Monday, June 10, 2024

Testing a 1913 Deforest Sperical Audion Radio

 I only found this video recently but it's excellent. I've never seen a radio engineer go thru the circuit component by component and explain how it's working at this level of detail. He has several other videos all worth watching but this one is really something special. If you've never seen someone make a resistor with paper and a wood dowel this is a must-watch.



Direct Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ZVqr0fPo4

Saturday, June 08, 2024

PDX to SFO

It's about 650 miles from Portland to San Francisco, that's a full day at the wheel. The plan was to spend as much of the drive on the coast as possible so instead of heading down I-5 or Route 99 I drove north west up Route 26 to join 101 in Seaside, OR; lost some time but gained some road miles.

The coast of Oregon is mostly rural, small towns separated by miles of forest. KXJM is located in Banks, along route 26 but at 68k watts is just another Portland station. KMHD petered out and I started looking for local stations. The Classic rock station 102.3 KCRX in Seaside was the first and their license is held by "OMG FCC Licenses, LLC" which is the best LLC name I've seen since "The Dude Abides LLC."  In this area OMG also owns 1230 KKOR and 1370 KAST-AM in Astoria which is too far north to receive here. (They also own a cluster of station in Alaska.) OMG sadly only stands for Ohana Media Group and not the exclamation "oh my god." Ohana's website has been down for quite a while and is excluded from the wayback machine so they're running dark online.


KCRX
is classic rock if you think The Offspring is classic rock. It's fine but it's not all about Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Further down the coast in Cannon beach there's a whole cluster of FMs to check out. The best option was 94.9 KBGE an actual AAA format station: Gorillaz, Florence and the Machine, Blur, Genesis, Live etc. Nothing unexpected but at least it's not new country. Down the road Manzanita has a local Classical stick, KQMI and then down around Bay City  we have another cluster of FMs now audible from Tillamook. Two are public radio: KTCB and KTMK. But down on the AM band I can now clearly get 1590 KTIL. My info said that it was classic rock but all I heard was country music... Slim pickins' out here. Bay City next door has an actual LPFM station 92.9 KAYN. [LINK] They had a bluegrass program and it's the best thing I've heard since KMHD faded out. 

Route 101 swings inland and I can briefly hear Portland stations again before heading back to the coast. In Newport is Lane Community College and their stations 89.7 KLCC and 90.5 KLCO. It does have some local programs, notably Eye 5, a Saturday roots music show but it's not Saturday today so I get an NPR zombie. Another hour south, in Lincoln City there's another classic rock station KCRF. But they're silent today. That went dark in the Pacific West foreclosure. [LINK] and [LINK].

Around Newport, more Eugene stations came in range. It didn't add any great options, further south Reedsport and then Coos Bay there's even more NPR zombies; KLFO, and KSBA, and yet more classical: KZBY, KWAX, and KWVZ and further south are KSOR, and KOOZ. AAA outlet KTEE was playing some Roasanne Cash. But in Florence 90.7 KXCR, a hyper-local unassuming 900 watt station. I stuck around and I heard a show about poetry, and listened to a talk show KXCR Conversations. These get posted online here so you can hear that very show. Also notable is KMHS, a high school station with not one or two but three sticks: 1430, 105.1 and 91.3. I just wish it wasn't wasted playing modern country music.

The drive was beautiful of course. I stopped at a joint named Mr. Ed's Espresso, Juice, and Underground Pub. The walls and ceiling are all hung with guitars of every make and model. The pizza is great it was one of the best stops on the whole drive. As I approached the California border I could hear 790 KRJY-AM, the Travelers Information station out of Eureka. This station is interesting because it's privately owned. They signed on in 1980 as KEKA. Prior to 2000 it was an Adult Standards format, and under Westwood One it was Spanish Oldies until 2016.

Station 910 KURY-AM should be playing Nostalgia but it too has drifted forward a couple decades more like it's FM counterpart on 95.3. The first California FM station I can hear for sure is 91.9 KHSR, an NPR zombie. I hear it best near the coastline. 1480 KEJB-AM out of Eureka is playing some actual oldies: Chiffons, Martha Reeves, Bobby Fuller the first one I've heard all week. I drove through Brookings, past several state-line themed cannabis shops and was in suddenly California.

