Several musicians in a TV studio

A Cuban dance band performing at WTVJ Miami

This was supposed to be just the story of how I found nine NBC-owned broadcast TV stations in the clear on my free-to-air dish. But then my system acted up a little, so now it’s also about my satellite foibles.

It all started when I noticed a fresh note at Ricks Satellite Forum that said that certain NBC stations had popped up at certain hours on AMC 15, the satellite at 105 degrees west. I told my dish to move over to check, and those channels came in, but their signal was erratic. Hmm. As a test, I told the dish to switch over to another satellite, and the motor stopped halfway there.

One of the challenges of setting up a FTA dish system is that there are several parts that all have to be good for it to work. In this case, the motor had been installed just a couple of months earlier, so I doubted that was the problem. Instead, I guessed that the signal up the cable from my FTA receiver to the motor wasn’t getting through consistently. I checked the connections all the way from the receiver to the switch outside, all good. That outside cable had been bumped around lately, so I ordered a replacement cable.

When the winter weather cleared up enough for me to try it, I installed my brand-new quad-shield cable in place of the old one. That was a letdown; it didn’t change anything. Hmm. Next I wondered whether it might be the switch, since DiSEqC switches don’t last forever. As a test, I bypassed it; still no motor movement. Just for grins, I checked the short cable connections at the motor and found I could tighten one just a half-rotation. One more try, and now everything’s perfect again. It was yet another reminder that sometimes the simplest things are the ones that count, and when a satellite system starts acting funny, check absolutely every connection.

Back to those stations, which I most commonly see during daylight hours. They are the NBC-owned broadcasters in Boston, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. (The transponder is 11880-V, SR 30000 if you’re playing along at home.) Their arrival just before the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics might be a coincidence, or it might mean that they’ll go away soon after the games are over. For however long it lasts, it’s been pretty nifty to sample all that local programming.

Close-up of the side of a dish motor showing angle marks

This close-up of my old motor mounted to the dish pole showed me how to mount my new motor.

Hey, all you free-to-air satellite viewers who hopefully frequent FTAList! I remembered today that I forgot to tell you what I did last month. My FTA system stopped working, but I was able to fix it.

It started months ago. Once in awhile, when I would tell my receiver to tell my motor to point my dish to a new satellite, it would go there, then continue on just a teeny bit too far. The channels on that bird simply wouldn’t be visible until I told the motor to switch to another satellite then switch back to the one I wanted in the first place. I shrugged and figured my 1.2-meter Ku-band dish had just shifted on its mount somehow.

The glitches came more frequently. Finally last month, the motor just refused to turn in response to most commands. That STAB HH 120 motor is one of the few that can drive my large dish, and I’d had it for years, much longer than I’ve kept any one receiver. To isolate the problem, I swapped out a different receiver, different quad-shield coax cables, and bypassed the DiSEqC switch. As you can guess by the photo, nothing else helped; it was the motor that had gone bad.

I remember the work it took to set up and point that motor when I first installed it, so I went looking for an exact replacement. I wound up at Ricks Satellite, home to the best wild feed forum that I know of, and Rick had just what I was looking for. I bought it, Rick shipped it, and two days later I installed it to match the photos I had taken of the old motor. In less time than it’s taken me to type this note, my motorized dish was ready for action without any repointing or tweaking.

So take this as a reminder, if you happen to have a motorized FTA system, that pieces of it will go bad over time. When that piece is the motor, a few photos and an exact replacement can save hours of set up time. For once, I got it right!


The United Nations declared November 21 as World Television Day, and 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of that celebration. We free-to-air enthusiasts should feel a special pride in that recognition, since we can see TV from over a dozen countries using just a medium-sized satellite dish here in North America.

As the UN puts it, “World Television Day is not so much a celebration of the tool, but rather the philosophy which it represents. Television represents a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world.” Personally, I see it as a corollary to Mark Twain’s quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” When you can see that the game shows in Portugal look about the same as ours or that the news readers from Saudia Arabia use pretty much the same format, it’s a subtle reminder that all of us humans are, y’know, just people.

Advanced Television has a nice rundown of the impact of television in various countries around the world. And the European Broadcasting Union created a special commemorative video that I embedded at the top of this post. I feel a special affinity to European broadcasting right now. I’ll explain more in a few days.

Long, long ago, around the time I first started, I ran an occasional series about what some folks did with old satellite dishes. There were bird baths, squirrel-proof hanging bird feeders, parabolic microphones, tiled decorations, and more that I can’t remember. This video includes the microphone but adds a few more that I hadn’t seen before.

You might argue that this isn’t about FTA, strictly speaking. But I would say that anyone who really gets into the hobby will upgrade to a wider dish one day, and that leaves the question about what to do with the old one. The way I handled one of them was to mount it pointing at one satellite so its channels are available in a snap rather than waiting for a dish motor to turn. Try what works for you!

In my occasional series of FTA questions answered by other people, here’s one of my friends at FridgeFTA explaining how to pick up C-band signals using a Ku-band dish.

There are several challenges to overcome in this project. Ku-band dishes are offset, bouncing the collected signal back to the LNB at an angle. C-band dishes typically use a prime focus LNB suspended on the center of the reflected signal. More important is the sheer signal volume. The typical minimum C-band dish is about two meters wide, which will collect four times the signal of a one-meter Ku-band dish. (A one-meter diameter is just a touch larger than the typical 90cm Ku-band dish, but it’s the largest width protected by the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices rule that overrides local laws and neighborhood associations.)

Despite these problems, I’ve been able to pick up some stronger C-band signals using a setup very similar to the video above on my 1.2-meter offset dish. Since signal strength varies widely according to geography, it’s hard to say which C-band channels you’d get, but if you don’t mind experimenting, it’s fun to try!