Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Hugo Gernsback Vs. Gaylord Wilshire

Henry Gaylord Wilshire, known by his friends as Gaylord, was a quack. But he was a notable quack. In 1895 he began developing 35 acres of a barley field in what is now Los Angeles. From that parcel, he donated a strip of land 120 feet wide by 1,200 feet long to the city. This was intended for a Boulevard which now bears his name: Wilshire Boulevard. If you're not familiar, it's the primary east-west arterial road in L.A. The Los Angeles Conservancy described him as "flamboyant character." In his day he was a land speculator, gold speculator, public speaker, political candidate, publisher and radio broadcaster.

In 1925, he started marketing the I-on-a-co, an electric belt that could purportedly improve health. The belt gained popularity from its marketing. [Donald G. Davis wrote a great whitepaper on the I-on-a-co here]  He bought a nearly full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times in 1926. At the bottom of that advert he listed a schedule of his upcoming radio appearances. He also was quoted as below:
"Since 1925 I have been broadcasting weekly lectures regarding the I-on-a-co Belt, in practically all the leading newspapers in California. I have been broadcasting weekly lectures on the I-on-a-co over three radio stations. I have lectured in person in many California cities..."
But even his biography by Louis Rosen does not name the stations. The advert listed only one of the three, his Thursday-evening spot on 1250 KTAB-AM in Oakland. We know the other two were also in the Bay area: San Francisco and Oakland. In Oakland the 9 options were: 590 KLX-AM, 830 KGO-AM, 1170 KFUS-AM, 1200 KLS-AM, 1250 KZM-AM (share with KTAB), 1360 KFUU-AM, and 1450 KFWM-AM. But in San Francisco there were only five: 700 KPO-AM, 1120 KFRC-AM, 1330 KFWI-AM, 1360 KJBS-AM, and 1450 KGTT-AM.

I had assumed it would be KLX as they also aired the nutter Aimee Semple McPherson. But it appears the answer lies elsewhere. I found a Radio Doings calendar from August, 1926 for 1260 KMTR-AM in Hollywood airing "Wilshire's Ionaco Lectures" at 7:30 PM on Tuesday the 17th and "Gaylord Wilshire Lectures" at 7:00 PM on Friday the 20th.  Broadcast Weekly lists "Ionaco with Gaylord Wilshire" on 1200 KFWI-AM on Tuesday Nov. 23rd, at 8:30 PM and again that Friday. KFWI is actually in San Francisco but KFWI is basically in Los Angeles... leaving us with a missing station.

A February issue of Radio Doings puts Wilshire on 7:00 PM on Tuesday Feb 15th on 890 KNX-AM, also in Los Angeles, then again on KMTR, 10:00 AM Saturday, February 19th Charles W. Hemp "Presenting Gaylord Wilshires famous invention The Ionaco." Charles was the Director of Radio Activities at the Iona Company. So it is no surprise to see him at 7:00 AM on 830 KFWB-AM, June 14th 1927. In Hollywood again this time on 1330 KFQZ-AM, 7:30 PM another "Wilshire Ionaco Lecture" Tuesday, February 15th. They keep stacking up also in that issue is 1220 KSFD-AM 7:00 PM Feb. 16th, KNX, again on Feb 15th and Charles Hemp was on KFWB and KMTR with the same schtick at least as early as January  1927.

Interestingly not only did the American Medical Association (AMA) go after Wilshire, but so did some science hobbyist magazines. Notably Science and Invention which was funded by WRNY. In October 1927 Hugo Gernsback wrote an exposé The Ionaco Swindle. Some readers wrote in to defend Wilshire and the Ionaco, most of them read like advertising copy. But other savvy readers, in a move that prefigures "doxxing" wrote in and outed other print publications still running I-on-a-co advertisements. Wilshire was already dead, but the editors rejoiced in the irony that Wilshire "died of the very ailments for which Ionaco was supposed to be specific [cure]."

Wilshire died destitute in 1927 in New York City. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. But even after his death (according to the book The Body Electric by Carolyn Thomas de la Pena) radio stations continued to broadcast his program from transcription discs. The FRC finally banned quack advertisements from radio in 1932.

Monday, December 24, 2018


NARBA was replaced in in 1983, with the adoption of the Regional Agreement for the Medium Frequency Broadcasting Service in Region 2, A.K.A. the "Rio Agreement", which covered more or less the entire Western hemisphere. That was over 30 years ago, so NARBA is largely a historical artifact now. Looking back what remains notable is both the nations that participated, and that that didn't. Most notable is the one nation who joined, then later withdrew: Cuba. More here.

