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My Satellite TV History

Martin relates how Satellite TV came to him.

In 1991 I was made redundant by a multinational Japanese firm, together with several other managers. The redundancy package was generous and I spent a very pleasant summer enjoying the sun and averaging two job interviews each week. Eventually the money ran out so, when my friend, Steve, phoned me and asked if I'd like to help him open a satellite TV warehouse, I accepted without much hesitation.

The empty warehouse was a 50 mile motorway drive away from my home but I was undeterred. This was an exciting new venture for me so the thought of a 100 mile round trip each day didn't deter me. Nor did the fact that I knew nothing whatsoever about satellite TV!

To begin with there was just Steve and Malcolm and me in a huge empty shell of a building. We had to go out and buy wall panels and assemble them to make a large office in the corner. It was September and getting colder with every passing day, so we didn't hang about! The plumbers came and installed a boiler, pipes and radiators. To save money, I volunteered to climb up and put lagging on the pipes which ran along the wall above the false ceiling. Of course the inevitable happened: I fell through the ceiling and landed on an electric fire and a rubbish bin. They didn't exactly break my fall but they broke a couple of bones in my foot. I drove myself to hospital, waited two hours and was sent away with "don't waste our time, it's only a bruise". Having fallen eight feet, I was dubious and in pain, but I took myself off to bed and was back in the warehouse the next day, repairing the ceiling!

Steve drove me down to Eurosat at Exeter for an induction course that comprised a brief tour of the shelves and having each item described to me. "This is a feedhorn-polariser; this is an Ell Enn Bee with a C120 flange; this is a Tee and Kay bracket...". We returned to Walsall with my head spinning. How would I remember all that?

A dish was duly installed on the outside wall and hooked up to a 16-channel Amstrad SRX100. Wow, sixteen channels! Well, actually, not all programmes were English but it was still impressive.

Stock began to arrive and we all helped lift it onto shelves. There was plenty of work to do. I sat down with a "Yellow Pages" directory and spent a week phoning all electrical dealers in the area, informing them of our Grand Opening. People began to trickle in and buy things. "I need a Rabbit", said one. I looked around, helplessly. "It's a wired videosender" volunteered Steve. "On the shelf, back of the warehouse, white box".

And so my education began. Soon I was speaking a foreign language full of words like "polarisation", "squarial" and "link budget calculation".

Of course the "squarial" dishes were now obsolete since SKY had recently taken over BSB and the Marco Polo satellite was being moved across to serve Scandinavia. But someone had found a use for them - I think they could pick up signals from a French satellite - so they were selling like hot cakes at a knock-down price.

After a few months dealing with sales, it was decided that I should handle repairs. A lot of receivers were coming in with simple faults (blown fuses), which I could easily handle. Then newer models started to appear with faulty switch mode power supplies, so I ordered in service manuals and got to grips with those faults. I listed every fault cause and symptom that I came across. Soon I had over a hundred pages of notes. Some faults were so common that I made up kits of parts and sold them to dealers so they could do their own repairs. Then I compiled my notes into the first "Satellite Repair Manual" which we had printed, spiral-bound, and sold to hundreds of enthusiastic dealers. This was reprinted several times up to edition 5 and, together with the repair kits, made the company quite a lot of money.

Like many people in the industry, I got my fingers burned with "Red Hot Dutch". This was an X-rated programme uplinked from Holland and broadcast from Eutelsat at 13 degrees East. I was introduced to "Wychavon" satellite company in Evesham. They were handling sales of dishes and decoders but they needed a switch that would let the viewer change from Astra to Eutelsat. I came up with a simple design that would "flip satellites" by pressing the standby button twice. I almost made a great deal of money from this but, unfortunately, the company providing the broadcast welched on the deal. They didn't pay Wychavon so the company went bust without paying me the money. (Story of my life!)

I wonder how many people remember the early days of analogue satellite TV when you needed a large motorised dish and pretty well took pot-luck at your evening's viewing? Steve originally had a shop in Walsall and tells me that he would put a TV in the shop window, tune in "Lifestyle" from 27 degrees West, and watch the passers by stop and stare when the WOMEN'S WRESTLING came on. And in those days, "Discovery" channel was Free To Air! A typical receiver had a tuning dial and a switch to change polarisation. You could pay several hundred pounds for a Zeta 1000. Nowadays you can pick these up on eBay for a fiver.

1991 was boom time for satellite TV as Sky added dozens of programmes to its channel line-up. We made a good turnover that year. But the manufacturers couldn't make enough receivers to satisfy demand and we went for weeks without significant sales. By the time the manufacturers shipped the receivers, the boom time had gone and things were never the same. Sky became much more commercial and the warehouses were forced to work with ever decreasing margins until it got to the point where you could buy a system cheaper from Dixons than we could buy it at trade price.

In December 1994 my hair fell out. Within two weeks I was bald as a coot and the doctors didn't know why! Tests showed nothing wrong with me. "You'll just have to learn to live with it" was the advice I got. Then, in April 1994, I was made redundant as sales had been poor and repairs weren't making a profit. (I think the book and kit sales had been overlooked, but I didn't argue). I drove home, ordered £500 worth of components and started up a repair business from my garage. I didn't even take a day's holiday this time. I knew that if I signed on the "dole" I would never get off my backside. Thus was "SatCure" born. I made up kits and wrote another book to sell. It was called "Satellite Secrets Revealed!" Unfortunately, it was given a real slating by this magazine and didn't sell well at all. However, the mail order sales gradually increased as the repairs decreased and I was able to make a living.

Shortly after Sky Digital was launched, I gave up doing repairs. My eyesight was growing worse and I couldn't justify the cost of new equipment. Michael Dranfield of Digifix took over the repairs and Vision Aids in Telford took over the order handling, while I expanded the mail-order business and concentrated on marketing. Right now, is thriving and will hopefully see me through to retirement.

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