HD Television

How to watch CBS, NBC, FOX, & PBS in HD for free

The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (I'm with Coco) in glorious free over-the-air (OTA) HD.

A while back, I wrote about what a mess it is getting HD programming in Montreal. It’s either very expensive (Bell and Shaw Direct) or almost non-existent (Videotron). The local options are so bad that I came very close to going grey-market by paying for DirecTV with the help of a friend with a US address. While the costs are similar to what you would pay with a Canadian cable or satellite company, the amount of quality HD channels available with DirecTV provides much more value.

At the end of the day I decided that my television viewing habits didn’t warrant the big up-front and long-term costs associated with any satellite option. While I love TV, I just don’t watch enough of it to warrant an $80-a-month subscription. I’d much rather spend a fraction that cash for unlimited internet on a mobile device (iPad, anyone?) and figure out a cheap solution for a little TV watching now and then.

Put this on your roof and point south for free HD.

My solution was something I’ve been toiling with for a while, putting an antenna on my roof to get crystal-clear digital HDTV signals from across the border. I bought something called a “4-Bay” HD antenna for $40 from a local satellite shop and paid an installer $100 to put it on my roof. Looking back, I should have haggled the price of the antenna down, but I justify the price by saying I supported a local business. If you’re comfortable on your roof, you can easily install this without paying someone. Just point your antenna south towards Mt. Mansfield in Vermont, where most of these stations broadcast from.

Here’s a list of the digital channels I get with my $40 antenna:

3.1 – WCAX, the CBS affiliate in Burlington, VT. 1080i HD picture.

3.2 – WCAXtra, WCAX’s local weather channel that sometimes offers local news and sports as well.

5.1 – WPTZ, the NBC affiliate in Plattsburgh, NY that features the always-smiling Tom Messner. 1080i HD picture.

5.2 – This TV, a 24-hour classic movie and TV show channel.

33.1 – Vermont Public Television’s PBS channel. 1080i HD picture.

33.2 – A simulcast of the main channel in SD. Word through the grapevine is that it will soon be home to other contenet.

33.3 – VPT’s Create channel, focusing on food, art, making stuff.

33.4 – VPT’s World channel, which offers great programming from around the globe and a healthy quota of the best of PBS – Frontline, Nova, Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, History Detectives, etc.

44.1 – WFFF, the FOX affiliate in Colchester, VT. 720p HD picture.

44.2 – The CW network, home of Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill, has a home on WFFF’s secondary channel.

57.1 – Mountain Lake PBS, from New York State, another public channel loaded with great content. 1080i HD picture.

57.2 – Worldview, where Mountain Lake broadcasts France 24 News, BBC News, and pretty much news from around the world.

57.3 – Classic Arts Showcase, this channel could be a little more exciting, right now it appears to be home to classical music over still images and text.

You’ll notice there’s no ABC affiliate on that list. WVNY Burlington does broadcast on channel 13.1, but the signal is so weak I can’t find anyone that gets the signal reliably at all in Montreal. So fans of Lost will have to continue to rely of fuzzy analog CTV broadcasts and internet downloads or streams if they want to watch for free.

Even without ABC, that’s 13 perfect digital channels for free. What’s important to note is that over-the-air HD signals are not, unlike the HD that Videotron, Bell, and Shaw Direct shovel to their customers, compressed to high heaven. Other than a Blu-ray disc & player, OTA HD signals are the best thing you’ll ever feed your TV.

Upconverted SD at midnight on WFFF Burlington, the FOX affiliate.

What about Canadian over-the-air HD channels? There’s very little choice for most Montrealers. The CBC and Radio-Canada do broadcast HD signals, but their low-powered transmitter isn’t on Mount Royal. So Everyone west of the mountain is out of luck. Those east of the mountain and close the the transmitter can find Radio-Canada on channel 19.1 and the CBC on 20.1. Consider yourselves lucky. Our national broadcaster says they will transmit from Mount Royal sometime this year, if we’re lucky. Want to complain to the CBC about the delay? Call 1-866-306-4636 and ask for audience relations. As for CTV, they do not broadcast in HD over the air at all in Montreal, and that situation doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.

For anyone really interested going OTA HD in their home, this five-year-old, 99-page-long forum thread contains a lot of information for Montrealers:

So I’ll be watching the Super Bowl with American commercials and perfect picture quality on Sunday. Are you getting HDTV over an antenna? Thinking about it? Let me know by commenting.


By eliasmakos

Host of The Elias Makos Show on CJAD 800.

