Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Transcription Mystery Disc #231

This is another 8-inch co-branded Capitol Pro-disc. Like the others it sports that matte-green color scheme and a metal core. The address given on the face of the label is no longer a radio shoppe. Today it's a doughnut shop. The disc is dated to 8/8/47.  So it's  a post-WWII recording. The rest of the text reads "Bette and Jerry Connors."  As you can see the disc has been sweating palmitic acid, indicating a gradual loss in condition. It can be cleaned at this point, but not without consequence.

I tried to rip the clean side first. Most of it was a total loss. The vocals are too soft in the face of all the surface noise. But as they gain confidence and my noise gate becomes more effective you can make out the chorus of Chattanooga Cho-Choo and then a spoken segment. The woman invites her mother to witness a record being made and she seems a bit mystified. But after that the bed noise rises again and buries the rest. The other side had far better levels.

Bette and Jerry


The dirty side (pictured) sounded fine after a wipe down and a little dish soap. The record opens with Bette naming her favorite song "If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)," then singing it.  Jerry sings a western song that seems familiar but I can't identify. He heard it "overseas" which I presume to be his service in WWII.The gist is that he intends to build them a home in the west now that she is his "little wife."  It sounds a bit condescending today.. but it was half a century ago.

Monday, September 15, 2014

DJ Skeets McDonald

In 1959 Skeets McDonald recorded the tune "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes."  It was written by Slim Willet in 1952. At least half a dozen other country singers tried to do it justice, but McDonald did it better. Skeets performed it live on an early TV program, Town Hall Party, on KTTV-TV in Compton, CA. If any single of his could be classed as a hit this was it... and looking back it wasn't much. But today it and many of his other ballads are considered rockabilly classics. His profile on Hillbilly-music.com is woefully slim.

He was a regular on Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree on KXLA-AM in Pasadena and in addition to KTTV he also appeared on the Ozark Jubilee at KWTO-TV on the ABC network. He had several minor hits on the Billboard country chart, including "This Old Heart" in 1960, "Call Me Mr. Brown" in 1963, "Big Chief Buffalo Nickel in 1966, and "Mabel" in 1967. Then he died of a heart attack in 1968.  He was only 53. It cut short his career. A country artist still having hits of any kind in his fifties was a clearly stayer.

Born in Arkansas,  his music career actually began in Michigan. It was not exactly the epicenter of rockabilly cool.  His brother moved to Detroit and he followed along. Nick Tosches summed up the beginning "With the help of several other displaced rednecks, which were plentiful in that land, Skeets formed his own Hillbilly boogie band, the Lonesome Cowboys."  The man has a way with words. Their first regular paying gig started up in 1937 in a slot on 1340 WEXL-AM in Royal Oak. The band moved to 910 WFDF-AM in Flint, then to 1100 WCAR-AM in Pontiac. (Tosches gets the WEXL calls wrong. Try to look past it, he's a writer not a radio geek.)
In 1953 I found a record of Skeets performing on Rhythm Roundup on KUGN in Eugene, OR.  In 1956 he showed up on KBOX in Modesto with a festival of country heavy hitters: Ferlin Husky, Bob Wills, Marty Robbins, Cowboy Copas and others. McDonald signed with Columbia records in 1959 and added guitar rocker Eddie Cochran to the studio line up. That when that string of singles began. 

WEXL first went on air in 1925 though some versions start it in 1924. The station began as WAGM but was sold to Rev. Jacob B. Spark in about 1929 who changed the calls and flipped it to block programming mixing gospel and country music. The station expanded its country music programming to a 24-hour format in 1963 becoming the big country outlet in the Detroit metro for a time. But Skeets had already moved on to other pastures. The station flipped to religious talk in 1974. Thankfully Skeets wasn't around to see it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Radio Disney is Done

No one was surprised on August 15th when Disney announced they were dumping 24 of their 25 radio stations. The only one they held back was 1110 KDIS-AM in Los Angeles. It sounds like a lot but actually some of them have been silent for more than a year. In 2010 the mouse took 6 stations silent at once with a set of STA filings. Those were for KMUS-AM, KALY-AM, WCOG-AM, WRJR-AM, WHKT-AM, and WMNE-AM. (The only one it didn't sell was WRJR which it only operated under an LMA.) So when they say they're selling.. they mean it. More here.

The reason was that only 18%  of their listeners access Radio Disney via terrestrial radio. The other 82% of their listeners listen via web streaming apps. More than four fifths of their listeners abstain from the radio dial. Ouch.  KDIS-AM will serve as the home studio of all online Radio Disney programming. The rest become chaff. All local positions will revert to national positions, 184 people will be laid off.In other words.. it's over.

