Monday, March 19, 2018

Maximum Rock 'N' Roll Radio

Maximum Rock 'N' Roll, whether you consider it a 'zine, fanzine or a magazine is a cultural tour-de-force of punk rock. What many readers do not know is that the publication has strong roots in radio. (Maximum Rock 'N' Roll shall heretofore be referred to as MRR for the sake of space.)  The infamous magazine MRR was founded in 1982, but the now obscure MRR radio program, began in 1977. It's host was Tim Yohannan, also known as Tim Yo. More here.  It's worth noting that Tim was kind of a dick. Even Wikipedia which is typically loath to use personal adjectives, describes him as "notoriously difficult" and "divisive" with the same understated subtext one might use to describe Ginger Baker. But colorful and abrasive personalities are not unusual in either publishing or in broadcasting.
Maximum Rock 'N' Roll aired on 94.1 KPFA,  on Sundays at Midnight, moving to Tuesdays 8:00 - 10:00 PM in June of 1979. In 1977 it was one of only a few punk rock radio radio programs in America, if not the world. The use of the word "punk" to describe the musical genre only began in the early 1970s. The earliest contextually musical use of the word I am aware of is from Lester Bangs. , In the December 1970 issue of Creem, Lester Bangs, ironically referred to Iggy Pop as "that Stooge punk". Writer Dave Marsh, also of Creem used it similarly in 1971. Alan Vega of the band Suicide, credits Bang's usage with inspiring his duo to bill its gigs as a "punk mass." From there it permeated pop culture. In this context it makes a lot of sense that early flyers refer to Urban Blues, Soul, Surf or Rockabilly as much as rocknroll. [SOURCE] The punk rock of the era is now often categorized as protopunk. The MRR website today describes the program:
“Maximum Rock & Roll” started in 1977 as a punk rock radio show—one of the first and best of all time. “Tim and the gang” played the latest punk and hardcore sounds from across the world, the U.S., and from their home in the bristling San Francisco Bay Area punk scene. “The gang” included personalities like Jeff Bale, Ruth Schwartz, and Jello Biafra. Punk antiheroes regularly visited as guest DJs, and the roster of touring bands interviewed on the show reads like the track list on a classic old comp. The show was notable for the immediacy of the music, a dedication to international coverage (rare at the time), and for explicitly interjecting progressive politics into the dialogue of punk. The show became hugely successful in the underground, and eventually was broadcast from stations across the U.S. and abroad."
There are surviving tapes from as early as 1980 posted online. But on one tape from a show aired in January 1987, Tim plays a segment from an MRR tape recorded in 1978. It's also worth noting that as part of fundraising drive, KPFA sponsored themed programming days. On March 7, 1981 the theme was "Punk Day" this was more or less MRR day.
1978 ad from Search & Destroy Magazine
But Tim Yo didn't host the Maximum Rock 'N' Roll radio show alone. There were three regular faces in on that show. Among them, Ruth Schwartz is notable for having her own radio program, she was a DJ at KALX then started hosting Harmful Emissions at 90.3 KUSF in 1980. In a 2012 interview, she describes meeting Tim.
"I had never met Tim Yohannan. I knew of him, but I don’t think I had met him until he walked into the KUSF studio one night to meet me. He walked in and said, “Do you want to be on our radio program?” ...That’s how I met him."
At the MRR radio program Ruth handled board ops and edited 1/4 tape with an Xacto knife for broadcast, duplication and distribution. Yes, Ruth is how MRR got distributed around the world. (She went on to found Mordam distribution.)  The original MRR program was cancelled in 1990 despite the fact that Ruth was manually syndicating to 20-30 stations. According to Alan O'Coconner, author of Punk Record Labels and the Struggle for Autonomy, (2008) Pacifica was trying to reach more upscale listener-supporters.

It may have been a coincidence, but when Tim died in 1998, at the urging of Tim Munson, MRR magazine themed the next issue (June issue 181) as their Pirate Radio issue. They did interviews and articles about pirate stations like 91.3 Radio Mutiny (WPPR), 90.9 Rebel Radio, 94.7 Radio Free Gainesville, 99.7 Black Liberation Radio, Radio Free Berkeley, Beat Radio, Radio Cairo, 104.7 WZVU, 88.9 KAW, Free Radio Memphis, 105.5 WDOA, Radio Free Alston, Micro Kind Radio, 107.9 KCMG, 97.7 WSKR, Lutz Community Radio, 88.7 Steal This Radio and many others.
MRR relaunched the program around 2002 in a podcast like format. It remains a fine purveyor of punk rock, but is no longer affiliated with KPFA.

