Adventures in Satellite-ville
(Leigh Preece)


Note - this is a bit of reminiscing and on only if interested in old days of satellite and cable TV! Some dates are a bit vague - don't email me to correct me please!

Satellite TV has been a hobby of mine since god knows when - I recall seeing a local BBC News programme or it might have been Tomorrow's World in the early 1980's with some guy who had built his own monster of a dish - it must have been at least 3m wide, moved by hand and used ex-broadcast gear to receive satellite TV in his own lounge. I thought - Wow - what a fantastic system. And that's about as far as it went at that point.

The mid-1980s.

Years passed by and we moved house, in the mid 1980s, to an area covered by Reddifusion Cablevision - a really old ropey VHF cable system that originally carried the BBC and ITV plus local radio in the days before Mr. Sugar and Murdoch had even thought of investing in the sat boom. A website exists with excerpts and logos from this era -

This brought 5 fantastic channels in our home - Lifestyle - a woman's magazine channel - a bit like UK Living is today, ScreenSport, 10-The Film Channel, which was eventually called 'MirrorVision' when Robert Maxwell, the guy who supposed drowned after falling from his speedboat, probably while emptying his bladder and once owner of Mirror Group Newspapers, purchased it - might have been in the other order.

There was also "The Children's Channel" - a proper kids channel with all the things that younger kids used to have to wait till dinnertime or later in the afternoon to watch the TV designed for them.

Music was on there too - no MTV or VH1 in those days but something far better - Music Box - giving us stars such as "The Big Boys", Gaz Topp, Sunni, The Shadow plus others who appeared on there but would rather not admit to it or include it on their CVs nowadays. The programming was basically non-stop videos, on a 4 hour rolling sequence that played from 2am to 6pm when live programming came on from 6pm until 2am. I hate to think how many U-matic tapes they got through as well as machines.

"VideoPix" was basically a free-for-all request show, presented by two guys, Gary and Marty - better known as "The Big Boys" due to the theme music "I'm Hanging Around With The Big Boys" by Bloomsbury Set, and was one of the funniest shows on the channel. The channel was the best I've ever seen in a music TV station until VH1 arrived.

The final of the five channels we had was "Sky Channel" - not Sky One as it is now - but the PROPER Sky Channel - uplinked from Holland and programmed in Hilversumm - with the best diet of rubbish you could ever wish for. But some of the best things from that time were "Ronny the Runner" - a pop video request show that entailed the viewer ringing in LIVE and the runner - surprisingly called "Ronny" had the job of running to the library and fetching the tape, taking it to the playback suite and putting it on - all within a minute or 90 seconds. How much of the programme was staged, I don't know but it was a scream, due to the Dutch presenter encouraging the viewer on the phone to shout "Come on Ronny" before the time ran out. It had to be seen to be believed.

Another treat was "DJ Kat" - basically an obnoxious sh*t of a cat with an attitude that made you want to use up its 9 lives asap. Co-hosting was the gorgeous "Katrina" who was the butt of his jokes and jibes. Kat and Katrina basically linked programmes for kids and videos - dead cheap telly, which, in those days, is exactly what Sky Channel "Reaching Out To You" as the slogan went, was all about.

Eventually, Music Box folded and became "Superchannel" - I recall the launch presented by Ann Diamond, you know - the drama queen from TV-am. It wasn't bad and basically retained the pop videos in the day. Things weren't too bad and the channel remained as is until it was taken over by CNBC who made it CNBC Superchannel to eventually become the news service as we know it today.

What Satellite?

I was an avid reader of What Satellite TV magazine even then - it started as a pull-out to What Video, about 8 pages in total, not the 100 odd page glossy it is today. Adverts were for fantastic systems - Echostar, Reddifusion, Drake, Chaparral - all very very expensive with Prime-Focus dishes and actuators you can move a tank around with. LNBs had ridiculous noise figures and you could receive little more than we had from Cable. I recall seeing a demonstration at a show - with a whopper of a dish. My school friends were amazed at the channels on offer - I was the guy who knew all about them - I'd been watching for years.


Another house move saw us leaving Cable TV behind, just to be left with BBC1 and 2, ITV and Channel4 and that was it. I wanted Cable back but other things were on the horizon - satellite systems cheap enough for home users - yes - The Satellite Age had finally arrived.

My parents announced we were having Satellite TV - I couldn't wait!

They went to ColourVision in Hanley and purchased a Amstrad SRX100 - a 16 channel manual button receiver - that still works today - and we had everything again - Sky Channel, MTV in its UK infancy, Lifestyle, Eurosport, Sky Movies, etc... plus loads of German stuff, with their late night 1970s soft-porn offerings as well as the classic "Tutti-Frutti" with the "Cin-Cin Dancers". I won't explain what 'TF' was about - but it was brilliant.

Eventually Sky scrambled with VideoCrypt and sent subscribers a standalone decoder - which was bigger than the Amstrad receiver itself. We also had a very naughty but essential 'Filmnet' decoder - which gave English language films as well as more 'adult' offerings at night that were worth watching unlike the German stuff. Also RTL5 appeared, to eventually scramble using Luxcrypt - offering Dutch programming but English soundtracks and Dutch subtitles. Some of their programmes were better than Sky's at times.