I might have missed something but the giant redwood trees do seem to only start south of the border. I have since read that they do grow in Southwest Oregon but are smaller. The first LPFM I hit was 101.1 KFUG in Crescent City but they were playing modern country music as I passed through town but according to their website it's a crapshoot. It could have been Noiseparade or all Elvis. More here. I could hear 104.7 KHUM out of Humbolt by the time I got to Kalamath, more true AAA: Dan Auerbach, Beatles, Lana Del Rey and way too much J.J. Cale. 

Down the road I hit the Eureka-Arcata market which has a more robust radio dial. Station 95.1 KMDR playing is listed online as Rhythmic Oldies but is actually Soft AC. 94.1 KLGE a loungy jazz station... not quite Adult Standards though it sports some Mel Torme. A couple years ago they did a real deal radio play called "Hard Boiled Humboldt, A Half-Baked Detective Story". Yes you can download it and you should. [LINK] I expected it to come in but 105.1 KRFH, the one college station in town was not audible.


The area between Eureka and Ft. Brag is pretty rural but I noticed, starting in Eureka what KMUD has become. Firstly it is the station I remember. I tuned in and the first thing I heard was some talk about Shamans and then Native American music. They are now a real deal public radio network: 91.1 KMUD, 88.1 KMUE, and 90.3 KLAI. Don't ever change.

The dial got quiet until we hit Ft. Bragg and then Mendocino, home of 89.3 KAKX. The kids are surprisingly adept, nice mix of indie rock. Then the highway routed further inland. In Santa Rosa I can hear a repeater for KCSM on 90.7, and KWMR is keeping it weird. Kay Clements was still MD last time I came through, she's not listed on the staff website anymore but they just celebrated 25 years of broadcasting[LINK], congratulations! I also bumped into KRJF-LP which I've not heard before [LINK]. In the mid-afternoon I caught the New Music show, mostly a mix of AAA and indie rock, nice driving music. From there I could already hear San Francisco stations like KPFA, but I stuck with 93.7 KJZY, one of the few Nostalgia stations left, then all jazz 91.1 KCSM all the way into the city.

Filled with tacos from Tacos Oscar next door, I paid a visit to 1-2-3-4 Go Records on 40th Street in Oakland. Among other things I got a few stickers there, one for 92.7 FM KEXP.  The problem is that KEXP is on 90.3 in Seattle. Much like KYA Gold in Seattle... this station is 800 miles away from this sticker. The truth was a big surprise. In 2009 KEXP bought the station we now know as 92.7 KEXC. I'm not sure how I missed the news, but KEXP bought the old KJAZ stick from Flying Bear in 2022. There were other sights and other sounds, but you can't stay on the road forever.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

SEA to PDX

Everyone knows the airport code for Portland (PDX) but if you were not familiar, PSC is the airport code for Tri-Cities in western Washington state. The Tri-Cities are three cities (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland) located at the confluence of the Yakima, Snake, and Columbia Rivers. I flew into Seattle (SEA) and after a short stop in Olympia and drove the 160ish miles to Portland to begin the real road trip. This is my first visit in over a decade. [LINK] and [LINK] Much has changed. The weird things was that I didnt' run into KEXP stickers until I got to San Francisco a week later.

In Ellensburg, 96.1 KGRU-LP is no more. The Great Round-Up Cowboy church surrendered their license in 2016. Station 89.9 KGRG is still there, as is 1330 KGRG. They're still broadcasting different programming, but I did not hear any hosts leading me to believe they're operating under automation at least that morning. The "Alternative past" logo is long gone.

Station 101.1 KOHO was playing Classical music as expected. I made a side trip into Olympia to tune into 89.3 KAOS which did not disappoint. I caught the program Sister Sound in all it's psychedelic glory. [LINK]. I picked up a few Calvin Johnson mix tapes [LINK]  and the latest issue of the Cooper Point Journal. (I did spot that KAOS advert on page 7, well done.)  Sadly 90.1 KUPS was not very audible on the route. 91.3 KBCS was, so I heard DJ Mike Biggins briefly before the Bluegrass show began at noon PST. I think he was spinning some Taj Mahal but again the faded out before I passed Tacoma. 

