Monday, October 09, 2017

Radio On The Road

Much is written about the classic novel On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. Virtually every charter in the novel is real, and all of them have their own biographies, and/or autobiographies. The book is rich with literary references to Nietzsche, Arthur Conan Doyle, Schopenhauer, Rimbaud, Dostoevsky, Alain-Fournier, Kafka, Eugene Sue, Jack London, Céline, Proust and Melville to name a few. But the text is also loaded with references to music and radio.

Some of it is onomatopoeic jazz scat like the phrase "ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP! ta-tup-EE-da-da-dera-RUP!" But innumerable musicians named and unnamed march through the text as well. Geoge Shearing is referred to as a living god, but a similar reverence is held for Lester "Prez" Young, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, And Dizzy Gillespie whom they just call mad. But Lionel Hampton also gets a reference as do Irving Berlin, Wynonie Harris, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Lucky Millinder, Louis Armstrong, Benny Moten and  Count Basie. Then there are at least five direct references to actual radio programs and/or radio stations in the text:

Part 4, Chapter 1:

"The radio was always on. "Man have you dug that mad Marty Glickman announcing basketball games―up-to-midcourt-bounce-fake-set-shot, swish, two points. Absolutely the greatest announcer I ever heard."
Marty Glickman was a former Olympic athlete turned radio announcer who was famous for his broadcasts of the New York Knicks basketball games,  and both the football games of the New York Jets and New York Giants. In 1939, Glickman graduated from Syracuse University. After his short professional sports career he joined the radio station 1050 WHN-AM in New York City. He took a break for WWII, and returned in 1945 soon becoming the voice of the sports newsreels distributed by Paramount News. On those reels he became the voice of the New York Knicks and New York Giants for over two decades. He became the announcer for the New York Knickerbockers in 1946, the year they were formed. The quote above is contextually in 1949, when Glickman was 32 sports director at WHN and arguably at his peak.

Part 2, Chapter 6:

We were suddenly driving along the blue waters of the Gulf, and at the same time a momentous mad thing began on the radio; it was the Chicken Jazz'n Gumbo disk-jockey show from New Orleans, all mad jazz records, colored records, with the disk-jockey saying, "Don't worry 'bout nothing!"
The city of New Orleans is very real. But that radio program was not... at least not exactly.  However, in 1949 there was a late night “Jam, Jive and Gumbo Show,” on 1230 WJBW-AM hosted by Duke Thil, aka Vernon Winslow More here.

Part 1, Chapter 4:

I was drunk enough to go for anything. And the truck reached the outskirts of Cheyenne, we saw the high red lights of the local radio station, and suddenly we were bucking through a great strange crowd of people that poured on both sidewalks.
Frankly there weren't that many radio towers on the outskirts of Cheyenne in 1947. In fact there was only one:  1240 KFBC-AM signed on in 1940, [SOURCE] Their first local competition, 1370 KVWO-AM didn't sign on until 1952, more here. It was a long time before there was a third station. In that year the population of the whole county was just over 30,000 people.

Part 2, Chapter 8:

"Clint, Texas!" said Dean. He had the radio on to the Clint station. Every fifteen minutes they played a record; the rest of the time it was commercials about a high-school correspondence course. "This program is beamed all over the west." cried Dean excitedly. "Man I used to listen to it day and night in reform school and prison."
Clint, Texas is a mere 25 miles to El Paso, or Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Today there are zero stations using Clint as their city of license. But the same was true in 1949. But 800 XELO-AM in Ciudad Juárez received it's mail at an address of Clint, TX. So musicians like Hank Thompson and Slim Hawkins took orders for their song books there.  This can be heard on a number of extant XELO transcriptions discs. The city of El Paso had all of four stations: KEPO, KROD, KELPKSET, and KTSM none of which fit the description. The stations use of the Clint zip code comes up in the book Border Radio by Gene Fowler, Ramblin' Man by Ed Cray, and The Roots of Texas Music by Lawrence Clayton. This border blaster was audible clear up into Colorado at 150,000 watts just as Dean describes.

