Friday, March 31, 2006

the Radio Reader

I have made a number of posts referring to Reading services. This is a tad bit related.

The "Radio Reader" program is heard daily on more than 100 public radio stations across the country Estell has narrated his nationally syndicated book reading program from Michigan State University's WKAR-AM/FM station since 1964 and to-date has read over 500 books. In other words his program has been running for 42 years!

His program runs Monday thru Friday for 30 minutes. Each year his half-hour broadcast brings about a dozen newly published books in their entirety each year to public radio listeners.

Dick is retired these days but still records his program via his home studio. In addition to his radio show, Estell also reads for Books-on –Tape, Inc. In 1999, Estell was named one of the best voices of the century by AudioFile magazine.

the first book he read on air was Red Carpet at the White House by Wiley T. Buchanan And he should be starting Hershey by Michael D'Antonio any day now.

many stations currently carry the program including:

870 WKAR-AM Detroit MI, 90.1 WNMU Marquett MI, 103.7 WFIU Bloomington,IN, Johnson City TN, 91.1 WETSKANZ & the High Plains radio Network, 91.3 KVLU Beaumont TX, 88.5 KUMR Rolla MO, 91.3 WKMS Murray KY, 90.9 KRCU Paducah, IL, 89.9 WCBU peoria IL and 89.3 WFPL Louisville KY.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Governor James Albert Noe

James Noe is one of the few people for whom two radio stations are named. He was however a political genius who saw mass media for the tool that it could be.

There was a general moratorium on new licenses during WWI. many licenses were revoked, to clear the AM band for military use. Very few new licenses were issued by the FCC in this era simply because the band was already as crowded as could be. But governor Noe was a man with mojo, he had the juice and he could pull the strings. I cant tell you how exactly he did it. Nobody knows for sure, at least nobody living.

KNOE was one of the few new radio stations allowed to start-up during WWI. It began broadcasting from downtown Monroe. Begun by former Governor James Albert Noe, the station's call letters incorporate the politician's last name. Mr. Noe later started WNOE in New Orleans, allowing Governor Noe to own two stations in the same state with virtually the same name. In an election year this was a mighty useful thing to have. Noe was an ally of the infamous criminal/legislator Gov. Huey P. Long. It was said that Long could make rivers run backwards with a dirty look. It may have been one of these looks that killed Jame Noe in 1976.

These days its still legal although widely considered morally sketchy to own media outlets as the holder of political office. His son carried on in that tradition inheriting the stations and the office as well strangely. Its a legal quirk existing only inside the city limits of NOLA. James A. "Jimmie" Noe Jr. was the only son of the former Louisiana governor. He managed his radio cluster like a family business for another 40 years. Noe Enterprises grew to include 2 AMs 2 FMs and even KNOE-TV in Monroe, LA. He died that the age of 77 last year.

Some WNOE memories here. Mere weeks after his death the FCC lost their long time fear of the Noe family and began to fine them vigorously for their misdeeds of the recent past. More here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oh, there be wires

In radio we use wires. The microphone is connected to the XLR cable, the XLR cable connects to the volume pot. the volume pot plugs into the mixer slot etc. here I discuss a couple very early wires. remember them the next time a crappy headphone cable shorts out.

Wires connect anything to everything to everyone. In this most recent stage of our technological evolution we have outgrown what copper can do and are moving toward fiber. I hate fiber, because I can't solder it, can't crimp it and in general I am trying not to be a Luddite. In the end you cant plug fiber into an antenna, so I get my way as well.

The very first interior power wiring systems used conductors that were bare or covered with cloth. This was not tractable outdoors or over long distances so we began to experiment with the first real cables. The above slotted block of wood is an early cable. They were called deal tongues. Into those slots early engineers pounded lengths of metal. Metallurgy was uncertain in the era so alloys were impure and irregular in gauge. All the more important that they slathered it in tar to keep out the water. This one is circa 1065 or so from London.

