Who is allowed to take part in the FTA hobby?


SatelliteGuys Pro
Original poster
Jan 28, 2023
As a licensed FCC Amateur Radio Operator, I love working with hardware and software and putting things together. I also realize making mistakes is a part of the hobby. However, making mistakes should propel you forward and contribute positively to the learning experience. Having a mentor is also helpful so you have direction and guidance.

Recently, I was told that the FTA hobby was specifically for a certain type of person! I was even told that with regards to C-band all the hardware you need to get started with can no longer be obtained and that one needs special technical skills to repair hardware no longer commercially manufactured for the consumer market.

Is the FTA hobby really for a specific person possessing a specific set of skills?

What does the community think and believe?


John - K9JPT
Like with any hobby, there are some who want an appliance or a viewing experience that works out of the box and others who enjoy and thive in the DIY experience. Off the shelf appliance solutions and neighborhood dealers for complete consumer C-band systems don't exist anymore. The installers and technicians with the necessary skillsets mainly service commercial sites. For those satellite hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of sourcing components, installing and maintaining their C-band system, there are many new, used components and kit building options. The Internet provides many options and the sharing of the knowledge bases to support this niche hobby.

Don't let the curmudgeons and termagants deter you. Don't know of many Amateur Radio Operators who have had professionals build out their shacks or install antennas. (see my QRZ page: AI6US Callsign Page ). From what I have read in your SatelliteGuys posts, I believe that you are that "certain type of person"!
termagants (Merriam-Webster dictionary):
"an overbearing or nagging woman (shrew).

Whoa, I'm going to sidestep that one.

The secret of getting value from any online forums or people in general is you must decide which information is useful and which comments are balderdash. If you are dedicated, then you can get lots of pleasure from working with FTA.
Recently, I was told that the FTA hobby was specifically for a certain type of person! I was even told that with regards to C-band all the hardware you need to get started with can no longer be obtained and that one needs special technical skills to repair hardware no longer commercially manufactured for the consumer market.

Is the FTA hobby really for a specific person possessing a specific set of skills?

I must say I find it a bit funny, or maybe ironic, that a ham radio operator would be posting this, given that many hams have held similar attitudes toward non-hams that dabbled in any kind of technology. I am old enough to remember how contemptuously some hams viewed CB radio operators back in the day, and how many of them wanted to hang onto Morse code requirements as what they termed a "lid filter" to keep the riffraff out. A group of them in one city I lived in also helped destroy a local computer club that I was a part of (it didn't have enough rules for their liking, apparently). I'm not saying you are like this, but it was hams that killed any interest I had in ham radio back when I was much younger, despite the fact that some of my friends had ham licenses.

But to directly answer your question, no, the FTA hobby is not nearly as exclusive as ham radio is (or at least used to be 20 or 30 years ago). All of the hardware you need can still be purchased, and in the case of receivers often at a fraction of the cost of what they used to be back in the day. But the downside is that so many of the former U.S. suppliers of this equipment have gone out of business that your choices are somewhat limited. For the dish, it is best to find one that's no longer being used and see if you can buy it (sometimes people will just give it to you to get it out of their yard), just make sure it's not severely bent or damaged or rusted out first (though sometimes a rusty rim can be fixed with auto body filler). Receivers are sold on eBay and Amazon but try to get one that's well rated; I think there may also be dealers in this forum that still sell them. Beware of other sites where they bought a pallet of substandard receivers ten or fifteen years ago and are still trying to unload them, you want a receiver that will at least receive DVB-S2 and (preferably) DVB-S2X signals and both 8PSK and 16PSK (16PSK signals are not as common and are harder to receive, but they are becoming a bit more common).

