Analog Reception

Tired of hefty monthly payments to cable or satellite companies that give you too much repetition and little choice in the channels you can get? Why pay for something that is mostly available for free and perfectly legal?

There are a few advantages to having free TV, aside from the huge
cost savings that can amount to several thousand dollars over a short number of years.

One, you will be able to get some channels completely unavailable by either cable or satellite service. These are mostly US stations that the CRTC does not allow cable companies to deliver to Canadians.

Two, you will be able to receive, full time, US signals unadulterated by your supplier, as required by the CRTC. This means uncensored and uncut. You may or not be aware that if a Canadian channel is showing the same program as on an US station, the Canadian channel is substituted (censored) for the US one, usually without you even being aware of it. This would be relatively OK, except that the Canadian stations are allowed more advertising time per hour than US ones, and they use it, meaning they cut out some of the program to fit in the extra ads. Ever feel you must have missed something because you suddenly don't know what is going on in the program? Well, now you know why.

With free TV, one may watch the US station, and follow the program better and watch fewer ads.

If you are a satellite subscriber, you know that you can't receive many or most of your local stations, and an antenna (or cable) is needed for these stations. You can and should have both, and this site will guide you.

If you are a PBS fan, you may appreciate having a satellite carried PBS station (Detroit) plus Buffalo's WNED available to you full-time, plus up to four others during optimal reception periods. That gives you a total of 6 PBS stations!

This site has been set up as a disservice to those Canadian cable monopolies who have deliberately kept Canadians in the dark as to how they could get a large number of TV channels without subscribing to cable, and who have gouged consumers for years with inflated prices and such despicable practices as negative option billing.

We'll take you through a brief educational exercise so that you can be soon watching up to 50 channels for a small initial investment, with no monthly payments ever again.

Off-Air Reception; What you can get, and how it works:

The TV Dial:
There are two settings on your TV, "Cable" and "Antenna:"

The Channels are set up like this:

14-------------------------------------------- 100+ cable

14--------------------------------69 antenna

As you can see, channels 2 to 13 are shared by cable signals and off-air, and channels 14 onward are totally different parallel systems for each. You need to set the switch on your TV set, or change the setting on your TV menu from "cable" to "antenna," "broadcast," "off-air," or whatever isn't the cable setting. This will allow you to receive off-air signals above channel 13.

The Off-Air TV Band:
TV signals are broadcast thru the air from transmitters installed by each station. In Toronto, most Toronto stations broadcast from the CN Tower. Other cities will have privately owned tall transmission towers, usually one for each station. These stations transmit on a designated channel (there are 67 available channels) in the radio spectrum as follows:

"VHF"(very high frequency) "UHF"(ultra high frequency)


2 to 6&FMRadio

7 to 13

14 to 69 (37,&70 to 83 now gone)

Long wavelength

Medium wave length

Short wave length

(channel 1 was dropped 50+ years ago, just in case you were wondering.)

As you can see, gaps appear in the spectrum between certain channels. These gaps are used for other radio services unrelated to broadcasting. A gap appears between channel 6 and 7, with the first part of that gap being used for FM Radio. Hence FM Radio starts right after channel 6. This is why you can receive the sound portion of channel 6 (if you have it in your area) at the beginning of your FM dial. Another larger gap appears between 13 and 14.

As the channel number and the frequency go up, the wavelength shortens.

The Antenna:

Two main types of indoor antenna exist, unamplified and amplified. The unamplified antenna usually consists of a pair of 'rabbit ears' either separate or attached to the set, for VHF, and a circular or a bowtie shaped wire loop for UHF. This is a good start, but will only get you 15 or so channels, most of them local.

To use rabbit ears properly, you need them fully extended for the low channels (2 to 6) and about half to one third length for channels 7 to 13. (To more or less match the wavelength.) Move them around of course to get the best picture.

The loop antenna connects either to one of the rabbit ears for support, or directly to the UHF terminals on the back of the set. The bowtie clips onto a rabbit ear. The bowtie generally gives better reception, so if your loop is unsatisfactory, try a bowtie or advance to a system as described following.

The amplified antenna is a box usually with rabbit ears and loops or a dish on top of it. It plugs in the wall, and has knobs to turn that either physically or electronically tunes the antenna to suit. The amplification can usually be adjusted with another knob. Good ones give much better reception than unamplified types, but will still usually pull in only local channels.