Another early cable was the first underground wire and was a gutta-percha-covered wire. The brown gutta-percha is cracked like crushed amber or resin. Gutta-percha is a resin from the Isonandra Gutta tree that has some properties as an insulating material. it originates in Malaya and was discovered by Samuel Canning. (who later was involved in laying transatlantic cables) More here.

In India, probably with help from the British, half-pipe (or tile) conduits were used. These were much like the terra cotta tiles we see on roof tops but cupped together to make a pipe. the wires ran through them like conduit. These tiles are filled with what looks like a mortar that appears in some examples to be tarry. Tar or pitch seems to have been used in some pieces for joining a collar into the larger end of the next half-pipe. Some pipes are liberally painted with tar inside and out. More info here and here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Radio Tchochtkeys

Buttons, stickers, magnets coffee mugs.. where does it all end!?

Most of us are familiar with radio promos. We call it schwag, we call them tchotchkeys, trinkets.. Theyare just small, cheap household items emblazoned with Radio call letters. Mugs are pretty common, as are T-shirts. But some of these are certainly not common at all. (see above)

Just look at this radio site:

Thanks to Mr. Bo Olofsson for even thinking to start a page about this.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Last Leg

Greenville, NC has a couple things wrong with it as a city, not just a market. The loop around it is route 264. Then 264a and 264 alt criss-cross it. At more than four spots you can find yourself at the intersection of 264 and 264. I had to use a compass to even find my hotel.
I began wishing I could use a Radio Compass. But alas we were not at sea. Very near to it though. In the same market is the town of Washington. It's about 30 miles further East and has a little patch of Atlantic shore line.
I was able to catch a little of 105.1 WDLV-LP and was tally let down when I heard yet more christian rock.. .they are the 6th christian outlet in the market. (why dont Buddhists or Muslims or Jewish people ever start religious radio stations?) I was hoping to have time to catch 106.9 WUBN-LP in Wilson and 95.9 WZNC-LP in Roanoke Rapids. But rumor is that those are christian outlets as well.

Greenville-Jacksonville-New Bern isn't totally without good radio. They have 100.7 WRVA for Triple A, 91.3 WZMB for a little College variety a fun service of East Carolina University. WRVA runs mostly the standard Triple A fare. But WZMB is a real mixed bag. Some shows are strikingly professional. Others are... not.

I tuned into WKNC 88.1 for the drive to the airport this morning. interestingly enough the story Corps bus should be driving thru Fayetteville just today as I am departing.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bloggers Rights

Bloggers apparently need to protect their rights.

When I began this I assumed I had the right to free free expression, political speech, and anonymity. Apparently this does not appeal to some political groups. I've put the button just below the header. It willcertainly move to the side bar, but not until after I figure out how to do that bit of HTML mojo.

So click that button. Do your reading. This new-fangled open digital forum thingee seems to have been beinefitting us all.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Red Dirt Radio

The soil is red here, from a high iron content. Almost all the worlds ferrous oxide deposits originate in some of earths earliest bacteria. Some microorganisms use a metabolic process called Chemolithotrophy to obtain energy from inorganic molecules. A the time (2 .7 billion years ago) this was critical because there was nothing organic to eat. It was these bacteria, water air and rocks. Because very little energy is generated in the oxidation of ferrous iron into ferric iron, these bacteria must oxidize massive amounts of iron in order to live or grow. So as these early bacteria multiplied into the trillions they deposited large quantities of iron everywhere. This is why the earth is red here in the Carolinas.

I listened to WQFS as long as I could driving east on I-40 and as it petered out at noon, I heard Vitamin C by the band Can then a soft spoken young DJ who sounded unconfident. Then nothing. I was able to get WKNC for a time after than but I-40 goes south after Durham toward nowhere.. then nothing but more NPR talk. I stopped in Clinton, NC which has three local radio stations despite its small stature; WCLN, WRRZ-AM, and WCLN-AM. Religious talk, country oldies and reg. mex, in that order.

