Sound Advice: FM tuner needs help, starting with rabbit ears

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2012 - 2:22 PM

Answers to your multimedia questions.

Q I have a problem with FM reception on my tuner. I have a Rotel RT-850 from 1986 that has given good sound and good service over many years.

FM worked fine for years, but now the signal can start off strong, then degrade. The speakers then crackle and cut out. All of the other station buttons yield low-signal indicators.

I took the tuner to my local dealer, which ran it for a week without any failures. Back in my house, it isn't working right. I've considered a better antenna, but reviews seem to be all over the map.

How can I diagnose and cure this problem? Do you have suggestions for a good antenna?

A Although the dealer was unable to replicate the problem, it sounds as if you do have a problem with the tuner. It might be time to replace it.

But first, if you have cable television, call your provider and see if it transmits FM. Many people are unaware that sometimes you can get good FM just by splitting your TV cable line and connecting it to your tuner. Fewer providers do it these days, but contact yours to find out.

One of my top low-cost and extremely effective tips is to use an ordinary $10 pair of unamplified TV rabbit ears as an FM antenna. Just go to a store and get the lowest-priced, most basic pair it has. I can't overstate the improvement they make over the long-wire (dipole) antennas included with most receivers. I have found that simple rabbit ears often outperform much more expensive amplified antennas.

If you do need a new tuner, try Craigslist or even thrift stores. I scored a really nice Kenwood tuner with an analog dial for $10 recently.

Speaking of which, don't be afraid of analog tuners. Although they don't have digital presets, you can fine-tune stations better with an analog dial.

Finally, if you want to get what was probably the best tuner ever made, try and find a Sony XDR-F1HD on eBay. That model was less than $100 when new, but now that it is discontinued it can fetch up to $300.

Closed captioning

Q For my family, closed captioning is a must for understandable television and DVD viewing. We have a Vizio HDTV with a Comcast RNG110 cable box. Closed captioning is not working, and Comcast's service personnel have advised us that it can't be fixed. Can you help?

A I'm disappointed that Comcast's employees don't know their equipment better. The solution lies in the cable box, which will enable closed captioning for you.

I found a page on eHow that explains how to activate the closed captioning on your Comcast RNG110 cable box. Go to www.tinyurl.com/7jpyswc and follow the directions. Your closed captioning will be active in no time.

Submit questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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