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WKHR Chief Engineer Bill Weisinger's

Technical Articles for the Average Listener


by William Weisinger Eng Svcs




A Guide to a Better FM 91-5 Signal

Chapter One - Why YOU can hear 91-5 in your car - but NOT at home.

You may find it frustrating to hear FM 91-5 right into your driveway and then, in the your own living room and on all your home receivers, there's nothing to be heard but static.

The reasons for this involve several factors. First and foremost, automobile radios are optimized radio systems designed for pulling in stations on the move, often from weak stations with widely varying signal strengths. Then toss in the concept that your basic home radio is (how can I put this gently), nothing too terriffic (and that was most gentle).

Back to basics for a second. The two basic elements of a superior receiving system are the tuner and the antenna. The weakest links in home receivers are typically, the tuner and the antenna. Add to this mix some home-generated electronic noise, electronic shading from metallic surroundings, added to your poorly designed home tuner, armed with a poor antenna, trying to pull in a weak FM 91-5 signal and your listening pleasure is going to be in serious trouble.

So the answer to better home reception involves either running audio cabling from your car into the home (not a likely scenario), or bolster the home antenna system, home tuner or hopefully both.

Unfortunately, most home receivers are designed to receive only the most powerful local stations using an AC "line-cord" antenna or at best a telescoping FM whip antenna. Some higher quality home stereo component tuners and receivers do have separate antenna connectors on the rear of the radio, but all too often the owners fail to utilize this critical connection. These connectors are often also connected to either a "line-cord" antenna or a dangling wire used for FM reception. This antenna situation will render a decent tuner's chance of pulling in weaker stations such as FM 91-5 dismal at best.

So what's an FM 91-5 listener to do?

First, if your receiver has those antenna connections, try to connect a better FM antenna to that receiver. No matter how good the tuner, it's only as good as the antenna used to capture those weak signals. But, be careful here, sometimes a high price tag is NOT necessarily the best antenna buy. The same is true of some highly publicized receivers.

If all you currently have are those typical AM/FM receivers that doesn't allow you that external antenna option, you may have to upgrade both the receiver and the antenna.

Now for the cliffhanger....

If you would like a few of my personal recommendations on both affordable and high performance antennas and receivers, then stay tuned for chapters 2 and 3 of this series, "The Better Antenna System" and "the Better Receiver."



The Better FM 91-5 Receive Antenna System

I'll presume that if you feel the need for a better FM antenna system, then either you're not receiving FM 91-5 very well or perhaps not receiving it at all. If you can pull in the station on your car radio outside your home, then all isn't lost for quality home reception. The first step is to give your receiver a good fighting chance by connecting the best antenna possible for your situation.

Home FM Antennas come in two basic flavors: the outdoor and the indoor. Then each flavor antenna comes with several options. There are amplified and passive (non-amplified) as well as directional and non-directional antennas.

A major consideration with FM antennas is height. Since FM signals are essentially line-of-sight, the higher the antenna above ground (or average terrain), the better your long-range reception.

Finally, you have to consider how long the cable is between your antenna and the receiver and the type of cable used. Generally a "TV" type coaxial cable is suitable for most FM receiver antenna installations as long as the cable run is about 75 feet (or less). In this case, less is better.

First, let's consider an outdoor-type FM antenna system. This is the best scenario for serious listeners. If pulling in a better 91-5 signal is the receive goal, then a directional antenna is FAR superior to an omnidirectional (non-directional) antenna. Put the antenna as high as possible outside the home and use a short direct run of coaxial cable (RG-6) into the receiver. You may have to use a little matching transformer on one or both ends of the coax cable. This will allow a proper connection to the antenna and your receiver if they aren't designed for coaxial cable directly.

The antenna is then aimed at the FM 91-5 transmitter site, which is located in Newbury (in Geauga county near the intersection of state routes 306 and 87). You may need a map here.

If you are unable to mount this antenna outside on a high mast, you can often achieve excellent results by mounting it in your attic (presuming that the attic is not covered up with aluminum siding).