Right here in Fayetteville, the radio blows. To the west is the untrained but interesting WUAW out of Triton High. 89.3 WZRI out of Fayetteville, which by all rights should be variety of some kind is actually runs mostly 80 rock. 91.9 WFSS is another NPR outlet but they do sport a few exceptional shows including Original Down Home Blues which I am listening to right now. 90.1 WCCE to the north runs smooth jazz and easy listening.And you can't forget red Dirt radio on KVOO, a fine source of local talent.

The real winner in this corner of the state is 90.5 WDCC out of Central Carolina Community College in Sanford. Eclectic, but listenable. It's a fine station that mixes things up just enough to stir you into trying new bands. But its a little too far south west of where I am tonight.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can you have too much NPR?

I am in Greensboro, NC today and no fewer then 3 dial positions carry essentially the same NPR talk programming during the week. At 5:15 today I jumped from 88.5 WFDD, to 90.1 WNAA to WUNC 91.5 and each was carrying the exact same program. WFDD and WUNC were even in relatively good synch. WNAA seemed to be about a half-second ahead of them creating an amusing hiccup effect. Were these stations all owned (or members) of the same network this could be sensible. They are not. Many of us have encountered similar problems but this may be the most blatant.

WUNC has the largest coverage area of the three centered over Chapel Hill, part of the Raleigh market reaching its 100k watts from Wilson to Fayetteville, to Greensboro and north into Danville VA. ...clearly the dominant player for the region

WFDD has the second largest coverage area; centered over Lexington reaching past Greensboro to the East, but petering out before Raleigh to the east and almost making Hickory to the west. It is completely enveloped by WUNC, making its matching NPR programming completely redundant. Then WNAA is the smallest by far; centered over Greensboro they are entirely constrained to the market. They too are offering completely redundant matching NPR programs. sigh.  These are what the Poor Mojo Newswire calls an NPR-Zombie.

The most unique outlet for the market is 90.9 WQFS. In the last hour, they have played (that I recognize) the Yeah yeah yeahs, The Bee Gees, Test Icicles, Philly locals Man Man, Chuck Berry and even the Yonder Mountain String band.

This market is also home to LP stations 103.1 WFEC, 103.1 WUAG, 106.1 WEJM, WBYJ 97.9, and WEOM 103.1. WUAG is a 16 watt college station a genuine Class D license that existed prior to the LP glut . What kills me is that they have only 1 first adjacent conflict and nothing on the second. If they sat down 10 years ago and planned out a directional broadcast to the SW to protect 103.3 WAKG in Danville, VA they would be a real player in that market now. Instead they languish buried on the same frequency as two other LPs both of which have more wattage.

Just out of range from my hotel is 90.5 WSNC. Its southern coverage is hampered by frequency-mate WUSC in Columbia. But with only WFAE on their first adjacent 60 miles away they too probably could turn up the juice and serve more of the market.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The sweetspot that is Gastonia,NC

It is a 130 mile drive (or so) between Greenwood and Charlotte. As you leave Greenwood the only unique game in town 97.7 WHZK, fades out fast. There is no straight-shot between Greenwood and Charlotte. You have to take a series of local roads to 72 (which itself is a local road in some towns) to I-26 which at its widest is only 2 lanes each side. This eventually goes to I-85 which is about all they got in terms of the Eisenhower definition of highway.
This takes you thru Clinton, SC. Home of Presbyterian College, the proud owner of 97.1 WPCX-LP, which i heard for all of six minutes due to my northward movement and their 56 watt status. If I heard anything cool I would have said so, but its only 6 minutes so who can judge? They used to be an audio channel for campus cable. At least their moving up in the world.

In Spartanburg I caught a few moments of 104.1 WHRZ-LP. Total let down. In an area with at least six christian radio outlets someone bothered to get an LP license for a seventh! gag.

