Monday, November 23, 2015

WXPN Magnet

Magnets count. I got this as a free market and it now adorns my fridge door.  It refers to the primary 88.5 WXPN signal in Philadelphia, the 88.7 WXPH signal in Harrisburg and the W259AU 99.7 signal also in Harrisburg. From 1993 to 2007, the WXPH call sign was used on 88.1 in Harrisburg, which is now WZXMWXPN traded that facility to Four Rivers Community Broadcasting in return for 88.7 Middletown and W259AU that year. So presumably this magnet was made after 2007, but before they bought WNTI this year.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Re-engineering a Wire Recording

I am posting this because it's deeply impressive from an engineering standpoint. The goal of their experiment was to learn about magnetic recording heads by building and testing a wire recorder. This requires understanding the relationship between recording current and playback voltage, the number of turns used in the coil for the recording head, and the speed of the moving wire among other variables.

Unfortunately the experiment recommends starting with vintage recording wire. This will be difficult to find, probably be oxidized, and more than likely already contain a recording. So the experiment will in destroy a 60-year old recording. Please don't do that.

Any steel or iron wire will certainly work. Aluminum, copper and brass wire will not work, it needs to be a ferrous metal. Also avoid Austenitic Stainless steel as that is by definition non-magnetic. Avoid wound wire, which owing to it's irregular surface, will produce inconsistent contact with the recording head and therefore low fidelity. 

The original wire Postwar wire was  was very thin.  Poulsen's early model, the Telegraphone (1898) used .01-inch (0.25 mm) wire, but later models used a diameter of .004 to .006 in (0.10 to 0.15 mm) which was standard into the mid 1940s. You can find it online as a jewelry making supply.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Orwell Radio Talks

I knew that George Orwell had worked for the BBC. I did not realize the sheer volume of content he produced in that time. The book George Orwell: A Life in Letters by Peter Davison gives a very full timeline in it's appendices. The BBC themselves have released a number of documents to the public here. It all began in 1941 in the escalating years of WWII.

Ultimately Orwell only spent a short part of his life as a BBC employee. He worked for the BBC from  August of 1941 through November of 1943. It was only only 25 months, barely over two years but in that time he wrote 115 newsletters for translation into Indian languages. That number comes from Life in Letters, the website The Orwell Society [LINK] gives a much higher count:
"He wrote 56 newsletters in English to India; 30 in English to Malaya; and 19 in English to Indonesia. Of these, Orwell read 12 to India, 28 to Malaya and 16 to Indonesia.  But, in addition, he wrote newsletters for translation:  42 for broadcast in Gujarati; 15 for Marathi; 29 for Bengali; 29 for Tamil; and 1, and possibly more, for Hindustani translations.  Thus he composed some 221 newsletters"
In wartime Orwell found himself doing news commentary and educational and cultural programs. While his news commentaries were certainly in the category of propaganda, his educational programs were truly impressive. They covered music, poetry, and a literary dissection of Das Kapital. He also wrote plays dramatizing writings by Anatole France, Ignazio Silone, H.G. Wells and Hans Christian Andersen and sponsored programs of local Indian theater as well.

In this period he was their "Talks Producer" in the Eastern Service working for Zulfaqar Ali Bokhari. Bokhari is as distinguished and legendary a radioman as ever existed in India. He was a graduate of Oriental College and with a Munshi Fazil (honors). He was a teacher, a translator and also worked at the bureau of translations.  In 1935, one of his own students recruited him to work at  All India Radio, later known as Akashvani. So at the time Orwell was hired, his supervisor only had 6 years of experience over him. Though Orwell, born in 1903, was actually slightly older than Bokhari who was born in 1904.

When Orwell quit in 1943, he wrote in his letter of resignation that he had been "allowed very great latitude" and was never "compelled to say on the air anything that I would not have said as a private individual."  Despite that biographers often interpret the Ministry of Truth from his book Nineteen Eighty Four as a metaphor for the BBC. More here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Star Wars on NPR Playhouse

This was a licensed part of the franchise, adapted by Brian Daley, directed by John Madden and with the cooperation of George Lucas. Lucas for his part actually donated the rights to NPR and allowed the use of sound effects and music directly from the three original films.

