Listening to radio talk shows or the news while driving is an American staple in multi-tasking. But if your car radio picks up only one or two stations, your options can be limited.
Your car radio only gets one or two channels because of a faulty antenna. Although that’s the number one reason, issues with wiring and the head unit’s quality might also contribute to limited reception. In the rarest of cases, a nearby cell tower might be interfering with the radio signals.
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All of these issues have individual fixes, and we go over each one in this article. You will learn how to spot which problem is valid for your car’s radio and how you can get more channels by resolving it.
Furthermore, we will talk about alternative options that can give you thousands of radio stations at a fraction of the cost.
Why Your Car Radio Has Poor Reception
This can be a tricky problem, but the possible issues can fall broadly into one of two categories: there’s a problem with your radio, or your location is not potent enough for broader reception. Below are all likely possibilities that fall in these two categories.
You Live Too Far Away From Radio Stations
While the internet has made us expect content delivery across the world, we can often overlook the limitations of services like radio, FM, and cable. Today, we use all of these geography-limited services with expectations shaped by a geography-independent service like radio.
To know whether your issue is caused by where you live, simply ask your neighbors if they get full reception on their car radio. You can also use a radio unit at home or even your smart phone’s native radio app to see if the reception varies.
In the instance that your car’s radio is the only one with one or two channels, your problem is not caused by living too far from radio stations.
There Is a Cell Tower Nearby
If you live near a massive cell tower, too many electrical towers, or a big mobile antenna, your car’s radio will face a challenge picking up channels. This happens because more robust transmitters and receivers disrupt radio waves from the channel.
Again, asking your neighbors can help clarify whether this is the case, but it’s a little trickier. Unlike living too far away from radio stations, this problem affects different people to different degrees.
If your neighbors have higher quality radio units, they may receive three to four channels while you may get two. To a degree, this problem can be resolved by purchasing a better antenna.
Your Antenna Is Damaged
Moving from problems of place to problems with radio, let’s discuss the most likely possibility.
Your car’s radio reception is best defined by the antenna, and if your antenna has taken damage over the years, you’ll notice a drop in the number of channels you can listen to.
The best way to check if this is keeping you from listening to a wide range of radio stations is to exhaust all other possibilities in circuit and wiring issues. That’s because the only way you’ll know for sure this is the case is by replacing the antenna, and that’s a solution that costs money.
Your Unit’s Wiring Is Faulty
The second issue most likely with your head unit is that its wiring is faulty. However, this generally leads to poor reception on all radio channels. If the one or two channels you receive are in crystal clear audible quality, then the wiring issue is not the likely culprit.
Radio Stations Near You Are Switching to DAB
In general, radio channels are switching to digital audio broadcasting, but this is not yet true for middle America. However, the channels you’d usually receive in your region may have recently switched to Digital Audio Broadcasting. IF that happens and your unit doesn’t have DAB receiving capabilities, you’re not going to receive any audio from those specific channels.
If this is the issue limiting your radio reception, the channels you receive will be very clear, while the ones you don’t get will be completely silent.
On the other hand, if you tune to a specific FM or AM frequency advertised by a channel and get nothing, it is likely because of your antenna or wiring.
How to Get More Channels on Your Car Radio
Now that we have discussed all the likely possibilities interfering with your ability to listen to more channels, let’s discuss how you can get a broad range in your car. The solutions below address specific problems, so make sure you opt for the one you’ve identified in your unit.
Replace the Antenna
If your car’s radio unit performs poorly because of its antenna, getting yourself a replacement antenna or an antenna booster can do the trick. These are relatively inexpensive, and getting a new one costs less than fixing your current one.
In case you receive no channels whatsoever, get a replacement antenna. And if you receive only one or two, get a booster. We recommend Votex The Original as the best replacement antenna. This German-Engineered antenna features a copper core, which is highly conductive and can pick up frequencies with better sensitivity.