Then I hit the sweet spot. For about 10 exits of so before Charlotte-Douglas Airport you Can hear WSGE, WGWG, WNCW, and even the elusive WRBK. WGWG is on the distant west side of the Charlotte metro so it fails to penetrate the most densely populated part of that market. WSGE is a 6000 watt college station in Gastonia kind of at the center of the spot, and WNCW is a almost a network unto itself with 3 repeaters in the area each covering a few miles, none clear over the whole area.

90.3 WRBK is the one you've never heard of. They're in Richburg, SC too far south of Rock hill to be in the Charlotte metro and too far north of Columbia to book there either. they have no repeaters and cover only this little pear-shaped slice of the boondocks. The twist is that their signal is supposedly directional away from this area, kind of toward Lancaster... another burg that's really nowhere. They play oldies, pretty good oldies the obvious smokey Robinson and stones cuts but also some doo-wop you wont recognize. But I never heard one DJ... might be automation. tisk tisk.

WGWG, WNCW, and WSGE are all powerhouse Americana/Triple A taste-makers. The idea that they are all clearly audible in one city seems impossible. I had been listening to mix CDs I made myself in Greenwood, but the radio was enough after I got here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The very limited radio dial of Greenwood

Greenwood South Carolina is in Greenwood county. Its very ... country out here. Most of the FM band is christian and country stations, and most of the AM band is in spanish. The local paper, The Star & Beacon, today has a story on cattle rustling on the top flap of the front page. The last gas station I passed on the way here [the intersecion of routes 378 and 178] had an active beekeepers box on the front porch AND IT WASN'T LOCKED! Normally out in the woods I can find an eclectic gospel station, an odd-ball oldies outlet...

Greenwood is supposed to have one Adult Standards station 1450 WCRS-AM and even one LP station, a very mysterious WHZK 97.7 FM. Sadly WHZK does not appear to be on the air... or its signal is even wearker than the mere 36 watts it is licensed. It is interesting to note that they are owned by the South Carolina Mass Choir Inc. Which may or may not be the same musical group recording for Meek records out of Chicago. WCRS-AM plays a load of right wing talk I can hear anywhere and didnt seem to play a lick of nostalgia until they hit a sammy Davis Jr. cut around 9:45 PM. The rest was Soft AC filler.

They have nothing in common with the Other WCRS radio [Written Communications Radio Service] That WCRS is a content provider for RRS services. Whats a RRS service? Its a radio reading service for the blind.
I posted on that a while ago Back in June ‘05

I was in Columbia yesterday which was far more exciting. I had the pleasure of listening to about 4 hours of WUSC programming. I heard a number of shows, including: Outer Spaceways Incorporated, About That, The Adventures of... and Bitch stole my fish. At about 2:00 the 90.5 signal began to fade out.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Traveling across South Carolina

Posting may be somewhat irregular.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Your radio needs a scarf

This was all centered around a particularly eccentric knitting fad circa 1950.

The book did not at any time explain why you should knit something for the top of the TV or radio. It begins with the assumption that you want to, and that it definitely needs one.

The point is that by 1950 regardless of the state of pop culture everywhere, some grandmotherly women liked to knit. It's a collision of cultures, knitting and new media. Were this book released today it surely would include patterns for knitting Ipod caddies, or laptop doiliies. Change is more difficult for some people than others.

Radio scarves should of course not be confused with the (S.C.A.R.F.) Sunday Creek Amateur Radio Federation based near Hocking College in Glouster, OH.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The First Directional Antenna

Directional broadcasts were very desirable in AM radio. Previously if two stations interfered with each other the only solutions were lowering tower heights and lowering the power. Both cut coverage area.

The first Directional broadcast Antenna was designed by Ray Wilmotte. This was for 620 WFLA (dayshare with WSUN) in Tampa back in 1932. It was the right solution for a specific problem. By 1947 there were 646 AM radio stations on air in America, and 39 of them were using directional antennas.

