En vacance with The Archers

Fix a mobile satellite dish to your car and you can travel abroad happy in the knowledge that your favourite BBC radio programmes will be within reach, writes Steve Homer

One of the most depressing things about foreign travel is that The Archers disappears as you head out of range of the BBC's long-wave transmitter. How can anyone enjoy their week in Provence not knowing if Roy Tucker will be forgiven for his sins?

Well, there is an answer. For more than two years Radio 4 has been retransmitted on Astra satellites used by BSkyB. So have Radios 1, 2, 3, and 5, and the World Service.

There are, in fact, 40 radio stations on the Astra satellites, 16 of which are in English. The radio signals are carried in audio subcarrier frequencies. These were set aside so that the same picture could be transmitted with several different soundtracks. German broadcasters occasionally transmit films in two languages, while Eurosport broadcasts in English, German and Dutch.

Radios 2, 4, and 5 are carried on a subcarrier to UK Gold, the television channel, and can be picked up as far away as Rome and Budapest. Radios 1 and 3, which are broadcast in stereo alongside UK Living, also make it to Spain.

The bad news is that you need special equipment, which - because the mobile satellite TV market is on the Continent - may be difficult to buy in Britain. The Alba Travel-Sat, for example, is made in the UK at pounds 260, but marketed abroad. Neatly packed away in its own suitcase, the dish can be fixed to the roof of your car or caravan with a powerful sucker (it only works you're stopped, though). The company says that aligning the dish with its elevation scale and compass is easy. But when What Satellite magazine tested the system, it found a certain amount of trial and error was necessary.

The system also has a rather small antenna. This is fine for most of mainland Europe, where the Astra signal is stronger (the beam is centred roughly on Luxembourg), but reception will fade as you get close to the edge of the footprint. You should be OK, just, in northern Italy, southern Sweden, Austria, the Czech republic and western Poland.

For better coverage, you might consider the Rolls-Royce of transportable satellite systems, Mobil-Sat. This can be bolted on to the top of your mobile home or a sturdy caravan. When you park for the night, you hit a couple of buttons, up pops the dish, and automatic sensors start looking for the satellite signal and lock on to the correct position. This should extend coverage to northern Spain, more of Italy, as well as most of Hungary, Sweden and Norway. At about pounds 2,000, this is an expensive way of keeping in touch with Ambridge - but then again, addiction has its price.

For sales inquiries, contact Alba on 0181-594 5533, and Clear View, distributor for Mobil-Sat, on 0181-974 9098.

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