Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Secret Life of Radio

 The Secret Life of Machines was an educational TV series presented by Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod. It aired on BBC Channel 4. The pair explain the invention and function of various common machines and electronic devices. In this episode they cover radio from Heinrich Hertz through Bakelite into the modern era.




Monday, April 05, 2021

The Great Black Out of 1965

When New York has black outs they can make history. Readers may remember the 2019 New York black out that left 73,000 New Yorkers in the dark if only for 5 hours. I can attest that it was hard to sleep that hot sweaty night in July of 1999 without power for the Air Conditioner for 18 hours... There was a similar black out back in 2003, affecting more of the North East, and back in 1977 they had one that stretched into the next day. But back in 1965 was the big daddy of them all: The North east black out affected 30 million people stretching from New Jersey deep into Ontario, Canada. The worst spots were without power for 13 hours. In New York City, six deaths were reported. More here.

History dives deep into the human story: people dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, and falling into elevator shafts; the apartments without heat slowly getting colder, the sardine tin panic inside stalled commuter trains and the parallel disaster control story at Con Edison. The story played out live on television on back up generators. But on an aircheck of 77 WABC from November 9th, 1965we also can hear evidence of a a subplot playing out on the radio band.

That evening between 5:15 PM and 5:27, just before the city was "sucked into the maw of darkness" as the New York Times wrote, there was a brown out.  The frequency of electrical power in America is standardized on 60 Hz. That means the voltage changes from positive to negative, and from negative to positive voltage 60 times per second. This process is literally driven by the rotation speed of  the rotor of the generator which is 60 cycles per second. At some point after 5:00 PM that day that speed began to drift. To quote Eric Alper [SOURCE]

"The station’s music playback equipment used motors that got their speed timing from the frequency of the powerline, normally 60 Hz. Comparisons of segments of the hit songs played at the time of the broadcast, minutes before the blackout happened, in this aircheck, as compared to the same song recordings played at normal speed reveal that approximately six minutes before blackout the line frequency was 56 Hz, and just two minutes before the blackout that frequency dropped to 51 Hz. "

 For reference, the drop from 60 Hz to 56 Hz is a 6.7% frequency shift and 51 Hz is a 15% shift and the rotational speed of the LP is directly affected by the speed change in the motor. This changes the playback speed, and therefore the pitch of the music in that recording. In western music an octave has a frequency ratio of 2:1 and is divided in to 12 parts (semitones). Pitch changes works on a logarithmic scale, so that 15 percent change does not change the pitch 15%. In fact the first 2% had already lowered the pitch by a full half-tone. This is eerily similar to the way that Varispeed was used in recording studios in the same era. There is a fun calculator here.

WABC disc jockey Dan Ingram was hosting his afternoon drive time show and playing the song Jonathan King's "Everyone's Gone to the Moon." It sounds noticeably slow, as did the ads that followed it. Ingram even remarked that the King record "sounds particularly slow" and "was in the key of R." 


After the ad break for hotel bar butter and the station jingle he again notes that "it's slow" and during the ad for Adams Sour Orange gum you can hear the pitch continue to drift.  "It sounds like it's running in slow motion." Then the song "(Up a) Lazy River"by Si Zentner starts to play (very slowly) and Ingram notes that the lights in the studio are dimming. The power continues to dip as they segue into news and the power is lost  about the time newscaster Bill Rice starts into the second story about the gubernatorial election... If you're interested, David Nye wrote a good book on the subject, When the Lights Went Out : A History of Blackouts in America.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Murdering the Classics on WFMU

A good cover tune is truly something to behold. A cover can even surpass the original. This can even happen with top-tier artists. The Jimi Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower" is so solid that people forget that Bob Dylan wrote it. Aretha Franklin owns "Respect" so hard that she pwns Otis Redding. I'd argue that Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash tie with their respective version of "Hurt". But that's not true of Yo La Tengo. Their request-only WFMU benefit covers are classic in their own way, but it's in that different, Gen-X ironic sense of the word.  They strangle these poor songs. But with that special, car wreck way it makes for irresistible, unforgettable live radio. On March 7th, 2020 they held their 25th annual Yo La Tengo Request-a-thon. 

The date of the show has always varied, and the show they guested on was also quite variable before 2015. But the co-host has almost always been Gaylord Fields. My list below has a lot of gaps in it. WFMU blogged it some years, posted a playlist other years and some years apparently left no searchable virtual record. Beware of the Blog only began in 2005, and information before that is scant.  On different years Yo La Tengo performed on slightly different dates, and on different WFMU programs but always during the WFMU fundraiser. If you can fill in any of the blanks please comment on this post.