Interestingly enough the whole ordeal had to go to court. When WFLA powered up 620 WTMJ lost coverage. On appeal it was ruled that the earlier coverage area of 620 WTMJ Milwaukee should be restored. Thus the system was installed to avoid a power reduction. Coverage map Here. [WFLA moved to 940 AM in 1941 leaving 620 to WSUN which in turn changed called to WDAE.] The purpose of the WFLA antenna was two fold:

1. Protect the contour of Milwaukee station, WTMJ.
2. Reduce wasted power sent out over the Atlantic ocean. Then redirect it over land.

Its success began a series of conversions. In 1934, 700 WLW-AM, Cincinnati used a directional antenna to protect CFRB Toronto, Ontario, about 375 miles away. The FCC restricted their power output to 50 kW toward the North East.

Other early directional stations include, WOR, WADO and WEAF. All were experimenting with Bell Labs on this approach. None of them have any indications of experiments prior to 1933.

Ray Wilmotte was actually born in Paris and educated at Cambridge University in England. He moved to the U.S. to work to work on blind landing equipment for aircraft. During the second World War he worked on direction finding systems for airports and radar. Later at RCA on the development of communications satellites. In the 1970s he became a full time FCC consultant. There at the age of 78 he directed a UHF task force that developed a high-performance tuner that permitted greater use of the UHF spectrum. He died January 27th 2000 at the age of 98.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Radio on the Moon

It was the Apollo 11 Mission on July 20th, 1969. Most of us were at home staring at our TV sets. Those that were heard some of this: Apollo Audio

This audio of course had to pass thru a two-way radio. Radio waves can travel without an atmosphere, sound cannot. That made radio a must for space. Radio ham, Jack Yanosov and his co-workers at RCA in Camden had designed and built the radio system for the Apollo 11 craft and monitored it throughout the mission.

Most people remember the "one small step for man" line, but those were not the first spoken on the moon, nor the first spoken after Neil Armstrong opened the hatch and stepped out. His first words actually were "OK Houston, I'm on the porch." It was a few seconds later as his feet reached the surface that he said his most misquoted lines. More here.

Those words were sent by via VHF radio using Amplitude Modulation with a radio that was designed by Jack Yanosov. He had originally began his career on the RCA assembly line, and eventually worked his way up to be a lead project engineer. As he explained it, he didn't want to be on an assembly line all his life. So he enrolled at the Temple Technical School and took electronics engineering. He received his Associates degree in 1953 and was promptly drafted by the US Army for the Korean War.
His degree and background got him off the front lines and into more technical work. He had the right aptitude and the military gave him additional electronics training at Ft. Monmouth. He eventually was stationed at the White Sands Proving Ground, a missile range in New Mexico. It was there that he started getting involved in ham radio. He took his exam and received his amateur license with the calls KN2KEF.

After being honorably discharged, he went to Drexel University. He got his degree and drove back across the Delaware river for a Job at RCA at their Defense Communications Systems Division more than a few steps up from the assembly line. The NASA bio is here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Radio for Women

Active rock was a boone to radio programers and advertisers alike. Their demographic cup overflowed with 18-20-somethings males. But before then and since the hunt has been on for the magic format that does the same for women.
In October 560 KLZ-AM put out a press release stating they were ditching their music format: "chosen by women for women" and going ESPN sports talk. At one time KLZ-AM was possibly the only station of its kind. It was a Hot AC/Classic hits hybrid resembling jack with a shorter playlist. But the chatter had a keen feminist edge. Yeah. On Friday nights their big feature program "songwriters live" hosted live (female only) song writers.

But the format wasn't working for KLZ. Company head Don Crawford Jr. said: "I don't know why the women of Denver didn't embrace it... Qualitatively, it worked, but quantitatively, it didn't." Regardless the format reappeared on KUTR-AM 820 a new CP circa 2005. I guess somebody likes it.

WNEW attempted essentially the same thing in 2003, the city leaned further left politically, but "Blink" still didn't work. They re-branded a few months later.

