FM RECEPTION TIPS

The Problem...

Every radio and TV station has areas of less-than-wonderful reception. Most of these areas are not a result of a technical deficiency at the station; rather, it's a problem of local topography, including hills, buildings, trees, etc. Weather can frequently play a major role  in reception conditions, especially in East Texas! To make it more difficult for listeners of KZQX, by FCC rules, we are very low power - only 74 watts of Effective Radiated Power.   That is less than than many light bulbs! 

The good news is we are now rebroadcasting our signal on a translator (repeater) located in downtown Longview.  It's only 45 watts, but it's located on a tower in one of the highest points in Gregg County. It's height makes this a very efficient transmitting facility.  If you've ever wondered why the city is called Longview, it's simple.  The early settlers were standing near the translator tower location and said "That's a pretty Long View." The name stuck.  You can easily see as far as downtown Kilgore from there.  If you are within 10 miles or so of downtown Longview, reception is generally quite good on a car radio if you tune us in at 101.9.   As of January 18, 2005 we started broadcasting in Kilgore on translator K287AJ, on 105.3.  It is the most powerful of the group, weighing in at 80 watts.  Now, over 125,000 East Texans can receive our signal.

Even though 74 watts for our main 104.7 transmitter, 80 watts in Kilgore and 45 watts for the 101.9 Longview translator is not much in the world of megawatt broadcasters, it is a big improvement over the way we started out when we signed on in September of 2002.  At the time, the FCC authorized us for only 44 watts of power in our Chalk Hill location.  Since then, we've worked diligently with the FCC to increase our power to today's level.  Even though we are still extremely low power, it's amazing what we can accomplish with what we have.

Even with three strategically located transmitters, keep in mind that these are extremely low power devices.  Therefore optimizing your reception therefore becomes paramount when listening to our programming. These tips are designed to help you identify the cause of reception problems, choose solutions, and, finally, consistently enjoy great radio!

If you have an older radio, one tip which may help you when you initially tune in our station, is to turn off the "AFC" control.   Newer models with digital frequency readouts don't have this feature, so there will be no switch.   The "AFC" stands for Automatic Frequency Control, which causes a radio to "lock onto" a station and hold it on frequency. Sometimes these AFC circuits are tricked by adjacent strong stations, and may not allow you to hear the low power KZQX signal. After tuning in, you may then switch the AFC control back on the help your radio to keep us tuned in.

Car Radio:

If you are trying to pick us up on your car radio, the "Scan" or Seek" button will not be your friend.  Depending on where you are, the radio may skip over us entirely.  The best bet is to manually tune the radio.  On many of  today's modern car radios, you may actually have to consult the owners manual to figure out how to do this. It's not always obvious. On some models, you simply turn a knob or push a button.  Frequently these buttons are also used as the "Fast Forward" or "Rewind" to control your tape deck or CD player.  You may have to experiment to find out how this works on your radio. Of course, if you have a 15 year old kid hanging around, he'll know how to do it intuitively. 

If your radio has a digital read out, manually tune your radio to "104.7" and dedicate a pre-set button so you can find us again.  Even though our signal may appear to fade out in some locations, more often than not, it will re-appear when you drive just a few feet.  This can be especially aggravating when you pull up to a stop light. As luck will have it, in some areas we'll probably fade out right where you have to stop.  Sometimes creeping ahead just a few feet will clear it up. Listening to us while driving can be a test of patience as much as anything else, but please don't give up on us.

Assessing Your Chances of Success

Predicting local FM reception quality is far from an exact science. Before spending money on elaborate equipment and antennas, a certain amount of experimentation would be prudent. It can be particularly disheartening to spend time and money on a fancy new radio, only to find no real improvement.

To help predict your chances of success, try the following: carry a good, trusted portable radio (with its telescoping antenna fully extended) from room to room, listening to 104.7 FM. If you can get at least a fuzzy, but listenable signal in any room, chances are good that a rooftop antenna (or even a good indoor antenna) will yield very good results. Or, if you can get the station on your car radio while in the driveway or garage, this is also a good omen. If, on the other hand, you get nearly no reception at all no matter what you try, proceed with caution; a fancy new antenna may be an expensive, but futile, experiment.

Careful tuning and listening are important in determining the type of reception problem you have.

During certain times of the year, for short periods, there are two types of interference which may cause you trouble in hearing our low-power signal. These are Tropospheric Propagation, and Sporadic E-Layer Propagation. Both of these conditions allow much more powerful stations from long distances to overpower our weak signal, especially  if you live on the edge of our coverage area. I have listened to FM stations from as far away as Georgia at certain times in the summer using just a portable radio in the house. Very long range reception like this is due to the signal being bounced off a part of the ionosphere in the same manner as AM broadcast signals which travel long distances at night. A more common type of interference is caused by a weather condition where a warm layer of air is being trapped above the ground (called an inversion). This causes FM signals to be heard from many miles away.  Temperature inversions are very common over bodies of water like Lake Cherokee, or even over most cities like Longview. 