Many types of antennas exist; here we will discuss the typical outdoor antenna comprised of aluminum rods.

An antenna's elements, or rods, are sized according to the wavelength, so the lower the channel, the longer the rod. UHF channels require very short rods in an antenna. If you have an old antenna still attached to your house from pre-UHF and pre-cable days it may look like this:

Early VHF TV Antenna

If so, it is a VHF one especially designed to pick up channels 2, 4, and 7 (from Buffalo). It will still work well for those channels, but won't pick up anything above 13. (You can probably guess just by looking at it what rods pick up which of those 3 channels)
If you have one that looks like this:

Early VHF TV Antenna

It is tuned to one single VHF channel. It could be one of the earliest antenna's in the city, a channel 4, from way back in 1947-1950 when WBEN Buffalo was the only station in town. However, look closely at it. If it has 6 or more rods instead of 5, and two of those are looped instead of just one as in the picture, it is almost certainly an FM radio antenna.

If it has more rods of differing lengths, it may be an all TV channel / FM radio antenna, but unless it has a series of very short bars (about as long as your fingers) at one end, it probably doesn't pick up UHF (channels 14 to 69).

This is an older VHF-TV and FM-radio. (It will still work quite well if it hasn't deteriorated where the lead connects to it):

Early VHF-FM TV Antenna

You still can use this or any VHF antenna, but you will need to add a supplementary UHF antenna along with it. They come in a huge variety of styles, and can look like one of these:

Bowite UHF TV Antenna Yagi UHF TV Antenna

This one uses a "bowtie."

The left end is the station end.

Parabolic UHF TV Antenna UHF TV Antenna Grid UHF TV Antenna

More different styles. The left "dish" is the most powerful.

Most all-channel antennas look like this nowadays:

All Band TV Antenna
All Band TV Antenna

Note the short UHF bars in the front end of these antennas. If you have one without them, it's VHF/FM only.

Note the short UHF bars in the front end of these antennas. If you have one without them, it's VHF/FM only.

If you're starting fresh, one of these is usually best.

The higher your antenna is, the better. A roof-mount mast or a house-side tower is preferred, but attic installations work fairly well if you aren't in a low spot to begin with. Mount your antenna away from metallic objects and electrical wires for reception and safety reasons. Also, keep it far away from trees; you would be surprised at how far a tree can bend in a strong wind. If it reaches your antenna, it's toast.

Other outdoor antennas are partly electronic devices that are housed in a plastic case and look like a flat plate, either horizontal or vertical, or a long tube. Either of these may work well for you, but we suspect not as well as the more ungainly aluminum rod antennas. Some are now available that are compact 'hybrid' versions of both main types and are specially designed to go alongside your satellite dish so that you can receive your local stations too.

If you are in an apartment building however, these types are preferred as one is less likely to lose an eye walking out onto the balcony. Apartment balcony installations will work best if you are already facing the direction of most or many stations. On this subject, if you are an apartment dweller and want to receive off-air signals, one alternative to reduce space taken up on the balcony is to forgo the VHF channels (2 to 13) and install a compact UHF antenna on a simple stand on the balcony, or even indoors facing a window, again provided you are facing the right direction.


Your antenna has to point more or less to the station. Always have the short-rod end pointing to the station. The longest bar is actually a reflector to send back any signal missed the antenna first time 'round. Some UHF antennas look like an arrow (see the above pictures), and some do-it yourselfers point this "arrow" to the stations. Too bad, because they've got it backwards. Remember the rule.

If you have a dish type or any UHF antenna with a large vertical back piece like those in the pictures, that backing is the back, and is a large reflector. The wirey stuff is in front, and should be pointing to your stations.

The Rotor:
The next thing you need, if you wish to receive all that is available, is a rotor, to turn your antenna and point it to the station you wish to watch. This is a little motor mounted on the mast just below the antenna, with a control box down near your TV. A second shorter mast leads from the rotational part of the rotor and holds and turns the antenna. Obviously, this is most necessary where two stations occupy the same channel number. They will be coming generally from opposite directions. One signal must be at its best to block out the other.

The Lead-in wire:
In pre-cable days, we used to use a flat 'ribbon' cable which had a small copper wire running inside each edge. It works very well, but it is finicky, it can't come near any metal or signal strength is robbed from it.

