Monday, November 05, 2018

The Spamettes!

They were never actually called the Spamettes. Some sources claim they were nick-named the Spamettes, but this is apocryphal. Alas, in 1946, the Hormel Company started recruiting for for an all-female troupe of musicians to promote their processed meat products. But before I go any further into Spam-related history, I should note that Jill M. Sullivan and Danelle D. Keck wrote the definitive text on this topic: The Hormel Girls in 2007. Even Sullivan and Keck couldn't resist the inherent schmaltz of Spam. I'll quote:
 "On any given summer Sunday evening in 1948, one could hear on the Mutual Broadcasting System the sponsor of a popular program exclaim 'S-P-A-M! the first meat of its kind in America preferred by most people SPAM! Over eleven years ago the news sensation of the meat packing industry, SPAM. Today this miracle meat of many uses continues to maintain its leadership from coast to coast." 
It's hard to take Spam seriously. It has been around since 1937, and rose to prominence as a war-time food-stuff. But Hormel sold 122 million cans in 2011, a sales increase of 11% from 2009. In short... someone is eating it. Spam has been around for over 80 years. In 80 years as you might imagine they've done a wee bit of radio advertising. The image above is a print ad for the Burns & Allen show. But they have also advertised on radio.

In 1947 Jay Hormel put together a 20-member  all-women's bugle corps. The Hormel Girls were a drum and bugle corps of female WWII musicians. I should point out now that the recruiting process required all those ladies be white, and unmarried. The group toured and held parades in small towns. When they played the came with flag-bearers, and a drum and bugle corps. As an orchestra they added tuba, trombones dancers and expanded to more than 60 members. More here

 In 1948, the Hormel Girls debuted on radio. Music with the Hormel Girls became a top-rated weekend show on three different radio networks.  The program debut on ABC airing Saturdays at 6:30 PM following the Hour of Charm.  It was hosted by Betty Dougherty, and Elina Hart and the 30 minute show included both an orchestra and a chorus. Marilyn Wilson was the announcer. (Later Marilyn Wilson Ritter) They switched to CBS in May of 1950. Out of all 6 years of radio, there are only eight surviving 16-inch transcriptions discs of those Hormel Girls shows. More here and here. Marilyn later worked on KRCU public radio.

The original band was band was comprised of 20 former WACS(Women’s Army Corps), WAVES(Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service),SPARS (women’s reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard) and Marines.  According to Sullivan and Keck, they changed their style for radio.  By 1953, the show was number four in the yearly Nielsen rankings. But they disbanded within a year as Hormel refocused on TV advertising. More here.

The group was disbanded after a February1954 radio show.  But they have a strangely lasting legacy. The Hormel Girls held reunions in 1983 and 1991. The Hormel SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, opened in late 2001 and has an exhibit dedicated to the Hormel Girls. And Hormel didn't give up on radio they were sponsoring radio shows like Country Calendar as recently as 1987.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Oldest Broadcaster In The Bahamas

1540 ZNS-AM is one of the oldest and strangest radio stations in the West. It is a 50,000 watt station based in the Bahamas, but has the protections of a Class A, clear channel station under NARBA. So it's audible throughout the Bahamas, most of Cuba, and even parts of southeastern Florida. It is the only clear channel station on an island and the only one in the whole Carribean. (Note: Cuba was going to have clear channel stations but they bailed on NARBA in 1959) Despite that Class-A status, ZNS shares a frequency with KXEL in Iowa. This may be a consequence of it operating at only 5,000 watts when NARBA was signed in 1947.

Today ZNS is part of a network is run by the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas (BCB).  It consists of 1540 ZNS-1 AM (and its repeater on 104.5) 1240 ZNS-2 AM, which is simulcast on 107.9 in Nassau; and 810 ZNS-3 AM which simulcast on FM 104.5 in Freeport. Their TV network includes only 2 transmitters - serving Nassau and Freeport. ZNS published an excellent network history in 2006 on their 70th anniversary, 200+ pages [LINK]

ZNS stands for Zephyr Nassau Sunshine. Zephyr apparently means balmy breeze. The book Third World Mass Media and Their Search for Modernity by John Lent describes the station (in 1976) as being "...under the supervision of an independent five-man commission, under the consultation with the prime minister. Actually, however, the prime minister does the appointing of personnel to the Bahamas Broadcasting and Television Comission.  The commission itself is responsible to the minister for internal affairs. ZNS personnel think of the station as neither a public service department nor a public corporation, but something in between it's structures." He goes on to point out that ZNS receives no money from the public treasury... which was not exactly true. But more on that in a bit.

