Monday, February 18, 2019

Upstate PA Radio Dial

I found this Radio at an antique shop south but failed to record the make and model. But the call letters present the usual game of guess-where-this-radio-is from. The call signs are as follows:

  • 560 -  WFIL-AM - Philadelphia, PA
  • 660 -  WEAF-AM - New York, NY
  • 770 -  WJZ-AM - New York, NY
  • 830 -  WEEU-AM - Reading, PA
  • 1060 - KYW-AM - Philadelphia, PA
  • 1210 - WCAU-AM - Philadelphia, PA
  • 1340 - WRAW-AM- Reading, PA

Now I have to acknowledge that KYW used to be on 1020 in Chicago prior to 1934, and that today the WJZ-AM callsign is on 1300 AM in Baltimore. While WFIL and KYW have remained in Philly with the same calls, stability is no good for this exercise. The WEAF-AM calls now reside on 1130 AM in Camden, South Carolina. But we can safely ignore that geographic outlier.

The two local Reading stations certainly place this radio in Reading, PA area living room. WRAW signed on in 1922 at 1260, but only at 100 watts. It didn't get a bump up to 250 watts until the 1950s on 1310, then moved to 1340 in the 1960s. It was WKAP  from 2007 to February 2014 but returned to it's heritage calls that Spring.

WCAU signed on in 1922 as well, at 250 watts. They stuck with those call letters for 68 years becoming WOGL in 1990 flipping to oldies. They became WGMP in 1994 trying out sports talk, the just plain talk as WPTS 2 years later, 30 days after that they changed it again to WPHT which has endured since. Their stability again tells us very little. 

WJZ started in Newark, NJ in 1921 and moved to New York in 1923 when it was sold to RCA. In 1927 it became the flagship of the NBC blue network. It became WABC in 1953 which helps to date this radio dial.  WEAF also signed on in 1922, but those calls changed to WNBC in 1946 following the Blue Network divestiture. So this radio must predate that even change.

So the KYW timeline tells us that the radio must post date 1934, and WEAF, that it must pre-date 1946. Surprisingly it must have included WRAW while it was still at 100 watts. It's not a very tight range but it's not what you know, it's what you can prove.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Brian Rust, Mardi Gras & Needle Time

Discography research is an arcane enough hobby. But Brian Rust, despite his profile in that community, managed achieved a level of willful obscurity all his own.  He self-published a 'zine (to use the modern parlance) somewhat regularly starting in 1985 which included editorials, sales, and discographies. But the magazine was a bit hard to find. Tim Brooks at the ARSC [SOURCE] had this to say.
"Needle Time, incidentally, is one of those "secret" publications that you may hear about in passing once in a while, but seem to be deliberately hard to find. Despite the fact that it is edited by one of the best known names in discography, to my knowledge it has never advertised in the United States, has not been reviewed here, and is found in hardly any libraries. Even a direct request to Rust himself for information, a couple of years back, brought no response!"
Needle Time was published bimonthly-ish by Mr. Rust, to the benefit of we bookish discographers, writers and collectors of vintage jazz. The average issue of Needle Time was perhaps 32 black & white 6.5" x 8.25" pages, but it wasn't cheap. The cost was a rather steep at the time. In 1985 it started out at 5.00£  for a 1 year subscription (UK) or 8.10£ (US). But that had jumped by 1989 to 10.30£ per year for 6 issues overseas or 20£ for two years (12 issues). But Rust didn't take personal checks! So a subscriber had to mail physical cash or pounds sterling to his address in Dorset, England.

The dimensions of the magazine shrank sometime between issues 4 and 12 to about 6" x 8.25." While the format was a bit handier, it may have been perceived as "shrinkage." But issues got longer. The first issue is only 23 pages long, issue 22 is 40 pages long.  Though they always had varied, Rust was definitely putting out bigger issues over time. In Americana terms Rust was like Joe Bussard, but more prolific. The Guardian Newspaper called him leading the jazz discographer of his generation. More here and here.