Is an unwanted station (or "pieces" of its program) interfering much of the time? A strong station on a nearby channel may be "splattering" onto us. Frequently the problem is a distant station that shares the same frequency as us will cause interference to our signal.  (Of course, depending on which station you want to listen to, you could look at this as we are interfering with their signal).   In parts of Longview and Kilgore, you will get interference from KWNS in Winnsboro.  In Tatum and Henderson, KORI in Mansfield, Louisiana shares our frequency.  Sometimes you will get them, rather than us. 

If this is your problem,  a directional antenna pointed at us may help. A good-quality receiver may be the answer as well; check out the "narrow band" feature of better receivers described below.

Things To Try

You can often get better results by using an inexpensive outdoor antenna with an inexpensive radio than you can by using a fancy indoor antenna with an expensive radio. A well-installed and well-maintained outdoor directional antenna alone can have a dramatic and unmistakably positive effect on FM reception, even with inexpensive or older receivers.

The following suggestions are in a decreasing order of preference. And, as you might expect, the more involved solutions are generally near the top of the list. An exception is buying a new receiver; in most cases, this expensive option is a last resort.

We encourage you to do some experimentation with a simple piece of wire, or "Rabbit ears" before taking further (and more complicated) steps to enhance your reception.

ABOUT ANTENNAS

<TOP ||| NEXT>

Just as there are different types of radios, there are also different types of antennas.

Your antenna may be similar to one of those shown below.

The whip antenna is a single rod that is permanently attached to your radio. It can be extended or pushed in. Some only extend straight up out of the radio while others can be swiveled around in most directions. This is one of the simplest types of antennas. For best results you must experiment with the length and orientation. Tune your radio to 104.7MHz on the FM dial. Start with it about 16" long length and laying down flat against the radio.  It may work better in a vertical position.  You just have to experiment.
If your reception problem is due to too much signal then shortening the antenna may help. Change the length and position of the antenna until you get the clearest signal.
The "Rabbit Ears" antenna is really just a variation of the Whip. Its advantage over the Whip is that it allows greater variations in how you position it. Also, it may do a better job of pulling in signals. Rabbit Ear antennas may be permanently attached or they may be a separate unit that sits on top of your radio. You can purchase Rabbit Ears separately and add them to your radio provided you have the proper connection on the back. Adjust Rabbit Ears just like you would a Whip. Start with them about 16" and laying down flat. Tune in to 104.7 and experiment with length and position to see what works best.
Another simple antenna is the "Twin-T" or "Dipole" antenna. It is made out of flat ribbon TV cable commonly known as "Twinlead." At the bottom, two wires or connector lugs attach to the antenna connector on the back of the radio. You can buy Twin-T's very inexpensively at any store that sells electronic accessories. Its advantage is that it's often easy to hide.
You still need to experiment with this antenna to see what works best. Tune us in and try different positions. Hang it so the arms of the T are oriented vertically. First, try just letting it fall to the floor behind the radio so it won’t be seen. Also try hooking up only one of the two wires. Again, do whatever works best.
If you use an outdoor antenna to pick up TV channels 2-13 it may also work well for KZQX. Try connecting to it.  You could also use an outside FM only antenna, mounted on the mast  with your TV antenna. We have had several listeners who have reported good results with an outdoor FM antenna sold by Radio Shack (Part Number 15-2163).  Several others have reported that Radio Shack's antenna mounted pre-amp (Part Number 15-1108) has made a dramatic improvement when used with this antenna.
If you already have a TV antenna on your roof or in the attic then you should try using it. You will need to add a signal splitter if you want to hook it to your TV and radio at the same time, but for an experiment, just temporarily disconnect your antenna from your TV.  If it works, you can get a splitter at an electronic accessory store or home center for only a few dollars. The advantage of this antenna is that you can aim it at the station of interest. It boosts signals in the direction it's pointed and reduces those coming from the side and back. This may be helpful in reducing interfering signals. When pointing the antenna, remember that the narrow end is the front, and it should be aimed at the desired station.  Pointing it towards our transmitter will help a lot.  This map may help you locate us.  We're the red dot on the south side of Lake Cherokee.

Antenna Notes:

If you don't have any of the antennas mentioned above but have an antenna connector on your radio, then just use a piece of wire. The type of wire is not very important as long as you can hook it to the radio. The length to try is about 3 feet. Any kind of an antenna is better than having no antenna at all. Remember to strip the insulation off the wire where it attaches to the radio so that you have a metal to metal contact.

