[hackerspaces] Hacker TV Station

dosman dosman at packetsniffers.org
Tue Aug 10 20:37:50 CEST 2010

Hi guys,
My perspective is from a US citizen in North America. I've looked at  
this question long and hard for quite some time. I definitely support  
a way for hackerspaces to broadcast TV if it where possible, however  
sadly there's not a great way to do this legally the way you are  
wanting. A ham license allows you to communicate using slow-scan or  
fast-scan tv signals for the act of 2-way communication between two  
stations (fast-scan is the same as "normal" TV). In the US, just  
transmitting pre-recorded shows over fast-scan ham frequencies is not  
allowed with a ham license. You are right that there are some  
leniency's granted for things like pre-recorded videos for the ham  
audience and NASA TV, but broadcasting youtube or other content will  
definitely not be legal. The additional social issue you would be  
facing is that tying up a ham frequency all day long with your  
effective "broadcast" would likely draw the ire of other hams in the  
area who want to use the frequency (which would draw an FCC complaint  
for broadcasting). Broadcasting in FCC terms is transmitting to a  
general audience with no 2-way communication. However, if you where  
transmitting during your hackerspace workshops, that could be argued  
as educational content and also be a 2-way conversation if other hams  
have the opportunity to ask questions and participate at the end. As  
far as using "all the freed up analog bandwidth", just remember that  
as a ham you are only allowed to use frequencies for which you are  
licensed. As a ham you can transmit on the upper UHF channels as a  
secondary user of the spectrum, but only on the frequencies defined:


Of course the next route is to get an LPTV license, but the FCC is  
geared against small groups doing this. We looked at this option  
before the switch to digital, I'm sure it's even more difficult now.  
Just getting the application documents is a task in itself, my friend  
had to argue with someone over the phone at the FCC just to get them  
to fax us a copy of the LPTV application form. Combine this with the  
fact that you have to lease the spectrum you broadcast on, and  
spectrum auctions only come up every few years. And the costs required  
to lease spectrum raises it out of the hobby market ($30,000 would be  
a super sweet deal for broadcast spectrum). I haven't kept up with all  
the details since the switch to digital, however  I thought I read  
about some special case LPTV stations which may have been granted an  
exemption to stay analog, but I could be wrong here. A lot of LPTV  
stations where squeezed very hard during the transition to digital, so  
there's a chance you might be able to buy a station out. Yea, that  
still won't be cheap, and it's probably not what you are looking for.

The last option is going part15 or being a pirate. Part15 non-licensed  
transmissions will limit you to about 25mW which will reach across  
your living room, which is not that appealing. I neither condone nor  
condemn going the pirate route. If you decide to go pirate, just  
remember that the FCC responds to complaints. If someone notices your  
broadcasts in the freed up analog space and doesn't like it (both for  
content and for technical reasons), they can file a complaint which  
will be investigated and you will be found. There's being a pirate,  
and then there's being a jackass. Make for damn sure your output  
transmission doesn't have a harmonic taking out an emergency services  
band or other spectrum users. If you can borrow a spectrum analyzer,  
do so and watch your output (even on brand new gear - cheap Chinese tv  
transmitters off ebay are not built to the same standards as an FCC  
certified piece of gear). Use a band-pass filter on your final output  
if you have to, as long as no one has a reason to notice you on their  
in-use-spectrum your odds of getting caught go down. Since you would  
be clearly in the wrong rather than just lightly stepping across the  
line, FCC penalties could be severe. If you want to broadcast  
continually, you will be caught eventually. If you can operate  
intermittently for short periods, your chances of getting caught are  
reduced, but not eliminated. Use a directional antenna to sweep the  
area you wish to cover with signal. Using an omni-directional antenna  
makes it much easier to track from any direction it can be picked up.  
Broadcasting from different locations each time and using a yagi/ 
directional antenna will make it a little more difficult to track you  

You should also consider what it is you are transmitting. It's easy to  
get excited about the technical aspects of running a TV station and  
neglect the message. If you are taking the time to broadcast, one way  
or another, generally you are trying to reach an under-served market.  
Tosh.0 has the best of youtube each week, what is it you guys want  
your community to see? Personally, I would recommend you make your own  
programming if possible. If nothing else, record your workshops and  
use that as content (and this would fall better in line for what ham  
fast-scan is intended for).

You might also consider running a part-15 AM station. You can  
potentially reach a 2-3 mile diameter with a signal on the AM  
broadcast band which is completely legal and no license required. The  
technical challenges are very similar to running a TV station. I've  
run one of these with a friend in the past and we are planning to get  
one on the air again at our hackerspace.

Lastly, if you are bent on broadcasting TV, there are still lots of  
other options. There are sat stations looking for good free-to-air  
content even today, so getting some shows into space for free or cheap  
is not too hard. However, the last time we checked it's still possible  
to lease time on a terrestrial uplink for a little bit of change and  
have your own free-to-air station. A hackerspace TV network uplink  
would be freaking sweet as it would be:

1) legal
2) little to no FCC content issues (or equivalent governmental  
3) something all spaces could contribute to
4) ability to cover most of a continent with the station
5) would blow G4 out of the water with real technical content

I have to say I am very interested in seeing what can be done on the  
free-to-air route.

Good luck!


Pirate Cat TV:

TV content:

Part-15 broadcasting:

An automated DJ for your part-15 radio station:

On Aug 10, 2010, at 11:11 AM, Brain Tank wrote:

> With the Analog Broadcast system having been switched over in the US  
> I'd like to take advantage of the empty space and make a LPTV/HAMTV  
> station at our Hackerspace. We're having a bit of trouble  
> translating the legal end of things. We have our General class HAM  
> licenses and we can see HAMTV is often transmitted on channels 57-60  
> CATV. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amateur_television
> Some questions that we've been unable to resolve are:
>> Can we stream YouTube all day long?
>> I realize theres a limitation as far as commercial things over HAM  
> radio but what about "promotions" using HAMTV?
>> How far are we allowed to transmit?
>> Are the HAMTV bands even necessary to be limited to with all the  
> freed up analog bandwidth?
> Things may have changed a bit now that the bands have opened up but  
> I cannot find specific information anywhere on the net.
> We think we can achieve this using one of these 5watt TV Transmitters.
> If anyone has the ability to help answer these we could do an easy  
> tutorial with the other information I've collected and post it for  
> other Hackerspaces to build their own cheap TV Station.
> -Dave
> ---
> www.TheBrainTank.net
> _______________________________________________
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> Discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org
> http://lists.hackerspaces.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss

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