But in the instance you need only a booster, Kunfine AM/FM Booster can amplify signals and expand your radio reception.
Get a New Head Unit
If the issues are with your radio’s wiring, you’ll need to get a new head unit because it is cost-effective. Fixing wiring problems costs more money than a new radio. But when making your next purchase, you have to be careful not to buy a radio that will only expand your reception range by another one or two channels. That’s why I recommend getting a head unit with DAB capabilities.
Use the Internet
While replacing the antenna or getting a new unit will improve your radio’s reception, if your location causes the problem, you can’t catch FM and AM waves regardless of the unit’s quality and novelty.
Does this mean you can no longer access radio channels on your commute? Not exactly. You have multiple options, but the best one is to stream content over the internet. Head units that accept a sim card and provide internet access are widely available. However, this is a costly solution that is not within everyone’s budget.
The next best option is to use your mobile phone’s internet access and play content over your favorite radio station’s internet stream. Most radio channels have a parallel stream going over the internet. As long as your mobile phone has access to the internet, you have the option to browse radio channels independent of geography.
Earlier, we covered the possibility of getting a new head unit with Digital Audio Broadcasting reception. These units often come with both Bluetooth and Internet browsing options. As a result, you can use a hybrid of direct radio streaming and internet radio streaming to maximize the opportunities available to you.
Best Car Radio Units for Digital Audio Broadcasting
As mentioned earlier, more radio stations are moving to Digital Audio Broadcasting. Moreover, hundreds of channels are set up with exclusive digital streaming. This isn’t the same as Satellite radio.
DAB add ons to your current head unit are possible, but if your radio is performing poorly, it is best to buy a new head unit with DAB capabilities. You’ll have access to hundreds of radio channels.
This product runs on the Android 8.1 operating system, and just like a smartphone, has multiple utilities. This includes radio reception in AM/FM and DAB.
It also helps you navigate to new destinations accurately and has a four out of five-stars rating on Amazon. The device can be easily mounted on any dashboard and plays video in high definition as well. You can also play video on this and use its Bluetooth to connect your phone as the audio or video source.
It has a 16 GB flash memory, which means you can download maps offline and navigate via the GPS without internet access. But more importantly, the memory allows you to store your favorite songs and play them commercial-free instead of the radio stations, which have constant breaks.
The adjustable angle makes it great for drivers of all heights and interiors of every type. You can adjust the screen towards yourself if you are glancing at maps or reduce the tilt angle so your kids can watch their favorite movie on a family road trip.
When you connect it to your phone via Bluetooth, it’s in-built microphone projects your voice more clearly to the other party, and you can hear them better through the car’s speakers.
And best of all is the fact that it has WiFi internet browsing ability alongside Google Maps. If you park in your driveway and have your home WiFi reception, you can download destination-route on Google Maps and navigate accurately.
All of these features, alongside a convenient and clear 10.1-inch touchscreen, makes this a must-have unit where the radio is just one of countless benefits.
With this Android 10 GPS navigation unit, you’ll have optional access to radio stations and even apps native to your favorite stations. Many radio stations have their own android apps, and certain broad apps exist which feature multiple radio streams over the internet.
As a result, you can rely on internet waves to deliver clear radio content to your car.
Suppose your limited station availability isn’t because of your location. In that case, you can depend on the unit’s internal radio to browse channels transmitting in DAB format and essential AM and FM stations. Moreover, you’ll be able to play video, browse the internet, and play music from your phone via Bluetooth.
You can also use your mobile phone’s internet access and browse the internet on the head unit because it has WiFi reception. By turning on your mobile phone’s internet hotspot, you turn your phone into an internet router.
This option is available on all iPhone and Android-running smartphones. Your car’s head unit provided it has WiFi reception, can pick up the hotspot signal and connect to the internet. Again, this is a way to play radio content over the internet.