Some types of radios like alarm clocks or some portables may have only an internal antenna. They often don't provide connectors for hooking up an external antenna. Many inexpensive radios use the power cord as an antenna.  Make sure the cord is fully extended (not all wound up in a neat little ball).  It may be helpful to experiment with its placement.  Otherwise, about all you can do to solve a reception problem with these types of radios is to move them to a different location. Sometimes only a few inches will make a big difference.

You can try an "Active Antenna" or "Power Booster", but your results may not be what you're hoping for.  The FM radio dial is very crowded in our area.  Many times poor reception  is a result of other stronger signals,   These signals may overload your highly sensitive receiver causing it to have trouble staying locked on frequency. Using boosters or power antennas will sometimes just make matters worse. If you want to try one of these devices, be sure you can return it for a refund if you're not fully satisfied with the results.

A Better Receiver

<TOP ||| NEXT>

Buying a better radio, receiver, or tuner may be the most expensive route to reception nirvana, and should be considered only if your antenna efforts yielded unsatisfactory results. There's still no guarantee that a new radio will solve certain reception problems, so be sure to determine your return/refund rights before you purchase. Talk to the equipment salesperson about your reception problem to establish why you're considering a new receiver.

A current-model receiver may only marginally improve reception, but may have other features, such as station pre-sets and digital tuning, which will aid in finding your favorite stations. Many "reception" problems turn out to be mechanical tuning difficulties with a hard-to-read or poorly calibrated dial, a problem quickly solved by a radio with digital tuning.

We have tested many radios and the one which we recommend as being the best value for money is the General Electric Superadio III. While this radio has great weak-signal performance, and good sound quality, you should be aware that it does have some failings, most notably, the dial calibration on AM and FM is poor. You may have to look for the signal, and determine how far "off the mark" your particular radio is tuning. This radio provides excellent long range reception of weak FM and AM signals, can accept an external antenna, and will run for about 400 hours on the six D size batteries as well as house power from an outlet. Since we are prone to extended power outages, this is a great radio to have as part of your "Emergency Kit." This is a "mono only" radio, and is not designed for stereo reception, but has a great sound quality for the money.
The GE Superadio III was recently sold  by Sears and Fry's Electronics in Dallas.   If they are out of stock, it is available by mail-order from a variety of sources.  Since you have a computer with Internet capability, you may wish to use the SEARCH function and look for the GE Superadio III sites. 
Another really great radio is the CCRadio from C. Crane Company.  You can read more about it on their web site, www.ccrane.com   As far as we know it is only available by mail order.  It's main claim to fame is superior AM performance, but it is an excellent all around radio
A personal favorite is the Tivoli Audio, Model 1. It was designed by the famous Hi-Fi inventor, Henry Kloss, and is an outstanding sounding  compact table radio. It can accept an external antenna. Visit their web site at: www.tivoliaudio.com 

Henry Kloss Model One Radio in Classic/Walnut

For The Really Hard Cases:

<TOP ||| NEXT>

Outdoor Directional Antenna

The almost universal solution to weak signal reception problems is a directional outdoor antenna. This antenna, called a "Yagi," looks just like a plain TV antenna. There are dozens of different models available in the $25 to $200 price range.  Several KZQX listeners report good results with an outdoor FM antenna from Radio Shack (Part Number 15-2163) which sells for under $25,00.  Many have also reported that Radio Shack's antenna mounted pre-amp (Part Number 15-1108) has made a dramatic improvement when used with this antenna.

Important: this suggestion assumes that the radio you're using has connections for an external antenna (many table radios and most portables do not have such connections). Be sure to check the radio first.

Some antenna sources:

Radio Shack Actually sell some very good FM only antennas, but they don't always  stock them in every store.  The Kilgore Radio Shack, as well as the Longview Mall Radio Shack usually have these antennas in stock.  At other locations, you usually have to special order them. Several of our listeners report good results with a $25-30 FM only antenna from Radio Shack, coupled with their "High-Gain Antenna Mounted Signal Amplifier."  Tell your salesperson to look for FM antennas in their catalog.   Lowes and Home Depot sell TV antennas that also receive FM signals.

In every case, use well-shielded coaxial cable (usually labeled "CATV" "RG-59" or "RG-6) from the antenna to your radio, using appropriate static drains and grounding ("coaxial lightning arresters") where the antenna's cable enters the house. Properly installed connectors are very important; buy the best and install them with care. Although flat twin-lead is theoretically less noisy than coaxial cable, the performance difference is negligible for most home installations. If you have a quantity of TV twin-lead on hand, give it a try, but the potential benefits of coaxial cable's shielding and ease of installation make it the cable of choice.