The co-channel interference between KASB and KMIH on 88.9 was such that neither station was audible on my route. Strangely KMIH has flipped from Rhythmic CHR to AAA making their playlist more like KBCS than KNHC if we're comparing among the Seattle stations. KMIH operated on 104.5 until 2008 when this mess began. They had some secondary coverage via a translator on 94.5 but they sold it to Bonneville and while I'm sure the revenue was tempting... the station seems all but inaudible now. Putting two class D stations on the same frequency was a truly bizarre decision, which at this point could really only be improved with a timeshare agreement.

As soon as I got south of Cowlitz, WA I began trying to tune in my long-time favorite jazz station, KMHD. The signal cleared up around Castlerock. I caught part of the program Songs From Cloud 9, and then the following Monday morning, but was sorry to miss the Carlton Heston rebroadcast. But I did listen to The Morning Session, which was very chill, as advertised. The dial stayed put for a long time.


I made a real effort to spend some time listening to KFFD, Free Form Portland. They're small, they're weird and 100% volunteer. When I first tuned in I couldn't tell I even had a station, but after a bit of listening it was interrupted suddenly by an announcement about storm water runoff. Then I realized I was hearing ocean waves, not just static. It was surreal. Around 9:00 AM they had some hard soul and R&B program rolling. But when I checked back later it was a bilingual Spanish/English talk program.

KBOO was being KBOO and I can hardly describe what I heard but it was like Merengue with Hammond organ leads. I am guessing it was the Africa Oye program. KXRY (X-Ray FM) was playing a local artist Dakota Theim "The High Life" which I know because hosts Paul and Hannah backsold it properly. Good job kiddos. I tried to get 99.9 KXRW but there wasn't even a whisper on that frequency, not even driving down Route 5 in Vancouver. Similarly 100.7 had neither KBSF-LP nor KQRZ-LP when I tried Monday morning.

I had a great time in Portland, heard good music, ate great snacks.  There were more food trucks than restaurants. The hotel room even came stocked with a Roberts Revival R300 radio with a digital tuner. So instead of using the car radio, I was able to adjust a nice telescoping antenna and sit in the hotel room in total comfort and do a proper bandscan.

PORTLAND BANDSCAN (highly selective)

88.3 - KBVM     Religious talk
88.7 - KZRI        Christian rock
89.1 - KMHD     Jazz
89.5 - KPFR       Choir
89.9 - KQAC      Classical
90.3 - KFFP        Bilingual program?

90.7 - KBOO      Random
91.1 - KXRY      Indie Rock
91.5 - KOPB       NPR
91.9 - K2201N    KWAZ repeater
96.7 - KNUM      Hiphop
99.1 - KPRP        Indie rock
107.1 K296FY    KXRY repeater

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Telex Cordless Tape Eraser

 

Res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself.  As you'd imagine, a cordless cassette tape eraser is just some permanent magnets, and it is so. In my lab, my tape eraser of choice is an electromagnetic model. The brand name of mine "Magneraser." But this Telex cost me a whole $5 at a thrift store so I thought I could do a little comparison. Thankfully one of the fine folks over at Tapeheads.net already dissected one, saving me some time. [LINK]

The verbiage on the side of the box reads as follows:

"Erases standard & micro/mini cassette. For use in the home-office-on the road. — No outside power or batteries required. Can operate practically forever with built in alnico magnet which produces a strong demagnetizing field. Particularly useful with dictation systems which allow erasure of sensitive recorded material with minimal effort."

So I read up on those powerful "alnico magnets." Alnico is a family of iron alloys which, in addition to iron are composed primarily of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt, hence the acronym al-ni-co. The development of alnico began in 1931. Metallurgist Prof. Tokushichi Mishima in Japan discovered that an alloy of iron, nickel, and aluminum had double the coercivity of steel magnets. Before you ask, he does have the patents to prove it. [LINK] Mishima is on the Japan patent office top 10 inventors webpage. [LINK] He had quite a storied career. Born in 1893 in Empire of Japan, Mishima graduated from Tokyo Imperial University and spent his entire career as a metallurgist, eventually returning to Tokyo Imperial University as a professor. He died in 1975. Magnets are cool.