Part 4, Chapter 6:

"Dawn came rapidly in a gray haze revealing dense swamps sunk on both sides, with tall, forlorn, viny trees leaning and bowing over tangled bottoms. We bowled right along the railroad tracks for a while. The strange radio-station antenna of Ciudad Mante appeared ahead as if we were in Nebraska."
This could be a number of stations. The most likely would be short wave station XECMT, on 6090 kHz. In that era Ciudad Mante is estimated to have had a population of about 25,000, more than double Cheyenne. But it had little radio. The UAT radio network came to town in the 1980s, and the Radio Tamaulipas network not at least until the popular advent of FM radio. We must exclude 840 XHEMY-AM as it didn't sign on until 1966; even 1450 XECM-AM is a little late signing on in  November of 1951.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

.radio TLD

The top-level domain (TLD) name “.radio” is now available. However, these are only being dolled out to "individuals and companies with active interest in the radio sector." These will be managed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) with support from other world broadcasting unions. The initial qualifying categories are as follows:
  • Radio broadcasting stations
  • Unions of Broadcasters (Such as the EBU)
  • Internet radio stations
  • Radio Amateurs
  • Radio professionals (journalists, DJs, etc…)
  • Companies selling radio-related goods and services
So all U.S. broadcasters licensed by the FCC and licensed Hams enthusiasts, and even myself, should be eligible to submit their call signs or brand names to EBU for a .RADIO domain name. But a new TLD is not a panacea. For example, they're going to cost your station $237 per year. A simple .com domain will run you about $30. More here. It costs $185,000 to register a new TLD so those "investors" are going to need to ding you to recoup.

As of July 2016, there are 326.4 million domain names globally. If you are a broadcaster with a web presence (website, or webapp) you are effectively competing with that for attention. (Yes, not all of them are radio stations) It is estimated that less than 30% of the "visible" web is in English. [SOURCE]  But despite those language limitations websites are heavily concentrated across just a handful of domains. Most internet users are only aware of half a dozen. Most SEO bros will advise you to avoid anything except the most common of Top Level Domains (TLD). You can see a break down below. [SOURCE] I just broke out the top 10 TLDs... there are more than 1,000 others available... 

.COM 130.1 Million USA
.TK 18.8 Million New Zealand
.NET 15 Million USA
.DE 14.3 Million UK
.CN 10.4 Million China
.UK   10.2 Million USA
.INFO   6.1 Million USA
.RU   5.2 Million USA
.NL   4.9 Million USA
.EU   3.6 Million USA

You will note .radio isn't in the top 10 and you can check my source here. If you scroll all the way down you will see that .radio has just 22 registered domains. In other words, most users are not aware that it's a possible TLD.  So despite the hearty defense you can read at the ARRL and RadioTLD, the TLD is not likely to gain you any clicks... quite the opposite. And if you think it will effect your search results... remember that TLDs have no impact on SEO performance and Google is 100% clear about this.”  But if you want that TLD because it's cool... well yes it's cool.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Radio Cambodia Crackdown

On August 23rd, the news broke that the government of Cambodia has shut down two independent radio station. 93.5 FM Mahanokor and Voice of Democracy (VOD), two Khmer-language radio stations, were ordered to close on Wednesday by the ministry of information. Mohanokor broadcasts programs produced by Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the Cambodia National Rescue Party much to the ire of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Mohanokor said it received a letter from Information Minister Khieu Kanharith cancelling its authorization to operate.

In a Facebook post, Phay Siphan, a spokesman for Cambodia's cabinet, cited U.S. President Donald Trump's criticisms of the press as justification for their crackdown on freedom of the press. He framed it as a conflict between freedom of expression and the authority of the state.
"President Donald Trump thinks that the news reported by these organizations did not reflect the truth, which is the responsibility of the professional reporters... This means that freedom of expression must respect the law and the authority of the state."
On August 26th it got worse. The Bangladesh Daily Star newspaper revealed that the tally was actually 15 radio stations. The list includes Mohanokor and its three provincial affiliates. But also that the Information Ministry's website lists seven other media owners who were asked to stop broadcasting from the 11 radio stations they owned across 10 different provinces, including Kampong Cham 99.7 FM.

But wait there's more. Sarika FM dropped it's Voice of Democracy program from the schedule.  WMC 102 FM, the radio station run by the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia which had also broadcast RFA and VOA programs broadcast only silence on the night of August 23rd. Several other local radio stations in various provinces that lease airtime to VOA and RFA have also reported receiving warnings of violating their agreements with the ministry.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper was very reserved in it's response [LINK].  According to the station’s director, Yi Chhor Vorn, the ministry didn't even cite a law or regulation that the station had violated.  Most popular Asian media outlets assumed that the shutdown was in response to their relaying of news content from the U.S. media outlets deemed critical of the government and supporting the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition party.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Samuel Beckett’s Radio Plays