Rust also hosted a weekly radio program on Capital Radio in London from 1973 to 1984 called Mardi Gras.  It was an hour long Sunday program that aired at 10:00 PM. (There are several episodes up on YouTube.) (Bruce Epperson puts the start of the long-running Sunday night program in 1971.) But his debut in radio was probably in 1957 playing washboard with the Barnstormers Spasm Band. Reputedly Rust left the group in 1958 after the BBC, citing conflict of interest (with his Sunday program) refused him permission to appear on TV. The program opened and closed (at least in the 80s) with The Charles Dornbeger Orchestra version of "Tiger Rag." Brian would say "You are listening to Capital Radio. Thsi is Brian Rust welcoming you to another Mardi Gras, a carnival of the best in vintage popular music and all that jazz..."

It was cancelled in September of 1984. [Strangely, we can blame Margaret Thatcher] Following the Heathrow Conference, the AIRC (Association of Independent Radio Contractors) shook out a fit of deregulation and installed notably commercial programming and sponsorship onto the British airwaves. So in September the schedule was as follows:
  • 5:00 PM - Roger Scott
  • 6:00 PM - Peter James (classical) 
  • 8:00 PM - Tom McGuinness 
  • 9:00 PM - David Castell 
  • 10:00 PM - Mardi Gras with Brian Rust 
  • 11:00 PM - It's Jazz 
  • 12:00 Midnight - Richard Digance
Then afterward...
  • 5:00 PM - Network Chart with David Jensen 
  • 7:00 PM - View from the Top 
  • 8:00 PM - Charlie Gillett 
  • 10:00 PM - London Philharmonic Orchestra 
  • 11:00 PM - Mike Allen

Sounds Vintage Magazine [LINK] reported on the end of the program writing "...The Carnival is over. Yes, Mardi Gras is being given the chop to make way for "restructuring"of Sundays on Capital, including a high fallutin' magazine program so beloved of producers and planners..." Vintage Magazine went on to write that they had been enlightened and entertained by the best program for jazz heads.

So Needle Time perhaps became the hobby that Rust took up after radio. But for Rust discography had always come first. His first publication as a discographer came in 1943 in Jazz Tempo Magazine in a 6-part series on the obscure group Goofus Five. By 1948 he was writing regularly for Gramophone. Rust appears in the book More Important Than the Music by Bruce Epperson dozens of times as the man and dozens more times as a source in the footnotes and bibliography.  In it, Rust is described in the book as having taken a boring job at the Bank of England only so he could afford his real passion - vintage jazz and dance music. He later worked at the BBC gramophone library until 1960. He wrote or co-wrote 15 book-length jazz discographies, and 31 issues of his magazine Needle Time. Needle Time was named for the BBC rule limiting the amount of recorded music that could be broadcast in a day. (I'll write about that another time.) Brian Rust died at the age of 88 in the year 2011. Below is my partial Needle Time bibliography from my personal collection.

1 NOV/DEC 1985 Henry Levine
2 JAN 1986 Vivian Ellis
3 MAR 1986 Fred Elizalde
4 MAY 1986 The Savoy Orpheans
12 SEP 1987 Paul Whiteman
13 NOV 1987 Seger Ellis, Josie Miles & Nathan Glanz
14 JAN 1988 Sid & Bert Firman
15 MAR 1988 Pee Wee Erwin
16 MAY 1988 All Bowlly
17 JUL 1988 Norman Payne
20 JAN 1989 Art Hickman's New York London Five
21 MAR 1989 Leslie Jeffries & His Rialto Orchestra
22 MAY 1989 Violet Essex
23 JUL 1989 Greta Keller

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Hugo Gernsback Vs. Gaylord Wilshire

Henry Gaylord Wilshire, known by his friends as Gaylord, was a quack. But he was a notable quack. In 1895 he began developing 35 acres of a barley field in what is now Los Angeles. From that parcel, he donated a strip of land 120 feet wide by 1,200 feet long to the city. This was intended for a Boulevard which now bears his name: Wilshire Boulevard. If you're not familiar, it's the primary east-west arterial road in L.A. The Los Angeles Conservancy described him as "flamboyant character." In his day he was a land speculator, gold speculator, public speaker, political candidate, publisher and radio broadcaster.