As you'd expect, the first thing I wanted to know is how old this device actually is. The first and only catalog listing I found was in the ICIA Directory of 1999. But the tech is much older. In 1999 you could buy this bulk eraser individually for $20 or a case of 12 for $216. The catalog number isn't on their website anymore of course. Telex is part of the Bosch Communications these days. Founded in 1936, they got bought by Memorex in 1988, got spun off in 1989 and then merged with Electro-voice in 1998. Bosch only bought them in 2006. Telex was in the audio equipment market from the get-go so very little of that corporate history narrows the window down. This eraser could have been made in the mid 1930s, except that the cassette wasn't invented until 1962. But sure enough, the bottom of the box reads "MFG. FOR TELEX COMMUNICATIONS, INC. MINNEAPOLIS, MN. U.S.A.  Based on the company name, and the catalog, this device was probably made in 1998 or 1999.

How well does it erase?  It does a better job than I expected, the results are not as different as I expected between the Telex and the Magneraser. With the Magneraser I get long audible segments interspersed with areas of total loss. The Telex seems to have less of those exaggerated peaks and valleys, though it didn't erase everything by any stretch. Thinking back, the late 90s were the end of the CD/Tape format war. [SOURCE] CDs were now 90% of the market. The CDs had won so cassette electronics were headed to the budget bin. So this wasn't limited to ancillary devices like this Telex. Almost all the tape player erase functions after the year 2000 seem to use permanent magnets. To make cheaper gadgets we got cheaper components. Res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Booger Brothers Broadcasting System

Almost everyone knows what a Les Paul guitar is, but history seem to be forgetting Les Paul the person. Firstly, his real name was Lester William Polsfuss, He never legally changed his name. Les Paul was a stage name he started using in the mid-1930s. It wasn't even his first stage name. Paul didn't start buildings guitars until the 1940s. Before his guitar era he was a radio performer, a recording engineer, a music director and for a time ...a pirate radio operator. Whole books have been written about the mans many storied accomplishments but I'd like to focus on radio and one pirate station in particular. More here. Paul was a genius engineer his ability to build a transmitter, or even an entire radio station is not in doubt —only the details around this particular tale.

The story is fabulous, who doesn't like a tale mixing wild house parties with pirate radio and hot jazz.  But it's main problem is that his biographies skip over it. The biographical reference is admittedly brief. It appears in his 1993 biography Les Paul: An American Original, by Mary Alice Shaughnessy. Les Paul was still alive when it was published, he died in 2009. That overlap also gives it more credence, but contemporary references were hard to find.

So let's start with his early radio experiences. He received some engineering training as early as 8 years old by an unnamed engineer from WTMJ. He became a musician as a teenager. He played with Rube Tronson's Texas Cowboys, and played with Sunny Joe Wolverton's Radio Band in St. Louis, MO, on KMOX. The book The Mighty 'MOX by Sally and Rob Rains identifies corroborates that early KMOX program. It is otherwise very obscure.

A young guitar player known as "Rhubarb Red" was part of The International Oil Burner Show between 4:30 and 7 AM from 1927 to 1930."
Les relocated with Joe Wolverton's band to Chicago and started playing on WBBM with them, and then solo as Rhubarb Red. He was performing as both a country artist and a jazz solist. As Red he started recording with Art Tatum which is when his career really took off. The book Famous Wisconsin Musicians by Susan Masino also has him performing at WISN in Milwaukee, WRJN in Racine, and both KBGA and KWTO in Springfield, IL and of course WJJD and WIND in Chicago. This is further referenced in the book Encyclopedia of American Radio 1920 - 1960 by Luther Sies
"Rhubarb Red. A CW tenor, guitarist and harmonica player, Rhubarb Red appeared daily at 6:30 A.M. and again at 9:00 AM. in an all request program WJJD, Chicago, IL; and WIND, Gary, IN, 1935-1937."

