Monday, July 16, 2018

Listen! Moscow is Speaking!

In The Russian Federation today, Alexander Popov is considered the father of radio and not Marconi. In this bizzarro-world, Popov first tested ship-to-shore communications at a distance of about 6 miles in 1898 and then 30 miles in 1899. (Marconi was privately demonstrating his transmitter as early as 1894). Nonetheless Radio and TV day is celebrated in the Soviet Union on May 7th in honor of Popov.

Consequently other radio first in Russia are also well-remembered. The first concert, the first spoken words on the radio, and the broadcasts of important news. Many of these are within the context of the Russian revolution.  In October of 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government of Russia. [Yes, I know this is a massive oversimplification] At 2:00 AM on November 7th ROSTA (Russian Telegraph Agency) began broadcasting the news for two hours every evening. You can find more about that in the book Russia in the Microphone Age by Stephen Lovell

The Bolsheviks had controlled some stations since July. While Russia was behind the west in wireless development, they had still built 230 stations by 1913 (170 on ships, 60 on land). But that network only began construction in 1910 they began with Moscow, Baku, Irkutsk, Tashkent, and Vladivostok. By 1917 they'd added other smaller cities like Khodynka, Tsarskoe Selo, Nikolaev. Between February and October the Bolsheviks did everything they could to infiltrate the telegraph offices. They were so successful that the central telegraph office was taken the day before the coup. Trotsky was able to broadcast the news of the storming of the Winter Palace before it happened. On November 12th The Council of the People's Commissars broadcast the following message in Morse code:
"The All-Russian Congress of Soviets has formed a new Soviet Government. The Government of Kerensky has been overthrown and arrested. Kerensky himself has fled. All official institutions are in the hands of the Soviet Government."
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (aka Lenin) knew full well that a large proportion of the Russian population was illiterate. He saw radio as the ideal way to reach them not just for propaganda purposes, but for general health information, education and news. On July 19th, 1918 he transferred the control of broadcasting from the military to civil administration. He established the Nizhny Novgorod Radio Laboratory under a brilliant engineer named Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bonch-Bruevich.

Bonch-Bruevich had graduated from Nikolaevsky Engineering School in St. Petersburg in 1909, then Imperial Institute of Electrical Engineering and the Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute. He earned the equivalent of a Phd in 1914.  Anyway back at the Nizhny Radio Lab he developed a 40,000 watt, water-cooled tube that he used to build Komintern Radio in Moscow. He went on to build 27 more radio stations across Russia. (He later did much work in the development of radar) In 1921 the first regular voice broadcasts began in Russia, the new program was called the “Spoken Newspaper of the Russian Telegraph Agency.” You can read more on that topic in the book War of the Black Heavens by Michael Nelson.

While test broadcasts in 1922 went on for months, the regular programs were inaugurated with a concert on Sept. 17 the first radio concert was held directly from the experimental  Radio Station RV-1 on Shabolovka Street, operating at 12,000 watts. On this day, the Soviets heard for the first time the famous words, "Listen! Moscow is speaking!" It could be heard in Moscow, Vologda, Saratov, Samara and altogether some 60 other cities due to the work of Bonch-Bruevich. More here and  here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

WEEU Feedback Journal

This is a particularly unusual piece of radio ephemera from 850 WEEU-AM. Most book sellers list it as trade paperback size; this is a little misleading. Most trade paperbacks are 9" x 6"  mass market paperbacks are "6.75”  x 4.25 wide. These are 8.5" x 5.5" which is exactly the size of the Farmer's Almanac which they are designed to emulate. Various covers include clip art from the 1800s, hex signs, farm animals, and rustic fonts. The 200 and 2001 issues switch to black & white photography; one notably of a man fishing. The 1996 and 1995 issues describes it this way:
"A compendium of facts, fun, recipes, remedies, puzzles and pronouncements as culled from the popular talk show Feedback and radio station WEEU in Reading PA."
I have found images of issues from 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2001. Booksellers and worldcat  list all of those and also the 1998 issue. A single sketchy website, lists the 2000 issue. Altogether there appear to have been seven issues.

The journal was the work of the host of Feedback, Jack Holcomb. The 2995 issue at least was edited by Charles J. Adams III, who was a also connected to WEEU, and a published author in his own right [LINK].  Mike Faust hosts the program today [LINK]. The program has changed with time of course. Today's topics include: politics, national and state news, and local events... but he hasn't entirely gotten away from gardening, home-remedies, and the melee that is every call-in radio talk show. When Holcomb passed the baton to Faust, WEEU stopped printing the publication.

