Wright's Aerials

Originally the hotel had all ten Sky receivers in a wall box. They provided satellite channels for the TV distribution system. The box was kept locked and was more or less airtight. It was warm-well, hot, actually-to the touch. The wall box was in the boiler room, for goodness sake, and the ambient temperature was about 40°C. The receivers were dropping like ninepins. It was like an electronic consumer goods version of 'Bridge on the River Kwai'. The manager investigated, made a diagnosis, and then prescribed a cure. Holes were drilled in the top of the box. Now even when I was a kid, I could never understand how a few nail holes in the lid of the maggot tin would keep the poor beasts alive. It didn't work then and it didn't work for the Sky boxes. This was costing one box per month.

The local satellite shop was rubbing its collective hands. They advised against cooling the boxes further on grounds of 'thermal stress', but nevertheless the manager took action. The holes were enlarged. The boxes continued to die. Three boxes later a visitor from head office, whose audit had revealed a total expenditure on Skyboxes of just less than £2,500 in two years, proposed a radical solution. I should mention incidentally that the local shop had a 'double your money' mark-up policy, and excluded 'commercial use' from its warranties.

The auditor had the Skyboxes removed from the enclosure. They were to stand on a shelf, in a pile. A year later he declared the experiment a partial success. There had been a 20% decrease in satellite box expiry. This, he declared, was good but not good enough. The handyman was ordered to make 'spacers' to fit between the receivers, to give them some air. He nicked a yard brush from the groundsman, threw the business end away and chopped the handle into half-inch segments. A precarious pile was made, alternating between one receiver and four bits of brush handle. After several attempts, during which two of the Skyboxes suffered near-terminal impact damage (the floor in the boiler room was ungarnished concrete) the tower was complete. Over the next two weeks the tower was partially or entirely knocked flying five times.

The handyman had a tube of adhesive, a free sample from a rep. This stuff will stick anything to anything if the salesman is telling the truth, he thought. So the tower was rebuilt, this time cemented with patent glue. After a week the third from the bottom receiver showed a red instead of a green light, and couldn't be cajoled to do otherwise. The man from the local satellite shop was finally able to separate the faulty receiver from the ones above and below by unscrewing the cases, so the faulty box had the distinction of having no case, yet being mounted unmoveably on its brother's case as it fell into the skip.

"Right!" said the auditor, with a dangerous look in his eye. The manager had become an amused spectator, and secretly prayed that the boxes would die daily. A very large pedestal fan was delivered. This thing had blades two feet long, and needed a baseplate weighing three hundredweight. After some difficulty it was positioned in the boiler room very close to the stack of receivers, which was now refurbished, rebuilt, and re-glued. When the switch was turned the lights dimmed momentarily, the fan slowly picked up speed, then a blast of air hit the tower. The handyman was about to jump forward, convinced that the tower would be blown over, but the auditor restrained him. All seemed well, until the fan decided that the tower was really of very little interest, and turned its attention elsewhere. The mighty rotor and its wire mesh guard started to turn automatically about their vertical axis. The edge of the guard nudged the fifth receiver from the bottom, at first gently, tentatively almost, but then with renewed force, and as the assembled staff watched in horror (but in at least one case secret glee) the tower was dashed full length onto the concrete. The fan continued to whirr impassively as the auditor made little croaking sounds. Perversely, the glue, which had provided the rigidity that had made the tower fall as one, now gave way and the receivers lay on the concrete, mostly separated.

Well, how did the drama end? It was obvious that the replacement receivers could not be installed in the boiler room. The head-end was moved to an office just along the corridor. The ten new Sky boxes were fitted into a standard racking cabinet, with four fans built into its roof and an input grille in its floor. Each box had its own perforated shelf, and two inches of headroom. A digital thermometer with an alarm was fitted inside the top receiver. This brings us to the present. Only time will tell if the reliability of the receivers will improve, but surely it must, don't you think?

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