60 replies on “How to watch CBS, NBC, FOX, & PBS in HD for free”

Sadly, there’s not much to watch on any of those channels (The Office and 30 Rock, Seinfeld and Office reruns, the occasional dose of PBS, NFL football if that’s your thing). The rest of us are in Videotron’s bag if we ever want to watch the Canadiens on a TV – and not streaming illegally on a laptop or from the Bell Centre control room…

Anyhow, as the Boss sang, 57 channels and nothing on, right?

I am in Lachine by the 20 highway. I am getting 3-wcax 3-movies (old classics) 3-ION –
5-WPTZ – 5-CW – 5-METV -6 CBMT – 12 CFCF – 15 GLOBAL – and 4 PBS including a 24 hours kids PBS – 62 CITY TV. That’s my bedroom with $40 antenna that came with a booster, dining room has a $25 antenna with a booster and her guestroom has a cheap antenna from China that cost $2 on ebay. All tv get the same channels. The trick is to make sure they are all close to the ceiling and/or near a window. In the living room we use USTVNOW which is online and brings in all the U.S. channels. So when here in Canada I can still enjoy my favorite shows and then some. EBay is the best priced. Good luck.

Good roundup Elias. I’ve been doing the same for a while now. Getting 5 of the 6 major U.S. Networks for free is more than enough TV for me.

[…] Watch WCAX-DT over the air. As much as the CRTC would like, it can't stop U.S. stations from transmitting across the border. So you can hook up an antenna and watch it that way. The CBS affiliate in Vermont broadcasts from the top of Mount Mansfield, which gives it good coverage in Montreal if you have a good antenna. The catch is that since last year it's broadcasting only in digital, which means you need a television with a digital tuner (most recent HDTVs have this) or a converter box (like this one or this one). (Also note, for antenna purposes, the WCAX-DT transmits on the UHF band, not VHF as it did on analog) Elias Makos has more details for Montrealers wanting to watch U.S. stations over the air. […]


which part of Montreal do you live in? I live in the McGill ghetto and can’t get ABC (just like everyone else) or FOX. I tried with the best antenna from channel master (the CM-4228HD). Well, getting NBC, CBS and PBS for free is not bad at all 🙂

Hey, I’m down here in VT and want to get CBC… I may need to go with a rooftop antenna? Has anyone else in VT (near Burlington) who has been able to get this signal?

Hi Caleb, CBC won’t work anywhere close to Burlington until the CBC gets off its collective behind and puts its transmitter on Mount Royal.

Hi, Nice work. I’m looking at doing the same. I have a great location and I have done tests with a home made antenna and I get CBS, NBC, PBS, and the Montreal channels. So I was looking to go big with the CM 4228 in the hope of getting Fox, & ABC. But you say that no one in Montreal gets ABC! Is this true?
I don’t want to by such an expensive antenna if I’m only going to get one more channel than I do with my home made one.


I’m in Pointe-Claire not too far from the water and I have a CM 4228HD mounted on my roof. It brings in ABC and FOX along with CBS, NBC, both PBS stations, the new CFCF digital signal, CBC, Global, CTV Ottawa and all the French channels. ABC comes in the weakest rarely going above 40% on the signal strength meter but that’s more than enough for a stable picture. You will definitely need a rotor as well. Make sure you run RG6 coax and no amplifier needed. With all the primary and secondary channels on the digital signals I bring in near 20 english channels (counting digital and ananlog) and well over 20 if I count the french channels. What’s interesting is that the CM 4228HD is rated for channels 7 and above but it does a pretty good job of bringing in CBC (ch 6). Hope this helps the decision.


Please consider a “better” antenna. If you have room and an ABC station is some where near or far consider a “rhombic” long wire antenna. Design hints can be found in “old” ARRL handbooks.

Good luck!

I received very distant broadcasts, e.g., Reno Nevada to near San Francisco California with “rhombics” and open “V” antennas.

I live on the West Island in Montreal. I have a CM 4228HD antenna on my roof with a rotor and it brings in everything you would expect both digital and analog. The antenna is about 25 ft above ground. Most of the digital signals come in at 100%. The exceptions are the usual suspects, FOX (avg 60-65%) and ABC (avg 40%) but both enough for reliable stable reception. The analog reception is pretty good but I am looking forward to Canadian digital coming in. CBC is grainy watchable (not bad considering this antenna is only rated for channels 7 and above), CTV Montreal is clear with a very light ghost, CJOH (CTV Ottawa) is light grainy watchable, Global is near perfect and I also bring in most (if not all) of the French channels.

