It's amazing, the fact that the ether's multitudinous vibratons all around (and through) me carried a symphony of conversations, conversations in anacronym foreign tongues (800MHZIEEE80211SWMI6NUMBERSETC) that requires just the right kinds of black boxes to decipher. The air fairly creaks under the weight of information.

Focus on the 'C-Band' and 'Ku-Band' signals with a big unblinking satellite dish and a few boxes (satellite recievers, televisions, and others). If you are so equipped (and, for most people, those boxes don't come easy; come with a wad of cash and a stubborn mind), three categories of freely available, unscrambled signals are yours.

The so-called 'wild feed' is for the pure television junkie. Your average sitcom or drama, needing no special security, is shipped bitwise through public channels on a weekly basis. Simply find the feed and you too can enjoy, say, the latest misadventures in Freudian denial that is Everybody Loves Raymond - up to a week earlier than your average mouthbreathing plebe on the street. Not only that, but you get raw, unalloyed show; no advertisements to tempt you into a mid-sitcom gluttony run to the nearest Gap. The only downside is that Survivor and like shows don't broadcast early over the birds, for obvious reasons. Your local satellite listing magazine, such as Orbit, should have wild feed listings either in print or online.

For the newshound in your life - a big ugly dish can net him or her live camera feeds from almost any photojournalist in the field. The equipment used to transmit the newsfeed back to the station needs to be as simple as possible, as any unnecessary process just adds to the list of things that can and will go wrong. So, tried-and-true C-Band, with no scrambling or editing, is used. You can watch, without interruption, the latest car chase on the LA freeways. You can see local news reporters standing next to what looks like a small pink Volkswagen because they've been chosen to cover the winner of Mishimak County's Largest Hog Competition (and you get to see them curse up a blue streak as the pig tries to get friendly; remember, these feeds are uncensored). If you're lucky, you can watch Wolf Blitzer, in the waning moments before he goes on-air, quickly pick his nose. I've been told that coverage of the September 11 World Trade Center collapse and the ensuing Afghan military actions have been superb.

In a seperate but related category, we have the backhaul. The backhaul consists of live events, again transmitted without any sort of scrambling or editing. Usually, this consists of non-major league sports, so this is heaven for the college football or basketball fan. However, there are more sides to this; often, you get feeds from political events and interviews. Since the cameras are always transmitting, you will often get to see political candidates in more candid moments, during makeup breaks, discussing strategies with handlers, and such. A short film by Brian Springer, entitled 'Spin', documents satellite backhaul feeds from the 1992 Presidential election, where you can see Larry King and George Bush the Elder chatting amiably about the joys of Halcion, or maybe Pat Robertson slagging talk-show callers as 'homos'. These backhauls are not limited to political candidates and sports feeds, of course; anything that features the tag 'Live!' next to it can be seen on a public satellite channel, uncut.

All that is free of charge, no pay-per-view, no nothing, provided that you've sunk in the time, money, and real estate (anywhere from $200 to $3000, and the satellite dish is at least 6 feet across). For those who can get it, it's sometimes fascinating television.

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