are higher end solutions that cost more (mind you, if you’re paying several hundred dollars for an AM antenna, you’re probably buying a high-end receiver, not just an antenna). The key consideration is always quality. Find a quality antenna and you will hear a difference. If in doubt, ask the salespeople at the store.
It should be noted that not all radios accept external AM antennas. So, confirm an input on your radio unit before rushing out to the store to buy a new antenna.
These days, there are multiple antenna solutions. If a new AM antenna doesn’t do the trick, there are still alternatives that might improve signal quality.
The first is an AM radio antenna booster. If you’re DIY savvy, then you can even make your own AM radio booster (and there are tutorials on YouTube), but of course, you can purchase them in stores as well.
The second solution is a loop antenna. These are just antennas that have been fashioned into a loop, but their shape can improve reception. You can usually find them for about $30 on Amazon.
Note that even with these solutions, you can still experience interference from your appliances or electronics, so be sure to go through the above steps if you’re still having issues after upgrading your equipment. Equipment isn’t everything, but it can make a difference.
Purchase A Better Radio
I still remember the time when my cousin and I were about to play a video game on my computer. When we finally got it installed and ready to load up, it kept crashing, and even when it did work, it was too choppy and slow to be playable.
He looked at me and said, “you need a more better computer.”
Creative grammar notwithstanding, that experience taught me something – sometimes, the tech you have on hand just isn’t good enough. It hasn’t been designed to handle the load you’re throwing at it.
The point is, maybe your radio is the culprit. Maybe it just can’t do what you want it to do.
There are two replacement solutions that can improve your experience by a huge margin.
The first is a shortwave radio. Shortwave radios do work a little differently than standard radios, but they are able to pick up signals over longer distances.
The second is a satellite radio. Now, while satellite radios are undeniably better than standard radios, they will only work if the AM radio service you want to listen to is transmitting to satellite. So be sure to check before rushing out and buying a satellite radio.
Curious Alternatives & The Esoteric
We can’t confirm the efficacy of these solutions, but reportedly, they do work.
Here are a couple of outside the box solutions:
- Get an FM radio transmitter and plug it into your radio. This would involve using two radios, so the second radio receives signals from the FM transmitter.
- Timed recording. We’re not sure how this improves signal quality. But if you have programs you can’t listen to that are only broadcast during a specific time of day or night, you can record said programs with an automatic timer and radio-tape recorder.
How To Troubleshoot Your AM Signal Reception
Assuming you’ve tried everything else, and nothing has worked, it could be because there are still other issues at play. Here are several steps you can take to troubleshoot your AM signal reception.
Your Home / Construction Materials
Homes are built using a variety of methods and materials these days. The more you know about your home, the better chance you have at choosing an AM antenna that will help you listen to your favorite AM stations and programming.
Homes with a wooden frame and wood siding aren’t a cause for concern. But cement, stucco, brick, metal, and aluminum-sided buildings typically cause AM reception problems as they block the signal completely. This is one of the reasons placing your radio by a window can improve signal quality.
To figure out whether your building is the issue, take your radio outside and notice whether your reception improves. If it does, you’ve found the offender.
There are tech solutions (offered by the likes of C. Crane) that can help solve this problem, so if you’ve identified your building as the issue, buying a product like this is an option.
Weak AM Signal / Small Transmitter
The station you’re trying to listen to might not have a strong signal, and to add insult to injury, their coverage might be small too. A stronger AM radio or antenna will help to lesser or greater degrees, but there are no guarantees, and the only solution might be to move closer to the radio station. Basically, if the signal is too weak, there’s not much you can do about it.
Many stations target their transmissions to specific regions. Typically, this is done so they have the widest coverage possible in areas with larger populations.
Also know that some stations change directional patterns at night.
This is one of the reasons adjusting your radio’s location within your home can help with reception. As we learned earlier, AM signals are directional.
Broadcasting Hours / Daytime Broadcasting
It might be too obvious to say, but some stations may only be available during the day and not the night. If that’s the case, you’ll only be able to enjoy their programming during the day regardless of your radio equipment. Might be a good time to find different programming to listen to at night.
Unverifiable Coverage Claims
Certain radio stations might claim to offer complete coverage for certain towns, cities, counties, or geographical regions, but may not have transmitters in the immediate vicinity or have the signal strength required to offer such a broad reaching service.
To determine whether this is the case, call your local friends and ask them whether they’re able to tune in and listen to the station. If not, chances are the station’s claims are dubious at best.
It’s unfortunate, but outrageous claims are still sometimes used in marketing.
Ask An Expert For Additional Support & Help
There are plenty of people, just like you, who love to listen to AM radio. And, as such, they’ve probably had to endure some of the same issues you have. You’re not the only one who’s heard pure static trying to tune into your favorite AM station!
There are listeners, aficionados, and even experts out there who could offer you some support. And these people might be closer than you think.
There might be some products that could help, modifications and repairs that could be made to your radio, or even some simple tips and hacks that could end up having a drastic impact on your listening experience. Finding a great recommendation might just be a couple of emails or phone calls away.
So, all is not lost if you feel like you’ve tried everything and you’re still not able to listen to AM stations in the capacity you’d like. It’s time to start asking around to see what you can find. Chances are there is someone in your locality who can give you some needed guidance.
Local stores selling antennas, radio equipment, and the like can also be great resources, as they tend to have more experience with radio.
See If You Can Listen Online Or Purchase The Content
We know that listening to live radio can be a fun pastime. AM radios are portable, energy efficient, and convenient.
But we now live in the age of on demand content, and that means you can access whatever programming you want, whenever you want (although there is sometimes a price attached to it).
If you’re having trouble with your radio but still want to listen, then it’s worth checking the AM station’s website. Many stations now have a live broadcast. If not, they may still publish their content in podcast form on their site or even on YouTube.
Failing those options, many stations make some of their programming available on CD or other formats. Again, this information should be on their website.
Finally, if your favorite stations offer none of these options, try calling them up directly to see if they back up their programming and if you can purchase or lease it for a fee. There may be reasons why a station can’t do this, but it can’t hurt to try, right?
How To Improve Am Radio Reception At Home, Final Thoughts
Well, we hope you were able to improve your AM radio reception. It’s an older technology, so there isn’t as much support for it, but you can still find it if you go looking for it. Good luck!