Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Radio reception Tips

As much as I encourage people to listen to their local non-coms; I thought I should chastise less and prod more. So here is a set of tips and products to improve your radio listening pleasure. FM radio reception can be iffy, especially in the educational portion [88.1-91.9] of the radio dial. AM can be even worse of course due to nighttime-fade-out etc.. There are hundreds of web-pages out there welling toys to improve reception. These run the gamut from utter crap to expensive over kill, to expensive crap.
Let's make this ridiculously simple:
1. Get a good tuner
2. Get a good antenna
3. Position them well
4. Trouble-shooting

The first step toward quality FM/stereo reception is a quality FM tuner or receiver. However, even with the best equipment money can buy, your tuner may not produce as good a sound as an inexpensive mono FM portable. But, small mono FM radios can still sound good because the speaker will filters out some noise and distortion. There are many good brands of Am/FM tuner. I like the Parasound TDQ1600 and also the Fanfare FT-1A

If you have a good receiver you should match it up with a good antenna. Indoors I reccomend a simple dipole wire. You can buy these at radio shack for $2.00. Remember to mount at a 45 degree angle to the wall! For outdoor FM I reccomend a nice Omni from Katherein Scala, or Winegard. If that's too pricey for you there are kits available that are kind of fun if you're into BDSM. Fanfare makes an FM whip antenna tuned fort precision in the educational band, it underperforms at the top of the FM band, but that's not usually where the problems lie.
http://www.kathrein-scala.com/catalog/FMO.pdf http://www.fanfare.com/fm-2g-c.html

For AM antennas I reccomend any of the following. In my experience unless you intend to run ~2250 feet of cable across the back yard, you should focus on positioning. here are some models I have tried with success. Again you can make your own loop. It;s not that hard really. I found a guy online who made one in a hula-hoop.
Belar LP-1A
The ramsey Signal Magnet (also indoor)
http://www.ramseyelectronics.com/cgi-bin/commerce.exe?preadd=action&key=SM100 another sheilded loop

Select-A-Tenna Model 541-M

Mount FM and AM antennas outdoors above the roof line and if possible above the treeline. If not possible try to at least get away from obvious sources of interference: the Air conditioner, powerlines, LCD screens, Transformers, electric fans etc. AM loop antennas are directional, turn them until they sound best. Positoning is not complicated, only tedious. If you encounter interference, try to get as far from it as possible, and/or sheild your cable run. Quad sheilded coaxial cable will do the job. And don't forget to goround your outdoor antennas so you dont burn down your damn house.

Read this: http://www.klcc.org/resources/reception.html
or email me and/or respond to this post.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Radio Ownership Pie

I ate a lot of Pie as I've said before: Blueberry, Apple, lemon Merengue, and Apple Rasberry. That's 4 slices in all, or the equivalent to 50% of any one pie. In radio, nobody owns 50% of the American pie thankfully. I've been thinking about the radio ownership pie recently, propbably since I first read about the Susquehanna/Cumulus merger. With CC so far in the lead it dosen't do much to change the balance of power, but it compresses things further.

For the record, As of 2002, 21 companies own more than 40 stations each.
this is from my favorite geeks at STATE OF THE NEWSMEDIA.

1207 Clear Channel Communications
268 Cumulus Broadcasting Inc
218 Citadel Communications Corporation
184 Infinity Broadcasting
107 American Family Association Inc
105 Entercom
91 Salem Communications Corporation
76 Regent Communications Inc
76 Cox Broadcasting
74 ABC Radio Inc
71 Saga Communications Inc
64 Educational Media Foundation
63 Radio One Inc
61 Univision Communications Inc
58 NextMedia Group
57 Entravision Holdings LLC
54 Waitt Broadcasting Inc
46 Triad Broadcasting Company
43 Forever Broadcasting Inc
42 Beasley Broadcast Group

Ben Bagdikian wrote some great things about this topic. Back in 1983 he was fanaticly worrying about ologopoly in media. Everything he was paranoid about then, came to pass in the next 25 years. Of course that means for him that he is not actually paranoid and that they are actually out to get you.

