SIMPLE AM RECEPTION IMPROVEMENT TIPS
(Posted with permission from Warren Shulz, Chief Radio Engineer for the great WLS in Chicago.)
Let’s start with tips that are simple and no cost solutions. (Later, we’ll suggest equipment you can purchase.)
Receivers that are part of a stereo system usually come with an AM “loop” antenna. It’s made of rigid plastic which is 5 to 6 inches long by 2-3 inches wide. Be sure to attach (plug-in) it to the AM terminals on the back of your receiver. We have found that many people never even connect it to the receiver! This “loop” antenna should be in the clear and kept away from any power cords or metal. If you can’t find the loop antenna for your receiver, call Radio Sausalito at 332-JAZZ (5299); we will be happy to deliver one to any of our AM listeners at no charge.
The telescoping antenna that sticks out the top of your portable radio is NOT for AM! It is only for FM stations (Most people don’t realize this). The AM antenna on a portable radio is a coil INSIDE the radio. To get the maximum signal, rotate the entire radio 360 degrees and you will notice a huge improvement in the sound with the radio facing a given direction.
WHERE TO PUT THE RADIO
Reception of Radio Sausalito 1610 AM works better near outside walls and near windows. The signal will be decreased in areas enclosed by metal, brick, or concrete. The best place for an AM radio/antenna is at the outside surface or at the window line. The AM radio waves mostly stay outside buildings and little of the signal gets inside. This is why you can hear Radio Sausalito better while driving.
HOW TO TUNE IN THE STATION
If your radio has an analog tuning dial slowly turn the dial to look for the station. If it is difficult to find, you can mark its location with a strip of tape. The analog radio dial can be a challenge, as they are not marked with an accurate scale. There is a strong religious station at 1640 AM. Radio Sausalito is just to one side of it.
INTERFERENCE AND BUZZ
Sometimes it is a good idea to minimize interference. This is because fluorescent lights, dimmer switches, and electronic equipment can interfere with Radio Sausalito. In one case, a big Plasma TV at a business on Caledonia was preventing reception of 1610 AM for the entire block! Here is a partial list of interference sources – Simply try turning off these devices and see if your reception improves:
- Incandescent light dimmers (wall or lamp base mounted)
- Fluorescent lights
- Incandescent lights that are about to burn out
- Blinking Christmas lights (random clicking)
- Televisions (60 Hz Buzz)
- Computers and monitors (60 Hz buzz)
- Electric motors (random pattern static)
- Vacuum cleaners
- Microwave ovens
- Electronic bug zappers (random pattern)
- Electric blankets (random pattern)
Light dimmers are a frequent source of buzzing interference. If you have one in your home, you can have it replaced with a regular switch. The light dimmers make the most noise at mid-point. Full-on or full-off will generally create less buzzing on your radio.
Unfortunately, there are sources of interference that cannot simply be turned off. Sometimes equipment in your home is causing a real problem and will need to be replaced. (Remember, you might be causing interference for your neighbors too!)
- Touch lamps, the type you turn on by simply touching the base, may have to be unplugged to eliminate the interference.
- Hard wired smoke detectors cause interference, and can be replaced by battery-powered models.
- Aquarium heaters, particularly some low cost models, cause interference. You can upgrade to a better model.
- Automatic on/off night-lights and outdoor yard lights, which come on automatically, may generate interference.
- A faulty electric switch in your house can cause interference. You can and should have it replaced since this can be a fire hazard.
Dirty or faulty insulators on utility poles can cause interference that spread over many miles with the power wires acting as an antenna. You can call the utility company and ask to have them repaired or replaced. You may call attention to defective PG&E equipment before it causes a power outage or a fire!
HOW TO LOCATE THE INTERFERENCE
In some cases you can locate the direction of the interference using a portable radio. With the portable radio you can move it around looking for the buzz. If you put the radio up close to a source of interference, for example, florescent lights, it should buzz loudly, the buzz will decrease as you move it away.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS
Try a battery-operated radio and turn off the circuit breakers to your house one by one to see if the noise stops. Once it does, you’ll know which circuit is interfering with Radio Sausalito. If the buzz doesn’t go away, it could be one of your neighbors. Call Radio Sausalito at 332-JAZZ (5299) and we can help find out where the noise is coming from.