The Bahamas then colonial government launched ZNS as part of the Telegraph Department, just in time for the coronation of Britain’s King George V, on May 12, 1937. (Ham radio was active as early as 1932 ex. VIBAX)  ZNS's first studio location was in the Snappy Hat Shop. By about May of that year they installed a 500 watt transmitter and were broadcasting 2 hours a day. The population of the whole nation of islands was only 66,000. Their programming consisted of BBC news, news from local news papers and a bit of recorded music also from the BBC. Until 1950, ZNS was entirely funded by the government as a non-commercial service. More here.

Their TV service  started in Nassau in 1977, with no specific public charter. Their programming was for entertainment, education, and news. So their aired a mix of everything: music, sitcoms, sports, and dramas. Back then the Bahamanian government argued that it had to protect ZNS from competition and denied "numerous" radio applications to do so. In support of their TV outlet they blocked the deployment of cable television services until 1995! Some of this argument was cultural integrity, similar to Canada's content laws. But there seems a bit more to this.

 In 1992 the BCB tightened up the format to a more CBC, NPR or BBC-like news and public affairs format. But to the ire of Bahamanians, ZNS-TV in particular did little to promote Bahamian culture, but a great deal to promote Bahamian politicians. [I'm paraphrasing pundit Larry Smith there.] LINK ...And by 2006 it was costing the 13 million dollars a year to do so.

Consequently for decades the Bahamanian government and citizens have been at a loss what to do with the network. In 2009, the Bahamanian government slashed its funding by 50%. In 2010 Michael Moss of the BCB proposed they add a cable television fee to fund the station, specifically stating that "Creating a new funding system tied to specific legislated sources of revenue will reinforce ZNS’ autonomy as a public service broadcaster..." the news outlet Bahamas B2B called the plan "crazy" though the BBC is funded similarly.

The Nassau Guardian newspaper asked rhetorically in 2011 if the station should exist at all. [LINK] The URCA (Utilities Regulation & Competition Authority) proposed just days later that the government to put more money into the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas if it is to fulfill its planned public service function. The problem gets lip service from politicians, but little more and the stalemate continues to this day. [LINK]

Monday, October 01, 2018


I first read of Operation Gangplank in the book 40 Watts from Nowhere by Sue Carpenter.  It's a fine book on it's own merits, but it's also an artifact of mid-90s west-coast history of pirate radio. She wrote:
"...Chris and I are brainstorming about how to proceed now that we know the FCC's on to us. KSCR and fifteen other stations in South Florida have been busted in one week as part of an FCC initiative called Operation Gangplank."
I quickly gathered that this was not a colloquialism, or nickname, but an actual federal anti-pirate radio program. In a 1998 Inspector General report the "OIG" described the program. It's along quote, but it's worth reading.
"The [Office of Inspector General], in conducting Field Inspections in 1996, had identified to management that the Commission had not adopted an active posture to stem the proliferation of Pirate broadcasters operating in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §301. This condition was most notable in South Florida. At the invitation of the Chief, Compliance and Information Bureau (CIB), the Assistant Inspector General for Audits (AIGA) participated in Operation Gangplank. Operation Gangplank was a coordinated effort by the CIB and other Federal, State and Local entities to identify and remove non-licensed or “Pirate” broadcasters from the air. During the week of July 27, 1998, Operation Gangplank was successful in removing 15 illegal broadcasters from the air in South Florida and seized illegal broadcast equipment, ranging from homemade transmitting components to professionally manufactured equipment illegally imported from foreign counties."
As you might imagine, Operation Gangplank went over poorly with radio activists. At the time the FCC bragged. FCC Chairman William Kennard called the crackdown "...the most successful, large-scale enforcement action against unlicensed operators to date." The crackdown was actually a series of raids between between July 27-31 on mostly dance and hip-hop stations around Miami. The OIG describes taking down 15 Florida pirates, but does not list which ones. But the FCC did in an August 18th report [HERE] Sadly these omit call letters or names, but understandably that's not how the FCC views them. Also described by the Miami New Times [HERE]. I've added names where possible from the Florida Low Power Radio website [HERE]
  • 88.7 MHz in North Miami - "88 point 7"
  • 89.1 MHz in Miami
  • 90.3 MHz in Homestead
  • 90.9 MHz in Homestead - "Action Radio?"
  • 90.9 MHz in Davie
  • 91.7 MHz in Miami
  • 92.7 MHz in Coconut Grove
  • 94.5 MHz in North Miami
  • 97.7 MHz in Miami - "Hot 97"
  • 95.3 MHz in Miami - "95 Live, or Radio Superstar"
  • 99.5 MHz in Miami - "Radio Five Star"
  • 101.1 MHz in Coconut Grove - "Nation-your all-digital community radio"
  • 104.1 MHz in Miami - "Real FM"
  • 104.7 MHz in Hialeah - "SupaRadio"
  • 107.1 MHz in Miami Beach - "Womb"
Carpenter describes other pirate stations outside of Florida being shut-down as part of Operation Gangplank. Notably in her tale both KSCR, KBLT in Los Angeles, and Radio Limbo in Tucson. Other stations did disappear around that time, Lake Shore Radio in St Clair Shores, MI. This may not be exactly correct, but they and others were definitely targeted under those ramped up enforcement actions.

