Sometimes, the problem is just the cable

Close-up of antenna splitter box with many cables connected to it.

My antenna signal splitter

The UPS driver delivered my new DVR+ from Channel Master yesterday, and I got to work setting it up. I needed a new HDMI cable and another quad-shield coax cable, so I bought those from the hardware store down the street. I connected the HDMI cable from the DVR+ to my Slingbox, then connected the Monster coax cable to my powered antenna splitter (shown at right) and the DVR+. Next came the internet and power connections, and soon I was running through setup.

I was a bit surprised and unhappy with the DVR+ after it scanned my channels; there weren’t as many of them as I could see on my other devices. For example, KCDO, my local Channel 3, was invisible to the DVR+ even though it was loud and clear everywhere else. In particular, it was easy to switch my desktop TV from HDMI to TV and watch KCDO.

Channel Master has a support page devoted to that very symptom: Why Does My TV’s Tuner Receive More Channels Than My DVR+? To summarize, the page says that just happens sometimes, and the best solution is to improve the signal by moving the antenna to a better location or getting a better antenna. What that page doesn’t mention is what was the real cause and solution in this case. If you read the title of this post, I’ll bet you’ve figured it out.

I’ve run into enough weak cables in my years of satellite TV that I knew to try a simple test. I disconnected the cable that ran directly to my desktop TV and swapped it with the new cable connected to the DVR+. Sure enough, the DVR+ could now see all of my local channels, but when I tuned my TV to Channel 3, it showed a silent, black screen. Then as I began to unscrew the new cable from the splitter, the TV came to life. It could see Channel 3 now, although other channels were still missing.

I’ll need to find a better cable for the TV, but the good news is the DVR+ is working fine. The Slingbox runs it very easily, and I’ll write more about that combination after I’ve had time to try it out. I just wanted to stop so I could remind you that sometimes, reception problems are simply the cable‘s fault.

Update: I bought some new cables, tightened them the same way with the same bad result. Then I tried the suspect Monster cable on the last empty connector on my splitter and it worked fine. Sometimes it really is the cable’s fault, but this time, the problem was that particular splitter node. The deeper lesson here: Test everything.

C-band has some great FTA channels to watch

1.2-meter dish with C-band LNB

My 1.2-meter dish with its C-/Ku-band LNB

I’ve been having a great time lately with my 1.2-meter dish. Smaller, normal-sized Ku-band dishes are easier to precisely aim, but that larger surface area prevents rain fade and enables some C-band fun. Let me explain.

Long ago, I bought this fine, huge dish, then had to spend a couple of weeks wrestling with motor mounts till I got it set up to scan the skies. Then I tried to attach a combination C- and Ku-band LNB, which required a lot of tweaking and eventually conical scalar rings, which helped quite a bit. You see, C-band dishes tend to be prime focus dishes, where the LNB is in line with the direction it’s pointing. Ku-band dishes tend to be offset, where the LNB is mounted to catch the signal’s reflection. Those rings help collect that reflection for a stronger, better-quality signal.

Anyway, I experimented a bit with C-band to see which channels I could pick up. Based on Global Communication’s fine FTA C-band list, I was getting about 30% of the channels a regular, full-sized C-band dish could receive. After awhile, I swapped my sensitive Ku-only LNB into place and put away my thoughts of C-band.

A few weeks ago, a kind soul pointed out that a couple of Ku-band news channels had appeared at 99W. After I’d pointed the dish and verified those, I remembered that 99W was the best place to find viewable C-band channels. So I took off the sensitive Ku-band LNB, reached for my C/Ku combo on the porch and, yick! The year or so of exposure to the elements had not been kind. The label was off. A little bit of plastic that had kept me from looking all the way inside the LNB was gone. It was dusty and a little cobwebby. I figured I was going to have to order a new one, but what the heck, I might as well try this one first. I cleaned out the LNB, used its same old mounting bracket, whipped out my SatHero signal meter, plugged it into the right C/Ku connector on the second try (you’d think that the C would be the one in back), and Beep, Beep, Beep. Galaxy 16 was coming in clear as a bell, and I soon verified that the dish was already in position for peak signal quality.