There are several manufacturers of these antennas, but I suspect that the easiest source to locate is your local Radio Shack store. I'm not on their payroll, but I can vouch for their outdoor FM directional antenna. It's both an excellent performer and excellent value at $19.99.

If in the Cleveland area, I do not recommend an amplified antenna of any kind. Often amplified antennas will not only do a fine job of amplifying the FM stations, but they often do a pretty good job of amplifying every other nearby transmitter and all the noise they can find, thereby cancelling out any benefit to the amplified FM signal that you are seeking. Stick to a good basic passive antenna and you'll not have to worry about added interference.

Here's another excellent option. Some of you may be able to benefit from hooking your outdoor TV antenna into your FM receiver. Many homes that have since switched over to cable TV may have these vestiges on their roofs waiting to be pressed back into useful service. Of course you'll have to rotate the antenna toward FM 91-5 and lock it down (or it'll never provide peak performance).

Of course not everybody has an unused TV antenna or can put a 6 element FM (TV like) antenna in their attic or on their roof. For you, we'll have to drop back to plan B:, the indoor antenna.

The first thing to try, in case you never hooked it up, is that flat "twin-lead" dipole antenna that probably was supplied with your receiver. It amazes me how many times I've seen home receivers that have NO antenna whatsoever connected to its antenna terminals (and folks wonder why the reception is so poor). If you have already connected it, and it's just in a bundle on the floor, try spreading the out the leads as far as they'll go and position it broadside to FM 91-5 (Bainbridge). Moving it closer to a window, or higher, will sometimes help too. It may take a little experimentation to achieve good results. In case you don't have a twin lead Dipole and want to try one, they're available everywhere including K-Mart, Wal Mart and Radio Shack for about $2.99.

An excellent indoor antenna was available from Radio Shack. It was their indoor FM rabbit ears antenna. For about 14.95, this simple device did an excellent job of pulling in stations where others failed. Unfortunately the good folks at Radio Shack no longer list this fine product in their current catalogs but you may still be able to find one at some stores.

And there are a few good alternatives that may work almost as well and that are even slightly less expensive. These are your basic TV "Rabbit Ears" antenna. A couple of inexpensive options are available locally.

K-Mart has an RCA Model "Ant 120" for $12.99 that looks just fine for this mission. For Wal Mart folks, they have a Phillips/Magnavox model "MANT 200" for a paltry $9.96 that should also provide a huge improvement to the line-cord or dangling wire antenna. I haven't personally tried either of these, but I'm sure an upgrade to either should be a big help.

You'll want to ignore any UHF cables and only deal with the VHF cables for connection to your receiver.

If you're old enough to have grown up with the music of FM 91-5, then you're no doubt familiar with the TV Rabbit Ears routine. But just to review... These rabbit ears antennas will require some experimentation to bring in the best signal. That single, multi-position knob and orienting those two telescoping elements should allow for some excellent optimization on 91-5. Generally pulling those elements out all the way and then rotating the antenna and the knob for best reception will do the trick.

Again, I stress that there's no need for expensive amplified versions, or even the UHF loop, but you will have to play around with the rabbit ears for best results and perhaps even relocate it to a different room for best results.

Be aware of devices that might cause locally produced interference into your system (such as computers, TV sets, motors and anything that makes little sparks). Again, experimentation will reveal how far you'll want to keep the antenna away from those noise generators.

One nice thing about these indoor antennas is that the cable line loss is almost nothing! So all the signal it receives goes right into the tuner. Another feature is that in spite of having to play around with it a bit, installation is easy (Hey it sure beats climbing around on your roof). Do be careful to unpack it all so that it can be re packed good as new, if return is necessary and always ask about the store's return policy.

If you do nothing more than stretch out whatever antenna is already on your receiver, be it the AC line-cord or a dangling piece of wire, you may help things considerably. If you've never tried this, give it a try.

To review your FM 91-5 antenna options, going from best to worst:

Antenna Options
The Directional FM outdoor antenna (Radio Shack #15-2163) $19.99
The Outdoor TV antenna aimed at 91-5 (Free?)

