What Causes Radio Noise Interference and Annoying Buzzes

Sometimes you might experience interference and annoying radio noise or buzzing while listening on the AM band in particular. The question is, what causes that?

Tip: A very good battery operated portable AM radio is great for preparedness.

Causes of AM Radio Noise Interference

A list from C.Crane, maker of one of the best long-range AM radios

Dimmer switch (even in ceiling fans)Touch lamp (even when turned off)
Fluorescent light bulbsFluorescent tubes
Incandescent bulb that is about to burn outLED light bulb (non-FCC certified types)
Automatic on/off night lightsAutomatic outdoor yard lights
Christmas tree lights & other blinking bulbsFaulty electrical switches
Electronic bug and pest controllersUltrasonic motion detectors
Electric blankets120VAC smoke detectors (battery operated OK)
12VDC invertersSmart-meters from electric company
StreetlightsDirty insulators and transformers on nearby power pole
Nearby televisions or monitorsCable or satellite boxes
Ionic Breeze® or other electrostatic air purifierCPAP machines
Smart speakersCordless phones (2.4GHz)
ScannersTreadmills
Appliances with motorsModems and/or routers
Desktop Computer or LaptopTablet or Smartphone
Cell phone chargersSwitching AC adapter

How To Eliminate Radio Noise and Interference

The most obvious solution is to turn off the offending device.

Temporarily switch the radio from AC power to battery power to see if the interference is coming from the electrical outlet. If the noise stops, a Radio Noise Filter/Surge Protector (view on amzn) can dramatically reduce the interference.

Turn off all circuit breakers to see if the noise stops. If it does, then you know it is something in your house. Turn on one circuit at a time to isolate what area the noise is coming from.

Use a battery-operated radio as a direction finder. Turn the radio until the loudest noise is heard. The front and back of the radio will usually point to the noise origin.

Carry a battery-operated radio around the neighborhood paying attention to where the noise may be coming from.

If a power pole is suspected, call the utility company. They will usually check the area. Sometimes it’s from a transformer. I’ve also heard that it may have something to do with the insulators.

I have had the best success finding the source (sources) of AM radio band interference by simply using a small portable AM radio as a direction finder. Tune the radio to a frequency with no station (just noise). Then walk around until it gets louder – until you have pretty much determined where it’s coming from.

One of my biggest sources of interference in my home is the solar power system inverter (48V DC battery bank to 120 VAC house power). If I really want to spend a little time during an evening tuning in distant stations, I’ll just shut it off for awhile.

CCRadio 2E by C.Crane

Here’s a picture of my C.Crane AM Radio:

CCRadio2E for long distance AM radio listening

What a great AM radio! The audio is tuned for the spoken word. Sounds great! The “2E” model is especially good for long distance tuning.

( view on amzn )

[ Read: Best AM Radio for DX Long Range Listening ]

[ Read: Best Cheap Portable Pocket AM/FM Radio ]

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37 Comments

  1. That Zenith is beautiful!

    I’ve read a lot of really good reviews about the CCrane radios. One day I will have one.

    Until I can afford one I use a cheap Sony that has served me well for years. Sony ICF-P26 FM/AM radio.

    It’s a tiny handheld transistor radio. Uses 2 AA batteries and the batteries literally last months and I listen to it for a few hours a day while gaming, cooking, and hand washing the dishes. Very sensitive tuner. Sound quality isn’t great, but it picks up every station I’m looking for on both AM & FM. Some reviews have mentioned that the AM tuner in this unit outperforms most more expensive radios.

    Sony ICF P26

    1. Grits,
      I have nearly the same radio as your Sony ICF P26 except it’s the model generation just before that one. Nearly identical. It’s surprising how good that little pocket radio works! Best “cheap” little AM/FM radio on the market (for it’s class)!

      1. Ken,
        I’ve read reviews of the previous generation Sony ICF radio. Quality control was a little better for that generation and a little better AM reception. The biggest improvement they made on this model is the battery life. I’m seriously amazed at how long they last. Going on 2 months now with this set and I’ve even listened to it overnight a few times. 👍🤯

  2. Ken, NICE radio will have to add it to my list.

    question Ken, do/is your radio setup centrally located in your house or do you have it in a certain room I.E. (converted bedroom, basement/cellar, or garage/shed/ other out house type(NO NOT THAT ONE)? The reason I am asking is, while I was reading this article a question came to mind, “where is/would be the best place in a building to setup your radio equipment” (the book PATRIOT by James Weasley Rawles came to mind, where he setup his equipment in the kitchen area)?