What's worth mentioning now is that this isn't the first time they've tried to reboot the struggling chain. I cannot remember a time when one of the outlets appeared in an Arbitron ratings book. The network originally affiliates with stations of all sizes in all markets in an apparent effort to make their programming as ubiquitous as Starbucks. But back in 2010 they dove for the corner and retreated from the minors. [SOURCE] They backpedaled into the top 25 markets only and tried to hold the fort. the problem was that they were operating the last music formatted network on AM radio. The reason then is the same reason now.. music sounds terrible on AM radio. Their young demographic was just more willing to more to a web platform.

but perhaps the most important thing to remember about Radio Disney is that it's still quite young. The network was launched on November 18th, 1996 on the 68th anniversary of the debut of Steamboat Willie.That was less than 20 years ago. With a self-styled target demographic of ages 0 - 16 years they barely cleared two generations of listeners. In 2006 Billboard officially called the network a "Power player."  At it's peak they had 50 affiliates and a Sirius XM channel ostensibly reaching over 90% of the country. Now they're gone.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A One Million Dollar Inverter

The old saying goes "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."  Well if you can build a better inverter Google will drive up to your door and hand you a check for one million dollars. It's called the Little Box Challenge.  So let's talk about how to make a million dollars. An inverter is an electronic component that changes DC current into AC current.  The output might be sine wave, pulsed sine wave,  modified sine wave or even square wave.. but the conversion is one direction DC to AC. Or in Google's words:
"Inverters are the essential boxes that take direct current from devices such as solar panels and batteries and turn it into alternating current for use in homes, businesses, and cars"
The problem is that inverters are big. Google compares them to a picnic cooler. I'd compare them to a 1980s VCR. Same difference. In an era of ubiquitous handheld smart electronics, inverters are nowhere to be seen. Google wants one smaller than a laptop. That's a 10x reduction. The Deadline is September 30th. That sounds like a tall order. The detailed requirements are even taller... 30 pages taller. Here are the high lights:
  • Must be able to handle up to 2 kVA loads
  • Must achieve a power density of equal to or greater than 50 W/in3
  • Must be able to handle loads with power factors from 0.7–1, leading and lagging in an islanded mode
  • Must be in a rectangular metal enclosure of no more than 40 in3
  • Will be taking in 450V DC power in series with a 10 resistor
  • Must output 240V, 60 Hz AC single phase power
  • Must have a total harmonic distortion + noise on both voltage and current of 5%
  • Must have an input ripple current of 20%
  • Must have an input ripple voltage of 3%
  • Must have a DC-AC efficiency of greater than 95%
  • Must maintain a temperature of no more than 60C during operation everywhere on the outside of the device that can be touched.
  • Must conform to Electromagnetic Compliance standards as set out in FCC Part 15 B
  • Can not use any external source of cooling (e.g. water) other than air
So my first thought that this is not for use in those ubiquitous handheld smart electronics. The 220Vrequrement is more in line with what your Washer, Hot Water heater, Dryer and Kitchen stove might require. But it's also single phase. In the US we use split-phase 220 to provide 110 power. So this is clearly intended for residential use. Most homes have only two 220 circuits in the breaker box. The rest are split-phase 110 adding up to 180 -200 Amps in the average house. The 450V DC input requirement is in line with something like a 7kW solar array. I'm assuming the 60 Hz requirement means they intend to feed this directly into a transformer. But I also notice that the input voltage is 450V DC so technically this is also a very fancy buck converter. (A buck converter steps down the voltage but step up the current.)

There are still a couple more qualifications: It has to be smaller than 40 cubic inches. That's only a 3.4" cube. It's bigger than a Rubiks Cube, but smaller than two Rubiks cubes. It also has to meet FCC Part 15B so it can't be blasting out interference. Assuming multiple teams manage to produce a working model that meets all the criteria, the million dollar prize goes to the one with the highest power density. Don't lose hope.. that device you plug into your car cigarette lighter is also an inverter.

So let's talk about early inverters.. before these solid state toys. The first of these were rotary converters. It was a motor-generator...sort of a mechanical rectifier.  It's both a dynamo and an alternator which is why old texts call it a "dynamotor." In this configuration, DC power can be taken from the commutator, or AC power taken from the collector rings. (There is yes another arrangement that allows both to be taken from the armature.) These rotary converters were replaced by mercury arc rectifiers in the 1930s, and then by semiconductor rectifiers in the 1960s. While inverters have gotten smaller since then, it's largely been a maturation of that 1960s technology.

