Installation and Reception problems

Help and Information about installation and reception problems affecting FM radio

Installation problems

Most portable radios and hi-fi systems come with their own aerials, though for the best reception you may want to connect a separate, more powerful aerial.

Portable FM radios usually have a built-in telescopic aerial. For the best results:

  • Extend the aerial fully and tilt and swivel it until you get the best signal.
  • Try moving the radio to a different position, such as near a window, or upstairs rather than downstairs.
  • Keep the radio away from metal surfaces such as radiators and refrigerators.

Hi-fi systems with an FM tuner typically have a wire or a T-shaped ribbon cable as an aerial. This must be connected to the correct terminals on the system. Please see your manual for details.

If you get background hiss when listening in stereo, but not when you switch to mono, this is a sign that the signal is not strong enough. A separate aerial should improve the sound quality. This should be connected to the aerial socket on your radio - check first that your set has such a socket.

  • The simplest solution is an indoor FM aerial, available from electrical shops. However, this may not give good results for stereo so is not recommended for serious listening.
  • The best solution is an outdoor aerial on the roof or outside of the house, or even in the loft - in general, the higher up it is, the better. For help with aerials 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). Alternatively visit the Website of Registered Digital Installers (RDI) Get Me Digital is the consumer site of the RDI, created to promote digital installation and digital service providers directly to the consumer.

Reception Problems

Most reception problems on FM radio are caused either by a weak signal or by some kind of interference

Hissing or fading

Hissing or fading means the signal reaching your radio is not strong enough.

  • Use our reception problems tool to see if your local transmitter is currently being affected by maintenance work.
  • If you have a portable radio with a telescopic aerial, make sure it is fully extended. Tilt and swivel the aerial until you get the best signal.
  • Try moving the radio to another position, such as near a window, higher up or in another room.
  • If your FM tuner is part of a hi-fi system, make sure you have connected the wire or ribbon cable aerial supplied. Consult your system's manual for details.
  • Stereo needs a stronger signal than mono, so if you get hiss when listening to stereo, try switching to mono.
  • Very occasionally, unusual atmospheric conditions (high air pressure) may cause sound break-up or even complete loss of reception. There is nothing anyone can do about this and the only solution is to wait for the weather to change. For more information on high pressure see our weather related interference page

If there is still no improvement, you may need a separate aerial (as long as your radio has an aerial socket). You could use an indoor aerial, or have an aerial installed on the roof or outside of the house, or in the loft. See Radio aerials for more information.

Distorted S and Z sounds (sibilance)

This is caused by what is known as multipath distortion. It happens because signals from the transmitter travel by more than one path to your radio: one signal is reflected off tall buildings or hills and arrives a moment later than the direct signal, causing interference. Things to try:

  • If you are using a portable radio, move it around the room.
  • Tune to another frequency for the same station.
  • Use a directional rooftop aerial that picks up only the direct signal from the transmitter.

Twittering and whistling

These annoying sounds (sometimes called 'birdies') are usually caused by another station transmitting on a frequency very close to the station you are listening to.

  • A separate aerial, preferably a directional rooftop aerial, may reduce the interference.

Twittering noises can also be caused by high air pressure, which brings fine weather and also allows FM signals to travel further than normal. You may also get interference from strong foreign stations. There is nothing you can do about this - reception will only improve when the weather changes.

If you are very close to a transmitter, noises or distortion may be caused by a very strong signal. Things to try:

  • If you have a portable radio, partly close the telescopic aerial.
  • If you have a hi-fi system, you can plug a device called an attenuator (available from electrical shops) into the tuner's aerial socket.

Buzzing, crackling and clicks

Bursts of buzzing or regular clicks are often caused by interference from something powered by electricity, such as a domestic appliance or a faulty fridge or central heating thermostat. If you are not sure what is causing the interference, leave the radio on and try switching off or disconnecting your appliances one at a time to see if there is an improvement. Also check the radio in case it has a loose aerial connection or mains lead.

Interference from Pirate Radio

For general information about pirate radio and to check if you are in the coverage area of the station you are trying to receive:

To report a problem with pirate radio interference: