Sound Advice Column: Audio from TV on FM Radio, adding an external tuner

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Distributed By McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Q: I have a question indirectly related to the digital TV switchover scheduled for February 2009. It has to do with the TV audio reception that currently can be received on the FM band on various tabletop radios. I like to fall asleep listening to the radio, and often I tune my radio to the FM frequency where the local TV stations broadcast their audio. In Pittsburgh, for example, KDKA and WPXI come in loud and clear.

Once these stations switch over to digital will the audio portions of the TV broadcast still be broadcast over the radio FM band?

Gary DiSal

A: The audio portions on FM will be gone when they switch to digital TV broadcasts. Bad news for you, I am sure. Nature abhors a vacuum, though, so I am sure tabletop radios that tune the new digital TV stations will be introduced sometime after the transmission, if not before. You also could get a TV with a sleep timer, even if you do not watch the visual part of the program.

Q: I have an old Optonica receiver that has always had good FM reception. As of late, the reception is hit or miss, even for the local stations. All I get is static. Then, if I wait a while, the station will slowly fade in and then come in loud and clear, then fade to noise. Is this just an old receiver wearing down, or is there something I can do?

Andy Nogas

A: It sounds like your receiver is on its last legs — or at least, the tuner is. If you want to keep using the receiver, pick up a cheap component AM/FM tuner on eBay and use it through one of the receiver inputs. You can get them for as little as $30 each on eBay. Onkyo models are probably the best you can get under $50. If you have a bit more to spend and want superlative performance, look for tuners from Harman/Kardon, Carver, NAD and the Onkyo T-9090.

Many readers who have transitioned to home theater receivers have sent e-mails telling me how poor the FM reception is compared with their older stereo receivers. Manufacturers are cramming more and more features and amplifiers channels into their receivers while maintaining similar price points, which means they have to save the money elsewhere.

This has typically been in the phono input (which is usually absent on moderately priced home theater receivers) and the FM tuner sections, which don’t perform as well as they did when the world was just stereo.

If you are an FM fan and find the reception and sound of your home theater receiver’s tuner to be lacking, you also may benefit from a vintage tuner.

Don’t forget the antenna. For a super-effective and inexpensive FM antenna, get an unpowered set of rabbit ears (yes, TV rabbit ears) at a department store for $10.

As we learned in the question above, VHF TV and FM are all on the same band, so rabbit ear TV antennas also work as FM antennas. The performance is light-years ahead of the wire antennas included with radios and receivers, and if you try it you will probably be shocked at the improvement.

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