Modern inverters use CMOS or MOSFET components in their design and I've seems claims of efficiency between 75% and 95%. (Most of that loss is into heat.) The two obvious paths to victory are to shrink or reconfigure components in within the constraints of modern inverter designs.... or to invent new materials that can replace or obviate their components. But the basic components, capacitors, inductors, transformers, resistors, MOSFETS, heat sinks.. these are very mature technologies. They are not getting much smaller without significant effort. So the latter is actually the better path for a 10x reduction in size. Good luck all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hire's Harvesters

Nat Shilkret had so many bands it's like he had multiple personalities. A native New Yorker, Naftule Sch├╝ldkraut was born in 1889 when New York was more hardcore than it looked in the movie Gangs of New York. A child prodigy on clarinet, he was touring with the New York Boys' Orchestra before 1900. Before 1915 he'd already played with the New York Symphony Orchestra, the Russian Symphony Orchestra, Victor Herbert's Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera House Orchestra, Arnold Volpe's Orchestra, Sousa's Grand Concert Band, Arthur Pryor's Band, and the Edwin Franko Goldman Band. He hadn't gotten to radio because it didn't exist yet.

His move toward commercial recording and performing began in 1915.  That year he was hired by the Foreign Department of the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1926 he became  director of light music. He went on to make thousands of recordings for Victor. It was in this window he went into radio. He became a conductor for The Eveready Hour on WEAF-AM. The program was sponsored by the National carbon Company which owned Eveready Battery.  the host of the program was banjoist Wendell Hall. The program was dreamed up by George Furness at National carbon who in a way was it's producer.

In that era WEAF founded an early network and by link up over Bell telephone lines networked to WRG in Buffalo and WJAR in Providence hugely increasing their audience.  In 1925 Nat played with his Victor Salon Orchestra on the program, and by 1926 moonlighting as "Hire's Harvesters," for Hire's Root Beer. Now that was an obscure radio tidbit. In his book The Mighty Music Box, author Thomas A. DeLong called it a "less memorable program." NBC bought ads in Colliers magazine in 1926 to plug the new program and listed off their early NBC affiliates WEAF in New York WSAI in Cincinnati, WCAE Pittsburgh etc:
"Every Thursday, at 7:1 5, Eastern Standard Time, let Hires Harvesters carry you to Lands of Romance where the ingredients for Hires are gathered."
Hires was never very active in radio sponsorship. In radioland they spent on Horace Heidt and little else. In 1947 the sponsored the program "Here's To You" on CBS. The John Dunning opus On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio mentioned Hires only one time. The Harrison Summers book Thirty-Year History of Programs Carried on National Radio Networks in the U.S. 1926-1956 lists the NBC program active as in 1926 and 1927. But the program may go back earlier.  Even the Everready Hour was erratic in length and times in that pioneering era. I'll cite the very few known newspaper references below:

Lewiston Evening Journal - April 15th, 1926  "WEAF 8:15pm Hires Harvesters New England Program"
The Daily Argus - February 18th, 1926 "WEAF 8:15pm Hires Harvesters"
Wallace's Farmer - February 25th, 1927 "WCCO 7:30pm Hires Harvesters"

Twice the Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg lists off the show's program in great detail. I note that Shilkret wrote half the songs of each weekly program. The March 21st, 1927 issue describes a program with a "South American theme" theme starting with Valparaiso and ending at Rio De Janeiro. It lists the programs playlist and songwriter credits:
     Harvesters March - Shilkret 
     Fate - Shilkret
     Students's Fado, South American Air Chamarita. Fado Portugese
     Valse des Feuilles - Markoff
     El Choclo - Villodo
     O Madame - Markoff

The March 28th, 1927 issue describes a program with a "Down East theme" focusing on Maine and New England. But it also list the programs playlist and songwriter credits:
    Harvesters March - Shilkret
    Snappy Weather - Shilkret
    Mellis Dunham Tunes - (Traditional)
    Sass - Shilkret
    Dream On - Herbert
    Long, long Ago - Bayley
    Gleaming Shadows - MacDowell
    Dizzy Fingers - Confrey

The Kokomo Tribute actually gives them some credit on the Blue Network on June 2nd 1927: 
"The Hires Harvesters who recently became a regular Network feature will be heard in their second performance in a program broadcast through WJZ and the Blue network at 8 O'clock At this time the Hires Harvesters will present a program of Spanish numbers Including some by Waldteufel, Malvernen, Mowsey and Shilkret The complete program for this broadcast is as follows Harvesters March, Tango De Malvernen, Vocal-Shilkret, La Rubito Guitarre Moskowski, Spanish Shepherds, Moorish Dance, El J,  Sweet Shilkret.  This program will be broadcast by WJZ, WBZ WBZA, KDKA, KYW, WBAL, WJR, WHAS, WSB, WSM, WMC"

An issue of the Reading Times lists it off more concisely on June 9th, 1927. "The next concert by the Hires Harvesters, to be broadcast at 8.30 o'clock will be heard through WJZ. India will be visited in this broadcast, with "The Song of India," "Hindu Seene," "Oriental," "Snake ' Charger" and other selections reminiscent of India and the Near East. Among other features will be a cello solo "Melodie Exotique."the format of the odd little program becomes clear and the musical challenge for Shilkret as well. It's disappearance over that summer seems unsurprising.