Call The Doc

We’e wondering if Doc Searls makes house calls. We know several recording engineers, but no one who knows more about the transmission end of the radio business; every month or so, Doc offers a seminar in some aspect of FM radio: band distribution, the effect of ground conditions, how to make your iPod transmitter work better, whatever.

We need Doc because we get bad reception on our household FM radios, even though we live well within the full signal strength of WBEZ (our local NPR affiliate). The radios downstairs manage all right, but the clock radio in the master bedroom sometimes doesn’t register a signal at all, sometimes picks up two stations, and receives a fine, clear signal. Sometimes it helps if I’m holding the clock radio; sometimes it makes a difference if I jiggle the cord; most of the time, the reception stays mediocre.

My sister gave me a fancy, improved clock radio for Christmas, and I was hoping that the problem had been limited to the dime-store clock radio we had been using. The new radio comes with an FM antenna (well, a wire that the packaging calls an FM antenna), so we figured it was bound to zero right in on WBEZ, and we could listen to our hearts’ content.

Unfortunately, the problem seems more precisely to reside in the steel-and-stone architecture of our house, or the power lines that run by our bedroom window, or our refusal to conduct animal sacrifices to the arbitrary demons who control radio signal propagation. Whatever the reason, you can bet that if Doc ever comes for a visit, we’ll drag him upstairs and ask, “What’s with this?”

5 thoughts on “Call The Doc

  1. I remember clearly that my reception on the block was miserable. Even in the car. I could get great signal until I pulled into a parking space, and then it dropped off. I also never got really good TV signals in the dorm, whereas some of the students over in the apartments got everything just fine.

    Could there be something about that campus that is messing with radio and TV signals?

  2. I’ve had some issues with signals being *too* strong for the antenna. Try coiling up the antenna to different lengths to see if attenuating the signal helps.

    I really suspect the problem is the amount of metal in those walls. Extending your wire antenna with a piece of similar gauge wire trailed out a window might help.

  3. Before you break your neck up on the roof trying to put up an FM antenna, and before you follow Doc’s advice to buy a new radio (although I agree that the GE SuperRadio is a keeper, although it’s not usable as an alarm clock), try a cheap FM dipole antenna. If the radio has a cord, it presumably has a place to connect a better antenna. A dipole antenna is cut to the specific frequencies that FM stations broadcast on, unlike what sounds like just a single piece of wire. Antennas that resonate to their desired frequencies always work better than a random-length piece of wire. Any hi-fi shop in your area should be able to fix you up with one, but if you want an idea of what to look for, the Caltronics FMA-1 at Universal Radio for $2.49 is representative of what to look for. A dipole is directional perpendicular to the plane of the antennas, so use Doc’s information about where the station you’re trying to receive has its transmitter and set up the antenna so that it’s perpendicular to the direction from your house to that transmitter. If it doesn’t work, you’re only out $3 and a half hour or so.

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