Friday, March 27, 2015

Which Royals Listened to the Radio?

The description accompanying this image read "the royal family listening to an early radio transmission in exile." The date is given as "around 1920."  It does not indicate which royal family. But I think we can narrow that down. WWI began in 1914 and ended in 1918. WWI didn't begin until 1939... so if the date is even somewhat accurate, it falls between the two major European conflicts of the last century. How do we resolve that?

Well it's clearly not the Romanovs, or the Farouk family from Egypt. These are Europeans. With that constraint, and assuming the date is within two years either way of the given date, my guess is that this is the family of Archduke Felix of Austria-Hungary. Felix was born in 1916 so he might have been as young as 5 when this picture was taken. But depending on the exact year of the photograph he could have been any one of these similar looking kids. I favor the mopey looking one to the right of the radio set.

He had a rough time leading up to 1920. On November 21st, 1914 the Emperor of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and Felix’s father, Charles I, succeeded as the new Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. But he never succeeded in consolidating power. He held the whole coronation fandango, but by October of 1918 Austria and Hungary were splitsville. He wisely abdicated that year.

The fragmenting of their nation led to the exile of the royal family. Originally exiled in Switzerland the Imperial Family were taken to the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1921. It's unclear if this picture was taken in Switzerland or Portugal. Either would be close enough to the estimated date. More here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

KVRE sign off

I hope this is real. It purports to be the old sign off message of 1460 KVRE-AM in Santa Rosa, CA. It is definitely the most original and possibly the funniest sign off I've ever heard. It was a must-share. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Its That Man Again (ITMA)

It's That Man Again (ITMA) was a BBC radio comedy show that ran from 1939 to 1949.Despite it's popularity, and it's wartime verve, US networks never carried the program. However, the 1943 film interpretation starring Tommy Handley did see U.S. distribution. But the radio shows were only heard over the BBC network.

The title of the program refers to a the contemporary phrase concerning the increasingly frequent WWII headlines regarding a certain German F├╝hrer. The phrase actually originated in a headline in the Daily Express written by Herbert Smith Gunn. One of the show's many running gags was the re-purposing of this phrase to refer to Tommy Handley. The show was a meme-generator. It created numerous short lived catch-phrases including the ironically intended "It's being so cheerful that keeps me going." The character Colonel Humphrey Chinstrap had his own catchphrase "I don't mind if I do." which lived on as well.

The programs sense of humor was sublimely British, possibly the only cultural microcosm more British than Chap-hop, except possibly Douglas Adams.  The scripts were written by the prolific Ted Kavanagh. Kavanagh had been writing for Handley since 1924. They were both longtime BBC contributors, and both had been script-writers. But Kavanagh was the better writer, and Kavanagh knew how to write for Handley.

The program debuted with the cast in the setting of a "pirate" commercial station and kept that for the first 4 episodes from that location. After war broke out the program found new life and relocated to the Office of Twerps, with Handley in the role of "Minister of Aggravation." In 1941 the setting moved to a seedy beach resort and the show name was changed to "It's That Sand Again."The didn't jump the shark, and instead returned to the studio setting. Post-war the program changed settings regularly mostly to absurd ends.

ITMA is remembered as a comedy program that was good for war-time morale on home front.The program came to an end January 6th 1949. Handley was to die just three days later of a brain hemorrhage. Kavanagh published Handleys biography that same year.

Monday, March 23, 2015


The shortwave radio bands certainly have their share of oddities. The station known as UVB-76 is one of my favorites. It's not a numbers station per se.. but it's still interesting. Even it's call sign is a non-sequitur. In September 2010, the station moved and has since used the identification MDZhB, meaning that perhaps the correct calls are UZB-76.  But these are not assigned call letters. UZB-76 was a abbreviates in cyrillic Moscow Military District and MDZhB is a callsign for Western Military District of the Russian Federation.  But geeks that are into these sort of topics seem to favor the original calls.

The station broadcasts in AM on 4625 kHz from inside the Russian Federation. It broadcasts a short, monotonous buzzing sound repeating at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute 24 hours a day. This pattern is only interrupted by exceedingly rare voice transmission in Russian. There is endless speculation online about it's origin and purpose. More here, here and here.

Many sources claim the original transmission site was in Povarovo, near Moscow. In 2010 following a reorganization of the Russian military, it's district was expanded into the Western Military District instead of just the Moscow area. To "serve" this larger region, it uses two transmission sites, one in Kerro, near St.Petersburg and another in Naro-Fominsk, near Moscow. Supposedly the Buzzer source is fed to the shortwave site by phone relay.

 The first reports were made of a station on this frequency in 1982. What I find most interesting is that thanks to the Coronet project we knwo that not only has it changes calls, but it has also changed the nature of it's buzz tone. Currently it broadcasts a cycle of 1.25 seconds buzzing, then 1.85 seconds of silence.  But prior to November of 2010 its buzz tone lasted slightly, and the gaps slightly shorter. It's also been stated that in the past, it used to change to a continuous buzz one minute before the hour. You can hear samples here.

Notably, there are two other Russian stations with similar "formats." One is nicknamed "The Pip" and the other is "The Squeaky Wheel". Like the Buzzer, they both transmit noises in a tight pattern and on rare occasion interrupted that pattern to broadcast coded Russian voice message. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Radio Automation Software Demos

These are sales demos. I will admit now that they are all at least a little annoying.  But you cannot operate a 24/7 operation without automation anymore. You at least need a backup system more sophisticated than the old Sony 50-disc changer. There are a lot of products in this market space.  For small market stations it can even be worthwhile to explore open source options. The Promethus Radio project compiled a nice list here. But you might want something a bit more robust than a hacked link between an iTunes playlist and a fault switch. Brace yourself... unless you are working at KMUD, you are going to need a computer.

iMedia Touch

Google Radio Automation

Enco - DAD

RCS - Zetta (makers of Selector)