Reminiscing on FTA’s glory days

a list of what used to be available FTA

A list from FTA's glory days

I was cleaning up some old bookcases when I came across a laminated FTA channel chart that I had made years ago. Back then, I was checking to see whether a commercial printer could do a particular kind of job, and I needed a test page to be printed in color and laminated. I used a list of channels the way I had ordered them on my FTA receiver. The result is over there next to these words.

What I didn’t know then was that I just happened to capture the absolute peak of FTA. Although it was almost all from one satellite, Galaxy 10R at 123 W, this was the very best lineup of Ku-band channels that would ever be available.

First there were the Caribbean channels, with ABC, CBS, NBC, and a WB/UPN hybrid. That set only stayed on G10R Ku-band for a few months, but while they did, they were a rare source of CBS and NBC programming.

This lineup still included The Tube and ImaginAsian. The former was a real music television service for grown-ups, and was founded by one of MTV’s old creators. The latter had interesting martial arts movies and was adding a fun MST3K-like show. Both eventually left Ku-band, then died months later.

And there were all those great OTA stations. Two ABC affiliates from Wyoming, usually showing the same thing. Three Fox affiliates, often showing three different pro football games. Three WBs, six UPNs, and six more showing that new upstart network RTN.

With that many quasi-independent stations, there was a lot of syndicated and sports programming as well. KQUP would show an amazing number of Seattle Sonics games every season. St. Louis and Kansas City baseball games were common. WNGS sometimes had four baseball games from three home teams in one week. And some seasons even saw some Texas Rangers and Houston Astros games.

I often wondered if these channels were sustainable FTA. That is, if enough people learned about them and started watching, would the networks and sports leagues force them all to go scrambled? This question was never answered; those stations went away in the wake of Equity Media‘s financial implosion. (Except for KUIL, which coincidentally left FTA soon afterward.)

I even miss the Spanish-language channels, even though I couldn’t understand them. It annoyed me to see so many channels with exactly the same programming, but at least there were occasional sports on the Univision and TeleFutura channels.

Today, all that’s left from this list of 42 channels is the Research Channel, the University of Washington, the Pentagon Channel, and Daystar. It’s nice to have something, but it’s fun to remember when we FTA viewers had everything.

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