IN A CAR
The most noticeable AM interference in a car comes from the spark plugs. Changing them may help. And there are spark plug noise suppressors and suppression wire. Things which often cause automotive interference also include the on-board engine computer and fuel injection pulse noise. Another nasty source of automotive related noise is the cell phone in-car adapter/charger. These chargers use a power supply that produces a white noise (the kind of noise you hear when a gas burner is full on) covering many AM stations. A car stereo shop can help fix some of these problems.
RADIO RECEPTION SHOPPING LIST
Here is some gear you can buy to get better radio reception. Most of this is relatively inexpensive and will provide a marked improvement in the reception and fidelity of 1610 AM.
Unlike FM radios, with AM there is a huge disparity from one radio to another. In fact, two radios placed side by side can sound completely different even though they are tuned to the same station. One will have a small tinny sound and lots of static, the other will have full fidelity audio that sounds just like you’re there in the studio! Here are two radios that are widely recommended for AM listening:
- The cheaper one is the GE SuperRadio for about $60. You may find these at the local department store and on the web at (www.universal-radio.com) or Amazon (www.amazon.com) to name a few. If you get one, use the “wide/narrow” bandwidth switch to optimize your reception. The “wide” setting and a strong AM signal yields full sound. Our big band music will sound better on this than almost any other radio. If you aren’t getting a strong signal, the “narrow” setting will tune in Radio Sausalito like a laser beam. We are not affiliated with GE.
- The other is the $120 C. Crane CCRadio, which is bought from Amazon (www.amazon.com) or from the C. Crane web site (www.ccrane.com). That web site has more tips about AM reception improvements using products they can sell you, though we are not affiliated with the C. Crane company.
As we mentioned above, a good antenna can certainly help your radio reception, and usually a cheap radio has a poor antenna. A tunable “loop” antenna is a frequently recommended way to improve AM reception for inexpensive radios. You can order a Select-A-Tenna from many mail order and online sources. It is about $60 and is highly recommended. Some Web pages recommend what are called long wire antennas. These are usually about 50 feet of hook-up strung 6 to10 feet away from metal objects outside to catch radio signals. They are cheap, but can be an eyesore and difficult to set up and maintain.
ADVANCED TECHNIQUES FOR FINDING THE SOURCE OF AM RADIO INTERFERENCE
The following guides are meant for someone comfortable with electronics. If you’re unsure about the requirements below, ask a local ham radio operator or tech wizard to help you.
The best solution to electrical interference is eliminating the source. The table below describes a common procedure for discovering the source of electrical interference in the home.
1) Turn on the radio that is experiencing the interference.
2) Flip off the circuit breakers in your home, one by one.
3) The circuit that is causing the interference can be identified when the interference disappears.
4) Turn the offending circuit back on to confirm that it is the source.
5) Identify the electrical devices in your home that are connected to the circuit.
6) Turn those electrical devices off, one by one, until interference disappears.
7) If you have found the device that is causing the interference either, repair, replace, or dispose of the device/appliance.
The table below describes an alternative procedure for discovering the source of electrical interference in the home:
1) Tune a portable AM radio to a quiet place in the top area of the AM band (between stations).
2) Turn on an electrical appliance.
3) With the portable radio, follow the electrical line from the circuit breaker to that appliance.
4) An increase in static from the radio indicates a problem with electrical interference.
5) Repeat for all electric appliances.
6) If you have found the device(s) causing the interference, then repair, replace or dispose of the device/appliance.
Lastly you may want to have an electrician check the wiring in your house. Interference problems can be caused by loose connections or bad wiring behind a wall panel or outlet. Have a qualified electrician (Level III) conduct an inspection of your wiring system to identify and eliminate the interference conditions. If none of the above measures are successful, the chances are that the interference is coming from outside the home and you need to contact the power/utility company for additional assistance.