Q I am getting a new home-theater receiver. My wife said, "Please tell me this one will have better radio reception." I didn't think I could control this. I did a search and came upon your column about using basic rabbit ears for FM reception and how amazed people were by the results. How, exactly, do I attach the rabbit ears? My receiver will have just the two springs to insert the two lead bar wires, which are attached to some plastic circle with a stand. Also, with this solution, can I still get AM stations?
DOUG REILLY, Chicago
A I am not surprised your wife was disappointed by your previous receiver's FM performance. Poor FM reception is typical for new receivers, and it has been that way for the past 15 years. When manufacturers started adding home-theater features such as more channels and surround modes, they started paying less attention to the tuners and other hi-fi features to cut costs and keep prices about the same.
Fortunately, a good antenna makes a world of difference no matter what kind of radio transmission you are attempting to receive.
An ordinary $10 set of unamplified VHF rabbit ears makes one of the best FM antennas. Most rabbit ears have an adapter that provides two flat spades that attach to screw terminals on the back of older TVs. To connect the antenna to the receiver use the adapter and put the spade ends into the spring connectors. You can also clip off the spaces and strip the wires if you want a cleaner-looking connection.
AM tuning requires a separate antenna from the rabbit ears. Please note that the "plastic circle with a stand" you describe is the AM antenna that is typically shipped with receivers. If you were using it with the FM terminals, it is another reason your receiver performed poorly, because it is not optimized to receive FM signals.
The FM antenna included with receivers is usually a long wire that terminates in split leads that make a T shape. It is called a dipole antenna, and the rabbit ears will dramatically outperform it.Why so many boxes?
Q If cable customers have an up-to-date TV with a digital tuner, why do they need one box for every TV in the house? Why can't the cable company provide one box as the cable enters the house that serves all of its TVs?
A In a sense, the functionality you describe is already available with the Cablecard system. Compatible TVs are labeled "Digital Cable Ready." The customer contacts the cable company to obtain a Cablecard, which is inserted into the TV to access subscription channels. There is a monthly fee for the Cablecard, but it is less than a cable box. But Cablecard has seen poor market acceptance and is widely considered a flop.
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