by John Delach
Not to be confused with the city in Louisiana, this is about our personal “red pole” located in Marlow, New Hampshire.
We bought our house in the Granite State in 1984 toward the end of that simpler time prior to the explosion of the internet, cell phones, social media and smart phones that revolutionized our lives.
We depended on a single land-line telephone in this rural setting. Television was primitive; a single TV channel signal out of Vermont to a roof-top antenna that on most days received it accompanied by various amounts of electronic snow.
In 1988, we bought an analog satellite dish and a receiver that allowed us to track about two dozen “C” band and “K” band satellites by entering their coordinates into the receiver. The dish was mounted on a steel pole about 25 yards from the house.
It was so massive; the pole had to be filled with concrete to adequately support the weight and movement of the dish. We must have been able to track at least 500 different stations. Much of the programming featured sex, religion and shop-at-home.
Shop-at-home’s appeal increased in direct proportion to alcohol consumption. My worst was in the early ‘90s. After I ordered a Bill Clinton backwards watch, the sales rep suggested, “For another $10 we’ll send you a second.” I replied, “I’ll take it.”
We did discover some gems like the raw feeds of news programs and every NFL game for free, (the NFL had not yet realized they could make money on this too.)
News feeds were a hoot though. Did you ever give thought to what goes on before a network anchor announces: “…and now we are going to Betty Jones who is standing live outside the court house in East Paduckerville, Kansas to update us on freeing the mole women: “Hello, Betty…”
The reality is that Ole Betty and her crew have been out there for almost an hour set up and ready to go so that the feed can be accessed without any delay. There she stands in front of the camera so the studio can see she is ready while she waits and she waits and she waits. Betty may grab a quick snack or drink, adjust her makeup or do silly facial exercises but she stays on camera ready for the shoot.
Getting local news was a problem. To prevent these dishes from competing with existing television stations the owner had to demonstrate that it was located in an area without service. Since my billing address was Port Washington, NY, I’d be challenged on a regular basis by the satellite service forcing me to defend my right to receive this service. I’d patiently ask them to check our dish’s location electronically. This satisfied them until another investigator noted the billing address. For a while we received the NBC news from our home New York City station but we also received network news from Miami, Philadelphia and Boston.
All programming information was available in a TV guide for satellites that was the size of a medium town’s telephone book.
This ended with the advent of the small dishes. Congress changed the law allowing universal installation. Once the little dishes that we first called “pizza dishes” came into fashion with providers like Dish and Direct TV, the free programming on the old C and K band satellites shrunk to slim then none giving us no choice but to convert to one of those systems.
We had the big dish removed but the concrete-filled steel pole wasn’t going anywhere. Corrosion turned its color into a dull reddish orange and we came to refer to it as our baton rouge.
We did find a new use for our red pole. It became an excellent marker to identify the resting place of our family dogs once we cremated their bodies. As of today, Harry, Bubba, Sasha, Buster, Jumbo and Maggie all rest beneath our baton rouge their remains secured in wooden and metal boxes that once upon a time contained liters of expensive whiskey like Middleton’s Irish and Johnny Walker Black or Blue.
Not a bad way to go in my opinion and, for the record, I’d prefer a Redbreast Irish 15 year-old box. Oh yeah, if you can find one, please include one of those Clinton backwards watches.