You can often get better results by using an inexpensive outdoor antenna with an inexpensive radio than you can by using a fancy indoor antenna with an expensive radio. A well-installed and well-maintained outdoor directional antenna alone can have a dramatic and unmistakably positive effect on FM reception, even with inexpensive or older receivers.

Directional Antenna Considerations:

If an outdoor antenna doesn't work to your satisfaction, it's very difficult to disassemble and repack for return and refund. Some stores may not allow such an antenna to be returned, except for manufacturing defects. In any event, your time and money spent on installation is not recoverable.

If you only listen to one station, or to several stations from the same direction, you can leave the antenna aimed in that direction for best reception. Remember that our  transmitter site is in Chalk Hill on County Road 2127, about 1/2 miles south of the Water Company, and your antenna needs to "see" the transmitter for a good clear signal. However, if you listen to stations from different directions, you may want to consider an antenna rotor (rotator) to re-orient the roof antenna's position. Before buying a rotor, however, it may be wise to manually optimize the antenna's position for your KZQX, then listen to the other stations.

Outdoor Non-Directional Antenna

Non-directional (omnidirectional) outdoor antennas, such as "turnstiles" and "S-shaped" may be helpful in many instances, and usually give better results than any type of indoor antenna. But if eliminating multipath and/or interfering stations is the goal, a non-directional antenna may not help. Only directional antennas can attenuate contaminating signals from other directions, such as reflections from nearby hills or buildings, or an adjacent- or same-channel interfering station.

Indoor Antenna

Indoor antennas generally do not work as well as roof antennas. In most cases, a very inexpensive roof antenna will outperform even the best indoor antenna. Again, experimentation is paramount. After connecting the indoor antenna to your radio, try moving the antenna anywhere its lead-wire will allow for best reception. In tough indoor reception areas, it's important to move the antenna and, if necessary, the receiver, around the room or house, searching for a good signal spot. Try anything, even a $10 set of plain "rabbit ears." In fact' one of our regular listeners on the North side of Henderson receives us very well with a simple set of rabbit ears.   Don't underestimate their power.

A visit to a high-end audio store will generally yield at least one or two fancy indoor FM antennas.  Our results with these devices has been variable.  Make sure the store has a good return policy if it doesn't work out for you.

Often, it's very difficult to pick up desired stations inside an office building or some homes and apartments. The villains here are usually the metal-frame building, stucco construction, or even home insulation which uses metal foil covering (which can shield the signals and prevent them from reaching your indoor antenna), fluorescent lighting fixtures (which often produce broad- spectrum electronic noise), and interference-producing devices like computers and other office equipment. In fact, it is very important to keep your radio away from any computer or computer screen, since these devices can emit enough interference to obliterate even very strong stations. In some cases, locating a set of rabbit ears against an outside window can improve office reception. Remember, it's important to try the antenna and radio in several locations around the office, sniffing out good signal areas.

Important: One positive thing about indoor antennas is that they're easy to pack up and return to the store if they don't perform. Be sure to determine the store's return policy before you purchase any indoor antenna.

Antenna Amplifier

If the basic signal is weak, but otherwise free of multipath distortion and interference, you can sometimes benefit by the use of an RF (Radio Frequency) amplifier in the antenna line. If you live anywhere near a radio or TV station transmitter site, however, there's a strong possibility that the station may overload the antenna amplifier, causing even more problems.  As always, start by trying an inexpensive amplifier, and bring it back if it doesn't help.  Listeners in our area have reported good results with Radio Shack's part number 15-1108 Antenna Mounted Signal Amplifier. 

Interference Filters

If you're experiencing local interference problems (static, hiss, crackling, pops, noise, etc.), and are fairly sure it's not multipath, try to find the interference source. Possibilities: arcing high-tension power lines, poorly grounded motors, appliances, spark plugs from passing cars, etc.

In these instances, there is no substitute for an experienced ear. If you know someone with electronics expertise, perhaps a local amateur radio operator, try to arrange a visit. She or he may suggest a number of possible cures, including filters for the interfering devices, as well as on the FM radio's power line, antenna line, and audio cables. Experimentation with grounding some or all of your components may also help.

If you confirm that a powerful local FM station is preventing your reception of a weak, distant FM station on a nearby frequency, you can use the "narrow IF" modes on good FM radios (described above) to improve selectivity.

Cable TV/FM Connection

<TOP

A possible solution, not available at the moment, is your local cable TV company, if we can convince them to put us on their system.  Please call them and ask for KZQX to be added.