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Golden Mike Awards

The Golden Mic Awards are not Google-friendly, the search results are really disambiguation-city. Today one set of Golden Mic awards are given out at the Latin Music Awards in 2015, and another unrelated set of Golden Mics are awarded by MediaCorp in Singapore. The Broadcasters Foundation of America (BOFA) awards their Golden Mics to industry leaders at at annual gala as well. RTNA gave out Golden Mike awards just last year. The New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters (NHAB) did golden mic awards starting in at least 1993 and through about 2010.  The National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) did the same in the early 1990s.   McCalls Magazine was the first publication to use the term, and they started decades ago. I'm surprised they don't get a license fee for use of the name.

The earliest Golden Mic awards were actually "Mike" awards given out by McCall's Magazine starting in 1951, in cooperation with the American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT). All the modern Golden Mics are popularity contests. But McCalls Golden Mike awards had nothing to do with ratings. They granted their awards only to women, and based exclusively on civic engagement, community service, charity, health and safety. Their judges were commissioners of education, presidents of women's clubs, senators, publishers with a refreshing lack of guys from the marketing department. For the 11th annual awards McCalls published this great quote:
"Mccalls is proud to honor the achievements of Mrs Stevenson and her fellow winners, who are actively proving that mediocrity, vapidity, and dull daily dialing are not inevitable on the broadcast  channels of our nation."
The last year the awards were given out by McCalls was in 1965.  I have a 1959 issue of Broadcasting magazine that lists the 8th annual winners. I list those below with those if the first awards in 1951.
  • Patti Cavin - WRC Washington, DC
  • Ellen Stoutenberg - WIP Philadelphia, PA
  • Susie Strother - WJLB Detroit, MI
  • Mercer Livermore - WKKO Cocoa, FL
  • Marge Miner - KFEQ-TV St. Joseph,  MO
  • Sophie Altman - WRC-TV Washington, DC
The winners in 1962 were as follows:
  • Rachel Waples Stevenson - WTTW Chicago, IL
  • Joyce Marron - KGGM-TV, KABC-TV, KNME-TV Los Angeles, CA
  • Valena Minor Williams - WABQ Cleveland, OH
  • Nancy Clark - KTVB-TV Boise, ID
  • Kitty Broman - WWLP Springfield, MA
With thanks to the Library of the University of Maryland who posted a list from the very first Golden Mike awards in 1951. Those winners were as follows:
  • Elizabeth E. Marshall - WBEZ & WIND, Chicago, IL
  • Kit Fox - WLW Cincinnati, OH
  • Mary St. Clara - WKBB Dubuque, IA
  • Edythe J. Messerand - WOR New York, NY
  • Bee Baxter - KSOO Sioux Falls, SD
  • Helen Faith Keane - WABD-TV New York, NY
  • Dorothy Gordon - WQXR New York, NY
I have begun a list of all the awardees, this includes all of the above and all my partial information for other years. Click HERE for more.

Monday, February 12, 2018

DJ Frederick McKinley Jones

The first African American to build a radio station was Frederick McKinley Jones. He hailed from the small town of Hallock, MN. How small?  The population was 981 at the 2010 census. It's population probably peaked around 1960; the census that year put the population at 1,552. It's so far into north west Minnesota that it touches both Canada and North Dakota. The movie Fargo was filmed there. So it is unclear why Jones, a man born in Cincinnati would move over 1,000 miles arriving next door to nowhere. More here.

Most biographies of Jones point out that he was orphaned at age nine, and had little formal education. The details are a little uglier. He was born in 1893 to a white father and black mother. His mother deserted him, and at the age of 7 he was sent to live with a priest in Kentucky. His father died when he was nine. At the age of 11 he ran away and went back to Cincinnati and worked odd jobs. He turned out to be a mechanical genius, and became foreman of an auto-shop. In 1912, he landed in Hallock, Minnesota where he obtained a job as a farm mechanic. He was 19.

