Illustration of a TV with an antenna. Antenna users should rescan to keep getting free TV.

With more of us looking to save money on our monthly TV bills, it’s no surprise that TV antennas have made a comeback. Once you get an antenna, you can tune in to local broadcast channels, such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, as well as PBS and Telemundo. It’s free TV.

But over the past few years, a number of broadcast networks have been warning viewers that their stations are moving to new frequencies. If you get your TV signals using an antenna, that means you’ve had to periodically rescan for channels to keep receiving those stations. Those who get TV from cable or a streaming service aren’t affected.

That’s true now as well because we’re nearing the end of the time when stations are moving to new frequencies. The transition, which started in April 2017, will be completed at the end of July 2020. So you may want to rescan for channels now, if you haven’t done it recently, and one more time in August.

Rescanning simply means having your TV’s tuner do an automated update to look for new channels. This will allow your TV to find your favorite channels at their new frequencies. Though the frequency may be new, the channel numbers you use won’t change—channel 5 will still be channel 5, and so on.

Why have stations been moving? Several years ago, Congress authorized the Federal Communications Commission to hold a spectrum auction, freeing up some over-the-air broadcast TV frequencies to make room for new high-speed wireless services.

More on TV Antennas

Once the auction was completed, about 1,000 TV stations had to change their frequencies. In addition, about a dozen stations have gone off the air entirely, and some new stations have come online.

Numerous online resources can help you learn whether any local stations will be moving and, if so, when. For example, the National Association of Broadcasters has created a helpful website, TVAnswers.org. We also recommend the FCC’s interactive DTV map. Both can provide general information about station reassignments, and you can find out when your local TV stations are moving by entering your address or ZIP code. The TVAnswers site also lets you sign up to get alerts when a local station is moving.

But even when the spectrum reassignment is completed, you still might want to perform a channel rescan every once in a while.

For example, if you originally scanned for channels on a cloudy or rainy day, you might not be receiving all the channels available to you.

Also, most stations now have digital subchannels in addition to the main program you’re tuned to. A rescan will help you capture any new subchannels, with programming that often includes a mix of vintage TV shows, nature programs, weather, and foreign-language programming.

Here's How to Rescan

It’s fairly simple to rescan for channels. The process varies a bit depending on which brand of TV you own, but ultimately you’re looking for a control that says Channel Scan or Channel Tuning.

Start by using your TV remote control (or a digital converter box remote if you still have an older analog TV) to press the Menu or Setup button. You may see the Channel Scan control right away, or it could be one layer down, under Antenna, Channels, or Channel List. It might be called Live TV (on LG TVs) or Broadcast (on Samsung sets). On any brand of TV, if you’re having trouble finding the right option, look under Settings or Setup.

Once you find Channel Scan or Channel Tuning, you may have a choice to tune automatically (Autotune or Autoscan) or manually. You want the automatic option, which will make the TV search through all the channels.  

If you don’t see any of these options, you can usually perform a channel scan by selecting the Input button on the TV remote or in the TV’s main menu, then choosing Antenna.

Depending on the number of channels you can receive, it could take a few minutes to complete the rescan. If it doesn’t work the first time, try again. We recommend doing a second channel scan anyway just to see whether you get any stations you missed on the first rescan.

If you’re already using an antenna to get free TV, none of this will take new equipment. The one exception is if a local station moves from UHF (channels 14 to 51) to VHF (channels 1 to 13) and your current antenna is either UHF-only or gets poor VHF reception. In those cases, you might want to consider a new antenna. (More on that below.)

Don't Have an Antenna Yet?

If you’re just getting started with free over-the-air TV, you’ll be in good company. Even many consumers who have switched to streaming video services, such as DirecTV Now or Sling TV, use an antenna for local stations not included with their package. In fact, a quarter of all U.S. households with internet service now use a TV antenna to get free TV service, according to research firm Parks Associates, up from 15 percent in 2018.

Having the right antenna can help you get more of your local channels. Our test results cover 10 popular antennas, ranging in price from $10 to $80; we’re in the midst of testing another batch of antennas right now. Your reception will also depend heavily on your distance from broadcast towers, along with topography—such as mountains or tall buildings—that could interfere with signals. Amplified models can often help pull in more distant stations.

A final reminder if you’re shopping for an antenna: Make sure it can receive both VHF and UHF frequencies. Some antennas provide good reception for only VHF or UHF channels but not both. But to get all the stations you can receive in your area, you’ll need an antenna that can receive both.