The indoor TV Rabbit ears antenna (about $10.00 to $13.00)

The Twin-lead Dipole Antenna $2.99
A piece of wire or line cord antenna (oriented to the best position) and finally...
A wet noodle.

As you see, the best option is the Directional FM Outdoor antenna and for indoor use, the cheap VHF-TV rabbit ears may be all you need. If you happen to live in a big high rise building and none of this is of value, then gather the residents and demand that the landlord install an FM antenna on the roof aimed at 91-5 and feed it to all units in the building!

If none of these antenna options works well for you, then it may be time to consider relocating to a new home or buying a better receiver. Considering the pain of moving... a receiver upgrade may be the next move.

These options are discussed in the next exciting chapter... "The Better Receiver" or "Is there Such a Deal on a Decent Radio?" Stay tuned....



The Better Receiver

If you got to this chapter and still need help, I'll presume that you've exhausted all practical antenna options discussed in Chapter 2 and now are in search of a better receiver (or tuner...which is the receiver minus the big audio amplifiers).

First let's start with a few basics to be aware of when receiver shopping. As mentioned earlier, a key to good weak signal reception is a good antenna. If the receiver has no external antenna input then you're already in trouble. So rule 1 is always be sure the receiver can accept an external antenna. This can be either twin lead or coax.

Next you'll want to consider the two most important tuner tech specifications: sensitivity and selectivity. Sensitivity refers to the ability to hear weak signals and selectivity deals with being able to reject adjacent stations. Anything in depth here will quickly run away from the concept of keeping this series easy for all, so I'll simply suggest that if shopping for a new receiver, be aware that a good receiver should be both sensitive and selective.

Sometimes the importance of the selectivity of a tuner is under emphasized. In a crowded radio market such as Cleveland, this is a big mistake. Often the receiver with superior selectivity, will outperform the more sensitive, yet less selective one.

Finally, I recommend that whatever you end up with, try to make certain that it has: a stereo/mono switch, the ability to switch to mono if the signal is too weak for good stereo or is a mono receiver. Weak stereo signals equal noisy reception! Although one of the nice things about FM 91-5 is the stereo presentation, I'm sure you'd rather hear a clean MONO signal than a nosy annoying stereo one. So if the radio isn't stereo, so much the better...remember our goal here is a BETTER 91-5 signal and one that you can enjoy all day long.

OK...you may be saying: "Enough teckie talk.... what's a good receiver and try to leave me a few bucks for food and rent."


If you're NOT a "Do-it-your-selfer," then I suggest you skip this section.

But, if you're a bit handy...and want a superior system that often meets all the guidelines above and won't cost you a bundle, then allow me to refer you back to Chapter One. This is the chapter that discussed why you can receive 91-5 so well in your car and not in your home. A bad suggestion was to run speaker wires from the car into the house. Another bad one is to drive the car into your living room.

But...if you were to take just the car radio into the home, connect it to a decent antenna....add a 12 volt 120 vac power supply and a couple of speakers...you'd have an excellent FM receiving system in your living room or bedroom. Many excellent auto radios are available from "junk yards" or flea markets for a few dollars ($5-10)! Every time someone replaces that factory AM/FM job with a fancy CD or Cassette model, another perfectly good surplus radio hits the used market.

OK...it does take some handiwork to connect it up. You have to properly connect: a DC power supply (about $39.99 from Radio Shack and cheaper elsewhere via mail order), a pair of speakers and an antenna (even an auto whip antenna might do the trick). But if you're handy and you've never considered it before, you may want to give it a try. I think you'll be pleased with what you get for about $65.00 or MUCH less (depending on what you have around the house)..