    THANKS Ken for all the WORK yes, it is WORK, that you do making this sight so INTERESTING and INFORMATIVE!!!!

    1. blackjack22,

      Over the years I’ve had different setups. Most people into radios (or Amateur Radio) do have a radio room or “shack”. I don’t have a shack (dedicated structure for the hobby).

      If you’re talking about radios that you intend to connect external outdoor antennas, a decision must be made where to get it in/out of the house – thus choosing a dedicated room location.

      Currently for one stack of my radios it’s downstairs in a room shared with washer/dryer, Mrs.J’s sewing bench area, my gun bench area, and where the little chickens are presently growing up in their brooder pen (hopefully soon to be released to their new coop outdoors!).

      It does comes down to personal preference, the willingness of the misses to have radios in certain parts of the house ;) (fortunately I have no issue in this regard), and access to getting antenna feeds outdoors (if utilizing external antennas).

      My next plan (when I get around to it) is to install my preferred radios in my MSB office room (a commandeered 2nd bedroom up here on the 2nd floor) where I already keep my portables and handhelds. I envision some sort of command center with my swivel chair in the middle of a U-desk configuration ;)

  3. blackjack22,
    I agree, running this site requires more skill than I posses.

    I’m pretty sure, handheld radios, license required or not, could be located using the above technique. Triangulation, as slick willy used to say, will work with lots of stuff.

    Gotta love that old Zenith!

  4. That old Zenith in the picture…

    My Grandfather bought it – apparently during the late 1940’s. Eventually it ended up with my dad, who then gave it to me years ago.

    I recall as a young kid while visiting our grandparents in the UP of Michigan – listening to that Zenith radio out on their enclosed back porch (I loved that room – had a big fireplace, a picnic table, all the walls were shiny varnished wood panels, and lots of windows looking out into the backyard and woods).

    Anyway, I just asked my dad about that radio today – and he said that his father bought it for $100, which would have been equivalent to about $1000 today! Wow-

    1. Our family has one exactly like it, can remember being a kid in the 60’s being able to pick up radio stations from all over the world which seemed very exotic for those days. Can find Zenith Transoceanic units on ebay and they are not too expensive.

    2. it’s a nice radio Ken….Indeed wow at the price. It was a LOT of money back then. Not to be nosey (not why asking) but were they wealthy “ish” or not so much?

      sort of thinking, it (the cost of the radio/its survival and use even today), that something you and others on here have sometimes said..”Buy the best (you can), it is worth it in long run”…

      was just thinking that even folks without so much money yrs ago, often would buy the best of what they could, and pass it on.

      1. Jane,
        No, not wealthy. Evidently he was willing to pay for what was apparently quality product in its day. I believe that’s true for many today — We may have an interest or willingness to save & pay for a particular item (“you get what you pay for”) for the reward of its quality, performance, whatever it is…

        1. Ken, thanks. After I posted I felt inappropriate asking such a question, but I was very curious, if the “value” / “attitude” was to save and buy the best you can back then..
          As a youngster on the farm, we surely would have been considered very poor. But, ate well (garden and farm goods), by dint of huge amount of parental work, etc.. However, I still remember the very odd thing purchased which like your radio, very good quality, and lasted. Is a good “attitude”…truly.

    3. Had a Transoceanic from the sixties, the antenna was 6 ft when extended. Bought at swap meet for a few dollars. Rigged up a battery pack and used to listen to all night. LW, SW and broadcast MW. Tried to replace external power jack and drilled right into a transformer. That was the end of that. Replaced with a RS DX 394 still have it. Tunes great with a dipole along ceiling at corner.

      1. P.S. more to subject. My tiny usb fan generates a lot of noise on FM that I listen to at night.

  5. The Zenith is a beautiful radio. I love the art deco design as it brings images of PanAm clipper flying boats and posters of exotic locations.

  6. There is a room in our house that would make a perfect radio shack.Unfortunately it is current the home of more quilting and knitting
    stuff than three women could use in a lifetime.
    Rational conversation and reasoning doesn’t work.Maybe someday burglars will break in and see what a gold mine they have found.HMM!
    I guess it’s probably better to be happy than to be right.

