Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Digital AM Tests

For years now we have been hearing about how digital AM will revitalize AM radio. Personally I think it's about as likely as Paul Rubens being elected to the Senate. AM radio station has a maximum bandwidth of 20 kHz, it is patently and inherently inferior to an FM station with 200 kHz of bandwidth—end of story. The estimated throughput of any all-digital AM schema is just 20 to 40 kilobits per second. This is not to say that I don't listen or that it's noise and affect isn't without it's charm. I listen to acetate recordings which we all know sound awful. The point is that anyone promising you "High Definition" or "High Fidelity" Digital AM radio is selling snake oil.

This service has been promised to us before. In fact in 2010 FCC approved IBOC (In-Band On-Channel) digital radio operation for both day and night  AM broadcasts. You can see a list of the 300+ stations using this service that no one cares about here. You will notice that over half of the list is are distributed across just three media owners: Disney, Cumulus and Clear Channel. [Damn you Little John.] The important note here is that they have permission from the FCC. None of them actually broadcast in HD so far as I know.
  • 18 - CBS
  • 17 - Radio Disney (but not for long)
  • 86 - Clear Channel
  • 24 - Cumulus
This month two radio stations in the Seattle metro are performed a series of digital tests.  Those brave test monkeys are 1380 KRKO-AM and 1520 KKXA-AM.  The two stations share studio space in Everette, WA and are owned by Andy Skotdal. KKXA only signed on in 2004 airing classic country KRKO airs Fox Sports and is a genuine heritage station dating back to 1922. They will partner together with NAB Labs for the tests. Real world test results will be submitted to the FCC in 2015. Andy claims that analog listeners will hear nothing but silence during the fun. Listeners with HD radios in the Seattle metro might be able to hear science happening.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Transcription Mystery Disc #236

This is a 6.5-inch metal-core Federal Perma Disk. It spins at 78 rpm and has an outer edge start. it's labeled on each side with the phrase "Play this side first" and "Play this side second." The date is written as Dec 1940. It's refreshing to find one with a date for once.

 Play this side first (Dec 1940)

The label is torn on one side and the disc slightly bent. But as with many metal core discs.. that can be ameliorated with a very judicious application of force. I don't recommend that technique for archival work... but that's not what we do here. The recording isn't free of surface noise but it was entirely listenable with no apparent wear. I ripped both sides and edited them together with a short gap.

The recording is an Xmas greeting with organ accompaniment to a couple in Florida. The recipients are identified only as Dr. and Mrs. Knight. The recording engineer briefly speaks on Side B and his name was Mr. O'Brien.The speakers accent and cadence are confident.. like an orator, DJ or preacher. I wish that his name had been included.

Monday, October 20, 2014


 I just caught this in the news the other day.  Signal jamming is considered poor form by most in our industry. At best it's an act of protest, perhaps just a prank.. the rest of the time it's rude, or possibly a crime.  The FCC often reaches for a can of whupass. Actually in 2012 they opened a Jammer Tip Hotline to report such kinds of criminal activities. It's 855-55-NOJAM.

They have been dishing out fine for jamming for years. In 2011 won themselves a $25,000 fine for selling cell jammers online. Citations went out to a number of less overt offenders at the same time. This year CTS Technology received a record 34 Million dollar fine, though they're based in China and it may not be possible to collect. They also hit a Hillsborough County, FL employee 48k, and R&N Manufacturing got hit with a a $29,000 fine. While small compared to the CTS fine, this jamming was just particularly unscrupulous. More here and here.
"...Marriott Hotel Services, Inc will pay $600,000 to resolve a Federal Communications Commission investigation into whether Marriott intentionally interfered with and disabled Wi-Fi networks established by consumers in the conference facilities of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, in violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act"

I think they got off light. They were selling it to conference attendees and exhibitors for as much as $1,000 per device. It's the worst price gouging I've ever seen. Marriott admitted to the violation. They agreed to a $600k fine to settle complaints that they were deliberately and willfully jamming WiFi frequencies to force their guests to pay them for Internet service. Marriott also has to start up ans maintain a compliance plan and file compliance and usage reports with the FCC quarterly for 3 years. Despite the "resolution" Marriott Hotels is still keeping a different public face. Their most recent comment was as follows:
"Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft. The Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers. We believe that the Gaylord Opryland’s actions were lawful.”

I think they should get a second fine for gall.

Friday, October 17, 2014

WFIL-AM 1976 (Pt 2)

Here are three more playlists from Disco Hell. Except for those occasions caricaturization the disco era itself, none of these songs require a second listen. By the end of December Alice Cooper's worst single ever "I Never Cry" is in the middle of the chart and "Beth" an unspeakably bad cut by Kiss is on the upswing.

This era was just unforgivably bad for rock n' roll. the programming is cringe-worthy. Even now, decades later I struggle to maintain an anthropological ear in the face of truly awful music. No matter how shallow, vapid and disposable you find the playlists of pop radio stations today, you can't look at this and think that it used to be better. Today's CHR is a direct descendant of this rubbish.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

WFIL-AM 1976 (Pt 1)

I'm posting this in two parts. They span together (with a gap) from the first week of August to the last week of December 1976. These are documents from deepest darkest midnight of the disco era. This is what Lucifer listens to while sitting in his hot tub of molten sulfur with Richard Nixon and Jesse Helms.

Hyperbole aside, this is truly the forgotten music. While oldies playlists drift into 1960s classic rock, actual Classic Rock playlists of the 1970s leap frog over the disco era and pick from more palatable singles of the 1980s.