The real problem nowadays is getting good LNB's, especially for C-Band. If you can't find any from a U.S. seller you may need to try something like AliExpress. If you are in a northern climate I advise against buying any PLL model with cooling fins because they have a nasty tendency to stop working when the temperature drops to a certain point just below freezing, and having PLL doesn't really seem to help in my experience. In my opinion some of the newer LNB's are better than the ones we used to use a couple decade ago in that they will work with less available signal strength (which is a good thing if you are trying to receive a 16PSK signal), but the downside is they don't seem to last as long, although that varies from unit to unit. Then again they cost a lot less than they used to and you don't have that damn mechanical polorotor to that liked to die in the dead of winter anymore (polarity is switched by voltage on the coaxial cable now). Speaking of cable standard RG-6 works fine but you do want waterproof connectors for any outside connections. One more thing about LNB's is if you are buying new you may want to buy ones that are resistant to 5G interference, I think they are more expensive but may be worth it if you live in an area where there is 5G interference. As far as I know this hasn't yet been a problem for me so I cannot comment on that.

As for aiming the dish, there are web pages about that and it is good to have a satellite meter of some kind to help you tune into the satellites. There are also applications you can load on your mobile phone (some free, some not free) that supposedly will show you where the satellites are in the sky relative to where you are standing on the ground. Those are not all that accurate, they will get you sort of close but don't rely on them for pinpoint accuracy. The advice I have always given is to try going to your public library and see if they have any books on home satellite installation from back in the 80's or early 90's, because those often gave a good explanation on how to aim a dish. You can ignore pretty much EVERYTHING else in the book except maybe the part about physically setting up the pole and dish, because none of the other equipment will be the same because those books were from back in the analog era. Receivers will be different, and you probably won't be using a legacy LNB. If the dish came with a dish positioner that lets you move the dish across the satellite arc, and it's not completely frozen up from rust, you may be able to get that working again but be aware that newer receivers don't usually contain the circuitry to supply power to or control such a positioner. Also, if the book mentions any specific satellites or programming on those satellites, those are long gone and everything is digital now.

There is quite a bit to learn with regard to FTA, and it might have been somewhat easier to get into it ten or fifteen years ago where there were more equipment suppliers still around, but it is certainly not impossible to build a working system even if you buy everything new. Also, please understand that you cannot use a C-Band system to watch cable channels anymore, and that if you are wanting to watch early feeds of syndicated programs, many of those are now being delivered to stations via the Internet rather than via satellite and I expect that trend will only increase. So realistically, if all you are wanting to do is watch some TV, it may not be worth it to set up a satellite system anymore; nowadays you can find a lot more content on the free ad-supported streaming services anyway (like Pluto TV, as just one example). I put a lot of time and effort into my setup and it is disappointing that channels keep going away, or switching to hard-to-receive formats, and then there is always the possibility of future interference from 5G transmissions, so if I were just starting out now I'm not sure I'd do it all over again. I am happy that I have my setup and that it still works for many channels but I miss being able to get the high quality NBC feeds and the early CTV feeds from the Atlantic time zone, just to mention a couple of things that have gone away in the last year or two.
ILoveSats welcome to SatelliteGuys!!!
Sounds to me like you would fit right in here. 90% of "FTA People"(at least in North America), I would say ARE hams.
Start doing lots of reading here on the forums and then ask questions. Don't worry about how dumb it sounds, cause we are started from scratch like you. Would love to have you as part of the community!
Michael, KE4EST
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If your local library doesn’t have such books, ask them to try and ILL it (Inter Library Loan). Some libraries in the hinterland keep such old oddities.

I considered joining the FTA club, but realized I didn’t need another hobby. I just want to watch TV. And saw no value in a BUD “discussion” with SWMBO. PICK YOUR FIGHTS.
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Interesting. I'd say a lot of the FTA interest died when the barrage of get rich quick C Band satellite dealers out there got stung with M/A-Com delivering the first VC encryption systems to thwart what was a for cable headend and hotel/motel industry. Consumer level electronics and receiving dishes capitalizing on what was "free". If you knew how to do it. Of course, the dealers found a way to keep their customers who spent a ton of money and suddenly one day had a yard with a "big ugly dish" in it. Basically useless. But not really so. At a price. In the interim. Cable companies expanded their area coverage. Dish and Direc came into being.
Dish vendors "in the know" hush-hushed their customers with a scheme. For a price. To make it all 'free' again.
Anyone remember milled off epoxy and embedded chips and piggy backed socketed-on chips?
And how about 1-900-HOT-SHOT every once in awhile with a notepad to write down the numbers station cryptography and entering a secret menu?
Yeah. Big dishes died. Interest died. Gazebos and kids huts and landfills were their destiny for the most part.
Little dishes started cluttering the sides of houses.