 YEAR
SHOW
 AIR DATE
 PLAYLIST
2021
Todd-O-Phonic Todd
03/13/2021
PLAYLIST
2020
Todd-O-Phonic Todd 03/02/2020
PLAYLIST
2019
Todd-O-Phonic Todd 03/09/2019
PLAYLIST
2018
Todd-O-Phonic Todd 03/10/2018
PLAYLIST
2017
Todd-O-Phonic Todd 03/18/2017
PLAYLIST
2016
Todd-O-Phonic Todd 03/12/2016 PLAYLIST
2015
Todd-O-Phonic Todd 03/14/2015 PLAYLIST
2014
The Evan "Funk" Davies Show
02/26/2014 PLAYLIST
2013
Hello Children with Faye 03/14/2013 PLAYLIST
2012
Pseu's Thing With A Hook
03/02/2012
PLAYLIST
2011
Trash Flow Radio
03/04/2011
PLAYLIST
2010
Pseu's Thing With A Hook 03/05/2010
PLAYLIST
2009
Pseu's Thing With A Hook 03/13/2009
PLAYLIST
2008
Bob Brainen's Show 03/02/2008
PLAYLIST
2007
Gaylord Fields & Tom Scharpling 03/16/2007
PLAYLIST
2006
Gaylord Fields & Tom Scharpling 03/07/2006
PLAYLIST
2005
Gaylord Fields & Tom Scharpling 03/15/2005
PLAYLIST
2004
Gaylord Fields & Tom Scharpling 03/20/2004
PLAYLIST
2003


PLAYLIST
2002

03/16/2002
PLAYLIST
2001


PLAYLIST
2000

03/07/2000?
PLAYLIST
1999


PLAYLIST
1998


PLAYLIST
1997


PLAYLIST
1996


PLAYLIST

So when the band released Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics in 2006 it removed that spontaneous rubber-necking experience and replaced it with a car crash montage that feels somewhat anemic by comparison. It lacks the visceral qualities, the fits and starts, the technical difficulties, and the unintended absurdities. The fund-raiser compilation includes covers from between 1996 and 2003. The 30 tracks make for a somewhat comedic 76-minute slog. But it's all for a good cause. Interestingly the existence of the disc seems to have further popularized the live radio program.

They way it works is that all listeners who pledged money during the band's appearances are offered a chance to request one song that the band would then attempt to perform. Yo La Tengo has no way to know what songs might be requested and therefore reserve the right to play the song, or fragment of a song in any form, tempo or key they see fit —acapella, instrumental or otherwise. Some tunes are therefore unrecognizable, or may even be a bluff. We have no way to know. The WFMU benefit compilation album compiles 30 "highlights" broadcast between 1996 and 2003.The breakdown of the full track list is below:

SEQUENCE
TRACK
PERFORMANCE
1
Tighten Up
2001
2
The Night Chicago Died
1997
3
Raw Power
2000
4
Sea Cruise
1997
5
Favorite Thing
2003
6
Baseball Altamont 2000
7
Meet the Mets 2002
8
Oh Bondage, Up Yours 1997
9
Ding dang/Interplanetary Music 1999
10
Captain Lou
1999
11
Oh, Sweet Nuthin'
1999
12
Route 66
2001
13
Roadrunner
2000
14
Tijuana Taxi
1998
15
Mendocino
2000
16
Sweet Dreams
2000
17
Baby's On Fire
2003
18
Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand
2001
19
The Hokey Pokey
1998
20
You May Be Right
1999
21
Mama Told Me Not To Come
2002
22
Roundabout
2000
23
You Ain't Seen Nothing yet
1998
24
Don't Worry Koko
2003
25
Downtown
1999
26
Let the Good Times Roll
1997
27
Never On Sunday 1998
28
20th Century Boy 2002
29
Rock The Boat
2000
30
Shotgun / Medley 2002

Monday, March 08, 2021

KSRO Schedule

With thanks to the Santa Rosa history website, I ran across a KSRO program schedule from September 24th, 1937.  It was the station's 25th anniversary. But today that schedule is almost 85 years old.  Their website flags just 5 programs as local on the schedule: Breakfast Club, News, Byrd Weyler Kellogg, Man on the Street and Sportscast as local shows. After a bit of research, I am inclined to agree. The station began as a 250 watt local stick, but 25 years, and 5,000 watts later they had become heavily reliant on the NBC Thesaurus transcription service.

