Thursday, July 30, 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ABSIE Doodle Dandy

Five weeks before D-day, ABSIE (the American Broadcasting Station in Europe) made its debut on the air airwaves of Europe. They began with the opening bars of the song Yankee Doodle. It didn't spin down until July of 1945. It was a large scale radio propaganda effort in wartime, and even William Paley, the head of CBS, helped ABSIE with the project planning for the OWI  (Office of  Wartime Information) More here.

The idea was to build a radio station powerful enough and near enough to the front, that the signal would reach German and European listeners. It began in 1942 under director Brewster Morgan from CBS and engineer Richard Condon. Station manager Saudek was from NBC, and the chief of the ever-important German-language desk Rober Nauer from from WLWO-AM. Work was halted that year as much of the initial team was pulled off ABSIE to build out AFRN. They didn't return to the job until the Fall of 1943. Despite the blitz, their London studios were ready by April of 1944.

It's hard to tell but when the Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) got involved things got more serious. SHAEF was founded in the spring of 1943 and their PWD department was keen on propaganda, radio propaganda and by extension ABSIE. SHAEF/PWD was headed by US Brigadier-General Robert A. McClure who had previously commanded the PWB (Psychological Warfare Branch) of  AFHQ (Allied Forces Headquarters) for Eisenhower. It was SHAEF that oversaw airdropping remote transmitters into Zeesen, Obisfelde, Wiederau and Munich so all of Germany could receive the BBC and ABSIE.

RCA built ABSIE four medium wave transmitters and they leased six shortwave transmitters form the BBC. The 10 transmitters made them more difficult to jam and easier to receive on mainland Europe. Much of the staff came directly from OWI: French journalist Pierre Lazareff.. later the publisher of France-Soir, Alfred Puhan.. later a U.S. Ambassador and many others. These foreign language desks were core to it's mission. Reaching Europeans with vital information helped them organize resistance. At it's peak it had a multilingual staff of about 250 employees. It also rebroadcast popular BBC and VOA programs. More here.

 Their last broadcast was on the 5th of July in 1945. Before they played Yankee Doodle, Director Elmer David made a statement declaring their mission accomplished and that the BBC and VOA would continue on. the book The Psychological Warfare Division, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force covers some of this in great detail.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Spy Who Loved My Typewriter

The year 1985 was declared by the press to be "The Year of the Spy."  That year there were a large number of high profile arrests of foreign agents including  John Anthony Walker, Richard Kelly Smyth, Sharon W. Scranage, Ronald William Pelton, Randy Miles Jeffries, Edward Lee Howard, and Jonathan Jay Pollard. (Pollard was actually just unexpectedly paroled so the topic came to mind.) These were Russian spies, Israeli spies, Chinese spies even one from Ghana. But there was another big spying story...

CBS broke the story that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was bugged. This is no surprise to the cynical but the CIA and CBS has to indignantly pretend to be surprised. What was amazing to me was how they were spying. Yes they had the usual "audio bugs" on phones and in rooms but also inside typewriters. Correspondent David Martin reported:
"Soviet agents secretly installed tiny sensing devices in about a dozen embassy typewriters. The devices picked up the contents of documents typed by embassy secretaries and transmitted them by antennas hidden in the embassy walls. The antennas, in turn, relayed the signals to a listening post outside the embassy... Depending on the location of the bugged typewriters, the Soviets were able to receive copies of everything from routine administrative memos to highly classified documents."
In a typewriter? That sounds a bit noisy to me. But CBS was claiming that the Soviets had the technology to back engineer the contents of a document form the sounds inside a typewriter. For the record, the NSA confirmed this was true. [SOURCE] the U.S. had first tried to build an embassy in 1979 and had to quit... there were too many bugs. The apocryphal story is that they were poured right into the concrete. A new embassy was built and while the concrete may have been clean... the US seal on the wall and the IBM Selectric II and III typewriters were not: 1981 IBM Selectric III on the Typewriter Database

Over the next 100 days every electronic device at the embassy was replaced, including all 250 typewriters. The project was assigned the code name GUNMAN and it ran under COMSEC. The removed equipment was examined at Fort Meade with X-ray machines. The project manager Walter Deeley offered a bounty of $5,00 for each found bug. In the IBM Selectrics they found an extra coil on the power switch. It was a bug, A total of 16 were found. Their new project at the NSA was reverse engineering how the bug worked. More here.