Here’s what’s available for me just from that position:

  • KRBK (Fox Osage Beach MO) and MeTV
  • KCWY (NBC Casper WY)
  • NBC, Fox, and This TV affiliates from the Virgin Islands
  • KNLC (independent St. Louis)
  • A cluster of channels, including Cozi, from LeSEA
  • Living Faith TV
  • GEB America and God’s Learning Channel (bleeding over from 101W)
  • Heroes & Icons, Movies!, and TouchVision (101)
  • AMG TV, and The Walk/Dr TV (97)

Those bleeding-over channels aren’t always available (more on that later), but I could still make a case that this little bunch of English-language, general-audience channels are more valuable to me than all current FTA Ku-band channels combined. (Especially if you don’t count the PBSs of 125W, where that dish in the background of my photo is always pointed.) I watched an out-of-market NFL game Sunday (even though I already subscribe to Dish Network’s NFL Red Zone) just like the good old days of Equity Broadcasting and Galaxy 10R.

I kept looking around, and it just got better. Over at 87W, I’m able to pick up the 30+ Luken Communications affiliates and channels, including Retro TV, Tuff TV, My Family TV, PBJ, Heartland, and Rev’n. At 91W, I see BYU TV, KLUZ (Univision, Albuquerque) and TV Montana. There are a few feed sources and other oddball channels, but this is nifty!

It’s all great stuff, but it’s erratic. Sometimes channels won’t come in for me, especially those bleed-over channels I mentioned, no matter where I point the dish. Other users tell me that similar setups pick up more or fewer C-band channels depending on latitude, satellite footprint, and who knows what. These are the reasons why I can’t easily add them to FTAList.com for folks who use a certain dish size. Maybe there’s a way to map who gets what where, but I can’t wrap my head around it yet. For now, I just wanted to share this with you. Maybe it will inspire your own mini-C-band experiments.

CES is still relevant, just not as much

At a booth at CES, man with his head on a table

I pity this poor guy. CES fatigue is real, but it normally takes a while to develop, and this was the afternoon of Day One.

The 2014 edition of the International CES is over, and all reports suggest that it was the largest yet. That’s true for automotive fans or health gadget followers, but for us satellite folks, it was a little disappointing.

Once upon a time, I could count on CES to show off the latest in satellite free-to-air equipment, the FTA in this blog’s name. That presence dwindled, and in 2014, there was absolutely zero satellite FTA at the show. Searching for “satellite” in the over 3200 exhibitors’ descriptions turned up only 15 matches, including “satellite offices” and companies that supply to satellite and cable providers. Even Dish Network’s “Be anywhere, watch everything” description didn’t mention that s-word; Dish just happens to deliver most of its content through geosynchronous whatchamacallits.

On the other hand, a few companies showed a renewed interest in over-the-air free TV viewing. I got to hold simple.TV‘s second-generation receiver, fresh off the boat. Tablo exhibited a OTA receiver that’s very, very similar to simple.TV’s but with a tablet-oriented interface. Even venerable antenna manufacturer Channel Master introduced its own OTA receiver, the DVR+, which will launch with no guide subscription fees. The DVR+ also won a CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Award.

And most importantly, CES draws together all sorts of people to meet. I talked with technological innovators, iPhone case demonstrators, and some of the other folks who write about what’s new. I was even present for a friendly meeting of attendees from SatelliteGuys and DBSTalk at the Dish booth. There’s a lot of noise at every CES, but the connections make it worth it every year.

FTA 101: Hundreds of channels, free and legal

FortecDishWe’re getting a lot of new visitors, so I thought this might be a good time to talk about the foundation of this blog: free-to-air (FTA) satellite TV. That’s a system providing hundreds of channels that don’t require an internet connection to watch but are completely free and legal.

By the way, when I tell the people I meet about FTA satellite TV, about 10 of every 12 act like I’m talking about an imaginary friend, one guy will reminisce about the C-band dish he used to have, and the last one will say, “I used to subscribe to that, then it got scrambled.” Unfortunately, satellite TV pirates often misused the term “FTA” to refer to their practice of unlawfully, temporarily unlocking pay-TV channels. (How stupid is it to risk $thousands in legal damages to save $20/month on satellite TV by paying a pirate instead of Dish or DirecTV?) Anyway, let me make it clear up front that my use of FTA is its original, positive meaning – unscrambled channels that are free for anyone to watch.