Other things Pie in radio
Radio Pie: nice biographies and interviews with everyday people.
I listen. You should too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

turkey break

Ate too much pie. No posts until after fat day.
...Fat Day being the international holiday of post-gluttony sedate respite immediately following thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Chicago's Voice of Labor

On Wednesday night-July 21, 1926 WCFL 620AM , Chicago's Voice of Labor, premiered over the airwaves with two hours of music. This event marked the beginning of the first radio station in the United States dedicated solely to the cause of labor unions and their members. The driving force behind the creation of WCFL was a man named Edward Nockels.

WCFL continued to survive and even flourish over the following decades even were publishing a magazine. In the fall of 1927, Nockles introduced the quarterly publication of the WCFL Radio Magazine for it's listeners and union workers.

WCFL's General Manager Ken Draper altered the format in 1966. He captured the 18-35 year old audience, with the introduction of rock n' roll, and and the station beame even more successful. In 1967, WCFL was Chicago's number 1 CHR outlet!

It was in the late 1970's that things began to fall apart. As the organized labor movement in the United Stated began to decline, so did the Voice of Labor. The decision was made to sell WCFL because the finances were running low, and a progressive decline of community interest around their home base Chicago.

WCFL's ratings had tumbled by 1975. Lew Witz announced that on March 15, 1976, they would change from Top 40 to the dreaded beautiful music format. Most announcers were fired or quit. In April 1978, WCFL, the Voice of Labor, was sold to MBS (Mutual Broadcasting System)which was owned by Amway [Michigan-based pyramid-sceme marketing Co.] for $12 million. The sale of WCFL in 1978 marked the end of labor radio. But even without radio, the legacy of the labor movement lives on today. [Ex. I had to deal with a union shop just last month in Philly.]

In the fall of 1980, WCFL changed to a adult contemporary format. Then in 1983, MBS sold WCFL to Statewide Broadcasting and it hit the ratings bottom as a religious talk station. These days AM 1000 is currently ESPN Sports Talk...WMVP Chicago

Hear clips here: http://www.radiotimeline.com/am1000wcfl.htm

sombody wrote a book: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/s97/godfried.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nestled in the burbs of Boston

WBRS 100.1
at only 25 watts very few people outside Waltham, Massachucetts know of their greatness.
My current current favorite show: "Jarring transitions"

They take the primary fault of college radio and make it into a tractable theme. Ignoring the traditional radio goal of having listeners, the DJ transforms their two hour time slot into a personal mixtape. The brave listener must stumble from song to song awkwardly tying to keep the thread. Its's brazen and arrogant. Obviously they are headed for the big time.

WBRS started originally in 1968 as a radio club as a carrier current signal available on campus-only. In the early 1970's WBRS obtained a "Class D FM" 31 watt license from the FCC on 91.7 FM. As was the case with all Class D stations, they were forced to change frequencies to 100.1 by the FCC in 1979.

Anecdotally I can also contributed to the actual definition of the class "class D" license: With the help of local Boston engineer Dana Puopolo, WBRS received a waiver from the FCC in 1995 to run at 25 watts TPO to maintain the 25 watts ERP. The differnce being that of the remaining four antenna bays, the top two are for the primary transmitter. The bottom two are for a backup transmitter. Minor for certain but an interesting historical footnote,. if it is true.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Colorado's Underground Voice

This week I visited Denver and Salt Lake City, I was able to listen to several memorable stations in that time. I was planning on mourning the difficulty of receiving the venerable Americana/Triple A taste-maker KCUV-AM. But then in some strange instance of convergence it was only last night they completed the Denver move-in of their FM simulast KCUV 102.3. Now they can actually be heard, clearly in Denver on the FM band.

