View of the infield during a baseball game

Philadelphia and Toronto – two of the teams that will appear on WPIX’s Yankees and Mets broadcasts.

Friday’s post was about the excitement of watching some spring training baseball games on free-to-air satellite TV. Once the regular season arrives, FTA satellite dish owners will be just like most other American viewers, with almost no major league baseball games available on free broadcast TV.

Unless you live in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, your free-TV exposure to regular-season games will probably be limited to 10 Saturday games on Fox. WPIX in New York will carry 22 Mets games and 21 Yankees games. KTLA in Los Angeles starts with five Dodgers games, all before May 1. Last year, KTLA belatedly added a few more Dodgers games in September.

The big winner is Chicago. WGN plans 55 regular-season White Sox games while WLS, the ABC affiliate, will show 25 Cubs games. Having the Cubs on a station other than WGN just doesn’t feel right. I’ll get used to it.

Everyone else is pretty much out of luck. As I wrote two years ago, there are a few minor-league baseball teams that show local games, but most big-league teams squeeze every dollar by putting every possible game on a pay-TV regional sports network. Especially with the growth of cord-cutting and cord-nevers, I think they’re taking the short-term cash while blocking a new generation of potential fans. Let’s hope that one day some other teams will see the light.

Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay Spring Training gameFebruary always means the start of a particularly happy season for me and other free-to-air satellite viewers – Spring Training baseball season. Regular-season games are always scrambled or handled through terrestrial pipes, but plenty of the February and March exhibition games are freely available as they’re beamed back from Florida and Arizona.

For example, today I checked on Rick’s Satellite Forum for likely game candidates. I had my choice of Toronto vs. Philadelphia, Atlanta vs. the Mets, Tampa Bay vs. the Orioles (pictured), and later the Angels vs. Oakland. And that’s just for this first day of intersquad games; the list typically grows longer as February turns to March.

As with most sports wild feeds, these FTA satellite broadcasts usually forgo commercials, substituting candid shots of the field, or the crowd, or the next set of graphics they plan to show when the game resumes. It’s part of the fun to be able to peek behind the scenes like that.

As construction equipment jackhammers the street by my office and the temperature outside struggles to stay above freezing, it’s great to be able to glance over at my satellite monitor and see palm trees, short-sleeve shirts, and baseball. It’s going to keep me happy over the next few weeks.

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.