In April of 1998 Billboard ran an article "FCC Putting Pirates On The Plank" which pointed out that crackdowns were on the rise, but also tellingly, that those stations posed competition for commercial stations. They detailed that the FCC shut down 97 pirates in 1997, and were up to 65 by April of 1998 the rate had literally doubled. Though in the end they completed 118 enforcement actions that year, so in the Spring they ramped up suddenly then, they ramped back down. But why?

In October of 1998 Micro-radio protesters held an event in DuPont circle. Len Bracken described the event in the book The Arch Conspirator.  They marched down Connecticut Avenue, then M Street to the offices of the FCC. The crowd is described as extending half a block back up the avenue. The mixed group and other like it saw pirate radio as civil disobedience, preserving free speech in the face of increasing media consolidation. (Radio Mutiny wrote this letter to the FCC.) The FCC raids made for bad PR. So FCC Chair Kennard came and went, and consolidation continues today unabated. But microradio did get it's day. LPFM 4th adjacent licenses were awarded, hundreds of them. They had hoped for 3rd adjacent, and thousands of them. But it didn't happen. Enforcement actions are actually on the rise since then. The FCC ramped up with a vengeance. They did 153 in 2004, 296 in 2005, 391 in 2006, 406 in 2007, and peaked at 447 in 2010. More here.

Monday, September 24, 2018

A History of Radio Station Bombings

Historically, in the U.S. radio station bombings have been rare. So rare, it was comic fodder in an episode of the TV program WKRP. This is not the case in other nations. Often in the case of war or unrest, media outlets become targets. The U.S. has been very fortunate in this regard. Before I dig into the details I'm going to specify "bombings" as opposed to other attacks for the sake of clarity. The IRA's attacks on Marconi stations are usually described as fires, not bombings and are excluded. Also notably so many radio stations were bombed in WWII I doubt my list is complete. Also excluded are bomb scares, and bomb threats. I am not distinguishing between "terrorist" bombings and wartime bombings or fire bombings. I include bombings of studios, towers or any of their electrical or structural parts. The nuances are too complex to split hairs.

I discovered in the course of this project that KPFT is not the only US radio station to have been bombed, though multiple sources claim that to be the case. A more complete list also includes: WEDR, KMAK, KFWB and WKRL. Most appear to have been racially motivated as was the case with KPFT.