Now, we all tend to use 'co-ax' cable just like in cable TV. It has one wire running inside the other. Just try to keep your length as short as possible. This is important, the electric signals generated by your antenna are so weak that a long lead will lose a lot of signal. Always locate your antenna so as to keep the length of lead as short as possible.

Many antenna installations include an amplifier mounted at the 'head end' as well as at the set. These work best in rural situations, but in a big city with lots of local transmitters, can simply cause signal overload and you're better off without it.

Connection to TV:
Once you've completed your installation, you have to connect it to your TV. You may have one or two terminals for connections. If you have only one, it is always a 'co-ax' cable type terminal. If you have a single co-ax lead from your antenna(s) you are all set. If you have two terminals, one will be marked VHF, the other UHF. One or both may be coax terminals or a pair of screws intended for that ribbon lead. Unless you are using separate VHF and UHF antennas with separate leads for each, you will need a splitter, dividing your lead into the two separate terminals. Do not connect to only one terminal and think that you will get all available channels, you won't. If you are using co-ax lead and have screw terminals, you will need a little transformer device that fits on the end of your co-ax and has a ribbon lead end.

What You Can Get!

Toronto is fortunate to be sitting in a huge depression, occupied by Lake Ontario in the middle. This creates a broadcast 'theatre' where signals from around the basin can be received, owing to a high perimeter and a flat, wide open lake in the middle. It is like an amphitheatre. The south is bordered by the foot-hills of the Allegany's in New York and Pennsylvania, while the east is flanked by the edge of the Adirondacks in New York State. The north is bounded by the Oak Ridges Moraine, but this is low enough to still let Barrie's CKVR into the city. The west is bounded by gradually rising ground above the Niagara Escarpment. The south-west is essentially wide open over the Niagara Peninsula and Lake Erie, and occasionally, one can pick up UHF channels from Cleveland Ohio.

With an outdoor antenna:
Most of the time, only those stations within about 100 km can be received well, depending upon the height of your antenna, but stations located up to 160 km away and sitting on the Allegany foothills can be received well, notably several Buffalo stations plus one from Jamestown NY. (ch's 2,4,7, 26,&49)

When atmospheric conditions permit, mostly during the summer, reception includes stations from the entire basin, up to 300 km away, and Watertown, Syracuse, Rochester & Batavia NY, plus Erie PA stations become available. Any time the weather is warm and clear, even in winter, look for any of these stations to appear. If you are located in the high areas of Scarborough, you may find that Rochester & Batavia stations are available to you most of the time. Global's channel 6 as well as Erie's channel 12 may also be commonly available to those in Etobicoke or Mississauga, especially if on high ground or in a south facing apartment bldg.

Here is the map of our Lake Ontario "Theater:"

The stations available during differing conditions are as listed below. Click on the Channel List. As with the map, we have given specific transmitter locations so you will know what should be the best direction to aim your antenna. Watertown NY may surprise you in that it's almost due east.

Channel List

With an indoor antenna:
An indoor antenna will usually pull in only those local channels as shown in bold on the channel list. During warm clear weather, a few other channels may be pulled in, especially if they are faint the rest of the time.

If you are used to cable's signal, you will be impressed with an outdoor antenna signal for Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo-Grand Island stations. These will be far clearer and sharper than what you've been paying for with cable. Generally, reception quality will fade with distance from the transmitter, or due to intervening hills or other obstructions. Depending where you are located in Toronto, about 25 channels will give you excellent to adequate reception throughout the year, with up to 25 more channels varying from excellent to poor reception during warm clear weather. Indoor antenna users will be limited to about 15 channels.

Make your own Rotor Map:
To make things easier once you have set up your home outdoor antenna system, make your own rotor map to speed up aiming your antenna:

Print out our map or use your own. Locate your position on it.

Draw a circle around it (use a compass), say 10 to 15cm in diameter.

Mark North, East, West, South along the circle perimeter. (check that you have that right. North does not quite follow our "north-south" streets.)

Draw faint lines between each station or group of stations shown on the map and your location, marking it more heavily where it intercepts your circle.

Mark the channel number(s) and the city at this point around the circle

Cut your map to size, keeping just the circle chart part. You may want to copy it again without the background map to keep it cleaner.

It is most critical to know which direction is true north and mount the rotor and antenna accordingly; otherwise, all directions will be off by some consistent number of degrees.