  7. I have a small solar power setup.
    For months I couldn’t figure out why the little radio I “adjusted”
    to have a usb input to run off 5v couldn’t pick up any radio stations.

    I normally have one or two led lights going in the shop day and night.
    Only when I finally turned them off did the radio work properly.

  8. that ccradio 2e at $169.99??

    I’ll stick to my not so great eton radio’s.
    they always work, some have weather stations, lights.

    I have picked up a couple nice small radio’s at goodwill
    over the years.

    1. I hear ya, Horse, there’s a price-point vs feature-quality set for everyone and their own interests or hobby’s in life. That’s how you can get a $20 pocket radio as mentioned above that’s pretty good too… or none at all – for free

  9. We live close to the VLA in NM. They picked this area because there is very little interference with radio frequency energy. We have 3 beautiful CC Crane Radios and there is always a problem picking up radio stations. Of course we have a lot of other interference but this is a biggie.

  10. I keep an old Sony Walkman am/fm/weather band radio on the lamp table next to my recliner. You know, the ones w/o a speaker, just earbuds. I sometimes listen to talk shows, the earbuds prevents disturbing other family members.

    Listened some this afternoon, reception was crisp and clear. Just now turned the radio on, put the ear buds in, same radio station…….nothing but “white noise”. Difference from earlier in the afternoon? I had my laptop in my lap. As I scrolled the pointer around on the screen, the pitch of the “white noise” would vary. Turned the laptop off, “white noise” went away, the radio program became loud and clear.

    Guess you can add operating computers onto the list for radio static. (Proximity would most likely figure into it)

      1. A Makita multi-bay lithium fast charger will obliterate any AM signal, including local 50 kw super stations across an impressive radius.

    1. Dennis,
      I think I had that same one. Bought it twice actually. I wish they didn’t discontinue it, it was a great little radio. Digital tuner with presets, of course battery life was an issue probably because it was digital. The two I bought were $20, now that it’s discontinued there’s only 1 in stock at Amazon and it’s $219. 🤣

      1. Ken,
        In “Ham speak”, this interference would be called “QRM”. Man-made interference.. lots of information on ham websites on how to get rid of it. Used to be you would put up an antenna and within two weeks some neighbor would complain your ham radio transmissions got into his tv right when Ed Sullivan was on. Hams have many years experience tracking down spurious signals and adding chokes to power lines or whatever to stop it. Just another source of info to stop QRM.

      2. Grits,

        $219? Wow!

        Don’t doubt it though, if the virus shutdowns and Uncle Sugar “stimulus packages” continue, a loaf of bread will probably cost that. America is in for a shock. A failed family food garden will be a life threatening catastrophe.

  11. FYI, if your having issues with with your internet service provider, i.e. slow speeds or dropped connection, interference is usually the problem. Make sure your cable connections are tight from the modem to the starting point at the cable coming into the house.

  12. Ken

    There’s a device I bought when doing the house build, for measuring EMF sources. It’s made by TriField, and is an AC gaussmeter, AC electric field meter, and radio power density meter all in one handheld device. I checked, and they still make them. Mine’s an older model, 100XE – the kind with the knob and needle. They have an upgraded model, the TF2 for 168.00. It does an excellent job of finding sources of leaks, a lot of them on your list. It’s not cheap, but if you don’t have anything else to do with your ‘free’ government money (coming soon!), it’s a fun gadget, and might help track down some of the unknown sources of radio interference.

  13. I have a Grundig FR200 and an Elton Red Cross radio. The Grundig is hands down a 100 times better. When I lived in Rock Springs Wyoming, I could get coast-to-coast radio show in the evenings out of Denver area. My eton only gets about a tenth of what I get in my car in Indiana. Plus, the batteries lasted forever on the Grundig while the eton goes through batteries much faster.

  14. Question??
    What about static where the station initially comes in pretty good initially but gets progressively worse. It’s not a steady static but rather a steady sh–sh–sh–sh then progresses to sh-sh-sh-sh-sh and eventually ssshhhhhhh where the station is nothing but noise. Is that due to the atmosphere or is it a nearby electrical component that causes it?

    1. You are describing what most likely is due to signal propagation conditions rather than in-home electrical interference. Especially during the evening atmospheric conditions generally favor long distance listening. But may fluctuate as you describe.

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