That same book has Les relocating to New York in 1937. The official Les Paul website puts it in 1938, but close enough. But 1938 is definitely when he began performing with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians on NBC radio.  In 1941 He returns to Chicago and becomes the music director for radio stations WJJD and WIND. So from his career history we can say definitively that his pirate station existed for a period of time between 1938 and 1941.

Here we have the pirate station boxed in my context. As the legend goes... in Jackson Heights, NY, Les created his own local radio station and broadcast jam sessions. His makeshift studio full of professional musicians. The station operated at low wattage and was only receivable locally, but due to the proximity of LaGuardia airport that included aircraft. Yes, the claim is that the airplanes flying into LGA would get scrambled signals of jazz music mixing with coordinates from the tower. Purportedly he solved that engineering problem with a "wave trap."

How much of that is true? Well, Jackson Heights is a neighborhood in the northwestern part of the Queens in New York City. Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford had an apartment in 40-15 81 St. That address is only about 2 miles from LGA. Most sources describe that as a studio apartment. But Les Paul in an interview said "Getting union cards jumped our pay to $150 a week and allowed us to take furnished apartments at Electra Court." Advertisements for the units described it as "The House of to-morrow, ready to-day!" The developers ran ads for furnished apartments in Down Beat magazine, specifically advertising to musicians —just as Les described. So here was have a plausible reason he had such access to professional musicians; his building was full of them!


Different versions of the tale claim that he set up his studio in the building’s basement, near the furnace room. His friends came over and they played together. But his friends at the time are now enormously famous musicians: band members from the biggest big bands of the era. Not the band leaders but the working union card musicians from Benny Goodman's band, Glenn Miller’s band, Artie Shaw's band, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey's bands, Fred Waring’s band, Bob Crosby’s band and Lionel Hampton's band. It's almost too fantastical to be real. How many of them lived at Electra Court?

I did eventually find a contemporary reference in the July 1940 issue of Popular Mechanics. I think that's Ernie Newton on bass which might make that band some iteration of the Les Paul trio. Did the FCC pay him a visit? Did he really take the  mic and announce the station name as "Booger Brothers Broadcasting?"

The Popular Mechanics article is missing the "Booger Brothers" connection but everything else is there. The general location, the famous musicians, and the broadcasting equipment stretching from the apartment to the basement. A 1953 issue of the Atkinson's Evening Post claims that Les gave the station ID as "The Booger Brothers, The Pink and Yellow network, top of your dial."  But Les went on to say "It was a good station... but the law would have caught up with us if an accident hadn't beat it to the punch." What accident? The Booger Brothers came to an abrupt end in 1941. While jamming in his apartment basement in 1941, Paul was nearly electrocuted to death. [SOURCE]

Paul describes it himself in the book The Early Years of the Les Paul Legacy, 1915-1963 by
Robb Lawrence. "I stuck my hand in the transmitter when I shouldn't have..." Bassist Ernie Newton knocked him free but he was seriously injured. After an ice bath they took Paul to the hospital. It took him two years to recuperate according to some sources. This is not entirely true but Booger Brothers was still off the air.

In 1941 or 1942 he moved to Chicago where he became the music director for radio stations WJJD and WIND. A promotional photo dated October of 1941 puts him in the Chicago CBS studio. Newspaper radio schedules still show his trio playing on local stations: they were as on air at
KLZ and KVOR in May of 1942. A November schedule has him on WEOA, WCKY, WGAR, WHIO, and KMOX at different times. Some biographies have him moving to "Hollywood" in 1943. That's partly true. The only radio he did after that was for the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) because he got drafted. Though he did do some films. The Bing Crosby radio show that gets connected to this move was Kraft Music Hall and he didn't appear on that program until 1945. He got his own eponymous radio show in 1950. It was a 15-minute slot on NBC with his trio now composed of himself, Mary Ford, and rhythm player Eddie Stapleton. His career never stopped but I think that's the last major radio milestone on that long and storied career I mentioned.