Over time, all of Sky's output became scrambled, along with all other UK-up linked offerings, so the decoder and card were essential. I preferred to tune into the German stuff as well as enjoy radio from Astra 19.2E - remember Quality Europe FM? The Superstation? Classic Gold? Caroline? Fantastic stuff then!

The 1990s.

My parents upgraded the SRX100 to eventually a Amstrad SRD510 (that I eventually modified). I moved house a few times and eventually bought the house off my parents in the late 1990s - and with it came a satellite receiver and 60cm dish. I was home and had satellite TV again.

In went the SRD510 and I was back up and running again. I had my own house now and a place to mess around, finally, with my own satellite system. I even looked at Nynex Cable TV - what a farce - Channel 5 hadn't arrived on my local terrestrial transmitter so that helped me to look at Cable again - and it was poor - picture quality was worse than I had experienced all those years ago with the Reddifusion system (the actual cables were strung from house to house rather than underground and they must have used damn good quality cable as its all still in place even now in the year 2001 - and still probably going back to the head-end miles away).

My parents again purchased another Amstrad (see - they do have their fans - my parents!) - this time the Amstrad 545!

We subscribed to Sky Analog again after convincing Nynex, eventually to become Cable and Wireless and then NTL to remove their Jerrold box - that I ungracefully disconnected (with wire cutters!) and I was a cable free zone again. Cable is now digital but I still remain un-impressed.


Saw me moving into another league - I went motorised. Woo wooo !!!  An 90cm mesh dish, Superjack III Jackarm and 0.7dB Grundig LNB as well as an old Discus Elipse receiver to basically move the dish left to right. I could scan the sky (!), watch stuff from all over Europe - Turkish, Polish, German, French, Greek - you name it - I watched it.   Mum and Dad had now moved over to Sky Digital - unlike me with my old analog gear - and into the house came 1 degs west and D2MAC - plus TV3, TV Norge, TV1000, Filmnet (to eventually turn into Canal+) plus cards, codes. Decoder was a Philips CTU900 - modified (naturally!) to work with the Amstrad SRD545. I wanted a Nokia SAT1700 - and eventually this came about, cheap, from a local guy who once installed systems during the boom time (Hi Pete!) and then gave up. He's still into sat stuff now and has a beauty of a dish - 1.2m - in his yard plus another on the house!

And onto Digital:

The saying of "great things come to he who waits" - well this happened to me - with Sky Digital. Our secretary here at work had a Sky Pace Digibox that was un-used - no details of how or where - but I said, semi-seriously on visiting her house - "...if you've got no need for that receiver, I'll have it".

She came to work one day, armed with a bag and it in was the Sky Digibox and remote. After numerous letters over a 10 week period to Sky which resulted in me writing them a poem (!), they sent me a contract and we joined the Digital age. D2MAC and Sky Digi in perfect harmony, apart from the odd bit of dish switching and repositioning every now and again.

We had good value from the D2MAC gear - obviously late at night the choice was a little more interesting - but my feet were getting itchy again.

A friend who had really been into the D2MAC game plus cards, etc, had moved over to Digital. I priced things up and decided I'd stick with what I had for the time being.


A Space Wotsit?? Well - no - but the year I got rid of the D2MAC and analog. Out went the Elipse, out went the Nokia SAT1700 (Mark 2 I'll have you know!) and in came a Humax F1CI - purchased as part of a clearance sale at a dealers. Add 2 x CAMs and a simple positioner I was in business.

That damn thing played up so was replaced with a Samsung 9000 Digital Receiver - Digital and that leaves us at the state I'm at now - 1 x Pace Sky Digibox with 45cm dish (given to me as usual) and a Samsung 9000 Digital Receiver. Last count - over 2800 channels plus 100 odd from Sky Digital - and often there is still nothing on the TV worth watching!

Looking back, I've seen a lot of development in the world of satellite and cable - coming from 4 channels on Reddifusion with DJ Kat and Music Box to Sky Analog and eventually "everything digital".

No thanks:

To the UK Goverment who force us TV and Film viewers to live in such a 'nanny-state' which means the kind of viewing and freedom of censorship that the majority of the other countries in Europe enjoy is controlled by a bunch of 'nannies' who control what they want us to watch and not watch or what to read and not read. Yes - I'm talking about the Porn laws and the fact that the people in government can't accept that people want to watch other people having - wait for it - sex and related actions. I ask you!

Thanks to:

I can't finish this without a mention of thanks to various people - my parents, obviously, for starting me off in Cable and Satellite TV (oh - and my Mum for correcting my dates), Burslem CO-OP where I discovered What Video mag - eventually to become What Satellite, Pete Rixon for the Nokia Sat1700Mk2, Bob for the D2MAC help, Frank in Telford for the positioning gear and Elipse, Martin at Satcure for all his help with receivers, now the host of a fantastic website - - and his repair business and finally, last but not least - my wife, Dawn, for enduring the many changes to our gear over the past few years.

As long as she can watch UK Living, UK Gold and Granada Plus, she's happy (her words not mine!).

(Written on 22.3.01. Revised 13.7.01)




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