I have been watching some satellite feeds over FTA or Free-to Air satellite networks, and I must say it is very exciting. As readers of this blog know I have a real passion for capturing anything which comes through the air, and satellite TV and satellite radio are really just extensions of shortwave and longwave radio. After all, satellites dishes are antennas too!! I should clarify what FTA services are: they are truly free (and legal) satellite channels broadcasting a range of news, sports, music, culture, and entertainment programming from various international sources. While there are domestic stations which one can hear on some of the satellites, most of the programming is international in scope, and this is a part of the charm.
I will save the logistics of setting up a system for another day, but what I want to capture here is the excitement of discovery I have experienced, comparable to many other radio experiences I have had. My first “catch” was a radio station with Spanish-sounding music. I was not able to identify the station partly due to my language limitations (I know very little Spanish!), but also because I was not sure where the satellite dish was pointing. With further adjustments I was able to receive a number of channels from a satellite at 103 degrees longitude, SES-3. There are several news stations, as well as PBS-style stations from several countries including an instant favorite, Japan.
Many of these stations are in English, while a few are in other languages. I have yet to track the mother of all FTA satellites in North America, Galaxy 19, with something like 300+ TV and Radio stations. This will require more time on the roof, and until the wind dies down I will be content to watch what I have captured so far.
I wanted to mention two very interesting experiences, or feelings if you will, while watching these broadcasts. First, there is a wonderful sense of “other” which happens to me whenever I get involved listening to music or discussion about a country other than my own. This is something I have experienced many times with shortwave radio. One of the channels coming in quite clearly is NHK World out of Japan. I have watched several interesting shows, including news reports, giving me a glimpse of life in another country (all in English, BTW!). I liken it to watching or listening to news from the BBC. The quality is excellent, the topics interesting, and the perspective refreshing. One of the things I enjoy most about shortwave radio is the way in which our own perspectives can be broadened, leading to a greater appreciation for our fellow man.
There are different things which affect Japan compared to the United States, and yet there are many similarities. They are struggling with a shrinking workforce and general population decrease, leading to fears of who will care for the rising numbers of seniors. Sound familiar? They are looking for ways to encourage fertility while maintaining their workforce, much like America and other developed countries in the world.
Another station I watched almost all day recently was RT-America, which I believe stands for Russia Today. While there were admittedly obvious propaganda slants to some of the stories, many of the features were top notch, and the channel sports such people as Larry King and his show PoliticKing. There was a feature about really giant sinkholes being created in Siberia which are related to the Permafrost conditions there, as well as some very interesting takes on the political implications of various financial conditions around the world.
A station I have not completely ID’d yet has regular blue grass/country music on a morning show called Wake-up America.net. The music has been great, and the interviews interesting. Are there similar things on cable? You bet (although without as much of the international flair!), but I do not have to pay a monthly subscription, nor do I have to put up with commercials. That’s right–very few stations have commercials, except those stations which are run by conventional cable or network broadcasters such as MeTV or similar. And yes it was kind of funny seeing an old episode of Baywatch being aired, or better still, an old episode of My Favorite Martian.
The most exciting part is just the notion of capturing signals which are coming through the air every minute of every day, which most people never even give a second thought to, much less make the effort to demodulate. As I always say, I AM a radio geek! Discovery is like an addiction for me, giving me a high like no other. There is a big, big world out there and I do not want to miss it. With shortwave radio, broadcast radio, and satellite TV I do not have to, but instead I can have a world of programs right at my fingertips. How cool is that?! 73, Robert
Update:11.15.15: Got Galaxy 19 satellite locked in – Wow!! Over 250 channels coming in on that one alone, not to mention about 80+ radio channels. I have 3 or four more satellites coming in, and more will be available as the positioning is tweaked. So far I have sampled broadcasts from Vietnam, Tokyo, Russia, Poland, Belarus, numerous Middle eastern countries, China, France, and several African countries. Watching news reports from around the world concerning the terrorist attacks in Paris was particularly enlightening. Also I have watched several American shows dubbed in other languages – weird sounding, but very cool! I highly recommend you check out FTA satellite! Several good places to start are here, here, and here (a PDF file), along with several really good forums here, here, and here.
Enjoy! 73, Robert