As long-time FTABlog readers know, anyone who can mount a small Ku-band dish with a clear line of sight to the right part of the sky can get an amazing array of FTA TV and radio channels. Not only are there hundreds of regular channels, there are also healthy doses of raw news and sports feeds that you’d never see anywhere else. This whole FTA phenomenom is so exciting that it’s the reason I founded FTAList.com a long time ago, as a resource for keeping track of what’s available and a guide to getting started.

After creating FTAList, I added this blog to write about some of the changes in the channels that were available. Then about three years ago, I began to notice that there were more channels and video content online than on FTA satellite. The few over-the-air stations that had used satellite to relay their signal to cable systems mostly switched to IP-based delivery. New streaming technologies provided other ways to watch distant channels, so that’s often the focus on this blog.

In general, FTA satellite provides a great supplement to local over-the-air viewers (what they used to be called before “cord cutters”). There are two catches. The first is that you won’t find HBO or ESPN; full-time FTA channels tend to be networks you haven’t heard of. The second catch is that the channels come and go as they please. Some FTA channels last for years, some for weeks. That’s why FTAList is there to try to keep track of the changes.

If you want to learn more about this easy way to add lots of channels to your entertainment setup, go visit FTAList and poke around. You might find watching odd, often unique free programming to be as much fun as I did.

The best DVR you didn’t know you had

WinMedMoviesGoogle’s announcement of the $35 Chromecast streaming dongle is rightfully big news this week, but I want to talk about another bridge between the internet and your TV set. This technology should appeal to anyone who’s contemplating cutting the cable cord. Its main strength is a free-subscription DVR for over-the-air (OTA) TV, but it’s also a great tool for streaming Netflix and countless other internet-based entertainment sources. That DVR is any PC with Windows Media Center (WMC). If you’re running Windows, you’ve probably got it already.

Well, there is one gotcha when it comes to that PC – it needs to have an OTA TV antenna connected to a TV input card or USB dongle. If OTA signals don’t reach you, that’s also a problem. Otherwise, the PC just needs to have a modestly fast processor (roughly 1 GHz or faster), at least 1 GB of RAM, at least 16 MB of hard drive space, some kind of internet access, and a video output that your TV can use.

For example, as I type, MicroCenter is selling a number of refurbished desktops that meet these requirements for $99. All they require is a cheap TV input card (here’s one for $20 from an eBay seller) and sometimes a basic video card (here’s more than you need for $26 from another eBay seller). For more advice about how to build your WMC box, this Motherboards.org page is a good start. WMC would also love to organize and serve up your music and photos, but remember that your WMC box is also a computer, so you can use it to run other entertainment apps (such as Hulu Desktop), type emails and do anything else you can do on a computer.

Instead of needing to buy another older computer, it’s just as possible that you’ve already got a hand-me-down or underused Windows computer that you can set up as your WMC box. Microsoft included WMC in a special version of Windows XP, then more editions of Windows Vista (Home Premium and Ultimate) and most editions of Windows 7 (Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate). Windows 8 users have to upgrade to the Pro Pack to get WMC, but the older versions of Windows will work better on the kind of leftover hardware we’re talking about now.

Once you’ve got it set up, WMC works as a DVR and adds a few extra features. As with most DVRs, it keeps a constant buffer so you can go back a few minutes to check something you missed. WMC lets you record programs to your hard drive, and you can set just how much of the hard drive you want it to use. WMC downloads two-week guide data, always for free, that includes all significant OTA subchannels. As shown in the screen capture above, WMC displays all the movies that will be available, making it simple to click and record them. (It does the same for sports, but most events work better live, and few markets have many OTA sports broadcasts these days.)

If you’ve got broadband internet access, then you may appreciate the Netflix plugin for WMC. For all other internet-based entertainment, you’ve already got that computer hooked up to your TV.

If you’re a free-to-air satellite TV fan, thanks for continuing to read this blog. It turns out that WMC supports some FTA satellite input cards as well. The setup process is a little more involved, and I don’t think WMC will drive an FTA motor, but it works okay for stationary dishes with known transponders. In North America, guide data for FTA channels is spotty at best, but we FTA viewers are used to that.

WMC is hardly the only PC-based DVR available. MythTV is one well-regarded open-source alternative. NextPVR is closed source but free for personal use. And there are any number of commercial DVR alternatives. But nobody beats WMC for price, ease of setup, and ease of use. For cord-cutters who want to embrace and explore their local OTA TV signals, WMC is often the best choice.