CTV HD just came online last week (12.1) – because of this, Montreal Videotron users won’t be able to watch US commercials during tonight’s Superbowl

HD broadcast overrides Fox’s on cable, replacing U.S. commercials with Canadian

Good thing you can catch FOX HD 44 over the air!

Below is the last of channels that I am getting OTA

2.1——————radio Canada
12.1——————CTV (NEW!)

Oh shoot. I should have checked this before the big game last night. Me and my friends missed all the funny commercials and got crappy CTV auto-promos instead, over and over.

So before buying this antenna, do you guys guarantee me that this will work in Laval? Or does it only work in Montréal? By the way, I heard that next year, CBS will be broadcasting the event. Is this channel still loopholed by CTV?


I set up a DTV Antenna I purchased via eBay in July 201o and have not paid Videotron a cent since and never plan too ever again. I can receive CBS, NBC, PBS, CW, ABC (flaky) and FOX (the reason I went DTV in the first place). I don’t watch much TV to begin with and FOX has 90% of the shows I watch while CBS fills in the remaining 10% so that’s more than enough TV for me. I’m lucky in the sense I am in a 3rd floor apartment facing the South. Since my success with this experiment, more friends are interested and asked I do a similar set up for them. I remind people there are numerous factors like antenna height, direction, possible obstacles in the way so it may not work for everyone.

I can watch unadulterated American TV in ENGLISH without the french and CRTC mandated Canadian crap commercials and I’m saving at least $360 per year. DTV has to the best thing since Color TV.

P.S. Get a DVD Recorder /w ATSC Tuner as your old VCR won’t be able to record OTA. I have a Panasonic DMR-EZ28. Good luck!

For outdoor antennas (some people use them inside, on the porch, and in the attic as well as on the roof). If you choose the attic make sure you don’t have foil wrap under your shingles.

Three best choices for stores as far as I am concerned are:

Ville St. Laurent – Vi-Tesse Electronique (open Saturdays) closest for West Island
East End – Raybel (closed weekends)
In between – Montcalm (not sure about weekends but I think closed)

Channel Master works for me. I certainly wouldn’t go cheaper.

In order to keep a low cost…I purchased rabbit ears! I still manage to get channels, 2, 3.1/3.2, 5.1/5.2, 6, 12 (not great), 15, 17, 33.1/33.2/33.3/33.4, 44.1/44.2 (not great), 57.1/57.2/57.3.
I placed the gadget on the west window sill. The only inconvenience is when the weather is bad, the reception for channels 12 and 44 are not available.
No need to go on your roof, gentlemen….

You are definitely wrong buddy, I do have CTV in HD OTA , and all the other channels alike, the only thing you’re right about is the strength, you need a coat hanger antenna or fractal one to get them all crystal clear ( indoor antenna )

Consider the coat hanger Antenna, on Eastern Montreal I have all of the OTA channels:
Radio canada, CBC, TVA, CTV, GLOBAL, Telequebec, V, Community channel

Hi. I am in Roxboro pierrefonds and I hope to get some Americans channels with cm 4228. Presently my hd- leaf antenna gives me 9 channels. ANt-2086 hd from best buy dint give me more channels no metter where I pointed it. I wonder if cm is a sure shot. Would you recommend a place in montreal where I can purchase cm 4228 to try and be able to return it. Thanks in advance.

Since last month I couldn’t catch channel 5-1, 5-2, 33-1-4 and 57-1-3. Are there problem or my antenna doesn’t correct?

Thanks for the comment Mario. I’m certainly no “expert” in OTA installation – but I can tell you I get every single channel possible in Montreal except ABC with a lowly 4-bay antenna.

Your welcome Elias , its ok if you have elevation and if you are close to the MT Royal broadcast tower but its not good for two story roof top installation in locations like chateauguay ,Delson , Longeuil , Vaudreuil., Hudson & others where MTRBT is in rear.signal.

I have an 8 bay Channel Master antenna on my roof and I get everything including ABC and while I have a rotor installed I only very rarely have to use it to bring in ABC. The sweet spot in Montreal where you get virtually all channels is essentially everything south and west of Mount Royal from about Lachine to St. Anne de Bellvue. Close proximity to downtown and Mount Royal is where you get the most reception problems. And now a company that made “mud flap” antennas for the US Military has introduced a really small indoor antenna that might be almost as good as the outdoor antennas. On a final note using an old $15 set of RCA rabbit ears I was able to pull in several channels including PBS for my ex who lives in NDG near Sherbrooke and Decarie.