How to Add More Channels Using Your Phone
New head units can be expensive. And while you might like having radio access on your commute, it may not be worth it for you to spend over a hundred dollars getting a high-quality unit. Fortunately, there is an alternative if you have internet access on your smartphone.
Because of high competition among carriers, internet data plans have become cheap. You can therefore enjoy your local radio channels in much clearer quality over the internet on your smartphone. Here’s how you can use this option with your car.
Get a Data Plan
Talk to your service provider and get the best data plan that covers your internet radio streaming needs. Your current mobile data plan may cover your requirements already. You’ll generally use 60MB per hour of internet radio streaming. Make sure you have enough data allowance.
Download a Mobile Internet App
The next step in this process is to get the right app. Most radio channels have either their own apps or broadcast through a radio-streaming app. Here are some of the top radio apps that must be downloaded on your phone.
- TuneIn Radio — Over 1.6 million users have downloaded and reviewed this app. It broadcasts up to one hundred thousand radio channels, which is quite a step up from the handful of stations you’re currently limited to. It is available on Android and Apple devices.
- iHeartRadio — iHeartRadio is also available on both Android and Apple devices and is unique in that it allows you to create custom stations. By picking your favorite artists, you can create a channel that broadcasts your favorite tunes. It also has radio streams and ready-made playlists if you don’t want to play the curator.
- myTuner Radio — This app acts as your tuner, leveraging the internet to give you access to live streaming AM and FM stations from all over the world. This is something people who have relocated regionally can appreciate. Sometimes, local stations from middle America aren’t accessible via radio in coastal cities. Still, if you use this app, you can access all the channels available over the internet through the service.
Get an Aux Cord
The cheapest and simplest method to connect your phone to your car’s audio system is an aux cord. While Bluetooth adapters can also do this job, I strongly recommend AUX because it is cost-effective and will cost you less than getting your car’s radio repaired.
Play Radio Through Your Car’s Speakers
Finally, you just need to open one of the radio apps and select a station to start enjoying the content. Once you connect your aux cable to your car, you’ll have the radio playing through your car’s speakers in much higher quality, even with the best antenna.
Top Aux Cables for iPhone
Whether you’ve decided to use your mobile internet to play AM and FM radio content via radio apps, or you want to switch to podcast and music content played over Spotify, an AUX cable will enhance your experience by allowing you to use your car’s speakers.
Here are my top recommendations.
This cable allows you to connect your iPhone 7, 8, 8 Plus, XR, or 11 to the car’s speaker system. It has 326 ratings on Amazon with a global average of 4.3 stars out of 5.
This cable is 3.3 ft long and gives you more flexibility in connecting your iPhone or iPad to your car’s audio system. The models it works for include all variations of iPhone, 5, 6, 7, 8, and X.
Feekee Aux cord packs a punch with the added benefit of a charge port alongside the standard connectivity to your car’s audio. It works for iPhones 7 through 11 (all variations).
Top Audio-Connectors for Android
Standard Aux cables like Syncwire 3.5mm Nylon Braided Aux Cable are produced with a 3.3 mm (0.12 in) jack, which can connect to most Android-running smartphones as well as cars’ head units. I am using this cable daily and like it so much. No wonder why it has over forty-four thousand reviews and ratings with a global average of 4.6 stars out of five.
Even if you do not have a head unit to connect your Aux to, you do not need to worry. Simply purchase a Bluetooth adapter to connect your android device to your car’s audio.
LIHAN Handsfree Call system is an adapter you can use to connect your car’s audio system to your iPhone or Android device. It also has an in-built radio transmitter, and I can tell without a shadow of a doubt, it is a reliable purchase.
Your car radio might be limited to one or two stations because of a bad antenna or faulty wiring.
Unless the problem is with your geographic location, you can solve the issue with replacement. A replacement antenna or a booster can amplify the signals.
If you need to replace the head unit entirely, I recommend you go for a GPS unit with DAB radio and Bluetooth capabilities to have more options.