Monday, January 23, 2017

The Zombie Satillite

This has the makings of a fine Sci-fi novel. Between 1965 and 1976 the USAF sponsored the design, construction and launch of a series of satellites built by Lincoln Laboratory at MIT.  The Lincoln Laboratory was not new. IT was founded in 1951 as a federally funded research lab focused on improving America's air defense system. It was only later they moved into space surveillance.

They built a series of satellites all named "Lincoln Experimental Satellite" and numbered sequentially, LES1 through LES9. Not all of them ended well. LES-7 ran out of funding and was cancelled. LES1 and LES2 both had booster failures and ended up accidentally in circular orbits. LES3 and LES4 also had launch problems and failed to end up in geostationary orbit.  But LES5, 6, 8 and 9 all ended up in the correct orbits. LES8 and LES9 actually operated until 1992 in the 36–38 GHz part of the K band. The Lincoln Lab had moved onto other projects.. that seemed to be the end until 2013.

LES1 was launched in 1965, and abandoned in 1967, assumed to simply be space junk. In February of 2013, Amateur Radio enthusiast, Phil Williams G3YPQ, from North Cornwall, UK, detected signals from LES1. The signal had a cyclical fading that was determined to be caused by it's rotating (tumbling) every 4 seconds.  It causes the voltage from the solar panels to fluctuate.

The theory is that the batteries onboard LES1 have failed in a manner that allows them to carry charge directly through to the single X-band transponder and an 8-horn electronically switched antenna on on 237 MHz.  But after 46 years the batteries have almost certainly disintegrated... so is the current flowing directly from the solar panels to the transponder? More here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Sacred 5 on WLBJ

1410 WLBJ-AM was the first commercial radio station in Bowling Green, Kentucky, signing-on in June, 1940. In its early days, the station's studios were located in downtown Bowling Green and would later relocate both the studios and transmitter to its final location of 689 Scott Lane, now known as Indian Ridge Subdivision, adjacent to the Indian Hills Country Club. WLBJ-AM permanently signed off the air in 1993.

The Sacred 5 were a Bowling Green, KY based singing group in the 1930s and 1940s. I identified one member because his family listed his membership in his obituary:  Rev David Carroll Akins, Sr. (He also helped to set up WEEN-AM Radio Station in Lafayette TN.) The above song book named C.E. DeWeese as a publisher... but he was also a member. The line up of the group changed over time but included: Ed White, Duncan Houchin,  Stanley Sexton on bass and Albert Hunt on piano. Auburn Roller Mills sponsored their program on WLBJ.

An early incarnation included a totally different line up: Clarence Kirby, Harold West, Ernest Marion and Mildred Walthall. It was unusual to have a mixed-gender singing group. The book Singing The Glory Down noted only four such groups in that era: The Thompson Quartet, the Crusaders, the Farris Family of Science Hill and the Sacred 5. At the time Margaret Davis was their pianist. Willard Cockrill replaced Kirby in 1938 and buy 1941 it was an all-male troupe.

As the post card above shows, they also sang on 930 WKCT-AM, also in Bowling Green, KY. They signed on October 1st, 1947 as Bowling Green's second commercial radio station. They were initially an ABC affiliate.  The Scared 5 crossed the street that first year and won a new sponsorship with National Farm Stores. They broadcast daily at 6:00 AM on weekdays and 9:00 on Sundays. In 1949 the group broke up. DeWeese took a job teaching music. Sexton joined the Kentucky Harmoneers, and White and Houchins later founded the Southern Harmony Boys.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


I discovered KCHUNG radio in of (all places), the Los Angeles Review of Books newsletter. They plugged an art showing of Keith Rocka Knittel. Apparently he holds an MFA from CalArts, and also hosts the Everything Must Go! radio show on KCHUNG. The radio station broadcasts on 1630 AM in Los Angeles. More here.

Their Part 15 status limits them to 15 watts on the AM band. This lets them squeeze into a limited but valuable slice of the Los Angeles radio band. They are on the same frequency as KLSD-AM in San Diego, and only 10khz away from KWRM-AM in Corona. But these stations are 120 and 50 miles away respectively. So in the daytime I'd except no trouble. KLSD powers down to 1000 watts at night, but KWRM only powers down to 2,500 watts so I'd expect a bit of interference there. KTDD-AM in San Bernardino is about 60 miles out and powers down to 600 watts at night and is 10 khz away so they too should be no issue either.

KCHUNG Radio was started by Mountain School of Arts student Solomon Bothwell in March of 2011. Their primary point of  presence beyond the radio band is their website which was created by Harsh Patel, and Luke Fishbeck. It's sole studio sits above a Pho 87, a restaurant In Chinatown. Though in 2013 it did broadcast for three-months as part of a "residency" at the Hammer Museum . A KCET-TV  Channel 28 interview he was described as follows:

"...Solomon Bothwell is here. He is tall, slight, and deceptively confident. He started KChung and the rest came into place, five nights a week, with 25 distinct shows of scheduled air-time, between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight."

They further described the KCHUNG staff as "Los Angeles' bohemians." Just a reminder, bohemians aren't lepers. They are people who have informal and unconventional social habits, especially artists and writers. During that interview The Faraday Trippers were performing live. Their themin-based shoegaze experiment certainly fits that bill. The staff has expanded to some 100 DJs and a long waiting list. More here, here and here.