Colorado's Underground Voice can be heard on either of its two affiliates KCUV 1510 AM Denver and 102.3 KCUV-FM. They seem to select only most Triple A-ish and rock cuts from the country catalog and only the most appealing (i.e. not hokey) cuts from the Americana catalog. Here's their playlist from a few minutes ago:

2:49 pm - Joe Cocker - She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
2:51 pm - Herbie Hancock - Stitched Up with John Mayer
2:56 pm - Waits, Tom - Downtown Train
3:00 pm - John Hiatt - Master Of Disaster
3:06 pm - John Mellencamp - Thank You
3:10 pm - Poco - A Good Feelin' To Know
3:13 pm - Amos Lee - Keep It Loose Keep It Tight
3:16 pm - Crosby, Stills And Nash - Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
3:24 pm - Janis Joplin - Try Just A Little Bit Harder
3:28 pm - Modest Mouse - Gravity Rides Everything
3:32 pm - Replacements - Merry Go Round
3:37 pm - Bonnie Raitt - I Will Not Be Broken

They are of course, Denver’s only Americana radio station. It's a place for the disenfranchised listener, who is tired of what commercial country radio, but cant handle the erratic nature of college radio. I'll commit a full post to Americana some other time but, in breif: Americana is a musical melding of alternative country, progressive rock, folk, blues, bluegrass and gospel. it's a radio format , not a genre. http://www.kcuvradio.com/

They've also been running this "Your Voice is Unique" promo wherein listeners can select 4 requests as a block with a theme which they will then broadcast. Pretty ballsy in my book. Here was mine:

Fembot -Small Town Murder Scene
Entrance -The Train is Leaving
Otha Turner -Station Blues
Slim Bryant and the Wildcats - Gal with the coal black hair

Probably not quite that ballsy.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Solar Powered Radio

This will be my last post on clean-energy radio (wind-power, hydro etc.) There is no geothermal radio station in the united states (or anywhere else so far as I can tell) so solar will be the last part of this series.

KTAO 101.9 FM is a lean commercial Triple A station way out to the distant South East of Santa fe. This, while technically an unrated market area is home to an interesting "green"
community full of artists and other crafty buggers. Audioclips from my favorite Taos-ian tree-hugger here: http://www.jhfarr.com/farrsound/index.html

The KTAO transmitter power utilises a Photovoltaic system, which was installed in 1991. It consists of an array of 140 photovoltaic panels. For those of you who did not graduate from cal Poly Tech, Photovoltaic cells are silicon wafers that convert sunlight into direct [D.C.] current. Each panel in the array generates about 32 kilowatts a day. This electricity is stored in batteries for use at the transmitter. It was designed and built by Solar Survival Architecture. Paradise Power Company, who are local Taos-ians. visit their site here: http://www.earthship.org/

the sun-worshippers at KTAO also host the annual Taos Solar Music Festival. It's a collaboration with the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. Info here: http://www.solarmusicfest.com/index.shtml

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Jingle Begins

Not Jingle Bells but The Product Jingle. The product Jingle predates radio by a bit. We are lucky that we can clearly credit one man for this. And before you go out to deface his headstone Let me tell you what you would have have guessed. Nicolas Slonimsky was the sort of warped genius that art students produce docmentaries about. He was a Russian born, naturalized American musicologist. Amazing Bio here: http://www.otherminds.org/html/Slonimbio.html

What puzzles his critics and fans is that he seemed to be two men. Both of them somewhat mad.
On one had he was the bona-fide musical genius. He edited the monumental Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. (still in print)He compiled an exhaustive compilation of literally thousands of different scales and permutations called the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. This epic work is described as an inventory of all conceivable and inconceivable tonal combinations. This text culminates in the mind-boggling "Grandmother Chord" containing twelve different tones and 11 different intervals
On the other hand, he also He put together the Lexicon of Musical Invective, a random collection of bad reviews of recognized classics. The text is so anally thorough that it concludes with an an index of the weapon-like words used to attack composers we now consider great, with multiple entries for phrases like "tonal Antichrist," "perverse," "barking" and "sea-sickness." He wrote the comic/critical essay Sex and the Music Librarian. He once performed the right hand part of Chopins' black-key etude by rolling an orange over the keyboard single handed! This man taught his own daughter latin by speaking only Latin in the home until she reached the age of 5!

So, While I concede that it was he who wrote the very earliest singing commercials. (These were comissioned by The Saturday Evening Post in 1925 for Pepsodent and Castoria.) However it is my opinion that he meant it as a joke. He of course took the joke too far and occassionally performed the jingles as a lark. Click Play to hear him reinturpret his now infamous Castoria jingle.

