Satellingo, or:
How to "Talk Satellite"

A reference for the Satellite-Challenged

A lighthearted definition:

Sat-el-lin-go \sat-uh-LYNG-go\ n 1: Obscure terms which technophiles wearing plastic pocket protectors use to discuss satellite equipment; 2: Clever words you can use to make people think you're up to speed on technology; 3: A short reference work designed to help readers avoid the crazies while receiving and using satellite programs.


Copyright 1997, Dr. Albert E. Powell, Jr.
This work was originally written for the Cooperative Extension Service, and has been edited to make it suitable for wider use. Its purpose is to help people find their way through the world of satellites. In the process of receiving one or two satellite teleconferences, you will find a use for most of the terms in this handout - and probably one or two more that you invent yourself!!

NOTE: Within each section, there are "Need-to-Know" points. If you master these, you will avoid most problems.

You can jump to any of the following sections:


Information about a satellite broadcast will be expressed in terms similar to these:

Title: The National Armadillo Test
Source: Texas BBQ University
Date: Feb. 30, 1999
Time: Test 12:30-1:00 pm ET, Program 1:00-2:00 pm ET
Satellite: Spacenet 1, Transponder 15/Upper (H), Channel 12
Audio: 6.2, 6.8
Downlink Frequency: 3940 MHz.
Trouble Number: 409/845-5611

Title: The specific title; you need to know this.

Source: This is the originating site; the place the broadcast comes from.

Date: Obvious, but check for conflicts in your schedule. Remember that broadcasts can be taped when you can't view them.

Time: NOT ALWAYS OBVIOUS. The above time listing is Eastern Time, "ET". The standard for all satellite program listings is ET. The Central Time (CT) for this program is test 11:30 to Noon CT, with program Noon to 1:00 pm CT. There is also a test feed listed, which is provided for you to final adjustments to your downlink. The program starts after the test, which is usually 30 minutes but may be less.

You may also receive time listings in Mountain Time or Pacific Time - things happen. ALWAYS, ALWAYS double-check this, and convert to your time zone carefully!

NEED-TO-KNOW #1: What is the program time in YOUR TIME ZONE?

Satellite: There are many satellites in the sky, designated by a name and number. For instance, there have been five satellites in the Spacenet series, and six in the G-STAR series. Make sure you have the satellite's name and number correct.

Channel and Transponder: This is the part that confuses most people. Every satellite has many transponders. Most transponders can carry two programs at once by manipulating the signal polarity; this is referred to as having two channels. Therefore, a satellite with 12 transponders usually has 24 channels. The words used for polarity are Horizontal and Vertical; the terms Upper and Lower are used to refer to slightly different channel frequencies on one transponder. The resulting wording may be similar to these examples:

Every channel has a polarity, horizontal or vertical. Not every channel is divided into upper/center/lower frequencies; this is only found on some Ku-band satellites.

You need to understand the difference between a transponder and channel, but remember, receivers tune by channel, so that's the most important information. It's a plus to know which transponder is involved because of differences in receiver tuning, but concentrate on knowing the channel.

NEED-TO-KNOW #2: Make sure you know the SATELLITE and CHANNEL for your program; also, know the difference between a transponder and a channel. You also need to know the channel's downlink FREQUENCY and POLARITY.

Audio: Satellite audio has two channels for stereo service. In some cases, audio is only fed on one channel, or English may be on one, Spanish on the other. If you see notes in this area, you may need to switch your receiver to listen to a specific channel.

Downlink Frequency: (and Polarity) This is the actual radio frequency the signal travels on. You won't normally use this information with C-band programs, but you can use it to double-check that you're tuned to the right channel. On Ku-band satellites, channels can be extremely hard hard to find! If you can't find the channel any other way, you should tune in by entering the exact frequency for your program. If tuning by frequency does not solve the problem, check the polarity. The signal on each satellite channel is either vertically or horizontally polarized, and your receiver should have a way for you to change the polarity for the channel you are viewing. So if you have a problem receiving a feed, first enter the correct frequency, then try changing the channel's polarity.