Cuba was on board with the original NARBA, let's call it "NARBA Classic" back in the 1930s. The initial NARBA bandplan, was actually known as the "Havana Treaty."  It was signed by the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti in December of 1937. It took effect in March of 1941. Back then the primary goals were: standardizing engineering practises, reducing interference and fairly distributing channel assignments across nations.  In fairness, NARBA Classic favored the US substantially.

In 1949 when NARBA was being re-negotiated, Cuba was in it to win it. The problem of conflicting channel assignments was of primary concern and while Mexico refused to participate the other participating nations were in for a high stakes poker game. Cuba in a savvy maneuver proposed they get wildly more than they wanted putting the US on defense. Broadcasting magazine literally described the Montreal NARBA proceedings as the “threat of ether war.”  This was a tad dramatic, but Cuba did ask for the following:
  1. Right to 3 more 1-A channels
  2. Power increases on 3 more 1-A channels
  3. Establishment of 11 Class 1 stations (7 regional, 4 clear channel)
  4. A total of 108 assignment son 79 channels
  5. Increased protection on certain Cuban channels 
  6. A ban on further licensing of 590, 690, 860, 950, and 1010 in the Southern US (FL, GA, AL, MA, LA)
Under the previous NARBA treaty of 1941, (and the interim agreement of 1946) the 690 frequency was already designated a Canadian 1-A clear channel, so that wasn't a big ask. In trade, they offered to give up the below stations to protect the clear channel status of KNBC in San Francisco and WMAQ in Chicago.
  1. 1 Kw station on 670 kHz at Oriente
  2. 250 watt station on 680 kHz at Artemisa
  3. 1 Kw station on 680 kHz at Santa Clara
The conference voted 6 to 4 against.  Letters to broadcasting magazines described it as "jungle warfare" or as a "cold radio war" and the island of Cuba as "pint-sized."At the time, the whole island of Cuba only had a population of about 5 million. That is about the size of Boston, MA today. Boston has more than 90 AM and FM signals so 108 assignments isn't excessive in today's terms, but it may have seemed that way in 1949. 

It's 1,300 miles from Cuba to Chicago. By today's math, the stations they were offering to protect were in little danger from those local Cuban stations. Though at the time AM reception was common at those distances for clear channel stations. So they would have been regionally impeded in the South East. Interestingly ABC, Westinghouse, KPRC, and Fort Industry Co. all still voted in favor of the treaty.  (Mexico refused to even attend the conference.) The following US stations would have been effected by the Cuban proposal:  KFI, WNBC, WJR, WBBM, WCCO, WLS, WENR, KPRC, WFBC, WSUN, WJBO. An even greater list was described over-dramatically as having "incomplete' protection. In Cuba WIBS would have to move from 740 to 730 kHz, and WKAQ in San Juan would have to reduce it's radiation toward San Juan. 

Cuba didn't get what they asked for, but they got what they needed.  A three-year interim agreement gave Cuba expanded allocations, including the right to share 5  U.S., 3 Canadian, and 2 Mexican clear channel allocations. The interim agreement expired on March 29th, but the new NARBA agreement was signed in November 1950 and was good for another 5 years. NAB was pretty pissed. That same month Billboard Magazine published that the NARBA "conference quietly stole away this week after signing a pact which empowers Cuba virtually to destroy half a dozen clear-channel frequencies in New York and elsewhere."  Broadcasting Magazine just referred to it was "Cuba's Victory."

Remember Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959, so while he was the beneficiary of those proceedings, he was not their architect. NARBA was still biased in favor of the U.S. and Multiple signers were considering walking away before 1980. But Cuba had been in a radio fight with the U.S. for decades. The CIA broadcast anti-Castro propaganda starting in the 1960s, VOA began beaming western propaganda at the island the same year as did Cuban exiles in Florida. In response, Cuba beefed up it's local service, aided Radio Free Dixie, and broadcast Radio Moscow to the U.S. as late as the 1970s.  All of that was outside the treaty.

The Carter administration had improved relations with Havana to the point where the radio spat had largely cooled. But Ronald Reagan was a rabid anti-communist. After his election  the broadcasts resumed.  In 1980, Cuba gave the required one year notification that it was withdrawing from the NARBA treaty. Reagan administration officials announced plans to establish a "Radio Free Cuba". This service was named Radio Marti in 1982 and service began in 1983. Seeing this coming, and with no attachment to treaties signed by the pre-revolutionary government, Cuba abrogated NARBA in 1980. They even gave the standard 1-year notice. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

News and Reviews 2018

It's been a shorter year for me blog-wise. There has been less research, less writing but so much going on elsewhere. However, when I have posted it's been longer, delved deeper and weirder unearthing some truly arcane deep dives. I'll keep it brief and focus on the highlights.