I do not know what radio station ran these, but the actual scripts for them are archived by the Library of Congress. If anyone wants to be the hero, be my Guest.

Friday, November 11, 2005

SLC Punk

So here I am in the middle of Mormon country. I pull my rental car out of the garage at Salt Lake City International Airport and start scanning up from 88.1 at about 11PM. The odds were good, but the goods were odd. On 90.9 I caught "Driving All night" a Garage rock and retro punk program on KRCL. They are often thought of as another Triple A or Americana station but they are actually quite varied. Don't start thinking this is some west coast-type hippy fest. KRCL is a mecca of solid programming and well-seasoned DJs.

The playlist as I heard it, from last night:
  • The Cramps - Can't Find My Mind
  • The Gories - Nitroglycerin
  • Glass Candy - Nite Nurses
  • The Von Bondies-Tell Me What You See
  • Mystery Girls - Radio Planet Blues
  • The Replacements - Something To Du
  • GG Allin - Jesus Over New York
  • Minutemen - Hell Or Be Sold
  • The Intelligence - Weekends In Jail
  • The Eternals - Emperor's New Break
  • The Kills - No Wow
  • Camper Van Beethoven -Not That Funny

Note the smooth blend of old and new... It's not chaotically slapped together. This stuff just flows. A truly impressive show. Check out their other playlists.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The [Evil] ways of Hoosier Public Radio Corp.

Most radio people are familiar with the evil attempts of religious satcasters to seize airtime forcably from innocent hard-working non-commercial stations.

One such organization is Hoosier Public Radio Corporation (HPC), an [evil] Indiana radio organization with religious ties, [but no affiliations with any actual legit public radio groups.] They filed time share challenges against radio stations at one Kentucky college and four high schools and one college in Indiana; Franklin College’s WFCI. In this unique situation, Hoosier is not attacking a single high school station local to their group. No. HPC is blanketing a tri state area of educational frequencies with multiple goundless time-share challenges. It's a shot-gun approach, that has nothing to do with serving the community and everything to do with the eventual pay off.

Hoosier Public Radio Corp Currently runs WIKL 90.5 Indianapolis, with a particularly dull, satillite fed branded format we all know as K-LOVE. http://www.klove.com/
Their regional manager: John gale: 513-829-0333

In an April article by Reclaim the Media, the director of HPC Marty Hensley, said he planned to "broadcast [evil] community news... and [evil] sports, [evil]music, [evil]weather and reports on drunk driving, teen pregnancy, [and] drug use." If you beleive that I have a bridge to sell you. What he's going to do is pipe in satillite fed religous talk. Probably originating with our friends in Twin falls Idaho.

“If they’re not using their license 24 hours a day, we just want to use the hours they’re not using and help them operate the station,” Hensley said. He is speaking as if WFCI has publicly requested "help" operating the staiiton, which of course has never actually happened. The only "halp" an educational broadcaster ever really needs are donations of personal time and money.

The laws used to seize this air time were not meant for this purpose. In these attacks they are perverted. Share time arrangements were meant to "fully" utilize a channel, to "fully" serve a community. Syndicated, satillite-fed religious programming is not valid as a fulfilment of any local service.

This is not limited to the bread basket. WVPH, WLHS, WHJE, WEEM, WRFT, WBDG, KNHC, WSHJ and many others survived similar legal assaults from [evil] right-wing religous cult groups in recent years.

In another development, RB Schools (another evil religious cult) argued that despite the fact that WLHS is on air 24/7, they are still not using their frequency to the fullest extent with its programming. (They air music, sports and talk shows.) RB schools [evil] president Linda de Romanett said: R B Schools could improve the quality of WLHS and other stations through the [evil] programming she plans to broadcast.

This is the first time that argument has been used in a time-share challenge. It appears somewhat exploratory in nature. It's clearly baseless having no precedent to work from. The FCC rejected this one without comment I believe. They opted not to open that barrel of worms.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Traveler Information

If you have tourists, you want to corall them. A state needs to keep those silly tourists out of trouble and on the main roads. Florida has a lot of tourists...

