Free TV and Radio Channels You’re Missing Out On [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Oct07

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Free TV and Radio Channels You’re Missing Out On [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

There are tons of free television and radio stations on the air right now, beaming into your home and car, which most people don’t  know exist.  But fear not, I’m about to help you access these stations – FOR FREE!

In a recent blogumn, I discussed how you can listen to distant radio stations from other cities.  Some of the stations that I talked about were digital sub-channels only. Sub-channels are additional channels that both TV and radio stations are broadcasting along with their main signals, for free.  These subchannels are often labeled .2 or HD-2 (and up), but these are completely different channels from their main station, so it’s like getting a second channel for free!

As technology advanced, and the government stepped in, stations began broadcasting in digital. With an old analog signal, they were only able to send one channel of programming.  Now that stations are broadcasting in digital, which is nothing more than sending 1’s and 0’s over the air, they are able to send several different channels at once.

The sad part is most TV and radio stations have done a really bad job implementing and explaining what these channels are.  But fear not – I’ll make it simple!  So, let’s look at TV first.


Television stations make most of their money by broadcasting one of the major networks on their main feed.  This is usually the original analog channel number they were assigned when the station began broadcasting a long time ago.

In 2010, when stations were forced to turn off their analog signals by our government and go strictly digital the original channel numbers became meaningless.  Stations were reassigned new digital channel numbers, but most continued to use the old number on-air, so viewers would not get confused.

Many however have begun to slowly faze them out.  While the NBC affiliate in New York is known on-air as 4 New York, they are beginning to refer to themselves as NBC New York. In San Jose, California, they are simply known as NBC Bay Area.

While WNBC New York broadcasts their main NBC network and local programming on channel 4 (now technically known as 4.1) they also operate two other digital subchannels:

WNBC 4.2 New York Nonstop

WNBC 4.3 Universal Sports

Some of the digital channels can be hard to find. Mine are hundreds of channels away on my cable guide.

New York Nonstop is a completely localized station featuring shows highly focused on life in New York. The station offers celebrity interviews, explorations of hot bars and restaurants, in addition to a nightly 7 p.m. newscast.  The channel was original NBC Weather Plus, but that service was shut down nationwide in 2009.  Many other cities have adopted the Nonstop format.

Universal sports is an NBC channel featuring various sporting events.  NBC will also air 2012 Olympic games on this channel during their coverage.

Here are a few more examples from random cities around the US:

WTRF Wheeling, West Virginia

WTRF 7.1Main CBS programming

WTRF 7.2 FOX / MyNetwork TV


KTNV Las Vegas, Nevada


KTNV 13.2 Mexicanal

KTNV 13.3 Live Well

KTLA Los Angeles

KTLA 5.1 The CW

KTLA 5.2 Antenna TV

KTLA 5.3 This TV

A few specialty television networks have been created to take advantage of these sub-channels.  Some of the bigger are:

Retro television programming:  ThisTV, Antenna TV, and MeTV

News and lifestyle: The Accuweather Channel, ION Life, and Live Well

Music: MTV 2, Tr3s

Kids: qubo, funimation, PBJ, PBS Kids

Foreign: NHK World, KBS World, DW, Asia Vision

Shopping: HSN, Jewelry TV, ShopNBC

In addition, many local stations also offer repeats of their newscasts on a loop as a sub-channel.  In smaller markets, stations will offer a secondary affiliate, if they are missing one of the major network affiliations (such as ABC, FOX, or the CW) in their area.  Some of these sub-channels are still nothing more than simple traffic cameras or weather maps on a loop.

A new HDTV or a digital antenna is able to pick up these channels.  If you’re looking to drop expensive cable, this may be the way to add more viewing content to your home.

Sadly, most of these channels are not available on satellite and very few are available on cable.  On my television, they are hundreds of channels away from their main channel counterparts in the onscreen guide.  At my grandmother’s home, none are available on cable, even though they are being broadcast.

The lack of carriage and the lack of promotion have caused most of these channels to suffer from low ratings.


An HD Radio showing a digital subchannel.

As with television, local radio stations are also broadcasting digital sub-channels.  While they are branded as HD Radio, it has nothing to do with television’s digital transition.

Most radio stations are still broadcasting an analog signal and most also offer a digital signal, allowing them to broadcast several channels at once.

WHTZ, Z-100 New York, is one of the nation’s most popular rock stations. WHTZ also offers a Top 40 format on their digital sub-channel Z-100 HD2.

Like television, special HD radio receivers are required to access these free sub-channels.  Many are also simulcast on the internet.

New car radio tuned into a FM digital subchannel.

One of the major challenges to HD Radio is the lack of receivers that can tune into the programming.  They are widely available in stores, but most people are slow to jump into the HD Radio market.  Newer cars are being sold with HD digital capable receivers, but owners of older autos are simply not going through the expense of removing their old radio and installing a pricey new one in their car.

While these TV and radio channels are available in most of the United States – a band-width limitation can also affect the quality of the signal.  In order to broadcast a signal further or add more channels, stations are forced to down compress these broadcasts leading to much lower audio and video quality.  It can be noticeable on a large HDTV or if you turn the volume way up on a digital radio.

Whether you want to pick up the additional feed of traffic cameras in Philadelphia, or the MyNetwork TV affiliate in Bangor, Maine, or the Spanish radio stations in Texas – these hidden sub-channels on both TV and radio are out there.  While they are little promoted, there are hours of quality entertainment that’s yours for the taking – and now you know how to find it!

THE 411

What: Digital radio and television subchannels

Where: available across the entire United Stations

Requires: HDTV, digital antenna, or HD Radio

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:  These channels are out there.  If you have an HDTV, you can do a simple channel scan by removing your cable input and switching to straight TV mode.  You will be surprised what you can pull in over the air.  I’ve heard that some people in New York can pull in stations from Philadelphia.

Also, take a good look at your cable or satellite guide.  These extra stations may be way up high in the channel listings like mine or not there at all.

As for radio, if you’re not in the mood to purchase a new HD Digital Radio, most of these stations can be heard online or by downloading an app on your smart phone.

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featured image credit: fatseth
image credits: brenderous, James Cridland, Chris Tengi