Baseball ignores a growing set of would-be fans

map of Major League Baseball territories

Major League Baseball territories, from Wikipedia

Baseball’s Opening Day always makes me feel like a 10-year-old. I grew up watching the local team on local TV. In those days before cable, I was lucky to see 60 games a year that way, usually on the independent station, plus the NBC Game of the Week on Saturdays. I got to know who the players were, and both the sport and the team grew on me. That team’s unwitting investment then paid off with years of game tickets, video subscriptions, and pilgrimages to baseball parks.

One of the lures of FTA satellite TV when I started with it was major league baseball. A lot of teams had regional over-the-air packages of games for stations within their territories. Thanks to MLB’s inscrutable territory rules, some cities were claimed by several overlapping teams. And some of the stations in those cities took advantage of that.

Buffalo NY is claimed by four teams – Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and both New Yorks. One station there carried Mets, Yankees, and Indians games whenever they were available. (I guess they couldn’t get the Pirates.) Arkansas is claimed by Texas, Houston, Kansas City, and St. Louis, and stations there carried some of those games as well. I looked at these as the second incarnation of superstations – those satellite-delivered TV stations that delivered lots of programming, including baseball, starting in the late 1970s. WGN and TBS survived and morphed into true pay-TV networks, and only two of the remaining five legally defined superstations still carry baseball games. That sure was fun while it lasted!

(Of course, now if you want to see out-of-market baseball games, all you need is high-speed internet, MLB.TV, and enough cash to subscribe. If you’re a baseball fanatic, it’s a great deal. But I digress.)

What about today’s viewers? The National Association of Broadcasters said last June that a growing number of Americans, 54 million back then, rely on over-the-air TV. Almost 18% of households use OTA signals to watch, up from 15% in 2011. That’s not the 99% of my youth, but it’s still a lot of people.

How is baseball reacting? By sharply curtailing OTA broadcasts. In an effort to squeeze every dime out of every game, most teams have sold all their games to regional sports networks. For 2013, only 10 of the 30 MLB teams plan to broadcast as many as five of their games via OTA. Aside from the two Chicago teams, which still use WGN, only Philadelphia and the Dodgers plan over 25 OTA games this year. (There’s also a weekly regional game on Fox (PDF schedule), but that won’t be much help to get folks to identify with their hometown team.)

Baseball probably won’t see any negative results from cutting off OTA until today’s 10-year-olds grow up and get some money in their pockets. The ones who never got to watch games on TV probably won’t be fans, and they won’t buy tickets. If the backlash against pay TV grows, baseball will miss even more young never-will-be fans. One day, they’ll realize what happened, but by then, it’ll be too late.

How I became internationally known

Me, in front of my largest satellite dishI’ve been putting this off because it’s a little embarrassing. But I suppose I really ought to tell you that in the back of its latest issue, the global digital TV magazine Tele-Audiovision (formerly Tele-Satellite) published a 9-page spread on me and my FTA websites.

It all started at the NAB Show last year, where I met the publisher, Alexander Weise. His magazine has had a booth at NAB and CES for years, but this was the first time I caught him sitting at it. Alexander’s a friendly, burly guy who looks a little older than his Page 3 photo. He’s got a good command of English, though it’s clear that it’s not his first language. I told him how important Tele-Satellite had been to me when I was just getting started with FTA, and we chatted about what’s going on in North America. (FTA is much more popular elsewhere.)

I gave him my card and talked about what I do here, and Alexander surprised me by suggesting that he make a stop in Denver on his way home to Germany. I had thought that Alexander was just making friendly conversation, but he called a few days later to set up a meeting. When the day came, he arrived and got to work efficiently gathering what he needed. He asked me a few questions about my work, though he might have made some notes from our NAB meeting. When he saw the dishes that I use, he got out his camera and posed me next to a couple of them. He also took a few other pictures; based on what was published, I believe that he printed every photo that he took at my place.

After lunch nearby, Alexander dropped me off and drove away, and that had been the last I had heard about it. In a previous life, I used to edit a magazine, so I know what it’s like to keep an article in inventory for a rainy day but also what it’s like when a projected article just doesn’t pan out. Months went by, and I quietly doubted that any of our visit would ever see print. At CES a couple of months ago, I dropped by the Tele-Audiovision booth a couple of times just to say hi. The folks there always said that I just missed Alexander, so I gave them my card to pass along. Did that card poke my story loose from its file cabinet? Or was Alexander just waiting until he needed something like that to fill an issue?