Samuel Beckett was born in 1906, lived most of his early life in Ireland, with stops in London and a long well-hidden stay in the South of France in WWII, before settling in Paris. He is remembered best for his avant-garde fiction, and in particular an absurd play titled Waiting for Godot. (But if you think that was absurd you should read How It Is.) Beckett is not remembered for his works written for radio, but there were several and all worthy of note. Some of his radio plays are not considered  to be radio plays in formal bibliographies on dubious grounds. I'll explain. More here.
  • All That Fall (broadcast 1957) 
  • From an Abandoned Work (broadcast 1957) 
  • Molloy (broadcast 1957) 
  • Embers (broadcast 1959) 
  • Words and Music (broadcast 1962) 
  • Cascando (broadcast:1963)
  • Krapp's Last Tape: 1972
  • Rough for Radio I (published 1976) 
  • Rough for Radio II (published 1976) 
In 1955 the BBC saw some appeal in the then young playwright, Samuel Beckett was getting for his new play Waiting for Godot.  At the BBC he was championed by Donald McWhinnie, Barbara Bray, Martin Esslin, and John Morris. The BBC invited Beckett to write a radio play to be broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. Beckett was hesitant, but wrote to his friend Nancy Cunard:
"Never thought about radio play technique but in the dead of t’other night got a nice gruesome idea full of cartwheels and dragging of feet and puffing and panting which may or may not lead to something."
Over the next 20 years, his cartwheels ultimately led to five plays specifically intended for radio, and arguably a few others.  His radio debut was in 1956 All That Fall. You can hear it here. The play was written in English, specially for the BBC well after he began to write primarily in French. The piece was directed by his drinking buddy, Don McWhinnie. This is well described in the book Directing Beckett by Lois Oppenheim. It was first broadcast on the BBC Third Programme, January 13th of 1957, It featured actors Mary O'Farrell and J. G. Devlin. Patrick Magee and Jack MacGowran had minor parts. (It was later broadcast as Tous ceux qui tombent on RTF/ORTF in Paris, on February 25th, 1963.) A "modernized version" was broadcast on June 4th, 1972. Directed by Donald McWhinnie.

That play was followed by From An Abandoned Work, which had been previously published in the Trinity News, June 7th 1956. [SOURCE] The play began as a novel he started in 1954 but had abandoned.  It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Third Programme on December 14th, 1957 together with a selection from his 1951 novel Malloy.  The first person narrative was delivered by Patrick MacGee, directed by McWhinnie. In later listening to a rebroadcast, Beckett was so taken with MacGee's performance that it inspired him to write what he then called "MacGee's Monologue". This later became the play Krapp’s Last Tape, a work sometimes even described as a "meditation for radio." Inexplicably, most bibliographies do not consider Krapp's Last Tape to have been a radio play. This is likely because it debuted in Theater, then moved to BBC2 television.

Also written in 1957 was Embers, but it wasn't broadcast until June of 1959. McWhinnie directed again and the protagonist was played by Jack MacGowran, for whom the play was specially written. Supporting case included Kathleen Michael and Patrick Magee. It was First broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on June 24th, 1959. You can hear it here. The play won the RAI prize at the Prix Italia awards later that year.

A decade passed before Beckett returned to the radio medium.  Rough for Radio I is a short radio play written in in French in 1961 as as Esquisse Radiophonique and first published in Minuit, issue 5 in September 1973. Its first English publication as Sketch for Radio Play was in 'Stereo Headphones' issue 7, in spring 1976. Plans for a BBC production, with Humphrey Searle providing the music amounted to nothing in the 1960s, but a French version was produced by ORTF in 1962.

Rough for Radio II was also first published in Minuit, this time issue 16, November 1975. It was written in French in 1961 as Pochade Radiophonique and published in Minuit 16, November 1975. The BBC beat RTE to it this time and Beckett translated the work into English for its debut broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on April 13th, 1976, his birthday The program also included Dante and the Lobster from his collection of short prose More Pricks than Kicks and a variety of live recordings from the National Theatre: From an Abandoned Work, Malone Dies, Murphy, Watt, Malloy, Still, The Unnamable, Cascando, First Love, Texts for Nothing and a selection of his poems.

Also written in the 1960s was his radio play, Words and Music assumed to have been written between November and December of 1961. It was recorded and broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 13 November 1962. It was acted by Patrick Magee and Felix Felton. His cousin, John S. Beckett provided

Most lists completely exclude The Old Tune from Becketts radio resume. After Embers, but before Rough for Radio, Beckett translated and re-wrote Robert Pinget’s 1960 play La Manivelle for the BBC. Its first radio broadcast was August 23rd, 1960. Barbara Bray directed and actors Jack MacGowran and Patrick Magee voice the parts. It's worth noting, as his interest in radio came in distinct phases. The lone exception being a 1972 recording of selections from How It Is, probably taped  at the same time as the Krapp’s Last Tape BBC sessions. It was released as a 7-Inch by J&B Recordings.