Trouble Number: This is the number at the satellite uplink (origination) site. You might call it under these conditions:

  1. If you can't find the program. Under unusual circumstances, programs are sometimes moved to a different satellite with little or no notice. If you think this has happened, call. (This is also what test signals are for - to find problems before the program starts.)
  2. If there's a problem with the program signal that does not seem to be due to your site's equipment. There may be a problem at the origination site or with the satellite.
  3. If the program begins OK, then develops a problem such as severe interference, "snow" or double images. (There may be a problem with the satellite that the origination site hasn't caught yet.)
Please don't call the trouble number for help unless you really need it.


There are two satellite frequency bands: C and Ku (both letters are pronounced in the latter: Kay-You). You might think of them as operating something like AM and FM radio; just as you can't hear an FM radio station on an AM-only radio, you can't receive a Ku-band program on a C-band dish. Some downlinks are C-band only; some are Ku-only; some are dual-band (both). You must make sure the downlink you will use to view any program will receive the needed band.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #3: On what band is your program: C or Ku?

Some programs are carried on both bands, so any downlink can receive them. Receiving C-band broadcasts is usually easier as the dish aiming is less critical. However, Ku-band is less susceptible to electrical interference in urban areas (although a heavy rain can interfere with a Ku-program.)

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #4: Most educational site downlinks are dual-band: they receive both C and Ku. This is true of most industrial and educational installations - but more are becoming digital-only, meaning they cannot receive conventionsl satellite feeds. Always ask, don't assume!


Most homeowner downlinks are C-band only. Many industrial or educational sites have dual-band downlinks which can receive both C and Ku, meaning they can be used to view just about any program.

When you use an unfamiliar downlink site, check with the site well before the event and make sure they can receive the band your program will be on, especially if it's only available on Ku-band. Do not accept someone's vague impression of whether the downlink is compatible with your broadcast; confirm the capability with someone who knows what they're doing. If no one knows, go there yourself, tune in the satellite you will use, and look at any active channel on the satellite to witness the downlink's performance.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #5: Confirm that you can receive the band and satellite, especially for Ku broadcasts.

Some satellite broadcasts are scrambled (industry term: encrypted) so that a compatible decoder unit is needed to view them, or digital feeds so that a special receiver is needed. Viewing these programs requires the following steps:

For encrypted programs:

  1. Confirm that the receiver at the viewing site has a decoder, and find out what the decoder ID number is.
  2. Call the program producer and give them the downlink decoder's ID number. During the test before the program, the producers feed a digital code specific to the ID number of each authorized receiver's decoder. This enables the decoder to receive the program. (If your decoder does not bring in the program clearly early in the test period, call the trouble number.)

For digital programs:

  1. Confirm the digital format. The most common is Digicipher-II, but there are others!
  2. Make sure the downlink site has a digital receiver of the same format,
  3. Identify the satellite which carries the program.
  4. Make sure the downlink site can bring in that satellite. Many digital setups have non-steerable dishes which cannot be moved.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #6: To view a scrambled broadcast, confirm the site's de-scrambling capability and get the decoder's ID number to the producer. To view a digital broadcast, make sure you have compatible equipment and are looking at the correct satellite.


The suitability of a viewing site depends on the number of viewers and the activities involved. A client's living room will handle half a dozen people for a lecture-type program, but if the program involves group activity and meal breaks, you need a larger facility. This depends not only on what the satellite producer plans, but also on whether you add local activities for your educational purposes.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #7: Match the viewing site, seating and facilities to the activities planned for the entire program, not just the satellite broadcast.


The rule of thumb is: one inch of diagonal screen size for each viewer. If you have 25 viewers, you need at least one 25 inch TV. You also need to arrange the seats so that every one of the 25 viewers can see well.