The Church in the Wildwood at first glance looks like it could be local but it was a syndicated NBC Choir program. The Thesaurus called it "Familiar old hymns beautifully interpreted. A ¼ hour —5 times weekly Featuring JOHN SEACLE, popular baritone with WILLIAM MEEDER, NBC's famous organist." It was also on KDYL at 3:15 PST and 6:00 AM on KQW also on PST. Likewise Home Folks Folic was syndicated in 1937 and 1938. The NBC Thesaurus described it "A spirited program of hillbilly harmonies. ¼ hour —6 times weekly." Even Samuel Kissel was also syndicated. His musical career included playing nightly on the WOR program Moonbeams in the 1930's.. Later, Kissel became concert master of the NBC Symphony of the Air.


The Melodeers are probably the Melodeers Quartet. But there was a Melodeers on WABC as well but back in 1933. Of course it was much later that the NBC Blue network became ABC in 1943. But there was a Melodeers on WEAF in 1931 and one on WBAL in 1928. It's a common name. The Rhythm Makers have the exact same problem. Though this one is surely the NBC Rhythm Makers Orchestra. The Master Singers also came directly from NBC thesaurus "Vocal music of distinction. ¼ hour —3 times weekly The MASTER SINGERS themselves, a mixed group of 14 voices in a program of fascinating choral effects." Ditto Rosario Bourdon Presents, though his later work at Muzak is hideous.

At first George Hall's Orchestra appeared local as well but Dolly Dawn sang for them in the 1930s. [SOURCE]. The Collegian student newspaper of Richmond University referred to them as "nationally known Columbia artists" in April of 1934. They were also known as George Hall's Hotel Taft Orchestra. They were notable enough for Billboard magazine wrote up their live performance of dinner music on WJZ in 1928. They had a residency at The Taft Hotel but after 1941 the Vincent Lopez band broadcast their own weekly show out of the Taft Grille downstairs for the following 20 years.

TIME
SHOW
7:00 - 7:30
Breakfast Club
7:30 - 7:45
News
7:45 - 8:00
Melodeers
8:00 - 8:15 WPA Program
8:15 - 8:30
Dance Hour
8:30 - 9:00
Concert Miniatures
9:00 - 9:30
George Hall's Orchestra
9:30 - 9:45
Church in the Wildwood
9:45 - 10:00
Byrd Weyler Kellogg
10:00 - 10:15
Rhythm Makers
10:15 - 10:30
Behind the Headlines
10:30 - 11:00
Knights of the Golden Gate
11:00 - 11:15
Home Folks Frolic
11:15 - 11:30
Master Singers
11:30 - 12:00
Musicale
12:00 - 12:15
Melody Time
12:15 - 12:30
News
12:30 - 12:35
Farm Flashes
12:35 - 12:45
Rhythm Makers
12:45 - 1:00
Man on the Street
1:00 - 1:15
Samuel Kissel
1:15 - 1:45
Melodies by Green
1:45 - 2:00
Los Angeles Chorus
2:00 - 2:30
Rosario Bourdon Presents
2:30 - 3:00
Hollywood Highlights
3:00 - 3:15
Music Graphs
3:15 - 3:30
Dictators
3:30 - 4:00
On the Down Beat
4:00 - 4:30
The Mountaineers
4:30 - 5:00
Blue Velvet
5:00 - 5:15
Sportscast
5:15 - 6:00
Dancing Echoes
6:00 - 6:15
Slumber Hour

Dictators was a CBS syndicated program. Melodies by Green I still suspect is local. I thought it might be connected to the Green Music Center, but no such luck. On the Down Beat too eludes me but appears in a Radio Variety directory on both KSRO and WIP. That same 1938 issue lists the Slumber Hour on KGO-KPO, WDRC and KGLO. Music Graphs was also syndicated, it also aired on KGO. It was also straight out of the NBC Thesaurus transcription service: "Graphic music pictures of the American scene. ¼ hour —3 times weekly FERDE GROFE, his music and his concert orchestra with the BUCCANEERS, widely known male octet."

Farm Flashes was a USDA radio program originally named Noontime Flashes, produced by Morse Salisbury and aired nationally. If you want to know more about that I recommend the book Farm Broadcasting by John Baker.

