How to Watch Local TV Without Cable (or Satellite)

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Watching television can be expensive. Cable TV packages range in price from $40 or more for a very basic package to $150+ for the comprehensive packages. A large cable or satellite TV package can really make a dent in the average budget. As a result, people often seek out ways to watch local TV without cable.

There may be dozens of local TV channels available for viewing in your area that you can access for free. But, it’s a matter of knowing how to access them without having a cable or satellite TV subscription.

4 Ways to Get Local Channels Without Cable

When I was researching local cable company pricing for this post, I found that most of the cable companies where I live charge $50 per month just for the pleasure of viewing local TV channels.  Bigger packages started at about $70 per month, and that didn’t include taxes, fees, installation charges, and monthly equipment rental fees.

As you can see, a cable or satellite TV package can get expensive quickly, even when you just want to have a better quality reception to watch local TV channels. So, what are your alternatives? How can you have access to the local channels in your area if you don’t want to pay for a cable or satellite subscription? Here are four ideas.

1. Get an HD Antenna

Using an HD antenna takes a bit of money and a bit of knowledge as well. It matters where you place your antenna. Using this cool website called Antenna Web, I did an address search of our country home to find out how many channels we could get if we hooked up an HD antenna.

When I typed in our address without checking the box stating that the antenna would be installed at least 30 feet above ground, it said we could get 52 local channels by using an HD antenna. However, if we install the antenna at least thirty feet above ground, we could get 55 local channels.

It’s not a big difference in the number of channels, depending on what those other three channels broadcasted. Even without installing the antenna at thirty feet or above, we could view some channels that were 40-plus miles away from our house.

What Type of Antenna?

The answer to that question can vary. One way to determine which type of antenna is best for you is to find out what direction the broadcast stations are in comparison to your house. If they’re all located in a single location from your house, you can use a directional antenna. A directional antenna focuses its power in one direction.

If the broadcast towers are located in the same general direction but multiple locations, a multi-directional antenna will likely work the best.

If towers are located in multiple directions that aren’t necessarily near one another, an omnidirectional antenna is a good choice. You can also buy a good directional antenna that has a remote. The remote allows you to change the direction the antenna faces according to which tower you’re accessing at a given time.

If you live further out you’ll likely need a more powerful antenna. However, if you live within 20 miles of most broadcast stations, you can probably get away with something a little less powerful.

Indoor or Outdoor Antennas?

An indoor antenna should work fine if you live in close proximity (within 20 miles or so) to broadcasting stations. You’ll also need an indoor antenna if you live in an apartment, townhome, or condominium where installing an outdoor antenna is not allowed.

However, if you can get away with installing an outdoor antenna, you’ll probably have better reception no matter where you live. If you live far away from broadcasting stations, an outdoor antenna is a must.

While an antenna is probably the best option for maximizing the number of local channels you can view without having cable TV, there are other options as well.

2. Watch Local Channels Online

You may be able to watch your local channels online from your computer if you have Internet access.

Big local stations such as:

Often offer free online viewing of the shows they air.  However, the ability to live stream shows on national networks such as these may or may not be available to you depending on different factors.

For instance, when I tried to watch live shows on ABC from my home computer, the site told me that live streaming wasn’t available in my area. Other sites, such as CBS, offer free viewing of some shows as well as a live streaming service that allows you to watch all local CBS shows from your computer at home.

CBS All Access, for example, offers live streaming of their channel starting at $5.99 per month. However, the service may or may not be available in your area.

3. Get Sling TV

Sling TV is a streaming service similar to Netflix or Hulu as it is accessed via your Internet connection. Unlike similar streaming services, Sling TV specializes in streaming live TV shows instead of on-demand shows. In that way, Sling is similar to cable or satellite TV companies.

Sling TV offers three packages:

  • The Orange package for $20 a month
  • The Blue package for $25 a month
  • The combination Orange/Blue package for $40 a month

While there is some crossover in the types of channels available with the orange and blue packages, there are some channels that are only available in one package or the other. Also, the orange package is limited to one user at a time while the blue package supports multiple (up to 3) devices at a time.

It’s important to note as well that a Sling TV package might not contain all of the local channels in your area. Their website states that channels such as FOX, NBC and ABC are only available in select markets.

Sling TV can be a good alternative to high cable and satellite TV costs, but it might not be able to give you access to all of your local channels like an antenna would.

infographic showing on how to watch local television without cable

4. Download a Mobile App

Many local stations offer mobile apps for watching local TV shows on your smartphone or other mobile devices for free. CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and the CW stations all offer mobile apps that allow you to stream local TV shows on your mobile app without the need for a subscription or a cable or satellite hookup.

It’s important to note that each app works a bit differently. The CBS app allows viewers to see full episodes of their favorite CBS shows on-demand the day after they air.