I forget who it was, but I heard a comedian once say that when you look back at what you were like a year ago, you curse at your mistakes. (He followed up by wondering whether that ever changes; will you complain at 97 about the dumb stuff you did when you were 96?) Sure enough, when I look at this 11-month-old moment frozen in time, I see some things that I could have done better. I know it was a warm April day, but maybe shorts weren’t the best choice if I was going to be in the photos. It was fun to talk about possibly streaming video, but the delivery method, TVU Networks, didn’t work out nearly as well as I’d hoped. The article’s title “The FTA Fan” makes it sound as if I do this all just for fun; maybe if I’d stressed the serious public service aspect he would have written something different.

So now you know the whole story. If you want to take a look at my motorized 1.2-meter dish, go for it. If you’re impressed by my easy-to-make wood platforms, let me know and I’ll write more about them. Or just go to discover a great magazine about the TV receivers we like to use. Tele-Audiovision is always worth reading, even when I’m not in it.

Want to see a communication satellite up close?

Sirius satelliteWhen we talk about communication satellites, we sometimes mention that each is roughly the size of a school bus. That provides a bit of scale, and suggests how difficult it might be to launch it into orbit.

But it would still be nice to see a real example for an even better understanding of its size and bulk. There are occasional prelaunch photos of bunny-suited workers prepping one for launch, but it’s hard to relate to human sizes in that sterile environment.

Now we’ve got an alternative. One of the first Sirius radio satellites was donated by SiriusXM Radio and Space Systems/Loral to the Smithsonian last week. The Sirius FM-4 broadcasting satellite was a backup for its three working satellites, which covered the US in an inclined elliptical orbit. The FM-4 satellite will be on display in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

“The availability of a flight unit like Sirius FM-4, which was never launched, is extremely rare and will be a significant addition to the museum’s collection,” said Martin Collins, space history curator.

John Celli, president of Space Systems/Loral, said, “It is an honor to participate in the donation of the original spare satellite, which we are pleased to say was never needed.”

The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is in Chantilly VA near Dulles International Airport. Next time I’m traveling through, I’ll try to make time to take a look. Too bad they probably won’t let me touch it, even if I wear a bunny suit.

Darn it! Someone else wrote a FTA book

I’m deeply envious of Dennis C. Brewer. He’s written Build Your Own Free-to-Air (FTA) Satellite TV System, which is like the free-to-air beginner book that I had been promising myself to write for years. When I saw it, I asked myself, How did he do it?

The most important factor that Brewer no doubt employed was persistence. He did the work, he got the photos, and he convinced McGraw-Hill to publish it. That’s quite an accomplishment, and it shouldn’t be understated.

But another obstacle that I encountered when I was trying to put a book together was length. I mean, I’m able to explain all the necessary steps for setting up a FTA system in five web pages, maybe 10 if you count glossary and troubleshooting and all that. With this new book’s index, it runs over 260 normal-sized pages. So how did he do it?

  • A long chapter on tools and equipment. “First of all, do not let this chapter on tools and equipment frighten you away,” it begins, then it rolls through at least eight different categories of tools, illustrated by over 20 photos. Large pliers, small pliers, hex key wrenches, a keyhole saw, a tubing cutter, a drill and bolt gauge card, a reciprocating saw with assorted blades, circuit testers, a soldering gun, a multimeter, and a rivet gun. The chapter covers all of these, with photos, and I’ve never used any of them in my years of FTA satellite work. The tools I did use are also there, and at least the chapter begins its conclusion with “You might not need every tool covered here …”
  • The book takes a break for a broad list of some of the networks and stations that “you might find on FTA” including, for example, all those great old Equity Broadcasting channels that haven’t been on satellite for years and at least one call sign that no longer exists. The book is copyright 2012; maybe Brewer was working on it longer than that.
  • A very long chapter that painstakingly describes how antennas work, then thoroughly illustrates the step-by-step process of assembling a dish. I had glossed over this part on FTAList because each dish is a little different, but this was a good way to add pages. There’s also a shorter chapter that includes a great guide on how to crimp a cable connector.
  • Ten pages on satellite receiver selection, with each possible feature and what it means. Ten more on switches with charts showing how to set them up.
  • A chapter on aiming the dish and setting the LNB skew with a cute homemade device. I always go by the algorithm that you can’t get it perfect to start, but you just need to get it close enough to pick up signal, then adjust manually until signal quality is maximized. Other folks want to get it precisely accurate the first time. Maybe they’re right.
  • A chapter on picking up local over-the-air TV stations. See, here is the wisdom of a true author of books. When I was thinking about putting together what I know about FTA into a book, it never occurred to me to add a section about terrestrial reception.
  • Five chapters about choosing a TV set, hooking up FTA to your set and DVR and stuff, adding a speaker system, watching video over the internet, and “putting it all together” for a home theater. Wow. I never would have thought to include any of that. That’s why I had a pamphlet, and he has a book.
  • A chapter on installing a FTA satellite card in a PC. This one I had considered, but nothing like the 14 pages of detail this book devotes to the topic.
  • A chapter on mobile FTA installations. Now that’s fun, because I think it’s one of FTA’s best uses – something to set up in a dozen places during a long-distance RV trip.
  • No summary, but a couple of appendices. The first is Product Sources, but it doesn’t list dealers, and that’s what I think most folks need, not manufacturers. The second lists FTA web sites, and includes Lyngsat but not FTAList. That hurts.