Holcomb started out as a wee little Ithaca College graduate on WEEU working a 4:00 PM to Midnight shit in October of 1956. He played music and delivered the the news. After 44 years on WEEU, Jack Holcom retired to a quiet corner, Saturdays 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM with a talk show about bird-watching. The show isn't exactly new. Jack has hosted it for decades. Back in the day it broadcast from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM, Monday thru Friday. From 1965 to 1972 the program was called "The WEEU, Birdwatching Society", then he re-named it simply "Birdtalk."  The modern incarnation is called "Jack’s Backyard".

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The RADEX Call-o-Gram

In the 1930s Radio Index began a bi-monthly series of radio-themed crossword puzzles they branded a "Call-o-Gram."  Instead of the NY Times full array of topics and categories, they focused on call letters (of course) but also technical minutia, past and present station lore, across both the AM and Shortwave bands. Radio Index published puzzles of various kinds in different issues but the Call-o-Gram only lasted for a few issued in 1937 and 1938. I am assuming the series was discontinued because the questions were more arcane than this blog.

106 FEB 1937  Eldon Covert
107   MAR 1937  (Solution)
108 APR 1937 -none- 
109 MAY 1937     Raymond C. Corbett
110  JUN 1937 (Solution)
111  SEP 1937 -none-
112  OCT 1937 Lloyd J. French
113  NOV 1937 (Solution)
114  DEC 1937 Edward Ayvazian
115  JAN 1938 (solution) 

I recognize none of the names, but some of them became life-long radio men. Edward Ayvazian (WF314) was the editor of a zine in 1938 called The Radio Listener. [SOURCE] The Radio Listener was basically a list of foreign Long wave and Medium wave stations. He "published" it in 1938 and 1939. He also reported QSL data to All Wave Radio Magazine the same year. 

Raymond C. Corbett was based on Sacramento, CA. He wrote in to Radio Index as early as March of 1935 to report his DX. He was receiving stations up to 2,00 miles away, even some from Australia and Japan. 

Lloyd J. French is probably the same fellow in West Hartford, CT who was a member of The Pioneer Days, a radio club who published a zine. from 1966 through 1982. [SOURCE] He also wrote in to the same DX section of Radio Index as early as November of 1934. He described, among other things, his reception of pre-WWII French radio broadcasts. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

DeHaan's Radio Bible Class

I have a soft spot for the old medicine-show quack radio preachers and Dr. Martin Ralph DeHaan was one old fashioned, hard-drinking, radio preacher. After graduating from seminary in 1925, DeHaan took his first pastorate at Calvary Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, where he attracted large audiences both at the church and on radio. He broadcast live for the first time on 1310 WEXL-AM on September 4th 1938. Even at 50 watts, it reached from the suburb of Royal Oak into the city proper of Detroit.

Dr. DeHaan was not a healthy specimen. Born in 1891, he became a doctor after graduating from the University of Illinois in Chicago. In 1921 he had a severe allergic reaction to some medication (probably morphine) which set off his religious conversion and he became an evangelical. He then attended Western Theological Seminary. He earned his doctorate, but the stress set off two heart attacks. Yes, two, and there were more to follow.
He suffered his first heart attack at the age of 45 in 1936 and another in 1938. It was only after his recovery that he began teaching bible classes. He also began broadcasting a half-hour program on the radio. This is where his biographies get hazy. Some lazily describe it as a Detroit radio station. This is clearly WEXL in Royal Oak. But many claim he moved to another "Radio Bible College" by 1941, in Grand Rapids. This appears to have been the physical location of his "school", and not a radio station. Though it may have had a recording studio.

DeHaan's "Detroit Bible Class" broadcasts originated at WEXL, which in 1938 was on 1310 (Today on 1340 as WCHB). At the time it shared the frequency with WBEO in Marquette, and WFDF in Flint. WEXL was founded either in 1924 or 1926 depending on sources as WAGM. It operated out of the A.G. Miller Furniture and Radio Shop.  In 1929 they sold the station to Rev. Jacob B. Spark who changed the callsign to WEXL in 1931. (It later became a country music station of note in the 1960s.)  But more important to DeHaan, Mutual Broadcasting picked up and renamed it as the "Radio Bible Class" program in 1941, and ABC networks followed. The program later originated at CKLW in Windsor. His half hour program was carried on 500 stations at it's peak.