Monday, December 26, 2016

BBC Christmas Ghost Stories

It seems like an odd mix: the Christmas holiday and ghost stories. In America the holiday is awash in cloying animated cartoons and schmaltzy family-friendly movies. Our classic films are somehow even more cloying and schmaltzy despite the black and white format... But the British has had ghost stories in the Christmas radio broadcasts since at least 1923. [LINK]

But for decades in the UK, Christopher Lee sat there in front of a roaring fire reading the bone-chilling stories of  Montague R. James. [LINK] It all aired originally in the 1970s but continues to be re-run for the holidays. So here this British tradition seems incongruous. Perhaps it's those pagan Saturnalia origins of Christmas. More here. But on a website dedicated to James, they even notes:

 "Many of M.R. James's ghost stories were written to be read aloud as Christmas Eve entertainment to select gatherings of friends at Cambridge.

So those M.R. James short stories, written largely before 1920... were intended for Christmas. Then there is A Christmas Carol, published in 1843 Perhaps this dates back quite a ways. "A Ghost Story for Christmas" is a strand of annual British short television films originally broadcast on BBC One between 1971 and 1978, and revived in 2005 on BBC Four. 

BBC Radio Scotland has separately aired Ghost Stories At Christmas. Alison Moore's ghost stories have been published in Best British Short Stories anthologies and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. [LINK] The New Stateman referred to all this gothic hubub as "Perfect for Brexit Christmas."

In 2016 they failed to air James, or Moore and the Express Newspaper wrote up a comment "Haunted Christmas: Bring back the tradition of Christmas ghost stories" Radio Editor Jane Anderson once wrote it’s not a proper Christmas without a ghost story. She was praising the program Between the Ears: The Shepherd which aired Christmas Eve at 9.15 PM on BBC Radio 3 in 2013. The Washington Post even commented on this cultural difference in 2014. [LINK] Derek Johnson pointed out Dickens again:
"Dickens was a strong supporter of the Christmas ghost story, reminiscing in his 1850 essay A Christmas Tree about childhood Christmases spent 'telling Winter Stories – Ghost Stories, or more shame for us – round the Christmas fire.' Dickens also encouraged other writers to produce Christmas ghost stories for the annual festive editions of his magazines Household Words and All the Year Round."

Johnson supposes that the split relates to Guy Fawkes Day. Halloween in England was never extensively celebrated and was supplanted by Guy Fawkes Night in the early 17th century. So in England the ghost stories remained connected to Xmas, and elsewhere in the Western world, they moved to Halloween.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

News and Reviews 2016

We are now in year 12, and if you hadn't noticed... things have changed.  This blog began in April of 2005. From the middle of that month until early March of this year I blogged 5 days a week. Then there was the great sabbatical of 2016. Suffice it to say, other projects have been monopolizing my time. I still remain fascinated by radio history; so the writing will continue slightly abated.
 (You can see previous years lists at the links below)

2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008
2007 2006 2005

Best Posts:
I wrote about... unknown Polka DJ Bill BeDilion, the phenomena of Somali radio in Minnesota, a briefly famous silver brick, The short-lived CBGB radio show, DJ and multiple-felon Rayon Payne, and radio performer Raymond Robert Myers. I interviewed author K.E. Edwards. I described early broadcasting in Jamaica. I parsed a completely arcane radio reference in Fahrenheit 451, and wrote up everyone's favorite Naval Air station NAR. I also posed two different black radio firsts... Earl Fatha Hines, and Ethel Waters. [Unfortunately it's the same first and only one of them can be right.]

Most Popular Posts:
My most popular post since 2009 has been a post about Peter Tripp. Thank you Reddit. It was re-blogged by many others and remains an aberration in my web-traffic with 90k+ hits.  My 2007 post on the Career Academy of Famous Broadcasters continues to earn comments from it's legion of former students. 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 that post remains quite popular.

Best Radio Show: 
I listen to less terrestrial radio than I used to.  I find myself in a popular movement. TV viewers and Radio listeners are moving away from "channels" and toward content providers. People are ultimately loyal to content and platform agnostic. Baseball fans will follow their team to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or that expensive expanded sports package at Comcast. So to that end, my favorite programs right now are actually Podcasts. My two are Actually Happening, and Grapple out of WHYY.

Best Zine: 
My zine of the year is the Summer 2016 issue of Comestible. This issues is about focused on where some of our favorite foods come from. Written by Anna Brones, you can hardly tell it's the handy work of subversive foodies. Her latest work The Revolution Must Be Fed, ships in January 2017.

Best Record Store of 2016:
This year it was definitely Records - the Good Kind in Manchester, CT. They have a nice big selection of classic vinyl, and a surprisingly good jazz CD section. I was blowing thru town on a road trip and also hit Tumbleweeds in Niantic, I also hit Oliver's Music Shop in Danielson, CT on the same trip. Oliver's was the weirdest by far, but my biggest haul was at Records the Good Kind. I also hit Willimantic Records... because you should never skip that store.

Top 10 Records of 2014    

1. Octagrape - Aura Obelisk
2. Melvins - Basses Loaded
3. Jars - Kotobus
4. Qui - How To Get Ideas
5. Candiria - While They Were Sleeping
6. Pink Wash - Collective Sigh
7. Car Bomb - Meta
8. Bleak - No light, No Tunnel
9. Norma Jean - Polar Similar
10. Sky:Lark - LP2

Honorable Mentions go out this year to: My Disco - Severe Remixes, Violent Mae - Kid, Black Table - Obelisk, Child Bite - Negative Noise, Every Time I Die - Low Teens, Russian Circles - Guidance, Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation, Voivod- Post Society, Gorguts - Pleiades' Dust, and Dysrhythmia - The Veil Of Control, Greys - Outer Heaven, Black Crown Initiate - Selves We Cannot Forgive