The 5,000-Channel Man


Al Jessup has rather eclectic taste in television. He doesn’t care much for movies on the boob tube, but he loves viewing TV stations and networks from not only across the country, but around the world, from Russia to the Mideast. He enjoys watching camel racing, for example.

Jessup, who lives in Beckley, W. Va., found a low-cost way to get the kind of programming he wants. The disabled former ice-cream salesman has a virtual garden of satellite dishes — a dozen of them, to be exact — sprouting from his home.

At last count, more than 5,000 TV and radio stations and channels were being beamed to Jessup’s house.

“It’s cool to watch a camel race,” he said.

His bill for all this content: just $80 a month.

“Why pay for it when I have it for free?” said Jessup, a savvy satellite shopper.

While he subscribes to both DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communication’s Dish Network, Jessup reserves his kudos for the “free-to-air” programming he picks up from satellites with less-familiar names than those two branded services. That includes birds such as Galaxy 10, Telstar 5, Telstar 6, Telstar 13, AMC 2, AMC 4, AMC 5, AMC 15, Nimiq 1 and Nimiq 2, among others.

Jessup, 54, first signed up for DirecTV in 1998.

“I hate cable: Cable will not give you what you want,” he said.

But even the offerings that DirecTV and Dish provided didn’t satisfy Jessup’s TV taste, namely his desire to get TV stations from around the country and beyond.

“Most people get on satellite to get movie channels,” he said. “Not me. I just like the local channels and the faraway foreign channels.”

A friend suggested that Jessup get a dish for Telstar 5, which had some foreign stations. “I said I want more,” he said. And Jessup did get more, ending up with a dozen dished at this stage.

In some cases, his neighbors and friends passed on their old dishes to him.

Jessup, who spent 25 years as an ice cream man, gets stations from places such as Colorado, Georgia, California, New Jersey, Texas, Wyoming, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Vietnam, Canada and Poland, and many more.

“It’s just neat to watch,” Jessup said. “I’ve got friends in Kuwait. Well, I can see what’s going on in Kuwait. … I love the world. I like to watch camel racing, horse racing.”

Jessup has five receivers in his house, and uses six remote controls to navigate through his deluge of programming.

“In the morning time I just check what’s on each satellite every day,” Jessup said. “Then I know what to watch. They have guides.”

Only one of his three TV sets gets all the programming from his 12 dishes.

The Register-Herald in Beckley, W. Va., first wrote about Jessup in its Nov. 27 edition, and the story was picked up by media from around the country and the world. So far, Jessup has done 16 interviews, including one with a Swedish radio station and KROQ-FM in Los Angeles. People have even offered him a couple of additional dishes after hearing about his collection.

Jessup also has his eye on a powerful new dish, a Toroidal 90.

“I just might point that to the east,” he said. “There’s a lot of eastern satellites running around … a whole slew of them.”