2018 - (9/17) Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Yemen public radio/Hudaydah
2018 - (6/12) Afghan air force bombs Voice of Shariah Radio station
2016 - (10/2) ISIS Radio Station in Al-Bayan Iraq bombed by coalition forces
2015 - (4/29) Tao FM radio in Nigeria bombed
2015 - (5/14) Burundi's RPA radio station bombed
2014 - (7/30) Israeli AF bombs Sawt al-Watan radio station
2013 - (8/7) Building housing Wow FM bombed in the Phillipines
2013 - (3/9) Voice of the People bombed in Zimbabwe
2012 - (5/29) Dunya Radio bombed in Afghanistan
2012 - (10/5) Paraguayan People's Army bombs Radio Guyra Campana
2011 - (4/21) FM 93 Radio Dilbar bombed in Pakistan
2011 - (10/24) Radio Galkayo bombed in Somalia
2011 - (5/24) Nations Radio bombed in India
2011 - (10/23) Radio Galkayo bombed in Somalia
2010 - (8/12) Farc guerrillas bomb Caracol Radio, Columbia

2008 - (10/23) bombing of marine barracks TV & radio in Beirut, Lebanon
2006 - (10/17) Voice of Tigers radio station bombed in Sri Lanka
2005 - (5/6) Voice of Charity radio station bombed in Lebanon.
2002 - (8/28) The Voice of The People (VOP) bombed in Zimbabwe  [LINK]
2002 - (4/21) A bomb detonated near radio station DXMD in the Philippines
2001 - (8/29) Caracol Radio offices in Medellin, Columbia
2000 - (9/19) DXWO radio station bombed in the Philippines
2000 - 12/13) DXMS radio station bombed in the Philippines

1999 - (4/23)  NATO bombed Radio Television of Serbia HQ
1998 - (5/30) DXLL radio journalists bombed in the Philippines
1997 - (?/?) Nigerian jets bomb state-run radio in Sierra Leone
1994 - (4/18) RPA shelled the RTLM station in Rwanda
1993 - (2/26) Truck bombing of WTC takes multiple NYC radio towers

1988 - (8/10) Israeli AF bombs PLO radio station in Lebanon
1986 - (2/25) Radio Veritas bombed by loyalists of Gen. Fabian in Phillipines
1985 - (10/17) Voice of Hope christian radio station bombed in Israel
1983 - (10/25) Radio Free Grenada bombed by US Navy SEALS [LINK]
1981 - (2/22) Radio Free Europe bombed in Munich, Germany
1980 - (2/19) YSAX bombed in El Salvador by guerrillas

1977 - (8/16) FLNC bombs radio relay station in Corsica, France
1973 - (4/20) Radio Grenada fire bombed
1973 - (9/11) CIA-backed Chilean Military forces bomb radio stations
1972 - (12/13) Radio Hanoi bombed in Vietnam
1971 - (5/4) Radio towers of the KMAK bombed in Fresno
1971 - (?/?) Radio North Sea bombed by Norbert Jurgens [LINK]
1971 - (1/21) KPFT bombed by KKK (again)
1970 - (5/12) KPFT bombed by KKK [LINK]

1968 - (2/14) USAAF bombs Radio Hanoi  in Vietnam
1967 - (?/?) WKRL firebombed in Rockland, MD [LINK]
1965 - (5/13) Loyalistas bombed rebel-controlled Radio Santo Domingo
1962 - (8/9)  980 KFWB-AM bombed in Los Angeles
1961 - (7/5) La Paz radio station bombed
1961 - (12/18) - Armed Forces of India bomb Radio station in Goa
1960 - (?/?) WEDR bombed by the KKK (multiple events) [LINK]
1956 - (?/?) Cyprus Broadcasting Service bombed
1955 - (?/?) Agents of Roberto Farinacci bomb Vatican radio station
1955 - (12/8) Japanese military bombs Guam Navy Yard and radio station
1953 - (5/1) USAAF bombs radio station at Pyongyang, North Korea

