Why does touching a radio antenna dampen static?

Has anyone ever noticed that annoying radio static can be prevented if the listener moves closer to the device itself? No, me neither, but I read somewhere that it does…

Essentially, static arises because of poor reception (as I explained to Preeta from Newcastle last month). Crackly old static is the sound you get when there is no broadcast (or only a very weak signal) coming through to your chosen frequency.

The sound occurs because almost every signal receiver out there has a ‘squelch’ circuit, which monitors the signal strength and (if it drops below a certain level) cuts it off (it’s a bit like the movie ‘Speed’ in that respect, only without Keanu Reeves).

The squelch circuit mutes the sound and the static itself is simply the delay between the weak broadcast and the sound being cut off. Of course, a weak signal will still experience static even if it is not quite weak enough to be cut off, hence the static you hear on most weak broadcasts.

Anyway, the best way to boost your signal is by using a bigger or better antenna and thus creating a more efficient receiver. Basically, your own body actually works reasonably well as a conductor (well, compared to most other things in the immediate vicinity of your radio. Actually, in most cases, if you were to stand still and hold the antenna itself, the broadcast would probably be fine.

If you personally are experiencing issues with signal strength, then I’d recommend getting a bigger antenna, which has got to be preferable in so many ways to just holding the aerial and staying very still.

Anyway, that’s really all there is to it, Hope that helps.

Addendum: Can a Human being receive broadcast signals? Earlier this month, I was asked by Andy from Devon if you can hear radio broadcasts in your teeth. Despite the phenomenon being reported multiple times (and by at least one major celebrity), I had to conclude that I don’t think it is possible, so I wouldn’t worry about turning into an antenna of any kind yourself!