For more than 50 people, it's better (and more impressive) to use a video projector than to string extra monitors - but if no projector's available, multiple monitors will work. Most video projectors can show an image at least 100 inches diagonally, and they can safely serve at least two people for every diagonal inch of screen size. (A 100 inch image can serve 200+ people, and requires a 5'x7' screen.) The four main drawbacks of video projectors are:

  1. To have a clear image on the screen, you must be able to darken the room as much as you would
  2. Projectors are expensive to rent if you don't already own one.
  3. Some projectors (three-lens type) are a bit complex to set up. If you use one of these, learn how to use it before the day of the meeting.
  4. You must have a screen or light-colored wall to serve as a projection area, and it must be big enough for the projector's image.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #8: Make your video display big enough for the audience! Many educational and industrial sites have video projectors on site. Using them is usually much cheaper than renting one from an outside business.

Don't forget to elevate the screens high enough that viewers can see over the heads of those in front. This is one of the most common errors in setting up viewing equipment.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #9: If you use a video projector, make sure you have a screen big enough for the projector's image. If none is available, a light-colored wall may work.

While viewing, you must be able to communicate. This means having a telephone to call in questions or get help in case of technical trouble. Some programs also require access to a fax machine in order to participate. Find out what is required well before the event.

Your local program may also require a PA system, slide projector, flip charts or other A/V equipment. Plan ahead and make sure that it fits the facility and that it's all present.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #10: Don't forget phone or fax access, if needed.


The most common mistake is waiting until the last minute before testing the downlink and TV or video projector - or not testing them at all. Never assume! The thing you're most likely to simply forget about is telephone access.

Test the downlink at least one week before the event, and test it again the day before the event. If possible, leave the setup in place from the day-before test until your event. If the channel for your program will be scrambled, test the downlink by looking at another, non-scrambled channel on the same "bird"; as long as you're pointed at the right satellite, you can change channels and look at anything (that's not scrambled) on that bird with no problems. This also makes a good, fast test: if there's a problem with your program, scan across the other channels on the same satellite. If they're OK, the problem is not the satellite or your equipment, it's something that program. Call the trouble number.

On the day of the program, have the downlink tuned in, all equipment in place, and everything checked at least one hour before the program. During the final setup and test time, have a technician present to deal with any problems so that you can concentrate on handling the people arriving for the program.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #11: Test the downlink ahead of time. Have all equipment in place and completely tested at least one hour before the program. Have a technician present during the final setup and testing if there is any chance you may need help .


Before you record any satellite broadcast, make sure you have the legal right to do so. If it's free, there is a good chance that you can videotape it with no legal problems, but ask first! If you have to pay to receive the program, there will probably be restrictions on videotaping it. As the registered client, you are the one legally responsible.

The problem is usually not in taping the actual broadcast, but in making copies. Regardless of whether you were given permission to videotape a program or not, that program is the legal property of the producer, and is covered by copyright law just like a book. You can only use the program in ways permitted by the producer. Don't copy the tape unless you have written permission which came with the site materials or which was included in the program announcement.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #12: All satellite programs belong to the producer and are covered by copyright law. Do not make copies of them without written permission.


Don't get trapped into thinking your colleagues are the only ones you can call on for help. People all over the country own downlinks; this is not rocket science. If you have technical problems, there may be a local satellite company or even a satellite owner who knows how to solve them. Use your personal networking talents to find help and identify local people who can help you solve problems. If you have to pay a local satellite vendor to come solve a problem, that's the cost of doing business. It's better to have a program than not to - and all equipment hiccups sometimes.

NEED-TO-KNOW POINT #13: Wherever you are, there are local resources, including satellite vendors and owners. Find out who they are. Don't be nervous about satellite equipment - it's no more complex than a good TV set.

And that's it. You'll find more blanks to fill in as you gain experience in using this medium.

Congratulations! You are now a graduate of SATELLINGO 101.

Back to the Satellite Training and Reference page.
Copyright 1997, Albert E. Powell, Jr.
NOTE: Permission to duplicate or reprint this document for non-commercial purposes is available upon request.