But the Byrd Weyler Kellogg program, that is 100% local. She wrote a column in The Santa Rosa Press Democrat "Our World of Women" until at least 1949. She began writing for the Press Democrat as early as 1927. Burn in 1881 she lived until 1964. Her papers are held at the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library. In addition to her news writing, she also wrote screenplays; short stories; and poems. Some of her work is collected in the book Singing Years. The Sonoma County Anthology of Poetry and Prose published in 1933. Her original byline in the Press Democrat just read "Society and clubs."

Monday, March 01, 2021

Tin Cans With Strings to You

 

You will have to excuse the title. It kept coming to mind as a lot of old radio engineers refer to these capacitors as "tin cans."  In the USA, Pyranol caps, like all other PCB-containing (polychlorinated biphenyl) capacitors were banned in 1979.  Also called "Arochlors",  you will still see them at swap meets, and on eBay often without proper health warnings. But companies still do get fined for selling them, even at liquidation. Railside LLC got a tiny $250 fine from the EPA back in 2009 for selling PCB-containing capacitors without proper labeling or storage. [SOURCE] Nonetheless I easily found 8 different listings on eBay today without any warning whatsoever.

In 1865, the first "PCB-like" chemical was discovered, and was found to be a byproduct of coal tar. In 1881, German chemists first made PCBs synthetically in a lab. The Swann Chemical Company began making them for electrical use on an industrial scale in 1929. Monsanto bought their Anniston, AL plant in 1935 and took over production. Monsanto built a similar plant in Sauget, IL in 1955. (More HERE) The toxicity of PCBS was well documented even before the 1940s, so their continued use was inexcusable arguably criminal. Post PCB-ban, most liquid-filled capacitors use mineral oil or  rapeseed oil today

The law that prohibits the sale of PCBs is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. It went without an update until 2016, thank you President Obama.  The original 1976 law in addition to PCBs included lead, radon, asbestos, and formaldehyde to name a few. But on that list PCBs are special They are more immediately toxic than the other substances and can be absorbed through the skin. Similar to dioxin, they have no taste or smell which can exacerbate exposure. And they're not just in old capacitors, they were also in transformers, voltage regulators, switches, light ballasts and innumerable other electrical components. Then there is the bumping. It is estimated that between 1946 and 1977 General Electric dumped about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River. Mom was right, don't swim in the Hudson. More here.

But as toxic as it was, they made great capacitors. PCBs are non-flammable, a superior dielectric and very stable because of their superior heat transfer properties. They were ideal in high voltage, high capacity designs. When you can find them, you are most likely to encounter the wound-film capacitor variety. In the case of metalized film capacitors, also prevented arcing between the two plates. But if arcing did occur, the oil would reseal the burn hole. For that reason, this type capacitors were sometimes referred to as self-healing capacitors. They were used often with high-wattage radio transmittters. More here.

Below I have collated a good-sized list of PCB-containing trade names listed on numerous different brands of capacitors. There is an even bigger list in the book Paradigms Lost by Daniel Vallero. The EPA has a list here as well. But PCBs have been used for over 150 years and many early manufactureers have gone out of buisness. The 1979 EPA Final Rreport seems to have disspeared from their website. But it's still on the way back machine here. I've noted some common spelling variants in parentheses.

Trade Name
Manufacturer
Country
Apirolio -
Italy
Aroclor (Arochlor) Monsanto
UK
Ascarel (Askarel)
ESCO, Ferranti-Packard etc.
Brazil
Asbestol American Corp.
USA
Aerovox Aerovox USA
Chlophen -
Germany
Chlorextol Allis-Chalmers USA
Chlorinol - USA
Chlortol -USA
Clophen BayerGermany
Delor-Czech Republic
Diaclor SangamoUSA
DK (Decachloro-diphenyl) -
Italy
Dykanol Cornell Dubilier
USA
Elemex Line Material
USA
Eucarel -USA
Fenclor-
Italy
Hyvol (Hydol)-
USA
Inclor-
Italy
InerteenWestinghouse
USA
Kennechlor (Kanechlor)MitsubishiJapan
Montar -
USA
Neopolin
-
USA
Noflamol (No-flammol)
Wagner
USA
Phenoclor Prodolec France
Pyralene Prodolec France
Pydraul -
USA
Pyranol (Pyrenol) GE
USA
Pyroclor -
USA
Saf-T-Kuhl Kuhlman
USA
Santotherm (Santothern) -
Japan
Santovac Monsanto
Japan
Sovol (Sovtol) -
Russia
Therminol (Therminal) Hints
UK