After serving in the army during World War I, he returned to Hallock, MN and this is where his career intersects with radio. Every biography mentions that he became interested in radio and built the first radio station transmitter in Hallock. Today there are zero radio station in Hallock. The nearest audible station is 950 CFAM-AM; 50 miles away in Altona, Manitoba, Canada. The closest US station is 1340 KXPO-AM in Grafton, ND. It might be audible when the weather is just right... So what station was this? The book The Entrepreneurial Spirit of African American Inventors by Patricia Carter Sluby adds a little detail.

"He began to invent things such as an improved microphone, called a 'condenser type' and fiddled with wireless transmitters. Jones and a friend built a powerful 500-watt radio station that aired short programs three days a week."
Unfortunately, Sluby doesn't name the call letters. But if you browse through old radio guides there was only one radio station in Hallock: KGFK. In 1929 the Radio Service Bulletin lists it as owned by R. W. Lautzenheiser and O. R. Mitchell. The frequency was 1340 kc operating at 50 watts. Earlier sources list the station as owned by Kittson County Enterprise the frequency as 1200. By June of 1930 the station changed hands and moved to Moorehead, MN, licensed to Red River Broadcasting and moved to 1500 kc at 200 watts.

So if we follow the timeline, Jones founded the station sometime after WWI. By the mid 1920s it was owned by Kittson County Enterprise newspaper publisher. By 1928 it was in the hands of  R. W. Lautzenheiser and O. R. Mitchell. But in March of 1929 Radio world lists the partners as O. R. Mitchell, J.E. Bouvette, and N.L. Cotter. Regardless the partners sold the station to Red River who took the license to Morehead. White's radio guide lists it operating in the Fall of 1927, But it's also in the CKLC Radio log in an undated edition that is believe to be from 1926.

In 1934 Red River began the process to move KGFK from Moorhead to Duluth. Despite a legal challenge they succeeded. [SOURCE] The FCC decided that the primary service from WEBC was adequate and granted the move in 1936. Red River already got a CP for KDAL-AM in 1937 which also in Duluth on 1490 which may be why it moved to 610 in 1941. Or it may be that they are the same station. The Federal Communications Bar Journal of 1938 clearly notes:
"In December of 1933, the majority stockholders in the Red River Broadcasting Company entered into a contract with Dalton A. LeMasurier and Charles LeMasurier. The contract provided that the licensee of KDAL (formerly KGFK) would apply to the Comission..."
A 1940 FCC report further notes:
"The application for the removal of Station KGFK from Moore- head to Duluth was originally granted without a hearing by the Federal Radio Commission on January 30, 1934... Thereafter the application was heard and this Commission, by its decision adopted February 26, 1935, 1 F. C. C. 215, granted a permit to construct the station at Duluth... When the station was constructed at Duluth, Minnesota, its call letters were changed from KGFK to KDAL."
This confirms that the first radio station built by the first black radio engineer is still on air in Duluth today as KDAL. It is unclear why their official history omits this. Today the old KGFK call letters live in nearby Grand Forks; though it's a different station. They began broadcasting in 1959 under the call sign KRAD. Jones went on to co-found Thermo-King, and consult for the U.S. Department of Defense. He died in 1961, and was posthumously awarded the the National Medal of Technology in 1991.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Maximum Louie Louie

This was an event unparalleled in the history of college radio. There are radio stunts that garner a bit of attention for a radio station. This stunt is recorded in no fewer than half a dozen books and innumerable websites. This stunt eventually led to a recurring parade... this stunt outdid all other radio stunts and thus became a historical event unto itself. It was called Maximum Louie Louie.

The setting was an infamous college radio station, 89.7 KFJC in Los Altos, CA, on the campus of Foothills College. It's only a 110 watt station but it blankets downtown San Jose, CA which gives them a reach of about 1 million people. The station was founded in 1959, when Foothills was just a Junior college giving name to the JC following the KF. Originally a 10 watt station on 88.5, the station moved to 89.7 in 1961, before the station ever aired rock n' roll music. They went stereo in 1974 and then increased power to 110 watts in 1980. (Note: some sources put them at 250 watts.)  All this was prelude to the big event.