Best Posts:
It was only a few weeks ago but it felt very worthwhile to go deep on FCC's Operation Gangplank. Back in September I spent some time researching Radio Station Bombings and found out that KPFT was not alone in having been a terrorist target in the US, that WEDR, KMAK, KFWB and WKRL had also been bombed. My piece on Maximum Rock N' Roll took a lot of research, but not as much as the Golden Mike Awards which I wish was more complete. I also was very pleased to discover the first radio station build by a black radio engineer [LINK].

Most Popular Posts:
My most popular posts haven't changed in years.  Since 2009 the most traffic has gone to a post about Peter Tripp.  This is what I call the post that Reddit built. It remains an aberration in my web-traffic with 96k+ hits. I did eventually collate a list of all Radio Wake-a-thon records here. My 2007 post on the Career Academy of Famous Broadcasters continues to earn comments from it's legion of former students. It remains a top hit on Google. In third place a 2010 post on Barn Dance programs remains popular. My readers continue to debate if I was unfairly harsh to Kevin Metheny. I think not, but he died in 2014 so I have hopes that on the wane. I am pleased that Noise From Neville comes in 6th, as eventually finding him led to two more WRIU centric posts [LINK].

Best Radio Station:
I have been listening to more jazz than anything lately.  I often head over to KJAZ.FM, a bebop focused online station that never dissapoints. Also on speed dial are WZUM, KSDS, KCSM, and WKCR 

Best Record Store:  
This year I visited the Original-ish Rough Trade record store on Talbot Road in Notting Hill, London. What could possibly be cooler than that? Rough Trade was my source for so many imports in the 1980s and 1990s, it was great to see the head waters of indie rock.

Best Radio Show:
I've been rocking episodes of Radio Found from KBOO. It's either crazy randomness or random craziness. It only airs every second and fourth Thursday from 10pm – 12am PST, which is a bit hard for me to catch so I just stream it off his blog. Also totally digging Noise Floor, a program on the online station Under Noise. I am also really big on the Irresponsableful channel on YouTube.

Best Zine:
Noise Widow, they're only up to issue three but they are all pure gold. The most recent one has interviews with Scald Hymn and Plagues, Noise Cribs and I don't even write for them.

Top 10 Records of 2018
  1. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin 
  2. Daughters - You Won't Get What You Want
  3. Pile - Odds and Ends
  4. Heads - Collider
  5. Sleep – The Sciences 
  6. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance 
  7. Barren Womb - Old Money / New Lows
  8. Vein - Error Zone 
  9. Melvins - Pinkus Abortion Technician
  10. Anal Trump - The First 100 Songs

Also Notable... Jesus Price - Only Self, Miss World - Keeping up with Miss World, Mudhoney - Digital Garbage, Oh Sees - Smote Reverser, Wristmeetrazor - Insecurity Checkpoint, Melting Hand - Faces of Earth, Sumac - The Deal, Clutch - Book of Bad Decisions

Monday, November 19, 2018


I had the good fortune to have access to a decent radio while in London last Friday. What was remarkable to me was not just the number of pirates, but that in some cases I couldn't distinguish between pirates and commercial FM stations. Most pirates were broadcasting in stereo and some even with scrolling RDS! More here.

On the commercial side they brand a number of dance sub-genres which to me are indistinguishable: Acid Jazz, Breakbeat, Hardcore *and Breakbeat Hardcore) Funk, House, Liquid Funk, Techno, Drum ’n’ Bass, Basement (Bashment?) and a number of others. These flowed together into one continuous boom-chee, boom-chee, boom-chee, boom-chee... interrupted only by advertisements for Amazon Alexa, and the Euro-Millions lottery. This obviously popular UK format has no U.S. equivalent, as we have no more than nine "dance" formatted stations in the whole country. First skiffle, now this.