But the idea goes back even further....
Back In 1955 Sam Phillips of Sun Records launched 1430 WHER-AM, the “All-Girl Radio Station” in Memphis, TN. Phillips hired a staff of all female DJs, sales and admin to run the station. The experiment went on for seventeen years, their format didn't change until 1971. Today it's WOWW... another Radio Disney outlet. NPRs lost & found sounds did a nice long form program on WHER-AM. It's online here:

For those readers interested in feminist radio, I recommend you check out The feminist radio fun. An international project involving women in broadcasting and media politics.

Side note: While working in Seattle I met a retired sea captain names Philipe Jacque who's lifetime dream was to open an all-women radio station in Pt. Reyes, California. He's even tried to buy a decommissioned lighthouse for the job... but he couldn't get the investors together. Too bad.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hybrid radio Formats

I saw this blurb the other day on Fybush: WSDM-FM 97.7 Brazil/Terre Haute IN moves to 92.7, where it flips from oldies (now heard on WAXI 104.9 Rockville IN) to country/rock hybrid "Crock 92.7." Crock? What the hell is Crock?

Some of our most recent format innovations are merely hybrids of two previously existing formats. For example:

Classic Hits + Hot AC = Jack FM
Adult Standards + Triple A =Red (formerly WRDA St. Louis)
Country + Rock =Crock
Latin + Urban =Hurban

The idea that merging two formats to grab listeners from two audiences is not new. In practice it rarely works. But in the case of country and classic rock at least they have the same demo. I've actually heard the outlet in New Orleans carying the Crock format: KKND, which previously had been off the air since Hurricane Katrina re-launched with the new format 1/29/06. Initially descrbed as a "Rock/Country hybrid" with the brand name: Rockin' Country 106.7

The other outlet, whom I beleive to be the originator is 92.7 WSDM Terre Haute, IN. that was November 1st 1005. It was signifigant enough that Billboard wrote it up. Yhe claims that nothing sounds like Crock are true. The claims that no radio staiton before them has mixed country and rock.. are a crock.

95.5 WSM-FM Nashville has been known to mix in a little Eagles and John Mellencamp. 92.5 WYUU in Tampa was also a rock and country hybrid, but back in 2005 then began leaning further and further country; eventually rebranding as kick ass country. They flipped Spanish Con. back in August 2005 never looked back.

KKND is already going the way of WYUU; leaning way country and perhaps playing one rock-ish cut every 2 hours. WSDM is supposedly sticking with some kind of 60/40 split, but I've never heard it myself.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

PM Powerdown

At night the AM stations you can hear (clearly or otherwise) changes radically. many laymen actually have a fair understanding, many do now. I'll glaze over it here before I get to the arcana. After dark solar radiation is reduced and ionization changes occurr in a part of the upper atmosphere we call the ionosphere. This change reflects AM radio signals back toward earth. But there is an angle of difraction, like bouncing a beam of light off of your watch onto the wall. Because of this, a station can be heard hundreds of miles away. In some cases even thousands. this part of the Am radio signal is refered to as the skywave.

But without massive signal management, this would oversaturate the AM band coast to coast rendering it completely useless at night. In order to reduce this interference the FCC has required certain staitons to power off or power down at night. Some of them power down but then use directional antennae to maximize their coverage over major cities, and/or minimize interference to primary stations and adjacent channels. Many staitons actually broadcast from different completely antenna arrays at night to accomplish this.

None of that is a huge surprise. Here's the surprise: some AM stations actually power up at night. Kind of counter-intuitive isnt it?

There are not many of these. But a few years ago the FCC began allowing non-standard power levels in certain cases. The general idea is that night time channel protections are different on certain frequencies. Therefore more power should be permitted in those cases than if a daytime allocation exists locally to the station. Another reason is that a station may prefer to have an omni directional day signal of lower power than a directional array of higher power.

