Shortwave Wars

Patriot Satellite

The patriot radio community was originally heavily involved in C Band satellite. These are the original satellites that began to be commercially available in the 1970's. C Band is notably characterized by the large mesh and solid dishes still widely seen in rural locations. These dishes are large (generally a minimum of 5', and running up to 12') and are mounted on heavy iron poles that require concrete foundations. In many cases, such dishes are too heavy for rooftop installation.

C Band satellite was originally analog television, and the earliest patriot networks, such as Jeff Baker's Amerinet (for details on the Baker saga, and the demise of the early patriot network Amerinet Broadcasting, after his clash with Shortwave broadcaster Steve Quayle, see volume 3 of the Shortwave Wars books). The early C Band nets, which included the original Republic Radio before the name was stolen 3 times, utilized the audio sub-carrier of the TV satellites. This enabled modest cost satellite radio reception by any backyard dish owner in the country.

As C Band began to seek more revenue through the emerging digital revolution, fewer and fewer C Band transponders (essentially uplink channels) were available, and when the FCC set deadlines for satellite transmission to move to digital, the end of C Band (and patriot radio on those satellites) was in view. Because C Band has been on the birds for decades, several digital C Band schemes are still being attempted, including 4DTV, which requires a new, and rather expensive receiver be installed.

Because the patriot community, and those seeking alternative radio sources, also watched their television programming via satellite (mostly because rural, non-cabled areas were the primary demographic for big dish satellite), the emergence of vsats (very small aperture terminals) sounded the death knell of C Band.

Vsats, which utilized the new ku band technology, were largely embraced by well heeled Direct Broadcast Service (DBS) providers such as DirecTV and DishNetwork. Commercial data transmission heavily jumped (most gas station chains are now linked via vsats, for example) and the big broadcast networks invested heavily for news gathering and remotes. NBC, for example was the first to add ku band for news bureaus and scrambled network feeds to affiliates.

A short time later, the new subscription radio services such as XM and Sirius began, but these systems were closed to all but the largest existing mainstream radio networks. Although there has been some movement in this area, the XM/Sirius nets have now joined with DirecTV and DishNet, and have kept the small, special interest, networks (such as patriot, or alternative Christian) from access to their large installed customer base. In short, the big money in media continues to block alternative views.

Ironically, the XM and Sirius approach to satellite is actually a high quality broadcast compressed digital stream, so the same quality radio can be accomplished over the Internet -- and indeed, several of the patriot nets are sending out high quality audio streams. Furthermore, the XM/Sirius model are subscription based, which poses a marketing challenge for patriot radio.

In recent times, several nets have offered stream archives on subscription, so it may be they are conforming their business practices in order to eventually move to systems such as those offered by XM and Sirius. 

It's also worth noting the podcast approach, which is essentially just an archived audio stream with a specific way to access the programming on the Internet, has impacted patriot radio. I believe the ipod and cell phone revolution will eventually swallow XM and Sirius for they are practically the same technology. For example, Francis Steffan of the American Voice Radio network (AVR) reports he has long haul truckers that listen to AVR on their cell phones. Such a distribution methodology can now access millions of cell phones -- which also have the advantage of being able to make phone calls! 

However, the satellites themselves have enormous capacity, so after arranging the satellite capacity to the large DBS operators, the large aerospace satellite firm owners (Hughes, Comsat, Intelsat, and others) began selling bandwidth to private networks with a special interest constituency. This is where over the air Internet Service Providers (ISP's) arrived as well. Basically, the satellites began selling high dollar capacity to anyone with the money, and this opened the satellite door to patriot radio -- a door that had been shut with the departure of analog C Band.

But all is not well with satellite. The re-emergence of patriot satellite via ku band also means that such programming, such as the patriot radio network output, is not available via DirecTV or DishNet, because they are simply buying bandwidth on the bird, and what they do with it is up to them. Because patriot radio is still a very small sector of our society, the networks lack a central marketing powerhouse like the aforementioned firms to drive installation of vsats in order to receive their output. Thus, in sharp contrast to the millions of C Band dishes providing a ready prospect base, the satellite penetration of ku band is still tiny.

For this reason, although patriot radio networks are known for their lack of cooperation with each other due to the vicious nature of some of the entities, most notably Ted Anderson's notorious misdeeds at Genesis Communications (which have even included childish attempts to "hack" competitor's Internet streams), they have tended to cluster on one satellite in the hope of reaching each other's listener base. This means a patriot listener that buys a vsat will be able to receive most (but not all) patriot radio feeds on one dish. As a side note, more details on the criminal actions of Genesis, including even the theft of studio equipment from another network, may be found in Volume I of the Shortwave Wars series of books by the present author, as well as the notes under radio networks on this site.   

Once again, when C Band was dominant, those same dish owners could also receive mainstream television programming on that one dish, so there was a distinct incentive to go with satellite. But as previously stated, ku band satellite dishes installed to receive patriot radio do not receive anything else of substance (such as mainstream radio or television programs of any kind), but only special interest feeds such as Farsi or Romanian language television, or a host of other practically worthless satellite feeds.

However, it is precisely because there are significant segments of the population seeking foreign language broadcasts, special interest narrow market data streams, and other narrowcasts that have enabled the independent ku band operators to survive. Thus, patriot radio has moved into ku band, but nagging doubts remain over the viability of the medium. A satellite dish runs around $200, and the vsats are technically challenging to install, so a pro installation is commonly required, which adds another $150 to $200 or more to the cost. For that same $400 or $500, you can buy quite the computer, and there are vast numbers of things computers can do besides listen to streaming audio! 

A good example of the problem is my own case. As the founder of the Christian Media Network, I've been heavily vested in satellite over the years. In the original network model, a central hub of programming feeds network station affiliates, and in the patriot net universe, those affiliates were largely Shortwave and low power FM radio stations carrying the network's programs (see the files on Shortwave and LPFM on this website). At CMN, we did this for years with C Band, and the estimated 5 million backyard dish owners offered a potential consumer listenership bonus for the high cost of uplinking our programs to satellite.

However, although C Band had millions of dishes installed over the decades it was dominant, stand alone ku band has never had a high installed base of home dish owners. Worse yet, two of our key station affiliates (one in Maine, and one in Miami) both have problems receiving ku! In Maine, snow frequently destroys dish reception, and in urbanized Miami, electro-magnetic pollution and huge broadcast station density have caused significant interference problems for ku band satellite. Thus, ku band offers us no network connectivity to our affiliates, and a minimal installed base of consumers waiting for our programming -- yet the costs for uplinking remain substantial.

Conversely, I can stream high quality radio to my affiliates via the Internet for a fraction of the cost. Worse yet, because CMN reversed the historic network programming emphasis from a patriot major with a Christianity minor in terms of format, while Satellite is still beneficial to some networks, it offers little to others.

Ku band satellites are also called Free To Air (FTA), meaning there is no charge to receive the programming. However, as Internet Streaming soared in popularity at the same time as FTA, and Shortwave radio continues to provide its consistent, and substantial, non-conformist listener base, many view satellite as simply as a transitional technology.

In summary, through that explosive invention known as the Internet, it's clear that at the present rate of development, barring any catastrophic meltdown of infrastructure, it won't be long before every person has a universal communicator like those seen on Star Trek. Welcome to the 21st century.

-- James Lloyd