I noted some loud silent carrier signals that must be stations but were off air at about 8:00 PM GMT. I suspect those are pirates, as rube-goldberg automation often leads to dead air. But absent any programming it's hard to tell. Optimistically I tuned in nine pirates That's almost a third of the radio band

88.0  - Pulse88 (pirate)
88.8  - BBC Radio 2 
89.1  - BBC Radio 2 
*90.0 - Silent Carrier? (Pirate Hot FM aka Hot 90?)
90.2 - Point Blank FM (Pirate)
91.3 - BBC Radio 3
93.2 - BBC Radio 4
94.9 - BBC London
95.4 - UK Roots FM (Pirate)
95.8 - Capital FM
*96.1 - Silent Carrier? (Pirate S Dance?)
96.3 - Hot 96 (pirate)
96.9 - Capital XTRA
97.3 - LBC
97.9 - Divine (Pirate)
98.5 - BBC Radio 1
     James Brown - Get up Off A That Thang
100.0 - Kiss FM
100.6 - Classic FM
     Smooth Classics w/ Margherita Taylor
101.4 - Flex FM (Community station, former pirate)
*102.0 - Silent Carrier? (Pirate Conscious Radio)
102.2 - Smooth Radio
     Ad block: Euromillions
103.0 - LMW London Most Wanted (pirate)
103.3 - poor signal, London Greek Radio?
104.9 - XFM, Radio X
105.4 - Magic
     "Mellow Magic" tagline
105.8 - Absolute Radio
     Kasabian - Processed Beats
     Muse - Something Human (terrible BTW)
106.1 - Heart

Also managed to fit in a visit to the original Rough Trade record shop on Talbot Rd. While not technically the first store, it's as close as you can come today. The original opened at 202 Kensington Park Road in 1976, it later moved to Talbot Rd... close enough.  I also visited a dead-end alley called Savoy Steps, where Bob Dylan filmed the video for Subterranean Homesick Blues in 1967. More here. Also bought a heap of books at the Music & Goods Exchange near Portobellow Rd. and a couple gems from Black Gull Books at Camden Lock.

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Spamettes!

They were never actually called the Spamettes. Some sources claim they were nick-named the Spamettes, but this is apocryphal. Alas, in 1946, the Hormel Company started recruiting for for an all-female troupe of musicians to promote their processed meat products. But before I go any further into Spam-related history, I should note that Jill M. Sullivan and Danelle D. Keck wrote the definitive text on this topic: The Hormel Girls in 2007. Even Sullivan and Keck couldn't resist the inherent schmaltz of Spam. I'll quote:
 "On any given summer Sunday evening in 1948, one could hear on the Mutual Broadcasting System the sponsor of a popular program exclaim 'S-P-A-M! the first meat of its kind in America preferred by most people SPAM! Over eleven years ago the news sensation of the meat packing industry, SPAM. Today this miracle meat of many uses continues to maintain its leadership from coast to coast." 
It's hard to take Spam seriously. It has been around since 1937, and rose to prominence as a war-time food-stuff. But Hormel sold 122 million cans in 2011, a sales increase of 11% from 2009. In short... someone is eating it. Spam has been around for over 80 years. In 80 years as you might imagine they've done a wee bit of radio advertising. The image above is a print ad for the Burns & Allen show. But they have also advertised on radio.

In 1947 Jay Hormel put together a 20-member  all-women's bugle corps. The Hormel Girls were a drum and bugle corps of female WWII musicians. I should point out now that the recruiting process required all those ladies be white, and unmarried. The group toured and held parades in small towns. When they played the came with flag-bearers, and a drum and bugle corps. As an orchestra they added tuba, trombones dancers and expanded to more than 60 members. More here

 In 1948, the Hormel Girls debuted on radio. Music with the Hormel Girls became a top-rated weekend show on three different radio networks.  The program debut on ABC airing Saturdays at 6:30 PM following the Hour of Charm.  It was hosted by Betty Dougherty, and Elina Hart and the 30 minute show included both an orchestra and a chorus. Marilyn Wilson was the announcer. (Later Marilyn Wilson Ritter) They switched to CBS in May of 1950. Out of all 6 years of radio, there are only eight surviving 16-inch transcriptions discs of those Hormel Girls shows. More here and here. Marilyn later worked on KRCU public radio.

The original band was band was comprised of 20 former WACS(Women’s Army Corps), WAVES(Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service),SPARS (women’s reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard) and Marines.  According to Sullivan and Keck, they changed their style for radio.  By 1953, the show was number four in the yearly Nielsen rankings. But they disbanded within a year as Hormel refocused on TV advertising. More here.

The group was disbanded after a February1954 radio show.  But they have a strangely lasting legacy. The Hormel Girls held reunions in 1983 and 1991. The Hormel SPAM Museum in Austin, MN, opened in late 2001 and has an exhibit dedicated to the Hormel Girls. And Hormel didn't give up on radio they were sponsoring radio shows like Country Calendar as recently as 1987.