In 1925, he started marketing the I-on-a-co, an electric belt that could purportedly improve health. The belt gained popularity from its marketing. [Donald G. Davis wrote a great whitepaper on the I-on-a-co here]  He bought a nearly full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times in 1926. At the bottom of that advert he listed a schedule of his upcoming radio appearances. He also was quoted as below:
"Since 1925 I have been broadcasting weekly lectures regarding the I-on-a-co Belt, in practically all the leading newspapers in California. I have been broadcasting weekly lectures on the I-on-a-co over three radio stations. I have lectured in person in many California cities..."
But even his biography by Louis Rosen does not name the stations. The advert listed only one of the three, his Thursday-evening spot on 1250 KTAB-AM in Oakland. We know the other two were also in the Bay area: San Francisco and Oakland. In Oakland the 9 options were: 590 KLX-AM, 830 KGO-AM, 1170 KFUS-AM, 1200 KLS-AM, 1250 KZM-AM (share with KTAB), 1360 KFUU-AM, and 1450 KFWM-AM. But in San Francisco there were only five: 700 KPO-AM, 1120 KFRC-AM, 1330 KFWI-AM, 1360 KJBS-AM, and 1450 KGTT-AM.

I had assumed it would be KLX as they also aired the nutter Aimee Semple McPherson. But it appears the answer lies elsewhere. I found a Radio Doings calendar from August, 1926 for 1260 KMTR-AM in Hollywood airing "Wilshire's Ionaco Lectures" at 7:30 PM on Tuesday the 17th and "Gaylord Wilshire Lectures" at 7:00 PM on Friday the 20th.  Broadcast Weekly lists "Ionaco with Gaylord Wilshire" on 1200 KFWI-AM on Tuesday Nov. 23rd, at 8:30 PM and again that Friday. KFWI is actually in San Francisco but KFWI is basically in Los Angeles... leaving us with a missing station.

A February issue of Radio Doings puts Wilshire on 7:00 PM on Tuesday Feb 15th on 890 KNX-AM, also in Los Angeles, then again on KMTR, 10:00 AM Saturday, February 19th Charles W. Hemp "Presenting Gaylord Wilshires famous invention The Ionaco." Charles was the Director of Radio Activities at the Iona Company. So it is no surprise to see him at 7:00 AM on 830 KFWB-AM, June 14th 1927. In Hollywood again this time on 1330 KFQZ-AM, 7:30 PM another "Wilshire Ionaco Lecture" Tuesday, February 15th. They keep stacking up also in that issue is 1220 KSFD-AM 7:00 PM Feb. 16th, KNX, again on Feb 15th and Charles Hemp was on KFWB and KMTR with the same schtick at least as early as January  1927.

Interestingly not only did the American Medical Association (AMA) go after Wilshire, but so did some science hobbyist magazines. Notably Science and Invention which was funded by WRNY. In October 1927 Hugo Gernsback wrote an exposé The Ionaco Swindle. Some readers wrote in to defend Wilshire and the Ionaco, most of them read like advertising copy. But other savvy readers, in a move that prefigures "doxxing" wrote in and outed other print publications still running I-on-a-co advertisements. Wilshire was already dead, but the editors rejoiced in the irony that Wilshire "died of the very ailments for which Ionaco was supposed to be specific [cure]."

Wilshire died destitute in 1927 in New York City. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. But even after his death (according to the book The Body Electric by Carolyn Thomas de la Pena) radio stations continued to broadcast his program from transcription discs. The FRC finally banned quack advertisements from radio in 1932.