Most other models of typewriter had individual metal arms for each letter that swung up to strike a ribbon against the paper to make an imprint. IBM Selectrics,were unique and used a round ball with characters around the outside surface. When a typist struck a key, the ball moved into position over an inked plastic ribbon and dropped to imprint the letter or number onto the paper. In addition to the coil the bugged units had an additional spring lug and screw and interpose latch (bail). The movement of that latch controlled the pitch and spin of the ball. This could be detected magnetically by the sensors concealed in the bar and  converted into a digital electrical signal. The signals were encoded into a four-bit frequency select word (FSW). The bug was able to store up to eight four-bit characters in a buffer. When the buffer was full, it transmitted the data. The bugs used all used burst RF transmissions at 30, 60, or 90 MHZ to send back their data. Amazing.

This kind of work really makes PRISM look ham-handed.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lego Radio from Littlebits

This doesn't just look like a radio, it is a radio. Littlebits is an electronics company. they talk a good game about "democratizing hardware" and prototyping but mostly they are a purveyor of modular electronics kits and Arduino mods.  It's a small market, but they make the best of it, selling smart kits to smart kids.




The "Radio bit" is a cool kit up for possible manufacture. It has three modes: Auto search, Extended Auto search and Manual Tuning like a normal desktop radio. And like the common hotel models the headphone cable doubles as the antenna wire.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sports Teams and Radio Market Rankings

In our industry top markets are often equated with Football and Baseball teams. Instead of spelling out a top 30 or top 20 market focus an add-buyer or VC investor might just say all the MLB cities or NFL cities. The wording does not correlate to some kind sports demographic target. It's just jargon for "all the big markets." It's used most often by people who don't know much about radio. I don't know much about sports so let's file this post under irony.

There are 32 NFL teams and 30 MLB teams (counting both American and National Leagues). There is a lot of overlap so many cities have two or more teams while other markets have none. New York City famously has both the Jets and the Giants, and in baseball the Mets and Yankees. So you can imagine the spread isn't' even at all. Also as you well know, multiple cities can comprise an MSA further, compounding the city-to-team imbalance. The correlation craps out inside the top 20 actually.
  1. New York: Jets, Giants, Mets, Yankees
  2. Los Angeles: Dodgers, Angels
  3. Chicago: Cubs, Bears 
  4. Philadelphia: Eagles, Phillies
  5. Dallas: Cowboys, Rangers
  6. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose: Raiders, Giants, 49ers, Athletics
  7. Boston (Manchester): Patriots
  8. Washington (Hagerstown): Redskins, Nationals
  9. Atlanta: Braves, Falcons
  10. Houston: Texans, Astros
  11. Phoenix-Prescott: Cardinals, Diamondbacks
  12. Detroit: Lions, Tigers
  13. Tampa-St. Petersburg (Sarasota): Buccaneers, Rays
  14. Seattle-Tacoma: Mariners, Seahawks
  15. Minneapolis-St. Paul: Viking. Twins
  16. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale: Marlins, Dolphins
  17. Denver: Broncos, Rockies
  18. Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourn: NONE
  19. Cleveland-Akron (Canton): Indian, Browns
  20. Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto: NONE
  21. St. Louis: Rams, Cardinals
  22. Pittsburgh: Pirates, Steelers
  23. Portland: NONE
  24. Charlotte: Panthers
  25. Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville):  NONE
  26. Baltimore: Ravens, Orioles
  27. Indianapolis: Colts
  28. San Diego: Padres, Chargers
  29. Nashville: Titans
  30. Hartford-New Haven: NONE
  31. Kansas City: Chiefs, Royals
  32. Columbus: NONE
  33. San Antonio NONE
  34. Salt Lake City NONE
  35. Milwaukee: Brewers
  36. Cincinnati: Bengals, Reds,
  37. Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson: NONE
  38. West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce: NONE
  39. Austin: NONE
  40. Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek: NONE
That's just the top 40. While they match up 100% in the top 10, they only correlate to 90% of the top 20, and only abotu 85% of the top 30, and a mere 70% of the top 40. It all goes downhill from there.  For the completeists... rather than going long on this market list, here are the small market teams not included above:

Green Bay Packers # 68
Jacksonville Jaguars # 48
New Orleans Saints # 51
Toronto Blue Jays (N/A)
Buffalo Bills # 52