DeHaan's sermons were out there. As a premillennialist, he believed that Jesus was coming back imminently (i.e. before the year 2000) and kicking off the end of days. He also spent a fair time ranting about the Russians and nuclear weapons visa-vi the book of revelations. Perhaps that fixation was also stressful for him. In 1946 he had a heart attack on air. It was around that time that his son Dr. Richard DeHaan took on more responsibilities running the program. M.R died in 1965. Nonetheless the elder DeHaan wrote some 25 books in his lifetime. His grandson Mart DeHaan took over in 1985, and runs the organization today.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Radio Hauraki

Radio Hauraki is named for the Hauraki Gulf, a bay protected by a 50-mile long peninsula in New Zealand.  As a pirate radio station, Radio Hauraki broadcast on 1480 in that bay from aboard the Tiri. The boat was built in 1931 by G.T. Nicol of Auckland, NZ. It was 101 feet long and weighed 169 tons and was probably not still seaworthy when they first broadcast in 1965. Nonetheless they were the first pirate radio station to broadcast from a ship in the whole southern hemisphere. More here and here.

That seaworthiness thing was a sticking point. We will get back to that. In 1965, David Gapes, a journalist writing for the NZ Truth. In that era, New Zealand only had government -owned broadcasters. But Gapes had lived in Australia, which had both private and public radio. Inspired by what he heard, he wanted nothing short of an end to the monopoly of the BCNZ (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation). He and fellow journalist Bruce Baskett quit their jobs to start Radio Hauraki. They recruited Denis O'Callahan as a radio engineer then struck lucky and encountered BCNZ announcer Chris Parkinson, and BCNZ stffer Derek Lowe who were also planning an offshore pirate radio project. More here. (Another pirate, Radio Maverick aka Radio Ventura may have test broadcast around this time)

In 1966 things got moving. They selected 1480-AM because it was isolated on the dial; far from most NZBC frequencies and the receivable Australian broadcasters.The plan was to start broadcasting at 11:00 AM October 1st, 1966. On September 16th the Tiri MV set sail. The boat was detained within a day. So began the battle of the Tiri.

On October 23rd the Hauraki crew decided to set sail anyway. Jim Frankham, the head of the freight company A.J. Frankham arranged for them to buy a 35 year old, neglected, wooden boat with structural problems, named the Tiri. It was a bargain at $6,000 on a 5-year plan. If they could make it to international waters, they would be free to operate outside the reach of NZ law. With advice from more experienced mariners, they would head for an anchorage between Great and Little Barrier Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula. But the NZ marine department declared the ship unsafe to proceed to sea without serious danger to human life. The crew decided to sneak out to sea on September 22nd.  More here.

The authorities closed the drawbridge in an attempt to trap the Tiri . David Gapes and Peter Telling went ashore and sat under the giant jaws of the bridge mechanism to force them to keep it open.A crowd had gathered and they roared in approval.  But the Tiri was stuck in the mud of the western viaduct by the bridge. A line was passed to the crowd and some 200 supporters pulled. The Tiri was set free and began to sail but was being trailed by a police boat.  The police boarded the boat, and stopped the Tiri again by pulling the fuel line.  The Hauraki crew were subsequently arrested. They were variously charged with obstructing Marine Department inspectors, and defying the detention order, disorderly behavior and obscene language. More here.

The crew was bailed out of jail. Their hearing was scheduled for October 26th. Over 2,000 Radio Hauraki supporters jammed the Auckland Town Hall. In a surprising move, the judge found that the Tiri had been detained improperly for it's intent to broadcast illegally, not because the ship was unsafe. The crew was free to go. The Hauraki cast off again and on Monday, November 21st, 1966 Radio Hauraki’s first weak transmissions reached rock n' roll fans on shore.  They survived on generous donations from fans while they struggled to keep their equipment working. But struggle they did. More here. It took years, but in 1970 the NZ government relented and began allowing private broadcasters to obtain licences. By June Radio Hauraki was broadcasting from on land, as they continue to do today.

For the full story of the pirate beginnings of Radio Hauraki, I recommend Adrian Blackburn's book The Shoestring Pirates