If you tuned in you might have noticed that some very familiar voices reprized their original roles. Mark Hamill was Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels was C-3PO, but Harrison Ford didn't play Han Solo, and let's not discuss Princess Leia.

The series had thirteen-parts clocking in at a total of  6.5 hours... creating as much content than the original 3 movies combined. Attention sticklers: for the record, the lengths of the original 3 films are Star Wars (2:16), Empire Strikes Back (2:07) and Return of the Jedi (2:16) that does clock in at 3:39... but some of that is credits. can we agree that it's comperable and move on?
  1. A Wind To Shake The Stars
  2. Points Of Origin
  3. Black Knight, White Princess, And Pawns
  4. While Giants Mark Time
  5. Jedi That Was, Jedi To Be
  6. The Millennium Falcon Deal
  7. The Han Solo Solution
  8. Death Star's Transit
  9. Rogues, Rebels And Robots
  10. The Luke Skywalker Initiative
  11. The Jedi Nexus
  12. The Case For Rebellion
  13. Force And Counter Force
 The first episode was produced and broadcast in 1981 National Public Radio on NPR Playhouse. It's was a bit of a hit, and two more radio dramatizations were produced of The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and Return of the Jedi (1996) completing the iconic first three films. NPR has not serialized any of the less iconic sequels and prequels. But I've refused to see them myself on general principle.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Before W and K

Laws governing the assignment of call letters have changed a lot over the last century. Contrary to popular belief, the W and K teams never switched sides. W was always predominantly in the east and K predominantly in the west. However the dividing line moved from a North-South line approximately along the Texas-New Mexico border eastward to the Mississippi river. The K stations in that 900 mile gap were issued new W call signs. But some of the existing Ws were allowed to stay. What's interesting in all this is that there were a few call signs that started with letters other than W and K.

Government stations had their own set of rules, separate from the limited commercial licenses as well. The April 1922 Issue of RADIO magazine listed only a handful of call signs in the whole U.S. at that time: WGI, WGB, WBZ, WNO, WDT, WDY, WJZ, WGY, 4CD, WGH, WRR, KZY, KDN, KZC, KZM, KLP, KGC, KYJ, KWG, KJQ, KVQ, KJJ, KQW, 6XAM, AGI, KFU, DDV, KUO, KFC, KDKA, WBL, KQV, WDZ, WPB, WMH, WOV, WHA, WLB, WLK, KYW, 9XAB, and 9ZAF. It also listed off six more station that even lacked experimental calls. It was not a complete list but you may already notice a few that do not look like the others. I'm looking at you AGI and DDV.

Prior to 1912 radio was largely the property of the military. So many rules divided up the radio band by branches of the military. Stations operated by the Navy were assigned calls starting with N, like NOF/NSF in Anacostia, D.C. on 360 meters. The U.S. Army stations used call letters starting with WUA to WVZ and WXA to WZZ. I wrote about some of these before.But being that the year was 1913, these were guidelines, not regulations. Some Army stations ignored the guidelines.  In San Francisco The Company M Signal Corps of Presidio used the call letters AGI. They are probably the only US callsign that ever started with the letter A. Sometimes written as AG1, they sometimes used the call sign 6XW to further confuse the historical record. The station was operated by Sgt. Richard C. Travers and is believed to have begun operating around 1920. It only operated on Sunday evenings from 7 to 9 PM playing records and taking questions from callers. It ceased operation in about 1923.
"There is a broadcasting station being started by the Noble Electric Works of Monterey using the old phone transmitter of the Fairmont Hotel which was one of the first broadcasting stations. Its station call Is D. D. V. and should be received very qso. (meaning strong signals) in Santa Cruz with a vacuum detector and proper tuner."

DDV was a bit more mysterious. Listed in that same issue of RADIO as owned by Noble Electric Works in Monterey, CA. They had no published schedule at that time. Wireless Age listed them as operating in May of 1922. the Santa Cruz Evening News announced the opening of the station in April of 1922. The hotel referred to is probably the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco making the old equipment formerly part of 6XG in 1921. It later changed calls to KDN. More here. I can only assume DDV didn't last long.