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Satellite Trucks Can Have Downright Bumpy Experiences

February 22, 1988|KEITH BRADSHER

Heavy rain can disrupt long-distance communication by satellite, but most of the hazards of communicating with satellites from a truck are far more down to earth.

In addition to the skilled technicians who operate the equipment, the fast-growing demand for rental satellite trucks has attracted a number of novices, sometimes with results that border on the ridiculous.

One operator loaded his rental truck with so much heavy electronic equipment that the weight sheared off a wheel's lug nuts on the way to a news event, a rival recalls. The wheel fell off and stranded the truck far from its destination. The renting television network had to make frantic calls to other local firms in an effort to find a replacement truck.

Another satellite truck crew failed to realize that they had parked on a slight incline in Universal City and hadn't jacked up the truck properly to compensate. As a result, the truck's antenna was not pointing at the correct angle above the horizon to find the proper satellite off which to bounce a signal, said Elliot Gold, an industry consultant and newsletter author in Altadena. "They were there for hours trying to (find) the satellite."

Several out-of-town television stations teamed up last summer to rent a New York City truck to cover Fourth of July celebrations, said Terry O'Reilly, news director of Westinghouse's Philadelphia-based Newsfeed, a video news service that relies extensively on locally rented satellite trucks.

But the truck's extendable antenna had developed an unnoticed crease, so that instead of sending a tight beam to a specific satellite, it sprayed a wide signal over much of the sky and "blocked out a bunch of satellites."

"There are some people that have gone out and bought a small truck and thrown some equipment in the back and said, 'hey, I'm in the uplink business,' " said O'Reilly, using the industry's term for beaming signals up to a satellite. "But it's a lot more complicated than that."

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