Satellite Sneaks

Sometimes the best TV comes from the stuff the networks never intended for you to see.


September 1999

By Steve Knopper

The St. Paul, Minn., television newsman stares with grim sympathy into the camera. Investigators, he reports, have no new clues about the recent kidnapping of a 19-year-old woman from a suburban convenience store, in front of which he happens to be standing. When he thinks it's a wrap, his expression fades into a sneer: "This is a story?" he asks. "It's like covering a forest fire when the fire's not burning and you're just sitting there looking at trees all day." He yawns. He spits.

From an orange recliner in his bedroom, Deep Dish laughs uproariously at this. He lieves in the northern Midwest in a faded yellow house with 50 television sets, including two in the bathroom and one next to his pillow. Out back, 15 satellite dishes pick up every conceivable broadcast. "I see it all," he says. "Everything."

For two decades, this 52-year-old man, his shoulder-length gray hair tanbling with his long beard, has captured what the home-satellite-dish owners call "wild feeds," or video transmissions snet from location to location and not intended for public viewing. The fastest, cheapest way to send a live report from, say, a sub urban convenience store to the home studio in St. Paul is by beaming it to a satellite hovering about 22,400 miles above the earth. Producers then use satellite dishes to instantaneously retrieve the footage, which they then edit.

Unfortunately for the station, some 2 million television obsessives can retrieve it, too, by aiming their backyard BUDs (or big ugly dishes) at the same satellite. And what they get is definitely the unedited material. Deep Dish, for instance, has seen Sam Donaldson throw his microphone in disgust and courtroom prosecutors recite Jeffrey Dahmer's notorious recipes.

Los Angeles radio personality and actor Harry Shearer (This Is Spinal Tap) has owned a BUD since 1980 and adapts wild feeds for Le Show, his satirical, internationally syndicated radio program. "Dan Rather was doing a broadcast from Seattle on a cold afternoon," he recalls. "They spent a long time deciding whether or not he should wear a trench coat. And -- this is a key point -- if he does wear it, whether the collar should be up or down. It's certainly more fun than watching normal television."

Just as rock stars endure bootleggers taping their concerts, TV stations accept BUD eavesdropping as a necessary evil. They have to: The Federal Communications Commission has no rules governing satellite feeds. Networks do take action, however, when they catch belligerent dish owners rebroadcasting the footage.

And in one instance, video artist Jed Rosenzweig, 28, was surfing his parents' dish in Savannah, Ga., and stumbled on NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw mocking Dan Rather during what Brokaw apparently thought was a commercial break. Rosenzweig returned to his Manhattan home and aired the Brokaw clips as part of a cable-access show he called Wild Feed TV. Then Rosenzeweig received a threatening letter from NBC and was forced to pull his show after only one airing. He chronicles the NBC exchange and continues to show other live feeds on his website, Wild Feed TV (

Back in his bedroom, Deep Dish arms himself with two remotes. Over the next four hours, he continuously scans his bank of TVS. On one tiny screen, there's a pre-broadcast Moesha. On aibgger screen, a Louisiana reporter chants, "I love my job," then picks her nose.

Deep Dish tunes in a news channel. It's pouring rain, and people are running around with umbrellas. "I was kind of hoping something would blow up," he says, apologetically. Oddly, it doesn't matter: Watching an anchorman trying to keep his toupee on is still better than most of the television we're meant to watch.