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Book Review:
Television's Pirates: Hiding Behind your Picture Tube
by Robert B. Cooper
reviewed by H. Paul Shuch
Copyright © 2006
Far North Cablevision, Ltd. (New Zealand)
ISBN 0-9777980-3
$29.95 US
Updates and ordering:

At the May, 2006 Dayton (Ohio) Hamvention, the world's largest amateur radio convention, I had the pleasure of running into an old friend, journalist and TV technologist Bob Cooper, K6EDX/ZL4AAA. Although never a SETI League member, Bob is owed a huge debt of gratitude by those of us who repurpose surplus satellite TV dishes to our particular interest. Almost single-handedly, Bob gave birth to the industry that created our dishes. This book, his personal memoir and a history of the satellite TV revolution, is must reading for those of us who point parabolic reflectors at the stars.

"Television's Pirates" traces the development of satellite TV from the early days of cable television (Coop was himself an early cable TV system designer and operator), all the way through to today's ubiquitous half-meter offset-fed dishes feeding Direct Broadcast video to hundreds of millions of households worldwide. Along the path, he reveals inside secrets of the pirates who brought about this technological revolution, motivated by fame, fortune, and the challenge of the game. It should surprise no reader that many of the original satellite pirates are now SETI League members. But some of what happened along the road, as revealed by Coop for perhaps the first time, impresses even me (and I was there!)

During the 1970s, a handful of hams (your humble reporter incuded) vied for the honor of becoming the first to intercept and decode video-modulated photons from space. It's reminiscent of our present race to be the first to detect ETI, and the parallels will amaze you. One of our number (now sadly departed) early declared himself the Father of Satellite Television. Bob Cooper examines Tay Howard's claim, and makes a good case that the title rightly belongs to our very own life member and Advisory Board stalwart, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Coop also makes public the intrigue, subterfuge, competition, and cutthroat commercialism that have led to competing claims and counter-claims, even up to the present.

On a personal note: in his book, Bob Cooper generously helps me to secure my own small place in Satellite TV history. Most of his facts are accurate. Most of his words are eloquent (even those that are unfortunately misspelled, due in part to this publication having been rushed to market without the benefit of proofreading). Most of his recollections are clouded by Coop's peculiar brand of selective memory. And most of his pages are so engaging that you won't want to put the book down until you have devoured them. All 928 of them.

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