Thursday, November 27, 2014

Turkey Day

Eat Drink and be bloated. 
See you all Friday

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WHYF Placemat Ad

Under a plate of home fries, eggs and bacon I found this. Between ads for Sport Fishing, rental tools, and certified wood fence installers was this ad for 720 WHYF-AM. It's a is a Catholic religious station serving Harrisburg, PA. It's a daytimer, which only signed on in 1985, with that glut of AM Class D licenses scraping the bottom of the barrel.  it's owned by the sat-fed religious network Holy Family Radio, Inc.

Radio print ads continue to mystify me. This ad was on a paper placemat in a diner well outside the station's city-grade signal contour.  The use of print advertisement is dubious for radio in general. While billboards arguably target drivers at peak listening times, newspapers, magazines, fliers and other print venues sweep up the dregs. their virtue is in being cheap. But placemats... words fail me. I hope it was really cheap.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Transcription Mystery Disc #241

This is a 6.5-Inch, paper-core Voice-O-Graph acetate home recording. I've already worked out a good labelography for this type of recording blank. I classified this as Red-On-White and have seen dates around 1964.It was the end of the line for Voice-O-Graph discs.

Kerry Hills by Barry Murray & E. Mahoney

The recording is of a man and a woman, singing in harmony (sort of). He is quite flat.  They find their pace toward the end of the recording and I can start to make out the words clearly. As titled, they are singing a traditional Irish tune, The Kerry Hills a tune more recently recorded by Brendan Begley in 1987. It's a more obscure traditional, something that indicates they were very serious Irish music fans, or otherwise. they also sing a slightly different version then the Begley recording [source] again indicating a much older song with a wider array of lyrical variants. Ex.

Of the days so merry
When we plucked the berry
On the verdant slopes
Of the Kerry hills

I've seen the Atlantic
Both wild and frantic
I have traveled far
From my native home

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Antenna of Radio Freedom

I was watching the documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, the story of guitarist Sixto Rodriguez. Part way into the film, this South African music journalist, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom was listing off the greatest mysteries.  They were as follows:
  1. Look for the lost South African Elvis Record
  2. Find the antenna of Radio Freedom.
  3. Look for Shawn Phillips
  4. Find out how Rodriguez died
  5. Find out how Sun City really works

You can guess which one grabbed my attention. While the movie thoroughly explored question four, the rest were never mentioned again. In the years since the movie was filmed, most of those mysteries have been answered. Sun City even gets a write up on Wikipedia, and you can buy that Elvis record on eBay. But what about Radio Freedom?  Information is scant.

Radio Freedom was a pirate radio station that grew into a shortwave radio program. It was the voice of the African National Congress (ANC) in the apartheid years. Try to remember that in South Africa racial segregation and repression was the law until 1994. So when you look up the history on this topic, it's not on a parallel timeline with the U.S. civil rights movement. South Africa was three decades behind. The program was carried on a number of radio stations across the African continent. Because the ANC could never operate legally within apartheid South Africa they tried to penetrate the radio dial from outside their borders. More here. Affiliates included the below:

  • Voice of Revolutionary Ethiopia - 9.595 MHz. 
  • Radio National de Angola - 9.720 MHz
  • Radio Luanda - ???
  • Radio Zambia - ???
  • Radio Madagascar - ???
  • Radio Tanzania - 5.05MHz
  • Radio Cairo - ???
  • Radio Ghana - 410 MHz

Some stations were more active than others. Radio Tanzania devoted over 10 hours a week to programs by freedom fighting groups. The program was 30 minutes long in the early 1980s, and aired at various different shortwave outlets. The mailing address of record was in the UK: 49 Rathbone Street, London, W1A 4NL England. The address was for both the ANC and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) aka  Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Part of the strength of the ANC was it's alliance with the SACTU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). This was called the Tripartite Alliance. Much hay was made by the ruling apartheid government over those commie. Every freedom demanded, every document released was dismissed as "communist" regardless of it's author or contents. Though Nelson Mandela was a communist that really over simplified all the things they all were. More here, here and here

Radio Freedom debuted in Johannesburg in 1963 shortly after the ANC was banned. Walter Sisulu made the inaugural address starting with the words
"I speak to you from somewhere in South Africa. I have not left the country. I do not plan to leave. Many of our leaders of the African National Congress have gone underground. This is to keep the organization in action, to preserve the leadership, to keep the fight going. Never had the country and our people, needed leadership as they do now, in this hour of crisis. Our house is on fire."
It reads like an urgent metaphor, but the house was literally on fire. Smoke attracted the police who seized the transmitter. Radio Freedom didn't broadcast again for six years and only then via the facilities of Radio Tanzania. They didn't broadcast inside south Africa with any regularity again until the party was legalized in the 1990s. This is probably the antenna that  Craig Bartholomew-Strydom was referring to. One that has been lost for over 50 years.  But the story here is that while Radio Freedom initially had only one antenna, it grew to have many. So while the search may be fruitless it's eventual victory was far more important.

Friday, November 21, 2014

DJ DeFord Bailey

DeFord Bailey was the first first African-American performer on the Grand Ole Opry radio program on WSM-AM in Nashville, TN. His first documented appearance on the station was  June 19th, 1926. He was an ace harmonica player. He was also only 4'10" having had polio as a child and weighted all of 90 lbs. You should probably listen to one of his tunes before we move on.

But WSM wasn't the first radio station that found DeFord. It was WDAD-AM. More here. It was run out of a Dad's Auto Accessories, a shop that sole auto parts, bike parts and radio supplies on 8th Avenue owned by L. N. Smith. It's transmitter was used and had been bought on the cheap from WOAN-AM in Lawrenceburg, TN.  The store manager Fred Exum started the station to promote the shop.  But in those days a 150 watt station could be heard for hundreds of miles. DeFord was goaded into participating in a harmonica contest on the station. As you'd expect the

A month later the National Life and Accident Insurance Company founded WSM... a well-funded and far larger station. It' signed on with 1,000 watts. One of the WDAD regulars, Dr. Humphrey Bate eventually dragged DeFord across the street to play on WSM. That's not much exaggeration, DeFord was very concerned about upsetting the bigoted white people of that era. But George Hay, a former WLS alum, was Director at WSM, and Hay liked DeFord's style. DeFord became known as the "Harmonica Wizard."

In 1928, W.C. Taylor of WNOX-AM in Knoxville poached DeFord by doubling his salary. DeFord had been underpaid and was easily wooed. But DeFordtired of Knoxville and WNOX, which then was a small station. He got the urge to leave and discovered that Taylor had promised to return him to WSM should he leave. Technically DeFord was a free man, but.. it was the South. DeFord returned to WSM in February of 1929. He remained there until he was fired in 1941 under somewhat complex circumstances.

The summer of 1941 was the climax of the ASCAP and BMI royalty spat. Radio stations and networks were boycotting ASCAP owned music to avoid a threatened doubling of the royalty rate. BMI had been created hastily to gather some more fiscally amenable content... but artists like DeForest who were playing old-time music had their hits ripped out from under them. DeForest didn't have a second set of favorites in his back pocket and was cut from the roster. He still toured some, and guested on radio programs around the country but his big days were over. He politely rejected a large number of interview and appearance invitations. He did attended some old-timer nights at WSM in the 1970s but died in 1982 before mounting his long-awaited comeback.