On August 19, 1983, at 6:00 PM , the station aired 823 different versions of the song Louie Louie consecutively. The event is referred to as Maximum Louie Louie. The idea originated with two student members of KFJCJeff "Stretch" Riedle and Phil Dirt aka Frank Luft with encouragement from SM Robert "Doc" Pelzel. How this event came to be, and all of it's unintended consequences are two different stories:

The idea originated with two student members of KFJC, Jeff "Stretch" Riedle and Phil Dirt aka Frank Luft. In an inspired moment back in 1981, Stretch tore through the KFJC library and found 33 versions of Louie Louie and aired them consecutively. It took about 90 minutes. Coincidentally KALX held a completed a listener survey and determined that their all time favorite rock song was Louie Louie. A DJ there, Mel Cheplowitz used the KFJC song list and added 17 more versions and aired a  50-song all Louie Louie power block in December of 1981. Riedle responded with an 88-version special in the Summer of 1982. Cheplowitz raised the stakes and broadcast a "Lou-A-Thon" in December of 1982 that included 100 different versions. (some sources say 200) Local press started to comment on this musical escalation. Cheplowitz said he was done, but Riedle told the San Francisco Examiner " We started this thing, and we intend to end it." It sounded almost like a threat. More here.

The station began soliciting versions of Louie Louie. They planned to broadcast live versions by local bands every two hours. Jack Ely, the original Kingmen's vocalist flew down from Oregon. The original songwriter Richard Berry took a train up from Los Angeles. Riedle would tilt this windmill and kick it's ass. Local press began to guess how many versions KFJC might pull together... 200?  400?. All told it was 63 consecutive hours of programming. Los Altos was never the same again.

So how many versions were really broadcast, and by which artists? Riedle taped the event. But 24 years later, despite the numerous aircheck sheets, some versions remain unidentified even today. [SOURCE] In honor of the event, Rhino Records released RNEP605, a "Best of Louie Louie" compilation. It's only 10 tracks, but that LP made it into the hands of a very special DJ in Philadelphia.

On the East coast, 2,900 miles away a WMMR DJ named John DeBella, regaled his listeners with the true tale of Maximum Louie Louie. Inspired, he decided that Philadelphia needed a Louie Louie Parade. Thousands of people came. On April 1st, 1985 it happened. They did it again in 1986, and 1987 until the City itself started to complain about the costs. But by then it had spread, Louie Louie parades had been held in multiple cities... as of 2017, Peoria, IL has been doing it annually for 30 straight years. So that parade has outlived the LouieFest, held yearly in Tacoma, WA from 2003 to 2012.

But 30 years is a long time. Jack Ely died in 2015, and Richard Berry back in 1997. Stretch Riedle is still with us but has not been terribly healthy of late. But in 2011 the original conspirators gathered at KFJC for “Return of the Invasion of Maximum Louie Louie.” More here. It was significantly shorter, but aired some archival tapes no one had heard since the original broadcast.  In their collective honor, we all now celebrate International Louie Louie Day every year, on April 11th; aka Richard Berry's birthday. It's been held since at least 2003, but I'm pretty sure Stretch is behind that one too.

Monday, January 29, 2018

System Bus Radio

The System Bus Radio program exploits the design of your computer's system bus to transmit AM radio without any other radio transmitting hardware. When I first heard of System Bus Radio I thought that it's inventor must be a genius hacker. I was right.

A system bus is a single computer bus that connects the primary components of a computer system. these are the CPU, Memory and Input/Output (I/O). This combines the functions of a data bus to carry information, an address bus to determine where it should be sent, and a control bus to determine its operation. The expression "system bus" covers all related hardware, components, wire electronic pathways, and software. (Early computer buses were parallel electrical wires.) If you are still not sure what the bus is, check out this link here. The genius who wrote the original machine code was William Entriken, and he was kind enough to agreed to a short interview with Arcane Radio Trivia.

JF: What gave you the idea to try to convert your Macbook into a radio station?

WE: Well first of all I realized that it was possible.  One day I was sitting downstairs in my basement where I have an actual radio, which is hard to believe nowadays. I do listen to AM radio and the reception is just terrible down there. Some stations still turn off at night. I had the radio on and of course it [the frequency] got silent, and as I got into that room, it started getting louder. I realized this was interference from the computer. I thought wow, that's a lot of interference to pick it up like that. I just got lucky because there are only certain frequencies that it works on... and that's where the idea started.