Getting the Outdoor Antenna Job Done:
If you want your TV free and you're fairly handy, and you have some basic concept of electronics, you can buy the stuff you need and do it yourself. Many hardware or electronics stores stock antenna supplies. Check websites under TV antennas to find other sources, as well as more detailed installation info or tips if you need it. If not, call up a local installer and tell them you want Free TV. Then call up your cable or satellite company and tell them you don't need them anymore.

Having it All:
Perhaps you like the idea of getting everything available, and that means off-air and say satellite service, or you just can't give up TSN or A&E. In this case, in addition to your chosen antenna set-up, buy an A/B switch, available almost anywhere. You connect your antenna set-up to say the "A" side of the switch, and your satellite (or cable) service to the "B" side, and a mere push of a button switches you between your television signal supply sources. Remember however that you will also have to reset your TV set from "antenna" to "cable" and vice versa. Some TV remote controls have a button for this.

Channel Listings:
Our local newspaper source printed listings only cover those channels carried by cable, sometimes with one or two exceptions i.e. channels 23 and 49 Buffalo. TV Guide's non- Rogers edition (if you can find it) includes Rochester, Peterborough, and Kingston channels.

The most complete source is on-line, and can give you complete listings. Just enter your postal code or sign up for customized listings, and you will see listings for all indoor antenna and normal conditions. However, if you enter a Toronto postal code as your address, you won't get the complete, outdoor antenna, warm-clear-weather listings. Instead use postal codes like N0A1S0 (including Erie channels 24,35,54 & 66) or K0K1P0 (including Watertown and Syracuse channels 16,24,43,50,56 & 68).

Digital Reception

Yes, there is FREE HDTV in Toronto and elsewhere. HDTV signals offers far superior viewing and is really spectacular. FREE HDTV provides a better picture quality than offered by cable or satellite. While choice is more limited, the price is right.

Currently, there are 12 to 16 channels available or in the works. These are simply the HDTV versions of the analog channels listed for conventional TV.

Those from Buffalo are normally strong enough to penetrate the GTA, unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our local Toronto stations. A little farther afield, Hamilton and Barrie have nothing as of yet, although Hamilton does have a Sun TV transmitter repeating Toronto’s station.

With HDTV you either get it perfectly, or you don’t get it at all.

So, those faraway Buffalo signals are just as clear as those local stations.

HDTV programming today is often just the same programs and picture quality as the analog versions, but free from ghosting or static interference. Many offer at least periods of true HD programming and PBS for example, has extensive specific HDTV programming, and the picture quality really enhances those informative experiences.

Click this for the current channel line-up. Note that a few stations are in test mode and may not be operating full time, and more stations will show up over time.

What do you need to get it?

An HDTV complete with built-in tuner, or a separate tuner and an antenna. HDTV antennas are exactly the same as the antennas described earlier. You do not need any special antenna. However, HDTV exclusively utilizes the UHF band, so all you need is a UHF antenna. (If you want FM radio capability, you will need a specific FM antenna or a VHF antenna).

All the new HDTV signals have changed the analog channel line-up to some extent. Due to the need to cram in the new HDTV transmitters, many channels that were available for warm-weather reception may be restricted by an HD signal. So, those channels seen on the HDTV list may no longer be available for analog reception in some areas.

This means that between analog and HDTV transmitters, the 68-channel TV dial is now mostly filled with stations.

For up-to date information on local HDTV including details on sub-channel broadcasts, check out this link

If you’re handy, you can even make your own UHF antenna that will pick up HDTV. Check out this site for the how-to.

Cottage Reception

Cottage country, that is in this case, the area away from the lower Great Lakes but within a 3 hour drive of Toronto, has a number of Free TV channels, enough to get most people through the summer season, when most of your time is spent outdoors anyway. Most regions will find anywhere from 6 to 10 different stations, although some may duplicate network affiliations. The ‘Big Six’ found almost everywhere in cottage country, are CBC, CTV, A Channel, Global, TVO and CH, although CH is lacking a transmitter for central cottage country, i.e. the Kawarthas. And there is usually RC, i.e. CBC French.

Generally, one will get any of the following stations, listed more or less from west to east. Refer to the map to see what channels can be found in your area. Remember that much of cottage country consists of rocky hills, so some signals may be blocked, depending on your specific location.

