We’re always looking for easy ways to save money for travel, and it came to my attention recently that many people don’t know they can watch TV for free! This is such an easy money saving hack that I had to share, even though I’m seriously dating myself here.
Yes, cable existed in the 80s and 90s, but my parents weren’t about to blow that much money (or take the risk of rotting my brain). So how did I watch my Saturday morning cartoons on an 8 year old’s budget? Free broadcast TV, and little antennas we used to call rabbit ears.
Free broadcast TV still exists, as do antennas, though nowadays those antennas are digital, and usually slim, flexible squares that can be mounted on your wall or hidden behind your TV. They’re cheap, coming in at around $25, and yes, they’re 100% legal.
Here’s a handful of antennas to check out if you want to start watching free live TV in your area. Have questions? Scroll down the FAQs below for more info.
What channels can I watch with a digital antenna?
This will vary depending on where you live, but you’ll generally get the major broadcast networks: NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and PBS, and depending on your area, the CW and a handful of additional small or local channels. I get all the major broadcast networks with my antenna, plus about a dozen other channels. They’re not all fantastic (can’t say I spend much time watching the Spanish language religious channel!), but enough to find something I want to watch.
Most small digital antennas have a 50 mile radius, so if you don’t have a station broadcasting locally, you may need one of the more powerful antennas we featured.
Are you sure? I thought that I had to go through cable or Hulu to watch TV now.
There seems to be some confusion stemming from the federally mandated switch from analog to digital broadcast signals in 2009. After the switch, many older televisions and antennas needed a converter box to receive broadcast TV signals. However, if your TV is at all recent, you should have no problem using a digital antenna. It seems that with the switch, and the rise of online TV streaming, many younger people just forgot–or never learned– that broadcast TV is free.
If I spring for a $25 antenna, can I cancel my Hulu/ Netflix/ Cable?
Maybe, it depends on what your favorite shows are. Obviously, most paid services offer movies in addition to streaming TV, and some TV networks that are included in paid packages aren’t available as free broadcasts (cable channels like FX, TNT, etc.). But for a one-time investment of $25, it’s a great deal.
Can I still watch broadcast TV on my antenna when there’s a cable / internet outage?
Yep! This is one of the cool things about the older, simpler tech involved in broadcast signals and antennas. If there’s an internet or cable outage (or cable dispute that temporarily pulls a broadcast channel from your cable lineup), you can still get those channels. As long as your local station is still broadcasting, and you have power, you won’t need internet or cable to watch free live TV.