FROM THE FRONT LINES: Will an indoor antenna get stations 90 miles away?

I love hearing from our call center team. They feed me all sorts of great “intel” from customer phone calls. The stream of information I get turns into blog posts like these. So when a customer asks,

Can I use an indoor antenna? I’m out on a farm about 90 miles outside of (the closest major city.)

The answer that comes up is perfectly clear.

No.

Sometimes these articles pretty much write themselves.

Oh, you’re still here? You want more explanation? OK, I respect that. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of why an indoor antenna isn’t going to work for you at that distance.

It’s all about gain

Every antenna has an innate capability to pick up a signal, called “gain.” Gain is actually measured as how much better a particular antenna picks up signal compared to a reference item. You can get more gain two different ways. One is by having a bigger antenna. The other is by using an amplifier. This means that you can have this massive outdoor antenna with 20dB gain, and this tiny indoor antenna with 20dB gain, which sounds like they do the same thing. Except, well, they don’t.

If you’re not using an amplifier and you’re getting 20dB gain, you’re actually pulling in more of the actual broadcast signal. You’re actually pulling in precisely 100 times more than you could pull in without that antenna. If you’re using an amplifier to get that 20dB gain number, you’re still getting a very weak signal, you’re just making it 100 times louder.

Won’t an amplifier fix the problem?

Actually it won’t and I wrote a whole article explaining why. There are limits to what an amplifier can do and they’re deeply tied into the way that broadcasting works. It’s also important to remember that at some point, the antenna signal is so weak that it just can’t be received by anything. The smaller the antenna, the worse it’s going to be at receiving weak signals, period. No amplifier is going to fully compensate for that.

Here’s a way to imagine the difference. If a person is speaking clearly and loudly, then you can hear them. If they are mumbling and mushing together their words, even if you record their mumbling and make it really loud you still aren’t going to understand them as well as if they were actually speaking clearly in the first place. Maybe you’ll understand them well enough, maybe not. The clear speaking person, that’s what you get from a real, honest, big antenna on the roof. The mumbler, that’s your amplified indoor antenna.

Don’t get me wrong, indoor antennas are still great

Now I’m not bashing indoor antennas. When used within about 25 miles of the towers they have enough gain to get the job done. But 90 miles? Forget about it. If they pull in any signal at all, it’s going to be so weak that no amount of amplification is going to make it usable.

When you’re ready for an indoor antenna, check out the great selection we have at Solid Signal. If you need help deciding, fill out this form and a qualified antenna technician will help you!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.