Areas within about 100 km of Toronto will usually be able to get many of those stations listed from Toronto as well.Cottagers along Lake Erie are blessed with dozens of channels from Ontario and all those US cities along the lake’s south shore. Those along Lake Ontario’s eastern shores, the St Lawrence or in the Rideau Lakes area will be able to get channels from Kingston and /or Ottawa, as well as those from Watertown (see Watertown list) or repeaters to the east. Those near the Ottawa River will find several French language stations from Quebec.

Summertime reception often means that you will get other stations such as Toronto’s or US signals, especially in heat waves. When the weather breaks into cooler conditions, they usually disappear. Not infrequently, unfortunately, another signal may compete for your usual signal on a given channel, and then neither is watchable. This most often occurs with those channels that make the list below twice.

Note that in the list below, the location is given for the community closest to the transmitter, to aid in where to aim an antenna. It is either the only location given for the station, or that in the round brackets ( ), with the unbracketted locale being the nominallocation. A location in square brackets [ ] indicates the city of program origin.

Some are shown as ‘low power’, these stations are usually only receivable within a few kilometers of the transmitter. CBC and TVO have many such transmitters, and many transmitters not indicated as low power may be fairly low power.

‘A’ Channel:
 3 CKVR (the New’VR) Barrie
12 CKVR (the New’VR) [Barrie] Parry Sound (low power)
 8 CKNX (the New‘NX) Wingham (Walkerton)
 5 CHRO (the New‘RO) Pembroke
43 CHRO (the New’RO) Ottawa (Greely)

45 [London] Teeswater
20 [London)]Wiarton (Big Bay)
18 [Toronto] Parry Sound (low power)
16 [Toronto] Barrie
 8 [Toronto] Huntsville (Melissa) (low power to north, high to south)
 4 MCTV [Sudbury] North Bay (Powassan)
12 CHEX Peterborough
 4 CHEX Bancroft (low power)
 9 [Ottawa] Whitney (low power)
51 [Ottawa] Maynooth
33 [Ottawa] McArthurs Mills
59 [Ottawa] Foymount
19 [Ottawa] Barrys Bay
11 CKWS Kingston (Wolfe Island)
66 CKWS Brighton
36 CKWS Smiths Falls (Beckwith)
 3 [Ottawa] Deep River
 4 Ottawa (Chelsea Que.)

 2 CKCO [Kitchener] Cape Dundas
11 MCTV [Sudbury] Huntsville (Dwight) 10 MCTV [North Bay] Powassan (low power to south, high to north)
21 CFTO [Toronto] Severn Falls
54 CFTO [Toronto] Bobcaygeon (Dunsford)
 6 CJOH [Ottawa] Deseronto
47 CJOH [Ottawa] Pembroke
13 CJOH Ottawa (Chelsea Que.)

67 Honey Harbour (Gibson IR)
32 North Bay
11 Ottawa (Greely)

 4 Owen Sound (Keady)
 7 Honey Harbour (Gibson IR)
 2 North Bay
27 Cobourg (Baltimore)
 2 Bon Echo P.P. (Denbigh)
 6 Ottawa (Chelsea Que.)

49 Tobermory (low power)
12 Owen Sound (Keady)
51 Penetanguishene
 6 Powassan
15 Britt (low power)
23 Pointe au Baril (low power)
42 Parry Sound
13 Huntsville (Utterson)
18 Cobourg (Harwood)
42 McArthurs Mills
55 Cloyne (Bon Echo P.P.)
53 Belleville (Plainfield)
21 Whitney (low power)
16 Madawaska (low power)
38 Kingston
29 Pembroke
24 Ottawa (Chelsea Que.)

RC (CBC French):
34 [Toronto] Penetanguishene (low power)
55 [Toronto] Barrie (low power)
44 [Toronto] Cobourg (Harwood)
26 [Toronto] Mattawa
15 [Toronto] Belleville( Plainfield)
32 [Toronto] Kingston
 9 Ottawa (Chelsea Que.)

TVA -30 Hull
TVQ -40 Hull
CFMT -60 Ottawa (Greely)
CJMT -14 Ottawa (Greely)
CITS -32 Ottawa (Greely)
CITY -65 Ottawa (Greely)
Ontario Legislative Assembly -36 Pointe au Baril (low power)

TVO French -17 Pembroke

Happy viewing.

Stay tuned for upcoming info on the phenomenal amount of FM Radio stations that you will be able to get with your antenna. You will never again consider cable for FM.

Any questions? Contact us at through our Webmail and we will do our best to answer.

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