Monday, December 24, 2018


NARBA was replaced in in 1983, with the adoption of the Regional Agreement for the Medium Frequency Broadcasting Service in Region 2, A.K.A. the "Rio Agreement", which covered more or less the entire Western hemisphere. That was over 30 years ago, so NARBA is largely a historical artifact now. Looking back what remains notable is both the nations that participated, and that that didn't. Most notable is the one nation who joined, then later withdrew: Cuba. More here.

Cuba was on board with the original NARBA, let's call it "NARBA Classic" back in the 1930s. The initial NARBA bandplan, was actually known as the "Havana Treaty."  It was signed by the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti in December of 1937. It took effect in March of 1941. Back then the primary goals were: standardizing engineering practises, reducing interference and fairly distributing channel assignments across nations.  In fairness, NARBA Classic favored the US substantially.

In 1949 when NARBA was being re-negotiated, Cuba was in it to win it. The problem of conflicting channel assignments was of primary concern and while Mexico refused to participate the other participating nations were in for a high stakes poker game. Cuba in a savvy maneuver proposed they get wildly more than they wanted putting the US on defense. Broadcasting magazine literally described the Montreal NARBA proceedings as the “threat of ether war.”  This was a tad dramatic, but Cuba did ask for the following:
  1. Right to 3 more 1-A channels
  2. Power increases on 3 more 1-A channels
  3. Establishment of 11 Class 1 stations (7 regional, 4 clear channel)
  4. A total of 108 assignment son 79 channels
  5. Increased protection on certain Cuban channels 
  6. A ban on further licensing of 590, 690, 860, 950, and 1010 in the Southern US (FL, GA, AL, MA, LA)
Under the previous NARBA treaty of 1941, (and the interim agreement of 1946) the 690 frequency was already designated a Canadian 1-A clear channel, so that wasn't a big ask. In trade, they offered to give up the below stations to protect the clear channel status of KNBC in San Francisco and WMAQ in Chicago.
  1. 1 Kw station on 670 kHz at Oriente
  2. 250 watt station on 680 kHz at Artemisa
  3. 1 Kw station on 680 kHz at Santa Clara
The conference voted 6 to 4 against.  Letters to broadcasting magazines described it as "jungle warfare" or as a "cold radio war" and the island of Cuba as "pint-sized."At the time, the whole island of Cuba only had a population of about 5 million. That is about the size of Boston, MA today. Boston has more than 90 AM and FM signals so 108 assignments isn't excessive in today's terms, but it may have seemed that way in 1949. 

It's 1,300 miles from Cuba to Chicago. By today's math, the stations they were offering to protect were in little danger from those local Cuban stations. Though at the time AM reception was common at those distances for clear channel stations. So they would have been regionally impeded in the South East. Interestingly ABC, Westinghouse, KPRC, and Fort Industry Co. all still voted in favor of the treaty.  (Mexico refused to even attend the conference.) The following US stations would have been effected by the Cuban proposal:  KFI, WNBC, WJR, WBBM, WCCO, WLS, WENR, KPRC, WFBC, WSUN, WJBO. An even greater list was described over-dramatically as having "incomplete' protection. In Cuba WIBS would have to move from 740 to 730 kHz, and WKAQ in San Juan would have to reduce it's radiation toward San Juan. 

Cuba didn't get what they asked for, but they got what they needed.  A three-year interim agreement gave Cuba expanded allocations, including the right to share 5  U.S., 3 Canadian, and 2 Mexican clear channel allocations. The interim agreement expired on March 29th, but the new NARBA agreement was signed in November 1950 and was good for another 5 years. NAB was pretty pissed. That same month Billboard Magazine published that the NARBA "conference quietly stole away this week after signing a pact which empowers Cuba virtually to destroy half a dozen clear-channel frequencies in New York and elsewhere."  Broadcasting Magazine just referred to it was "Cuba's Victory."

