Site Owner & Radio Enthusiast
Ugh! No matter how you tune it, your AM radio sounds terrible.
You can barely even hear what the newscasters are saying. You especially can’t risk poor AM quality when listening for major news updates, and it’s not so fun when tuning in for casual listening, either.
Why does your AM radio sound so bad?
Here are some reasons for poor AM radio quality:
● You’re listening during the day
● You’re listening at night
● You have too many electronics running
● You’re not using an external antenna
● Your antenna isn’t facing the correct direction
● Your radio isn’t facing the right direction
This article will address the causes of low-quality AM radio and present some solutions.
Whether you tune into AM to communicate with others, listen to live updates, or as part of a hobby, you won’t want to miss the advice coming up!
Why Does AM Radio Sound Bad? 6 Possible Causes (and Fixes!)
Issue #1. You’re Listening During the Day
AM radio can travel at least 100 miles by day, far outpacing the 30 or so miles FM radio can reach.
That makes it the more advantageous listening option between the two, especially if you appreciate talk radio, news broadcasts, or sports radio.
However, compared to the distance AM radio can reach at night, its traveling abilities are moderately capped during the day.
The reason has to do with the ionosphere and how radio waves travel.
We’ve discussed this on the blog in another post, but the gist is that the ionosphere is full of single molecules by day that pair up more readily at night.
It’s harder for AM radio waves to travel, which limits their reach.
Being aware as you are now that AM stations don’t reach as far by day, listen to stations within a 100-mile radius.
Double-check that the station broadcasts during the day. Some AM stations may skip days or operate on a limited schedule.
The FCC has an AM Query resource that’s invaluable for finding your favorite AM station and its hours of operation.
You don’t have to know the entire call sign to look it up. You can input a partial call sign, and the AM Query will find it.
Once you know the daylight hours your favorite AM station broadcasts, make sure you tune in at those times!
Issue #2. You’re Listening at Night
When the sun sets and no longer ionizes the molecules in the ionosphere, their behavior begins to change.
They group together, allowing AM radio waves to travel more across the ionosphere.
The result? AM increases its travel radius by hundreds of miles at night.
This may seem like you’ll never have an issue catching your favorite station after dark, but you’d be surprised!
The FCC requires some AM stations to reduce power at night, which might limit your listening radius.
Other stations must stop operations altogether, although usually only if they don’t have safety equipment.
Once again, we refer you to the AM Query or a similar tool for checking the hours your favorite AM station broadcasts.
The station might have to reduce power at night, so if you can shrink the distance from your radio to the station (most radios are portable, after all!), try tuning in closer and seeing if that helps.
If the station has to stop broadcasting at night, listen to it during the day or find another station to enjoy.
They usually come through crystal clear at night!
Issue #3. You Have Too Many Electronics On
Running electronics in your home when you’re not using them does more than waste power.
It can also degrade the fidelity of your AM signal.
As discussed in this post, everyday electronics are culprits, from televisions to smartphone chargers, laptop and desktop computers, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, lights, printers and scanners, and electric blankets.
Unplug as many electronics as you can.
We understand not wanting to unplug your microwave, and maybe not your TV from the wall, if you don’t want to reset all your preferences and settings when you plug it back in.
However, everything you aren’t using should be unplugged.
Turn off whatever you don’t think you’ll use while listening to AM radio and unplug that too.
The fewer appliances and electronics running, the better your AM signal should sound.
Issue #4. You’re Not Using an External Antenna
Many radios have AM antenna inputs that support external antennas.
If yours doesn’t, consider upgrading to one that does. That in and of itself could be a big part of your problem!
Add a loop antenna if your radio includes an external antenna input.
This circular-shaped antenna boosts radio reception, eliminating your problem with poor-sounding AM radio.
If even a loop antenna doesn’t improve the clarity of the radio enough for your liking, try an antenna booster.
However, these options only work if you’ve reduced indoor interference from electronics and appliances.
Issue #5. Your Antenna Isn’t Facing the Right Direction
How you position your antenna matters!
If the antenna is situated all willy-nilly, that could explain why your AM radio reception is less than desirable.
If you’re using a loop antenna, it should aim toward the direction where you know the AM station emanates from.
Think of the antenna like a wheel while you position it.
For any other type of AM antenna, you can do the same, minus the part about the wheel.
Issue #6. Your Radio Isn’t Facing the Right Direction
The great thing about today’s radios is that most are portable. You should be able to lift and move your radio effortlessly if you need better reception on your favorite AM station.
Position your radio so it faces toward the nearest window with its rear aimed outside. This method is most effective when you reduce outside interference from your electronics.
When AM radio sounds bad, it helps to start with the sources of interference you might generate from your electronics to your appliances.
Once you unplug those, use a loop antenna or an antenna booster, position the antenna and radio correctly, and listen at night.
You should hear much better-sounding AM radio!