However, if you want access to live streaming or to their full archives, you’ll have to pay for their CBS All Access package which I talked about earlier. As I mentioned, CBS All Access has packages starting at $5.99 per month.

The ABC App

The ABC app offers archive viewing and live stream viewing for free, however in some larger markets such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City you need to have a cable or satellite provider to do so.

The NBC App

The NBC app offers free viewing of recent episodes of some new shows. They also offer some older episodes and shows from your mobile device. While live streaming and some recent episodes require mobile viewers to have a satellite or cable provider.

The Fox App

The Fox app allows you to stream most shows the day after the original airing date. However, more selections and live streaming are available with your participating TV provider account.

The CW App

The CW app is probably the least akin to live TV. While they offer to stream for free, they only offer to view the five most recent episodes of each show. And there’s not an option to view more if you have a TV subscription provider.

Also, mobile apps are also available for some other TV cable channels.

Mobile apps without TV subscription packages may not give you every option for watching your favorite local channel’s shows without a cable subscription. Yet, they do help you increase the number of shows you can see for free on your mobile device.

Summary

Considering the wide variety of ways you can watch local TV without cable or satellite, it’s just one more reason to cut the cord and stop paying for expensive cable TV packages. Using the information above can help you determine which route is the most cost-effective and convenient for you.

How do you watch local TV without cable?

64 COMMENTS

64 responses to “How to Watch Local TV Without Cable (or Satellite)”

  1. User1 says:

    Do your homework.. There is no such thing as an “HD” antenna. The term is a gimmick.

    • Deacon Hayes says:

      Regardless of the terminology, the antennas themselves are called HDTV antennas. So if you do want to get local channels these days without cable, that is one of the ways to go.

      • Chanel Tucker says:

        Will you be able to get local channels if your tv is not HD standard?

      • J Smith Mcy says:

        You do have somewhat a diff ‘Analog’ vs ‘HD’ and a conversion, depending on equipment/personal preference and availability. That’s been my personal experience in the past. And ‘wiring’, or these days some lack of, “#wireless” now.
        I’m always open to ‘The New’… of times… I’ve also been checking out ‘building our own antenna’. I’m on SSD, older and no help at all. Here we have 9 major (incorporated, non-county) cities. In 2016 they completely cut off the ‘required (by law) access’, to “local feeds and channels”. One of those nine “incorporated” cities, mine being “that (incorporated) city”, cut off completely. The required law (in part) was, and is, based on the right to the service(s) for ’emergency’ purposes and NEWS information… I still don’t know how (for sure) they get away with it. I’m gonna keep on checking in.

      • J Smith Mcy says:

        See my comments and reply below in ‘HD’. I think… Oooops… 🙄

    • Steve kramer says:

      You’re the reason that I sit in and personally interview even the techies at my company, not just the C level executives. I don’t want any condescending know it all assclowns like you slipping by my HR department. Deacon is right: THAT is what they are called. He doesn’t need to do his homework, but please, stay in the server room or your parents basement away from the adults.

      • J Smith Mcy says:

        Wow peeps… I hope I’m not in the way. I’m just looking for help and input… Sorry… Have a nice day. 🤠

    • Donald Ritz says:

      Thank you. Well put.

  2. T.j says:

    Will this work without me having internet?

  3. charles says:

    I’m concerned that my internet GB’s cost will be out of sight. A one hour movie uses more that 1 GB.

  4. Dinah says:

    I have a Roku box and I have Amazon prime. Do I still need an outdoor/indoor antenna? What can I do?

    • Deacon says:

      Hi Dinah, that’s up to you. You don’t necessarily HAVE to get one if you are able to watch the shows you want already. But, for local channels, you probably need an antenna of some kind.

  5. Barbara Stamps says:

    My cable company, Spectrum, has removed my local channels: NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC. But, they are still charging me full usage. I’m 110 miles away from these broadcasts. How can I get these channels?

    • Deacon says:

      I’m not sure. Maybe you can find an antenna with a farther reach?

    • Kathleen says:

      We also have Spectrum and have all those Channels in Wisconsin working.
      Anyone with Direct TV will not be able to access ABC because of trouble between the two. We have an antenna to be able to watch ABC.

  6. Mark says:

    Can you recommend a solution for my new Vizio smart TV? It only has HDMI, comp, and smartcast options. I would like to hookup up something to watch local channels without having to stream. I live in a rural area and would like to have my gb for other things. Is there a receiver appliance?

    • Deacon says:

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to get. If you don’t want to stream, there’s not much point in having a smart TV vs a regular TV. You can try to use an antenna to get TV channels without streaming. But in rural areas, that’s going to be limited.

  7. Jack says:

    Sadly, we can’t get signals via an antenna due to buildings and trees. Antennas require line of sight. Cable and streaming are our only options, but streaming is very limited when it comes to local news. We’re seriously considering cutting the cable and watching PBS News Hour for national and international news, but local news is, at this time, the problem. I remember when cable TV first started and we were told we’d have options and it would be affordable. For us, neither has come to be. Now with HDTV we are unable to receive signals through the airwaves.

  8. Sally says:

    What about YouTube’s TV service? I know it’s $40 per month and the channel selection doesn’t seem too bad. Plus, you can watch YouTube videos without commercials. Does anyone use that service?

    • Char says:

      Hi Sally! Is it correct to assume that internet service is required to use YouTube’s TV service and that it is only accessible via computer/phone only, and not a TV? Thanks.

    • Mike Olson says:

      Sally, I use YouTube TV and it works great. I get all my local channels and a total of about 40. They also supply a large amount of movies and TV shows. My 40 dollar fee is half of what I paid to cable and DirecTV. A point of using it when you first start is if you’re done with your use of YouTube, use your back button several times to get an exit screen. It is really easy. Otherwise, you will have to go to sign in screens all the time. It took me a little while to figure all this out. Good luck.

  9. Suzanne says:

    How far away from your house can you install an HDTV antenna? We live on a farm, and the house sits down in a valley area. Up towards the road is our barn, which is at an elevation 30-35 feet higher than the house. I have power there, and I have a coax that runs underground that I could use, plus a CAT6 OSP cable (both in PVC conduits). I’d like to install an omni-directional antenna there to improve my reception capabilities, but I don’t know whether this is feasible, given the barn is about 500-600 ft from the house.

  10. francis says:

    I live in an apartment where I don’t have cable, but I have a Samsung smart TV. Also I cannot install an antena, but I have a phone with unlimited internet. Do you have any comments, please, so I can watch TV?

    • Deacon says:

      I would try a mobile app, as mentioned in #4 in the article. However, you might also try contacting your internet provider for your phone to see if you can set it up as a hot spot. You should then be able to stream TV, I believe.

    • Diane says:

      There is a selection of indoor antennas on Amazon that you can place by the TV or on a window or wall. There are also different websites that help you with placement of it for best viewing. Maybe something like that would work!

  11. Caleb says:

    I live about 15-20 miles from where my local channels are broadcast. However, the small valley I reside in is blocked by the foothills. I can’t get any local channels via normal antennas. I’m wondering if the HD antenna will make a difference?

    • Deacon says:

      Did you try using the website in the post? It may help you decide if an HD antenna will work for you or not.

  12. NewYorker says:

    I live on the West Side of Manhattan and watch only local channels using an antenna. Unfortunately the signal is periodically interrupted so that I get sound but not a picture (gray and white horizontal stripes appear on the screen). Is there any way to determine the source of this interference or to counteract it? The timing of it has led me to wonder if the use of cable or streaming in the area is creating the problem.

    • Deacon says:

      There are some great tips from the FCC on what to do about interference. I don’t know if it will solve your issues, but they might be worth a shot. Go here to find out more: fcc.gov. Click on consumers and then guides. Look for “Interference Radio TV and Telephone Signals”.

  13. Michelle says:

    Why is it that when I search, “how to watch TV for free”, I have articles like this telling me to stream TV or sign up with Sling,Hulu, or AmazonPrime? Internet service is not free or even cheap, and adding another $10-30 on top of internet services comes out about the same cost as cable. :-\
    Can I use an HD antenna and NOT have to set up internet, too?

    • Deacon says:

      I totally get what you are saying. However, if you are getting internet for another reason such as for computer use, etc., then you’d be paying for it anyway. That’s why it isn’t always figured into the costs when we talk about streaming.
      Of course if streaming, or TV, is the only reason you have internet, then by all means, add it into your figures when comparing costs. This article is meant to be a source for options when you want to get rid of cable.
      As far as using an antenna, no you wouldn’t need internet. Just remember, if you use internet for computers, phones, or other devices, shutting it off for TV will shut it off for those devices as well. Good luck in your quest to cut costs and rid yourself of cable! I hope you find an alternative that works for you.

  14. Ron B says:

    An indoor antenna should have a dB gain number, correct? The more, the better, I would think. Also, how would one switch between cable and antenna? Is there an A/B switch I would need? The TV is HD. Thanks.

    • Deacon says:

      Yes, in theory, the higher the dB gain number the better. Although, overall performance is just as important. You must also consider where you live and where the broadcast towers are located. If they are over the visual horizon, a higher number is better. If not, a lower number is ok. You must watch out for high dB numbers that are marketing ploys to get you to pay more for a product you may not need.

