Aerials & downleads for radio

Getting the best signal is key to good radio reception. A faulty radio aerial can cause hissing and distortion on FM, and breakup or lost reception on DAB digital radio.

Here are top tips for a good radio aerial installation.

  • Use a good quality, branded aerial. A CAI* benchmarked aerial will carry a guarantee of quality both of performance and construction.


FM_aerial     Omni_aerial        dab_aerial

Horizontally polarised        Omnidirectional type     External DAB dipole aerial
3 element FM aerial

  • Use a directional FM aerial if you can, rather than an omnidirectional type (sometimes called a 'halo' because of its shape). Omnidirectional aerials are often fitted because they are easy to install, but they have disadvantages. Omnidirectional aerials pick up signals from all around the compass but aren't very powerful.  By comparison, directional ones bring in more signal from the transmitter they're pointing at and are less likely to lead to weak signals and hissy reception.  They are strongly recommended unless you specifically want to receive stations which use different transmitters (such as local radio stations from different areas). Omnidirectional aerials are also more likely to give rise to ‘gritty' sounding multipath distortion.
  • Ensure your aerial is correctly aligned, has the right polarisation (elements vertical or horizontal) and is mounted securely.
  • Choose an aerial which includes a balun matching device if you are near a main road - it could reduce pick-up of interference from passing traffic.
  • Mount the aerial outdoors, as high as possible: the FM radio network in the UK is designed to be received in stereo on outdoor aerials. Loft aerials only work well if signals are strong and the loft is free of clutter. Aerials inside the house often perform badly by comparison and may only be good for mono reception.
  • Keep the aerial well clear of other aerials and metalwork - at least 75 cm.
  • Avoid pointing into nearby trees.
  • Use good cable for the downlead, secure it to the pole and route it into the home so it doesn't flap about in the breeze. Avoid sharp bends around corners and under tiles etc, and keep it as short as is practical. Benchmarked cables will carry a guarantee of quality.
  • Use a proper DAB aerial for digital radio. Even portable DAB Digital Radio receivers will benefit from an external aerial if reception inside the home is unreliable. However, random lengths of wire rarely give consistent results. Usually a simple vertical dipole will provide good reception, but it needs to be a proper DAB aerial (sometimes called Band III), not an FM one-the two are quite different and are not interchangeable. Tuners with both FM and DAB sections usually have two separate sockets on the back, for this reason.

If you are using an external aerial and your reception has deteriorated recently, check the following:

  • If your aerial appears damaged or bent, replace it.
  • If it seems to have moved but is otherwise undamaged, have it re-aligned and secured.
  • If your downlead looks cracked, feels damp or is going green inside the plug, replace it.
  • If your aerial is more than 10 years old, its performance may have diminished due to corrosion. This is especially true in coastal locations, where the effective life of an aerial may be less than 10 years. Consider replacing it, and the downlead, at the same time.


        Broken aerial

For help with aerials and dishes we would recommend using a professional installer. We cannot recommend individual installers but you may wish to seek advice from a recognised industry body, such as the Confederation of Aerial Industries (CAI).

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