A dispute over broadcast transmission fees that caused Sacramento-area DirectTV customers to lose access to KCRA and its sister channel this week has prompted some people to take a new look at old-fashioned TV antennas.
The number of U.S. households relying on over-the-air TV had dropped to 7 percent by 2013, according to a story on the TVTechnology website, citing a study by the Consumer Electronics Association. But a news release from KCRA management this week reminded DirectTV subscribers that they could receive stations KCRA 3 and KQCA My58 over the air, for free, with an antenna. It referred them to the AntennaWeb.org website to determine what type of antenna they would need.
Yaser Khan, a sales associate at Fry’s Electronics in Sacramento’s Natomas area, said he has seen an increase in sales of indoor antennas – similar to the “rabbit ears” of old – since the Hearst television stations disappeared from the DirecTV lineup Sunday.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of people coming in and getting them,” Khan said, noting that he had sold half a dozen Wednesday.
The indoor antennas range in price from about $15 to $150. Some include amplifiers to boost the signal for those who live farther from a transmitter.
Thomas Bass, a sales technician at the Arden Arcade-area Filco store, said Filco doesn’t sell indoor antennas, because their performance can vary widely depending on location. The store does sell outdoor TV antennas.
“The best reception is from the kind of antennas people have been taking down for years,” Bass said. “For every 10 feet you go up, the reception improves.”
The cost of an outdoor antenna, a mast and installation typically is $300 or less, the cost of about four months of cable service, he said. Bass said his store orders half a dozen antennas every couple of months.
Curtis Carroll, a West Sacramento resident, said he cut the cord years ago and relies on a combination of free antenna TV and internet streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. Describing himself as an interested amateur, Carroll said he often helps friends set up indoor antennas.
He recommends solid flat or flexible plastic antennas that can be placed on or next to a window, or near an outside wall. Hooking up the antenna essentially involves plugging it into a television and using the TV remote to scan channels.
“You’ll be amazed how many channels you can receive,” he said. Between 25 and 50 channels typically are available over the air with an indoor antenna in the Sacramento area, including subchannels that often are not available with cable or satellite.
Transmitters for all the network stations in Sacramento are located in Walnut Grove, Carroll said, so antennas should be aimed in that direction – west, south or southwest.
“You will be able to see TV just as the broadcast engineers want you to see it,” he said, explaining that antennas deliver a full bandwidth signal, unlike cable or satellite, which provide a compressed signal.
Bass said the Sacramento area has some geographic holes where antenna reception may be a problem. Obstacles include trees, buildings and hills that can block radio signals. Outdoor antenna installers work with customers to determine the type and height of antennas required for specific sites.
“It’s always about location, location, location,” Bass said.
Carroll advises people to purchase antennas from local retailers because some trial and error is involved in selecting the right antenna and exchanges may be necessary.