1948 - (12/19) Radio Station at Yogyakarta, Java bombed by Netherlands AF
1945 - (11/25) British AF bombs Radio Republik Indonesia/ Surakarta
1945 - (8/6) JOFK and the city Hiroshima Japan bombed by US
1945 - (4/30) USAAF bombs bombs radio station at Truk Atoll
1945 - (4/19) USAAAF bombs radio station at Neu-Ulm, Bavaria
1944 - (10/10) USAAF bombs Pagan Island radio station
1944 - (10/4) USAAF bombs Iwo Jima radio station
1944 - (8/8) USAAF bombs radio station in Hallandia New Guinea
1944 - (7/7) USAAF bombs radio station on Woleai, E. Caroline Islands
1944 - (5/19) Bombing radio stations on islands of Maloelap, Jaluit & Wotje Atolls
1944 - (5/24) USAAF bombs radio station on Wotje Island
1944 - (2/28) USAAF bombs radio station in Pintha area Burma
1944 - (2/24) USAAF bombs radio installation on Mille Atoll
1944 - (2/24) USAAF bombs radio station(s) in Burma
1944 - (2/23) USAAF bombs radio station at ManPang, Burma
1944 - (2/18) USAAF bombs radio station at Waingmaw, Burma (again)
1944 - (2/15) USAAF bombs radio station at Waingmaw, Burma
1944 - (2/13) USAAF bombs radio "installations" Kamaing, Burma
1944 - (2/9) USAAF bombs radio station SW of Haiphong, Vietnam
1944 - (2/7) USAAF bombs radio station in Vinh, Vietnam
1944 - (1/18) USAAF bombs radio station on Jaluit Atoll
1943 - (11/11) USAAF bombs radio station at Yoyang, Burma
1943 - (8/31) USAAF bombs radio station at the Solomon Islands

Monday, September 17, 2018

Foreign Media Ownership

Even in today's political climate this makes no goddamned sense. The incumbent regime in the U.S. has been making an effort to limit illegal immigration. (We can discuss their motivations some other time.) They also made changes to visa programs to limit green card workers. We can logically infer that the Tepublican party wants both less legal immigration and less illegal immigration to the USA.  Whether right or wrong that constitutes a vaguely coherent policy position. However at the same time they are lifting foreign media ownership regulations. (...And foreign political donations) So their policy is that foreigners can't come here to live an work, but they can own our media outlets and thereby control both domestic print and broadcast content? This is where bad policy breaks down into incoherence.

Until 2013 the limit on foreign media ownership was just 25%, a minority share.  In November of 2013, the FCC decided to adopt a case-by-case approach, allowing larger shares of ownership. In February of 2017 they formally raised that cap not to 49% or 51%, positions that would indicate tolerance for a bare bare minority or a nominal majority share, but straight to 100%. [More here] If Robert Mugabe wanted to buy a U.S. newspaper... he could do that. Before being replaced by Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler admitted that it’s unclear how many other foreign citizens have a stake in U.S. radio stations. The FCC does not keep a comprehensive accounting of foreign station ownership because stations do not have to disclose some smaller and/or nonvoting interest holders.

In March of 2017 the first foreign media owners in the U.S. were an Australian couple with roots in Alaska. They bought more than two dozen radio stations. Richard and Sharon Burns wholly own Frontier Media and it increased their interest in 29 radio stations in Alaska, Texas and Arkansas from 20 percent to 100 percent. Admittedly they're a quaint couple. Sharon Burns co-hosts a morning show on 105.1 KTKU,  and Richard Burns hosts a show on 1330 KXXJ-AM. More here.

But also as a result of those policies, the Russian government has began moving into U.S. media outlets. Notably in 2014 the Russian Duma has passed a law, reducing the foreign ownership cap for print publications and radio and television outlets from 50% to 20%. It was passed by with a vote of 430-2. With that in mind it's hard to see this as anything other than deliberate media influence. [More here] Their first purchase was a repeater in downtown Washington D.C. W288BS, operating on 105.5 FM. It airs a political talk radio channel called Sputnik. Russian state television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said that Sputnik would continue their tradition of Soviet propaganda to counter “aggressive” pro-American bias of the western media. More here.

So far Radio Sputnik has been focused on the Washington D.C. market in the U.S. They sublease W288BS from Reston Translator, LLC. In November of 2017 they began broadcasting on 1390 WZHF-AM and the Justice Department made the owner of the station, John Garziglia, register as a foreign agent. [More here] The station began as Voice of Russia broadcasting on WTOP-HD2 (103.5-HD2) in about June of 2013. Interestingly WTOP wasn't given the same treatment 5 years ago.

 As you might imagine, the Democrats were not enthralled with this change. Representatives Frank Pallone, Anna Eshoo and Mike Doyle asked FCC chairman Ajit Pai to investigate. A spokesman for Pai declined to comment. But Pai is a completely evil empty suit and that is to be expected.  FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel [D], said: “These are important questions. They deserve answers.” No answers have been forthcoming.  More here.