Electronics? Born in my blood maybe. Soldering with a paring knife since my mom showed me how to splice twin lead antenna wire when I was a little turd. She was one of the Rosie the Riveters. Dad and me got our tickets when I was 10. He didn't particularly like it when I tapped out dih-dah dah-dah-dah dah-dah at the dinner table.

USAF brat. I am. When dad was stationed at Canaveral AFS as a kid and rockets went up. I think I watched the tracking dish antennas more than the rocket flames going up.
One of the Airmen took me to the weather station one day. Stacks of radios and teletypes clacking away and wet faxes. But the biggest rush i think was a guy loading up a teletype with a long paper tape and waiting and then running it. The Airman took me up on the roof and there was this big crossed yagi. Must have been 20 feet long. Slowly rising and turning. We went back in and there was this sound. Never will forget it. A "ring-ching-ching" sound coming over a speaker. And a tape spinning on an open reel deck. Later on I saw a photo of the image of the Tiros sat that just passed overhead. I think I was kinda "hooked". There was stuff up there sending radio waves back to earth.

Someone said a bad word. CB. Or as one old friend called it. Kuh-Buh. Somehow the purity of the radio spectrum on those 24 channels was turned into a toilet. To me. Everyone had one. Nobody had to know code. Or say "over". Or knowing what a proper QST, QTH even is. It's easier to get handgun permit here. Fill out a form, check all of the boxes, smile...you're on state camera, and pay 20 bucks.Than to get a tech. ticket.
Hit a truck stop CB shop. Get the most powerful, dirtiest linear you can get. Get on the air waves and spill filth all over in and out of band. And be all that you want everyone to make you think you are who you say you are.
Will the FCC come-a-knockin'? Nah. Probably not. Break in on a nightly ham band network and spill filth and insults? Knock-knockerdy-knock. Guess who?!
Probably said this before. Friend comes home with a duffel bag of CD's. I run out and grab a couple of bricks of TDK SA-90's. And start drinking beer and copying away with him.
Guy up the street with his dirty linear bleeding over into my TV and stereo. Asking him kindly if he might be able to do something about it. In my face about how I have to go get filters. Kind of a.....no....he was a dick.
Spite took over after getting in the car the next morning. Slapping a tape in and driving to work. And his CB crap imposed on my newly recorded tape. That was it.
A late night walk. Really late. After robbing my chickies sewing kit for the biggest darning needle I could find.
Meandered up and stuck that needle through the dead center of his coax running up the tower. And gave 'er a *SNAP*.
His coffee and first key down must have been an awakening thing. Because I later found out the whole room turned to smoke. Doop-de-doop. Breaker one-nine. Station down, station down.
What really sucked? Realizing part of what I earned gave him welfare cash to buy the stuff in the first place.

Oh. FTA? Certain type? Unavailability? The European continent is blazing with equipment. Just that they use a lot of fixed dishes and are limited to the size of dish they allowed to stab in the dirt. That kinda sucks.
The interest. Ability to learn. Not giving up. Good influences and Elmers. Communication and leaning the jargon.
Creativity. What else? An occasional darning needle?
"Xerox" people irk me kind of. Ones who want it all given to them and learn enough to be dangerous. And then take all of the credit. I love to fish. Not really that great at it. If someone wants to give me a nice one to cook up. Cool. But I'd never ever say give me one. I guess that's why it takes a special kind of person to get into my shop and sit at the repair bench.Being able to rip rip zippedy zip and fix a broken something or other didn't come overnight.
Damn. You got 'ole Seth all fired up!!!
I get enough entertainment from my BUD and OTA. But, the BUD has become very expensive. As long as my insurance pays for repair or replacement, I'll keep using the BUD. I do some streaming but not as much as I use to. Everything is getting pricey. 5G has become a problem despite what I have tried so that might get me off C-band in the near future.