"I'M NOT HANDY...But not willing to spend lots of bucks either!" OK...I have several specific bottom line recommendations... all easily available by toll-free mail-order....or on the internet. First, allow me to suggest the famous "GE Super Radio III." Although this radio is very popular with AM fans (due to its excellent AM tuner/antenna), it's also a most excellent FM performer. It is essentially a big portable mono radio with a large built in speaker system and bass and treble controls that gives it a most impressive sound, especially for the price. It also has those important FM (& AM) antenna terminals on the rear (requiring a transformer for coax cable). The built-in whip antenna even does an impressive job by itself. It's not digital which allows the advantage to offset the tuning slightly when faced with a strong adjacent channel that's splattering onto 91-5. Although it runs on AC, it also takes 6 big "D" cells, which may come in handy when the lights go out!

The downside with this receiver is that it's NOT built for much abuse...so you'll want to set it on 91-5 turn it on and leave it alone! The price seems to typically be in the $65.00 (& s/h) area. However, after a bit of searching, I've found a most excellent price of $39.50 (plus $9.00 s/h) from Bennett Brothers in Chicago. Their number is 800-621-2626.

If you're looking for something that looks a bit classier (in a wood grain case) ...and still has an excellent sound, is mono (for less noise), has an excellent tuner is amazingly simple to operate (aside from the on/off switch and volume control it has just a big analog tuner dial), and is $99.00 (plus s/h)....then...

I suggest the "Tivoli Audio Henry Kloss Model 1." This small package has quite the big sound and is available in three color schemes (I liked all three). If you remember the old KLH table radios, this will bring back a warm feeling. Details are available on their website: www.tivoliaudio.com or their toll free number: 1-877-297-9479.

If you're tempted to run to the phone to order one of those Bose Receivers whose infomercials and print ads are EVERYWHERE...I might suggest that (unless you have money burning a holes in your pockets)...you consider one of the two options above. If you insist on Stereo and digital tuning...then you might wish to consider the "Model 88" Stereo FM receiver offered by Cambridge Soundworks. This is another Henry Kloss receiver creation only this one is stereo with a digital tuner. Although I've not personally tested this one, some of the reviews (especially when compared to the far more expensive Bose), are very favorable. This receiver is available for about $169.00 directly from www.CambridgeSoundworks.com.

Another inexpensive possibility is the Sony ICF-9740W. This is a nice looking mono analog Table Radio has a 6.5" speaker, variable tone control and according to Sony, provision for the all-important external FM antenna. Cost is only $59.99 from J&R Music World (1-800-221-8180). I also believe it's available locally from Sears "Brand Central" stores. I haven't personally tested this one so can't elaborate.

Those that remember the Proton radios might find interest in the Sangean Model RS330, which took over the Proton line. The RS330 is a high quality mono digital clock radio that sells for $129.00 (although J&R sells it for $99.99). I couldn't verify the existence of an external FM antenna jack, but I would guess that such an upscale item would be remiss not to have one. They also sell a companion stereo speaker deal but I would think the additional $80.00 pushes it beyond our mission of affordable quality FM 91-5 reception.

Of course the list of old and new high quality tuner and receiver offerings that could run into many hundreds of dollars is endless. These high quality stereo component products should all do a fine job....as long as you give them a fighting chance by connecting a good FM antenna.

Ah yes...we return again to that fringe radio basic. The finest receiver, is only as good as its antenna. So if you already own a fine tuner or receiver, make sure you provide it with the best possible antenna.


If you held my feet to the fire, all things considered, I'd probably pick the $99.00 "Tivoli Audio Henry Kloss Model One" as my first choice for best tuner, quality sound, appearance, simplicity, required antenna jack (switch able) and dollar value.

If a quality CLOCK radio is the goal, the $99.00 "Sangean RS 330" would be the likely candidate.

Should AM reception also be a big concern, then it would be the GE Super Radio III.

If you have experience with any others, good or bad, feel free to pass them along. It's always fun to hear how YOU fare with your efforts to pull in a better, stronger FM 91-5.

I hope some of this information was helpful with your efforts to pull in a cleaner stronger FM 91-5!

If nothing suggested seems to help, then we may have some relief from our end in the near future.... stay tuned!






Copyright 2001, WKHR Inc. - 17425 Snyder Road - Chagrin Falls, Oh 44023 -- Office Phone (440)543-9646 -- Request Line (440)708-0915