 JF: Can you explain what components you are exploiting to emit a signal?

WE: I believe that it is the connection between the processor [CPU] and the RAM. There is a lot of space there. Basically you want something that's not shielded. If you have a shielded connection you don't get any signal that's leaking outside. So the processor is in steel, you can't have anything leak out of that, and the wires are only two atoms wide. It's airtight. The RAM likewise. The RAM is extremely tight. But between the processor and the RAM is the system bus. So the ideal is that you can push something onto the system bus that's where your emission is going to come from. It's less shielded. You don't need to have 14 nanometer wires on the system bus because there's not as much going on.

JF: The field tests indicate that it's working on a wide variety of devices.

WE: It's really exciting. It went on to some Portuguese website, then Hackernews, it hit something big. So many people came in and they're from all over the world, Japan and all over Europe, and the interesting thing is that they have different radio stations in Japan and Europe, and the US and different devices. So luckily testing it on all different frequencies on shortwave and long wave, and AM, and it's great because you're not going to know unless you test it.

JF: That sounds like we're exploring the different system buses on all these devices.

WE: Yes! So you're multiplying a bunch of things together. How hard are you hitting the system bus? What is the radio frequency emission envelope of your system bus? Then once it hits your system bus it has to exit your enclosure. So there is shielding on your enclosure too. On an open air system you're have more radiation than something enclosed. Even the same computers in different model years might have different designs. The NSA has a file about this, it's called Tempest

JF: Tempest?

WE: They went through these issues a long time ago and they studied this in much more detail. Tempest is an acronym and they have standards on every component you could get near electricity. So you can read them and see whether they are approved or not, and of course these ones aren't because they're leaking like crazy.

JF: I read about the script that is controlling the transmission. How is that able to modulate the pitch.

WE: So there are only two parts, one of them is modulation, it couldn't be easier onoff, onoff, onoff. That's all you're doing. The "off" is hopefully just using a sleep signal. There's a command on the computer for sleeping, it would just wait hopefully. That's accurate enough, and then the "go" signal. That's the timing. That's it. That's why it only works on AM. That's your carrier on AM.

JF: What about the On signal?

WE: The other half of the program is is the "On" part, that's actually the hard part. The ideal is that the baseline is when the computer sleeping, and ideally it has a different radiation signature than when it's not sleeping and you want as broad a contrast as possible.  The problem is that when you write a program there's no function for "make noise." So typically we make a loop, I=1, then I=2, I=3... all the way up to a million. What happens is that the compiler, because it's so smart, skips over that. The end result is that the computer's not really working but it's telling you that it did. They're too smart for their own good. So what we had to do was find something that the compiler would not skip over, and we want it to load from memory.And computers are very lazy. They don't want to load something from memory if they don't have to. It's expensive. So what they'll do is cache it. You will get it from memory but then keep a residual copy in the processor. Again, that means you'll loading from the processor and nothing leaks out of the processor.  We want it to load something from memory over and over, and computers really hate doing that, and will try very hard to avoid that.

JF: So how did you get around that?

WE: The one way we did that is something called break-cache. It avoids the [CPU] cache and loads what you want from memory. It's a very specific instruction, I don't even know why they have it but that's what we used. So it takes the data from the memory across the system bus to the processor.

JF: Do you have any background in radio previous to this?

WE: I do have a engineering degree. I went to Villanova for Electrical and computer engineering. I'm use to breaking things and building things.

JF: You do know that Villanova has a campus radio station...

WE: I was on that station, WXVU. My show was called the V-Spot. There were these cards we had to read for community announcements. Nothing we pre-recorded, everything was low-budget, do whatever you want, bring guests on, bring your roommate on, everything was off the cuff and super-fun.

JF: Any last thoughts?

WE: It's great to talk about this stuff, to know that other people care, and care about breaking stuff, trying things, and making things. It's going to be a dying trade in the future. You can't open an iPhone. You can take a radio apart with a screwdriver. It's a real shame... I used to take stuff apart until it didn't work anymore then find more stuff to take apart... I hope that your blog inspires people. I hope you're making engineers out of people rather than just history majors. 

JF: Me too.