His last work for radio was Cascando, a radio playwritten in French in December of 1961. It is subtitled 'Invention radiophonique pour musique et voix.' It was first broadcast on France Culture (RDF) on October 13th 1963 with actors Roger Blin and Jean Martin. The first English-language production was on October 6th, 1964 on BBC Radio 3 with Denys Hawthorne and Patrick Magee (of course).

Shortly before his death in 1989, the Beckett Festival of Radio Plays, including productions of all of Beckett's extant plays for radio, was recorded and produced at the BBC Studios, London on January 1988. It was distributed  in the U.S. by APR (American Public Media). It was intended to be broadcast in it's entirely on his 80th birthday, April 13th 1989. It was carried on NPR, Pacifica,  RIAS, ZDF and  other networks. Hopefully the life-long, iconic pessimist was at least moderately pleased.

The year 2006 was the 100-year anniversary of Beckett's birth. A complete run of all Beckett’s radio plays was presented by RTE Radio 1. Also notably BBC Radio 3 revisited Krapps Last Tape, and then Embers in 2006 with a new cast under director Stephen Rea. The productions were rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on May 16th 2010 as part of a double bill.

The question remains why are his radio works so obscure?  In Katherine Worth's essay, 'Beckett and the Radio Medium' she explains "The plays Beckett wrote for radio have had considerably less attention than his stage plays. No doubt this is largely as Martin Esslin suggests, because there have been few opportunities to hear them." The book Samuel Beckett and BBC Radio by David Addyman, Matthew Feldman, Erik Tonning goes a step further quoting a 'tirade' by Beckett himself "If we can't keep our genres more or less distinct, or extricate them from the confusion that has them where they are, we might as well go home and lie down."

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sixteen Sepia Spielers

I've never found the original article, but it's referenced in a few books and one very notable Billboard article by Nelson George in November of 1985. Over half a century later I have no way to vet their stats but it's all too believable. The key claim is as follows "In 1947, there were three thousand disc jockeys in the country, but only sixteen were black."

It appeared on page 44-47 in their December 1947 issue. Four years later Mr. George wrote a book The Death of Rhythm and Blues and the book appears again in the works cited. But it also was cited in Doowop: The Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter, Nothing but Love in God's Water by Robert Darden, African Americans and the Media by Catherine Squires. (For the record DJs had been called Spielers since at least 1939.) Their definition of a Spieler is unclear but we can infer much from the list itself (below) we can exclude one-shot performers. These are DJs with a music program, not news programs.

Ed Baker WJLB Detroit, MI
Al Benson WJJD Chicago, IL
Bill Branch WEAW Evanston, IL
Ramon Bruce WHAT Philadelphia, PA
Jessie Burks  KXLW St. Louis, MO
Jack L. Cooper  WSBC Chicago, IL
Van Douglas  WJBK Detroit, MI
Jack Gibson  WCFL Chicago, IL
Bess Harris  KING Seattle, WA
Eddie Honesty  WJOB Hammond, IL
Harold Jackson  WOOK Washington D.C.
Sam Jackson  WHIN Providence, RI
Emerson Parker  WQQW Washington D.C.
Sam Price  WPEN Philadelphia, PA
Norfley Whitted  WDNC Durham, NC
Woody Woodard  WLIB Brooklyn, NY

I've written about most of these DJs at one time or another. So perhaps that is why Major Robinson for was not included for his NBC radio column was back in 1948... but he was also one year too late for the article. Mary Dee Dudley, the first black woman to be a radio DJ misses the list by one year. Holmes "Daddy-O'Daylie of WMAQ misses the mark. Even the great Bill Hawkins at WHK misses by just a few months. This was only a list of black DJs active in 1947. The year was very early in the struggle for civil rights so it's certain that the list is short.  But some of the omissions are notable: Bill Cook at WAATDan Burley at WWRL, and Lavada Durst at KVET to name a few... but only a few.

But I should comment on math and veracity:  The number 16 is very specific and allows me to suggest possible omissions. The number 3,000 is clearly an estimate. According to a November 1947 report by the FCC there were only 142 commercial radio stations operating in the U.S. in 1942.  Radio researcher Jeff Miller was able to add 6 non-commercial stations [LINK] to that tally for a grand total of 148.  So that 3,000 number is assuming 20.27 DJs per radio station, and considering the number of part time radio stations in that era, is actually plausible. But it also means that 0.533% of all DJs in 1947 were black or that 99.46666% of all DJs were white. So adding a few names to this list changes exactly nothing.