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23 Free, ‘Hidden’ TV Channels You Can Find Over the Air

Your local TV station has subchannels with classic shows from sitcoms to Westerns

TV remote
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When broadcast television flipped from analog to digital in June 2009, those old “rabbit ears” became museum pieces.

But over-the-air commercial channels didn’t go away. In fact, they are booming. Beyond your local ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS channels are dozens of free “subchannels,” such as a Channel 4.2, available to most homes. Folks living near large cities can find many of these networks.

Better yet, most subchannels offer programs that target a specific audience. So, if you love old Westerns, classic sitcoms or game shows, they’ve got you covered.

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Your old outdoor aerial antenna will work but likely needs a coaxial cable to connect it to a modern TV, or a digital antenna can be purchased at most department stores or online for as little as $10. And your television likely is set up already to receive high-definition digital signals if you purchased it after 2006.

What to watch? Here’s a breakdown by genre.

Westerns for binge-watching

If you yearn for a return of Marshal Matt Dillon, Rowdy Yates, Lucas McCain or Hoss Cartwright, you can’t go wrong with Grit, a subchannel from Scripps that bills itself as “Television with Backbone” and offers a daily schedule of old Western favorites. You can also turn to getTV, from Sony Pictures Television, where Saturday is all about Westerns and early afternoon has a daily block of Western programs. Weigel Broadcasting’s Heroes & Icons (H&I) also features a Western block during early morning hours, and its subchannel MeTV airs classics including Bonanza and Gunsmoke during the week.

Comedies to keep you chuckling

Looking for a laugh? Almost any time of the day, you can find plenty of reruns to choose fromRewindTV, from Nexstar Media Group, is all about comedy, offering up shows like Mork & Mindy, Wings and Designing Women. Nexstar’s AntennaTV is also a honey hole for laughter with reruns ranging from Hazel to Welcome Back Kotter.

NBCUniversal’s Cozi airs classic sitcoms from the NBC library such as Frasier and The Nanny. Weigel Broadcasting includes a hefty offering of sitcoms on Decades, such as Petticoat Junction and The Odd Couple, as well as classics such as M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show on MeTV. Laff, from Scripps, has more recent reruns in its quiver, including Night Court, Home Improvement, and That 70s Show.

Action and adventure from the ’80s onward

If you are looking for shows to get your heart beating faster, H&I includes a daily lineup of shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger; Nash Bridges; and MacGyver. Charge! from the Sinclair Broadcast Group also focuses on action with shows such as Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. Or, if you want action with a leading woman, Start TV includes reruns of The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, and The Good Wife in its daily lineup. If crime drama is more your cup of tea, tune to Ion Television, from Scripps, where reruns of NCIS: Los Angeles or NCIS: New Orleans, can be found.

Scripps also has Bounce, a subchannel geared to a Black audience with programs including In the Heat of the Night and Scandal. If you prefer true crime the aptly named True Crime Network from Tegna airs shows such as Dateline and Cold Case Files. Another option, at least at night, is Twist, also from Tegna, that flips from its daytime reality programming (such as Tiny House Nation) to an evening lineup of shows like Murder She Solved and Cruise Ship Killers.

Sci-Fi, fantasy that reaches back 50 years

If you are a fan of Star Trek, then you’ll want to beam in H&I every evening as it reruns five classic series in a row, starting with Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek, followed by Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Sinclair Broadcasting’s Comet is also a must-see for science fiction and fantasy buffs. Its daily programming includes Quantum Leap, X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you prefer a campy classic, MeTV+ reruns the original Lost in Space.

Game shows from corny to cliff-hanger

For anyone who enjoyed the game shows of the 1960s and ’70s, Buzzr is the place to be. The subchannel, from Fremantle North America, airs reruns of classics such as Card Sharks, The Newlywed Game and Match GameGame Show Network (GSN) from Sony Pictures airs reruns of more recent game shows — including Cash Cab and Deal or No Deal.

The retro networks to look for

Here are some of the subchannels available to most households.

AntennaTV

Genre: Sitcoms

Programs: Hazel, My Favorite Martian, Welcome Back Kotter, The Jeffersons and Barney Miller

Bounce

Genre: Reality, drama and comedy geared to an African American audience

Programs: Scandal, The Real, In the Heat of the Night and Couples Court With The Cutlers  

Buzzr

Genre: Game shows

Programs: The Newlywed Game, Let's Make a Deal, Match Game and Family Feud

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Charge!

Genre: Action and adventure

Programs: Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY

Comet

Genre: Science fiction and fantasy

Programs: The X-Files, Quantum Leap, The Outer Limits and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Cozi

Genre: Classic NBC sitcoms and dramas

Programs: Frasier, The Nanny, Gimme a Break and Murder, She Wrote

Decades

Genre: Sitcoms and variety shows

Programs: Petticoat Junction, The Lucy Show, The Odd Couple and The Ed Sullivan Show

Defy TV

Genre: Reality

Programs: Duck Dynasty, Counting Cars, American Pickers and The Curse of Oak Island

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Fave TV

Genre: Sitcoms, talk, drama and true crime

Programs: The Office, The Jamie Foxx Show, The Parent Hood and 48 Hours

Game Show Network (GSN)

Genre: Game shows

Programs: Master Minds, Chain Reaction, Deal or No Deal, Cash Cab and Family Feud

getTV

Genre: Westerns, crime, action and comedy 

Programs: All in the Family, Charlie’s Angels, Sanford and Son, and Walker, Texas Ranger

Grit

Genre: Westerns

Programs: Death Valley Days, Tales of Wells Fargo, Laramie and Tombstone Territory

Heroes & Icons (H&I)

Genre: Westerns, crime, drama, superheroes and Star Trek 

Programs: Walker, Texas Ranger; Nash Bridges; MacGyver — plus Star Trek, Next Generation; Deep Space Nine; Voyager; and Enterprise 

Ion Television

Genre: Crime and action

Programs: NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans and Blue Bloods  

Laff

Genre: Sitcoms

Programs: How I Met Your Mother, Night Court, Home Improvement and That ’70s Show

MeTV

Genre: Sitcoms, dramas, Westerns, superheroes and science fiction

Programs: Dragnet, Matlock, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show

MeTV+

Genre: Sitcoms, dramas, Westerns, superheroes and science fiction

Programs: Family, Mod Squad, T.J. Hooker, Matt Houston and Lost in Space

Retro TV

Genre: Family-friendly mix and Saturday morning cartoons

Programs: Ozzie and Harriet, Police Surgeon, Naked City, and The Ray Bradbury Theater

RewindTV

Genre: Sitcoms

Programs: Who’s the Boss, Mork & Mindy, Wings, Designing Women and Murphy Brown

Quest TV

Genre: Reality and paranormal

Programs: Shipping WarsAmerican RestorationAuction Kings and Monster Quest

Start TV

Genre: Legal and action dramas led by women

Programs: The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, Crossing Jordan, Cold Case, Profiler and The Good Wife

True Crime Network

Genre: True crime

Programs: Dateline, Cold Case Files, Heartland Homicide and Killer in Plain Sight

Twist

Genre: Reality and true crime

Programs: Flipping Out, Tiny House Nation, Murder She Solved and Cruise Ship Killers

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Editor's note: This story, originally published Aug. 22, 2022, was updated to mention that old outdoor antennas will pick up digital broadcast signals.