Some examples:
620 WSNR-AM - Newark, NJ - day: 3kW, night: 7.6 kW
950 WWJ-AM - Detroit, MI - day: 12kW, night: 50 kW
950 WNTD-AM - Chicago, IL - day: 1kW, night: 5 kW
1330 KJLL-AM - Tucson, AZ - day: 2kW, night: 5 kW

of course some stations ignore the powerdown rules and operate illegally at night just to reach a larger area. Some do this out of laziness or incompetence. But some stations deliberately violate their license. They kill the carrier signal at sun down then just power right back up again. Or they to a pattern just looser than the FCC would permit. They usually get caught.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Little Transmitters Everywhere...

Most people are aware that they are absolutely surrounded and saturated by RF. Its hard to imagine that you're swimming in it, but you are. Unless of course you've built a Farraday cage around your home... I'll tell you how to do that sometime. this time I am not talking about spectrum saturation. i am talking abotu the little tiny transmitters you are taking home from Walmart. They (and many other big box stores) use RFID chips. They cost 7.2cents to make, and tahat's why there are so many of them.

An RFID chip stores and allows for the remotely retrieval of ID data. It can be attached to or imbedded into any product and even into a person. Libraries, schools, our government, and big businesses are all adopting (RFID) radio frequency identification tags. The device can be quite small: commercially available products exist that can be embedded under the skin. The smallest one I am aware of measures 0.4 mm × 0.4 mm, and is thinner than a sheet of paper. It's a little chip that can pinpoint the location of anything you stick the tag to. While RFIDs are a convenient way to track say the xmas present the post office lost... Its also an easy way to track people and what they do. RFID chips could be used to track you and all your belongings, effectively profiling you thru your shopping habits. ...and things even less benign.

In 1945 Léon Theremin [yes he invented the theremin too] invented a passive covert listening device, for the soviet government. it was not exactly an identification tag, but it is generally attributed as the "first known" RFID device. It was called "the great Seal" bug. His bug, unlike previous bugs, used inducted energy from radio waves of one frequency to transmit an audio signal on another. This made the device hard to detect since it did not radiate any signals unless it was actively being powered and listened to remotely. This feature also endowed it with potentially an unlimited operational life. Iit's name came from an incident whererin a bug of this nature was embedded in a wooden plaque and presented to the American ambassador in Moscow by Russian schoolchildren. It hung in his office until detected by a professional bug sweeper months later. [It was a fine moment in the annals of spooks everywhere.]

FYI: How to kill the little buggers:

Monday, March 06, 2006

bio: David E. Hughes

David E. Hughes a professor of music at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, Kentucky. In his spare time he was also an physicist conducting experiments in the arenas of electricity and audio. He is the inventor the carbon microphone and the induction balance and was possibly the first to transmit and receive radio waves.

His bid for "first" was way back in 1878. This was almost a decade ahead of marconi. While experimenting, he noticed that his induction balance caused noise in the receiver of his homemade telephone. He had noticed a clicking noise in his home built telephone each time he worked used his induction balance. Fixing a loose contact in the circuit stopped the sound.

Hughes deduced that radio waves, electromagnetic, radiated emissions, were produced by the coil of wire in his induction balance and a spark jumping the gap was the point they radiated from. [spark gap transmitter?] To test this he rigged up a clockwork transmitter that emitted clicks. Then Hughes walked the streets of London with his telephone in hand listening for the clicking noises.

He demonstrated his discovery to the Royal Society in 1880 but was told it was merely induction. But in truth his induction balance was emitting a radiowave. He had little training in the area of mathmatics and was unable to meet his peers requests for scientific method and proofs.

It is speculated by some that marconi "borrowed" some of Hughs ideas. At the very least I think Hughes deserves credit for the first mobile telephone call.

On the up side, he did get credit for his invention of the Hughes-printer, the carbon Microphone, and in large part the telegraph. David E. Hughes was trained pianist and his approach was like a ball-type typewriter where each key caused the corresponding letter to be printed at a distant receiver. His telegraph design is the grandfather of the typewriter, the telex system and all computer keboards.