Florida's Traveler Information Radio Network (TiRN) is a public-private co-operative effort between The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and TiRN Broadcasting. Inc. TiRN's stated mission is "To enhance the travel experience in the world's permier family vacation destination." In other words: "cut down on the frantic calls to 9-1-1"

TiRN's talk travel radio format is designed to provide both visitors and residents of Florida with timely traffic and weather interspersed with commercial and feature presentations of all the fun places to visit, stay, and enjoy both statewide and in the local area. TiRN is broadcasting throughout Central and Northern Florida, and soon the entire state.

Their affiliates are as follows:
WTIR-1680 AM: Is their flagship station. It serves Central Florida. i.e. Disney World. (why sint disney paying for this?)

WFVR 910 AM: Serves the Valdosta, Georgia are and reaches travelers as they enter Florida on 1-10 and on 1-75 in North Central Florida.

WXXU 1300 AM: Broadcasts from Cocoa Beach, Florida, as their East Coast Affiliate.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Note the simplicity of the above design. The parts are assembled on a piece of scrap wood, and tacked down. The safety pin is anchored at one end and placed so the point may be moved around on the surface of the razor blade. The blued steel surface of the blade gives the rectifying action replacing a crystal. later versions used a pencil lead point on the razor blade. The only part of a foxhole radio you don't build from scratch is the headphone. Some GIs used their bayonets buried to the hilt in moist earth for a ground connection!

In 1944, during WWI American and British troops in between millitary incursions, found themselves with a little extra time to fill. They missed radio. Thsi of courtse was well before the popularization of TV. Before CDs and 100 years before the Ipod. They wanted to hear music or news on the radio, but personal portable radios were strictly verboten [pun intentional] as the German millitary had radio detecting equipment that could detect certain radio receivers. Superheterodyne radios were just plan dangerous to a man in a foxhole.

At some point a resourceful American GI (probably a drafted engineering student) figured out that a simple radio receiver could be cobbled together from wires and other scrap. The first soldier that made the discovery is unknown. But at the time he was able to hear big band swing music and of course dangerous hypnotizing Axis propaganda! This soldier taught other soldier and it didnt take long to reach every beach head.

These small wireless sets were called "foxhole radios" by the press. It has been over sixty years since these first appeared. http://bizarrelabs.com/foxhole.htm

*diagram borrowed from the article "Foxhole Radios" by the ingenious Don Adamson

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Farm Stations?

America was once blanketed in what we now quaintly call "Farm Stations" Pictures explain as much as words can in this case. They are very rural, always located in small towns. The bulk of the ramaining two dozen farm stations are in America's bread basket: Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri... I can only think of one that has even tertiary coverage of a major markets. That ont happens to be KMZU which skirts Kansas City to the East. http://www.kmzu.com/ They play country or country oldies music, maybe some big band if they play music at all. They all run livestock prices, and both the Chicago and Kansas City board of trade reports. I'd bet money that better than 50% run the Paul Harvey show. Many run local programs for trading or selling goods over the air, like a live auction or a broadcast classifieds column. The programming is almost always home-grown, and usually live. It's the way radio used to be. Everything about these stations reminds me of the 1950s.

And as hokey and corny as this format sounds it's pretty entertaining. The DJs are local, and colorful. The jokes old, overused yet sincere. It's never harshly political, or shocking. They know the names of all their callers and often recognize their voices. They broadcast local highschool football games. If you call the request line, odds are in favor of you hearing your phone ring in the radio and the DJ answering mid-sentance.

Last year the last Farm Station on the East Coast went gospel. Try to appreciate what's left friends. Below is a fairly complete list of these last suvivors.

KAAN-AM 870 /95.5
KBKH 92.9
KMZU 100.7
WRCO 100.9

KAOL-AM 1430
KASM-AM 1150
KBEW-AM 1560
KFTM-AM 1400
KSIR-AM 1010
KZZN-AM 1490
WCPH-AM 1220
WWIC-AM 1050
WZTQ-AM 1560

And don't ignore the Farm hams of America.