Remember Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959, so while he was the beneficiary of those proceedings, he was not their architect. NARBA was still biased in favor of the U.S. and Multiple signers were considering walking away before 1980. But Cuba had been in a radio fight with the U.S. for decades. The CIA broadcast anti-Castro propaganda starting in the 1960s, VOA began beaming western propaganda at the island the same year as did Cuban exiles in Florida. In response, Cuba beefed up it's local service, aided Radio Free Dixie, and broadcast Radio Moscow to the U.S. as late as the 1970s.  All of that was outside the treaty.

The Carter administration had improved relations with Havana to the point where the radio spat had largely cooled. But Ronald Reagan was a rabid anti-communist. After his election  the broadcasts resumed.  In 1980, Cuba gave the required one year notification that it was withdrawing from the NARBA treaty. Reagan administration officials announced plans to establish a "Radio Free Cuba". This service was named Radio Marti in 1982 and service began in 1983. Seeing this coming, and with no attachment to treaties signed by the pre-revolutionary government, Cuba abrogated NARBA in 1980. They even gave the standard 1-year notice. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

News and Reviews 2018

It's been a shorter year for me blog-wise. There has been less research, less writing but so much going on elsewhere. However, when I have posted it's been longer, delved deeper and weirder unearthing some truly arcane deep dives. I'll keep it brief and focus on the highlights.

Best Posts:
It was only a few weeks ago but it felt very worthwhile to go deep on FCC's Operation Gangplank. Back in September I spent some time researching Radio Station Bombings and found out that KPFT was not alone in having been a terrorist target in the US, that WEDR, KMAK, KFWB and WKRL had also been bombed. My piece on Maximum Rock N' Roll took a lot of research, but not as much as the Golden Mike Awards which I wish was more complete. I also was very pleased to discover the first radio station build by a black radio engineer [LINK].

Most Popular Posts:
My most popular posts haven't changed in years.  Since 2009 the most traffic has gone to a post about Peter Tripp.  This is what I call the post that Reddit built. It remains an aberration in my web-traffic with 96k+ hits. I did eventually collate a list of all Radio Wake-a-thon records here. My 2007 post on the Career Academy of Famous Broadcasters continues to earn comments from it's legion of former students. It remains a top hit on Google. In third place a 2010 post on Barn Dance programs remains popular. My readers continue to debate if I was unfairly harsh to Kevin Metheny. I think not, but he died in 2014 so I have hopes that on the wane. I am pleased that Noise From Neville comes in 6th, as eventually finding him led to two more WRIU centric posts [LINK].

Best Radio Station:
I have been listening to more jazz than anything lately.  I often head over to KJAZ.FM, a bebop focused online station that never dissapoints. Also on speed dial are WZUM, KSDS, KCSM, and WKCR 

Best Record Store:  
This year I visited the Original-ish Rough Trade record store on Talbot Road in Notting Hill, London. What could possibly be cooler than that? Rough Trade was my source for so many imports in the 1980s and 1990s, it was great to see the head waters of indie rock.

Best Radio Show:
I've been rocking episodes of Radio Found from KBOO. It's either crazy randomness or random craziness. It only airs every second and fourth Thursday from 10pm – 12am PST, which is a bit hard for me to catch so I just stream it off his blog. Also totally digging Noise Floor, a program on the online station Under Noise. I am also really big on the Irresponsableful channel on YouTube.

Best Zine:
Noise Widow, they're only up to issue three but they are all pure gold. The most recent one has interviews with Scald Hymn and Plagues, Noise Cribs and I don't even write for them.

Top 10 Records of 2018
  1. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin 
  2. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want
  3. Pile - Odds and Ends
  4. Heads - Collider
  5. Sleep – The Sciences 
  6. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance 
  7. Barren Womb - Old Money / New Lows
  8. Vein - Error Zone 
  9. Melvins - Pinkus Abortion Technician
  10. Anal Trump - The First 100 Songs

Also Notable... Jesus Price - Only Self, Miss World - Keeping up with Miss World, Mudhoney - Digital Garbage, Oh Sees - Smote Reverser, Wristmeetrazor - Insecurity Checkpoint, Melting Hand - Faces of Earth, Sumac - The Deal, Clutch - Book of Bad Decisions