  15. CeeCee says:

    I have a old time TV antenna still on my roof will that still work for my TV.

  16. Dawna says:

    I live too far away. Even an outdoor antenna doesn’t work!

  17. Cindy A Hampton says:

    I like the idea of getting local channels with an antenna, but how do you view them? I currently have an Apple TV streaming DirecTVNow with local channels and sports channels. If I switch to local channels by antenna and a streaming service, how do I view the local channels? Is it a switch on the remote, or am I going in and out of the streaming service to tap on the individual local station app?

    • Deacon says:

      It depends a little on how you set everything up, but I believe you should be able to switch between them on your remote.

  18. Josh says:

    I’m confused that with DirecTV Now you don’t need an antenna to watch your local stations, but with Sling you do need an antenna? Why is that? They are both online streaming services.

    • Deacon says:

      Keep in mind that just because they are both online streaming services that doesn’t mean they offer the same thing.

  19. Norman Ramme says:

    Get locast in your area. It is available in several east coast cities but few in the western US. Service is free, but donations help pay for local antenna installation and internet channel operation. It replaces ugly indoor and outdoor antennas and contains a good quality picture. They also contribute to greater local TV advertising, and local news and weather. Service is good for areas where visibility is blocked by trees, mountains, and tall buildings. They have good service for a reasonable price.

  20. Deanna says:

    I thought everything going HD was why we had to get digital converters for the older TVs. The government actually gave them out for free for awhile at first. Also, if you can mirror to your TV from your phone, you can pull up live streams of the news and watch it that way.

    • Deacon says:

      That’s true, Deanna, depending on the model of phone and TV you have. Not all of them have that capability. Of course, you might be able to use an app or device to get it done as well.

  21. Judy says:

    How do you mirror from a smartphone to your TV? I don’t have a computer with internet.

    • Deacon says:

      Depending on the make and model of your phone, you might be able to do it without purchasing anything. For instance, I think some Samsung phones have the capability built in. Regardless of the kind of phone you have, go to your settings on your phone and you can check for mirroring capability. If you have a manual that came with your phone, it might tell you also. Or, you could check with your service provider to see if it can be done. In addition, you might be able to do it by purchasing a Roku, Chromecast, or other device that enables you to do it if your phone doesn’t have the option available.

  22. Skip says:

    To answer several people’s questions from my experience: 1) The antenna option doesn’t work for me. I’m in a canyon on the backside of the mountain and can only get 2 stations – one Spanish and one English (PBS); 2) Yes, your data will go through the roof, especially if you upgrade to 4K. I have unlimited data through my cellular service with a microcell, like a hotspot for my house WiFi. That being said, I used 51GB in the last week on just that device; 3) You can use Chromecast to mirror your phone. Newer TV’s have HDMI connections to your laptop, but you are still using data; 4) DirecTV streams local channels and Sling tells you to get an antenna. Local apps only work if you have a subscription to a carrier, which defeats the purpose.

  23. Simon says:

    The best option is BCE Premium TV.

  24. Brenda Collins says:

    I’ve spent a lot of money buying worthless antennas. They all claimed they work but when I hooked them up the way they said, nothing worked! For them to work, you have to be in a big city or just outside of one. They are all in the trash now and useless. It’s the dumbest thing they ever did. Now people can’t even watch TV. Don’t give me the, “No, you did something wrong”. I even called them and it still didn’t help. It’s good for cable and internet because they are making a killing off it. Those who don’t want it don’t have TV due to this fact. I don’t want cable or internet and it’s only for my husband. For something to watch, I want something that works.

    • Deacon says:

      I hope you tried to send them back or get your money back before simply tossing them in the garbage. Thanks for your comments and I hope you find a cheaper alternative than cable.

  25. Laura says:

    Hi I recently purchased an RCA 45 range antenna. However, I’m unable to pick up anything but ABC channel 7, so I’m getting ready to purchase a 60 my range hoping that it will do the trick. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Deacon says:

      There are lots of factors when dealing with antennas. It could be the range, but you also have to consider the area where you live. For instance, are you in a valley or low spot? Or, could there be tall structures in the way that are causing interference? These are things that might affect your reception. Also, I assume you’ve already checked to ensure that the use of an antenna will get you the channels you are wanting. I hope your new antenna works. But just in case, you could do some checking with the seller or manufacturer first to ensure you have the right one for the job or that you can return it if it doesn’t work. Good luck!

  26. glenn roderick says:

    I’m interested in the package deal, orange blue sling, and that is $40 for up to 3 TV’s. Do I need to get an internet connection separately?

    • Deacon says:

      The best way to find out everything that you need is to go to their site. They should have information that tells you what is needed. If not, feel free to send them an email to find out. You should be able to find their contact information on their site.

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