How To Watch Local Channels Without Cable

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If you are thinking about cutting the cord from traditional cable or satellite TV, you may be wondering how you can still watch your local channels.

Thankfully, paying gobs of money for a cable subscription is not the only way to access your local ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS affiliates.

In this article, I’ll explore some cost-effective solutions for getting the local news, sports and network TV shows that you enjoy on your local channels:


Option 1: Buy an Antenna

If you live in an urban or suburban setting, the simplest method for maintaining access to your local channels may be the one-time purchase of an indoor antenna.

Antennas are relatively cost-effective to add to your television and provide free access to local channels broadcasting in your area.

But the quality of access to these channels is directly correlated to the power of your antenna and your distance from the towers of your local TV stations.

If you live nearby, you may need an antenna that reaches only 30-50 miles.

Mohu Leaf, which is one of the top-rated antennas brands for cord-cutters, offers a “metro” antenna for under $20 through Amazon. It has a 25-mile range.

Mohu Leaf Antenna Amazon

If you live in a more rural setting (at least 100 miles from the towers for your local channels), you’ll probably need a long-range antenna.

Amazon offers an antenna from XFTREE touting a 200-mile reach for less than $30. It had a 4.3-star rating after almost 1,300 reviews at the time of this writing.

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Aside the cost, your main concern in a rural area is quality reception.

You’ll have to worry about potential interruptions in your signal that could come from both the surrounding terrain and interfering signals from other towers.

If you need help picking out your indoor antenna, money expert Clark Howard has you covered with this instructional video.


Option 2: Subscribe to a Live TV Streaming Service

If you’re cutting the cord from traditional cable but still want to watch most of your favorite TV channels, you’re likely considering a live TV streaming service.

Many — but not all — of these services offer at least some of your local channels with your subscription.

YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV both tout access to some local channels included with their $65 per month subscriptions.

This isn’t the cheapest solution in this article, but it may end up being the most effective.

I searched my ZIP code on YouTube TV’s site and found that it carries my local ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS channels and more.

YouTube TV local channels
YouTube TV: Nashville Local Channels

But not all live TV streaming services will be this thorough.

Sling TV, which is a popular live TV streaming choice because of its $35 monthly fee, offers access only to NBC and FOX affiliates in select markets.

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And value service Philo, which offers more than 60 channels for just $20, does not carry local channels at all.


Option 3: Get What You Need From Video Streaming Services

This is a new and emerging option for accessing content from local channels.

If you’re not keen on buying an antenna or paying for one of the live TV streaming services, you may be able to get what you need from a video streaming service.

ViacomCBS service Paramount+ ($5.99 per month) and NBC’s Peacock ($4.99 per month) are two relatively new players in this field. And they both offer local channel content at a fraction of the cost of a live streaming subscription.

Paramount+ includes a live stream of your local CBS affiliate as well as on-demand streams of CBS content. For many titles, such as 60 Minutes or NCIS, new content is often available for streaming within 24 hours of its live TV airing.

Peacock offers on-demand streaming of NBC shows, such as Saturday Night Live, shortly after they air. It has a live streaming section for NBC content, but it’s not the local channel.

Hulu’s on-demand service ($5.99) also makes network TV content available for on-demand consumption shortly after broadcast airing.


Option 4: Try Locast if You Live in a Supported Market

Locast is a very cost-effective option for viewing local channels, but it’s not available everywhere.

This nonprofit operation takes the broadcast signals of local channels and streams them over the internet for free.

But right now, it’s available in only about 30+ television markets.

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Locast streams local channels for free
Locast.org

Approximately 51% of the United States population could take advantage of Locast, but, as you can see on the map above, there are some large gaps yet to be filled.

And while Locast is free, you’ll have to deal with frequent interruptions in the form of donation requests.

So if you’re using the service often enough, you may want to consider chipping in to avoid that headache.

You can read more about the details on Locast in Team Clark’s review of the service.


Option 5: Try Freebie Services Such As Amazon News and NewsON

If it’s local news that you’re after, you may be able to get by with some of the programming from emerging free streaming services.

Amazon News is the latest of these to offer free news updates from local channels in 88 U.S. markets.

To access this feature, you’ll need the Amazon News app that is located on the Fire TV Streaming devices.

Once you’re on the app, you’ll be able to choose from a menu of local channel newsfeeds. Typically, you’re offered the channels that are closest to your location.

In my case, I was able to get news and weather from my local CBS affiliate for free.

Amazon News provides streams from different television markets.

Keep in mind that this is not actually a live stream of the channel’s over-the-air broadcast.

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Instead, it’s highlights and clips from newscasts and other local programming.

If you’re a Roku user, there is a similarly interesting option there called NewsON that touts access to more than 275 local news sources across the country.

NewsON screenshot

Option 6: Access Content via Individual Network Apps and Websites

My final suggestion for accessing local channel content without cable is to simply go straight to the source on the internet.

Here’s a quick list of links for the network-level apps for your local channels:

Many times you can watch free (but ad-supported) on-demand replays of your favorite shows from the networks.

And your local network affiliates may have their own apps or websites that offer clips, streams, articles and highlights from locally-produced programming.

So, in tandem with the national apps, you may be able to create a workable free content mix from your local channel without paying for anything.


Final Thoughts

There are several viable paths for cord cutting seeking local channels.

For many people, the only way to fully recreate the local channel experience that you get from cable is to sign up for a live TV streaming service.

However, the most cost-effective way to get this done is with an antenna or by streaming through Locast. These methods are possible only in select markets and don’t offer the benefits of DVR or pausing live TV.

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If it’s just the content that you’re after and you don’t care when or how you come by it, you may be able to save some money and stress by sticking to the freebie content offered on apps.


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