Hi Jim
What i meant to say when i used the word useless was that i do not stock them anymore , the main reason is that many times and at different locations i would align the antenna in direct line of site with the WVNY transmitter and i will lose CFCF 12 and CJNT 62 on the side elements.
Like i said before it all depends on location , elevation & obstacles that will attenuate your signal.

Hi Mario,
I’ve seen a good number of the 8 bay CM antennas popping up around the west island, especially below the 40. Glad to hear there are still a few installers like yourself out there. Too bad not enough people have heard about their options with OTA. The only channel I can’t get with my set-up is CJNT 62 but I can live with that. I’m guessing it’s an output thing because my ex in NDG pulls in 62 on the cheap rabbit ears. Now I’m in search of an OTA PVR. Any suggestions?

There are no more channels transmitting from Lyon Mountain. Channel 5 is transmitting from Mount Mansfield Vermont. I am using a Channelmaster CM 2020 pointed directly at Mount Mansfield and pick up the local stations with no problems. I am over by the Olympic Stadium. The only channels I don’t get are 22 and 44 and that’s because of their low signal.
Channel 57 is difficult to get here because from my location their signal is being blocked by Mount Royal.

So far its the TiVo TCD746320.
I want to mention that all OTA PVR’s that i have tested so far have important signal insertion losses at the input of their tuners.
You can verify yourself by doing a channel scanon your flatscreen and then on the external PVR.
You can also record using External USB Tuners or built in cards but they heat up like a toaster and many computer processers have a hard time dealing with all that data.

Hi Mario,

Thanks for the information. Looks like I will remain PVRless at least for a while more. I just can’t reconcile paying a TiVo subscription fee with free OTA TV. Hopefully my old DVD recorder will hang in there until better options become available. Thanks again.

I’m in Montrea east not far from the Olympic Stadium. All Mount Mansfield stations are classified as “Green Zone” at my house by However, I get neither 22 or 44 despite all my efforts . I do get 3,5,and 33 with no problems. My antenna is a Channelmaster CM-2020 at 36 feet high on a tower and there’s nothing between my house and Mt. Mansfield. I must conclude that 22 and 44 are using inferior equipment!

Nice post! I found this while trying to find out what’s up with ABC reception in VT. I actually live right in Burlington, just got a digital antennae, and still can’t get ABC either. I get all the other channels you mention. ABC is must be some mythical station!

You my have an obstacle between the transmitter and your antenna that strongly attenuates that ABC ch 13 frequency.
The best way to find out is with a Spectrum Analyzer, sometimes you can just move move 5 feet away with your antenna and can get a powerful lock on the data stream pathway.

Mario 🙂

Forgot to mention that if your flat screen can do single channel scan on frequency 13 , you move your antenna and verify the signal strength meter
on your TV to get a better antenna location.

I have sent in a few letters to The Montreal Gazette about over-the-air tv in response to articles related to tv and none of them were ever printed. Bell, Shaw Direct and Videotron advertise In the Gazette and they don’t want the general public aware of another economical option.

Hey Guys, Great article.
I live in NDG and I am getting only 3 channels (CBC, TVA, RADIO CANADA ALL HD). using a 4 bay antenna on a balcony on the 5th floor. I think I need a bigger antenna like an 8 bay to get more channels. or I should have connected the antenna directly to the TV as I am now using a Combiner to split the satellite and antenna signal with only one cable. help please.

Hi Anas
You need a Tri directional antenna and need to align the boom half way between Burlington and Plattsburgh , the side elements wiil pick up broadcasts from the Mount Royal (East od NDG )
An 8 bay has a rear reflector and is better in Laval where all broadcast towers are in front of the bow ties.


Thanks Mario.
My problem is that my balcony is facing North (only option|and I am now getting about 15 channels (the American channels they come and go). If I put an antenna on the roof (about 8 stories high) will I be able to get NBC, FOX, ABC? if yes is there an antenna you recommend knowing that I don`t want to spend a lot on this.
Thanks for you help.
here is my TV fool

Absolutely , you will get a much better reception.
To be certain its better to have a signal strenghth, BER & SNR test with my spectrum analyser, i can move the antenna 3 feet distance and it can make a difference between loosin or gaining 10 channels.

What kind of antenna would you recommend (any names) ? I am handy and can install it myself as I have installed Satellite dishes in the past.
Thanks Mario.

I’m able to get wvny and wfff (88 miles from mt Mansfield). North west of Laval. I use a antenna build with Mclapp design + pre-amp. All from my atic. Not a strong signal I admit. In the winter I get abc all day, in the summer, only morning and evening.

Leave a Reply to Jimmerdog Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s