So there you have it. I’m a little concerned that the book doesn’t mention choosing a site for the dish; it seems to just jump in with assembly and pointing without first checking line of sight. And I also wonder how many readers will buy the book and get started because of the now-bogus list of networks available on Ku-band FTA. But for most readers, if they buy this book and don’t get too scared by the tools list, they can put together a FTA satellite system.

Circular polarity: Nothing to see here?

Invacom dual-polarity LNBSomebody piqued my curiosity a little while ago about circular-polarity channels available in the clear through free-to-air equipment. The question was pretty basic: Are there ever any channels to watch on circular these days?

Quick background: To maximize satellite transponder bandwidth without large allowances for interference at the edges, transponders are stacked like Lincoln Logs using opposite polarities. Most medium-power Ku-band channels use linear polarity; each is either horizontal or vertical. Most high-power Ku-band channels use circular polarity, clockwise or counter-clockwise. This makes the small dish LNBs easier to install because they don’t need to be skewed to match the satellite reception angle as is required for stationary linear-polarity LNBs.

Those high-power channels are designed for smaller dishes, and almost all of them are meant for satellite TV subscribers, mostly to Dish Network or Bell TV. And so almost all of those channels are scrambled. But we FTA viewer are optimists, so we don’t care about what we can’t see. We want to know what we can see.

Once upon a time, only a few years ago, there was good reason for that optimism. Dish regularly left three channels in the clear: Angel One, NASA, and Gol TV. Bell left all of its music channels unscrambled for a long time. Beyond that, there were sightings of other channels that were available for weeks at a time. Dish left dozens of Ion network channels to be found. Bell had extra camera angles from NASCAR races. I even saw a steamy movie channel on Bell one night.

Pirates, or the satellite industry’s reaction to them, eliminated these free channels. Bell was first, scrambling all of its music just so it could be sure that every Bell dish in Canada was connected to either a subscriber or a crook. Then its investigators could just drive down the street looking for dishes and comparing addresses against their subscriber list. Later Dish also scrambled pretty much everything for pretty much the same reason.

Those memories of odd bits of programming spurred me on as I dug out my old Invacom dual-polarity LNB (pdf) and hooked it up to my system. My FTA receiver is too new to have entries for the satellites that Dish and Bell use, so I had to modify its satellite list. Then I had to figure why the signal from these high-powered satellites was coming in so weak. Some troubleshooting narrowed that down to a faulty DiSEqC switch, so I swapped in a new one.

After all that work, I scanned what I could and found next to nothing.

The reports that Nimiq 4 had changed its satellite footprint to cover Canada and very little else appear to be true. On Dish everything was scrambled except for four channels, all running its Dish 101 orientation program. And those are the most interesting bits of information I got out of the whole exercise.

It’s entirely possible that I missed something. There used to be a couple of channels that were marked as scrambled but were actually in the clear, but I couldn’t find any of those out of the couple dozen I checked. If you know of a good circular-polarity channel, or a position where they often have circular-polarity feeds in the clear, please leave a comment here so we’ll all know. It’s fun to explore, but not if you never find anything.