ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Do you need a new dish for your station’s downlink to track the new satellite, or can you just repoint your old one?
We’re interested in hearing from U.S. radio station engineers in the field about their experiences in updating downlinks to receive signals from AMC-18. The conversions must be done by June 30.
Bill Dickey is one engineer who reached out to us. He works at KQV(AM), which has studios and a rooftop satellite dish in downtown Pittsburgh. Dickey says he understood he was going to need a bigger dish, at least 3.7 meters, to receive the new bird. “I found nobody saying you can do this with a smaller dish.”
But concerned about the cost, he asked his local service provider, SatCom in Cranbury, Pa., first to repoint his current 2.8 meter solid dish, which sits atop a 30-story office building and sends its signals down to six satellite receivers in studios 24 stories below. Worst case, he figured, the internet backup option of his receivers would protect the air chain in case of dropouts.
But surprisingly, he said, reception performance improved significantly just from doing the repoint. “We had pretty poor Eb/No numbers prior,” he said, down as low as 7.2 to 8.5. Now after his repoint, Eb/No is in the 11.5 to 12 range.
Last fall, we quoted John Joslin of satellite equipment dealer DAWNco explaining that while some stations with “junky old dishes” would need new ones, other stations should be able simply to repoint at an off-peak time.
Joslin explained then that contemporary 3.7-meter (or larger) dishes are designed to handle satellites such as AMC-18, which are spaced closer together in orbit. Older and smaller dishes can have trouble singling out satellites that are only 2 degrees apart rather than the older 3-degree spacing. He said then that some stations may also find the new satellite location is blocked to them for a variety of reasons.
Many if not most U.S. stations are affected by the migration to AMC-18, which touches on delivery of programming via five U.S. commercial radio networks that operate their own satellite systems — Learfield, Orbital Media Networks (OMNi), Premiere Networks, Skyview Networks and Westwood One. Their migration website explains that 105 degrees West is the long-term replacement location for radio network traffic that’s been at 139 degrees West for years; the older bird AMC-8 “has exceeded its design life and is not being replaced by an equivalent C-band satellite at the same location.”
The five networks have been up and running on the new satellite for some weeks, and they now have their full complements of satellite-delivered programming available on new frequencies on AMC-18, according to the website: “This includes all show titles, satellite channels, contact closures, PAD data, cue messages and file-delivery channels - the same ones you are familiar with from AMC-8.” (Visit the migration website, which includes an antenna aiming tutorial by Fred Wilcox.)
The migration also affects a large number of single programs that buy satellite time.
His repoint cost Dickey and radio station KQV about $300. Dickey is thrilled about that outcome — “Our biggest problem was breaking the rusted bolts loose” — except for one new detail: The repoint to a higher elevation means more snow accumulation, so he had to get up there and sweep snow off the dish the other morning. But it’s a problem soon to be solved by adding a dish skin that’s now on order.
We want to hear from stations, networks and installers with their own experiences. Email email@example.com.