One of the originals is at the HT Museum in Zagreb

Friday, March 03, 2006

NIST Radio

(NIST) The National Institute of Science & Technology is a federal technology agency that works with American business firms and industry to develop and apply technology, measurements, and standards. Sound vague right? In a nutshell, they measure stuff, and decide how stuff should be measured. Sound kind of small when I describe it like that, but when you realize that they determine standards for a wide range of things such as: the calibration of blood glucometers, standards for police body armor, DNA testing accuracy, proper radiation exposure levels, and even the time stamps of all NASDAQ stock transactions.

What they are most known for is the 1.5 billion times a day that NIST’s Internet Time Service sets and synchronizes computer clocks other networked time-keeping devices. Without which the Internet could not function. i.e This blog would not exist. These three stations are in the two bands the FCC has allocated for "Standard Frequency and time signal" They maintain the standard for frequency and time intervals, setting the official time for the entire United States. On the side they have a program of research and service activities in time and frequency metrology. They are accurate to one millisecond if one corrects for the distance from the station.
In 1923 NIST launched WWV. A sister station, WWVH, was established in 1948 in Hawaii. In 1956, they launched a low-frequency station, WWVB. It offers greater accuracy than the other two it's signal covers most of the North American continent. Their signals include UTC time in both voice and coded form; time intervals and audio tones; information about Atlantic or Pacific storms; geophysical alert data related to radio propagation conditions; and other public service announcements. More here. They also operate a few radio stations:

WWV Fort Collins, CO (their signal is also offered by phone: 303-499-7111)
Broadcasting on 2.5 Mhz, 5.0 Mhz, 10 Mhz, 15 Mhz, and 20 Mhz. Schedule Here. 

WWVH Kauai, HI (their signal is also offered by phone: 808-335-4363) Broadcasting on 2.5 MHz, 5 Mhz, 10 Mhz, and 15 Mhz. Schedule Here

WWVB Fort Collins, CO Broadcasting on 60 Khz
Official U.S. Government time, as provided by NIST and USNO, is available on the Internet Here.
And Here is a geek who made an antenna to receive WWVB with tin foil and a tomato soup can:

At the beep the time will be 5:38 PM EST...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More Elevator Music

When I think abot Soft AC radio stations I always think of Muzak. I recently read a little more history about the easy listening movement of the 1960s. The Seeburg turns out to be older than Muzak and thus this radio jukebox is the great granddaddy of Muzak.

Soft stations liek WJJO and KQED-FM used the Seeburg to fill in airtime. KQED actually had an actual Seeburg Selectomatic Music Hour each day.

They produced a background music system appropriately called the Background Music System. It used mono 9" records with big 2" center holes that spun at an ungainly 16-2/3 RPMs. They look like big black vinyl doughnuts. These machines were usedprimarily in the 1960s. The player was oversized, easily larger than the a tower server. They were rigged like a jukebox to play a stack of 28 records. It worked out to 40 hours of music. It automatically recycled the stack for continuous play.

The records were issued and owned (C&P) by Seeburg and manufactured by RCA. The instructions on the record boxes say they were to be played for 3 months then returned to Seeburg to be destroyed. That's probably why the records are so rare.

This guy here has a whole collection of Seeburg brochures.

Seeburg also made a whole array of retail juke boxes and some very collectible bakelite radios. Some models are so populat that reproductions are made overseas for import in America. JP Seeburg was of the man behind the Seeburg Corporation. In the 1960s Seeburg was known internationally as a jukebox manufacturer on par with Wurlitzer. each regularly taking out full page ads in magazines like Billboard. Strangely enough in the UK they were more well-known for their pinball machines.

Brilliant site here;

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The physical size of a radio wave

Radio waves are entirely real and physical things even though we cannot see them. It seems simple now that I write it but they are hard enough to imagine in the first place. An AM carrier wave varies in height because they are amplitude modulated. The height varies regardless of the frequency. But the wavelength is constant. For example 820 WNYC-AM has carrier wave with a wavelength of over 1,120 feet. 99.5 FM WBAI, also in New York, has a wavelength of about 10 feet. But because its Amplitude is not modulated, that too is constant. WBAI uses a microwave link between its studio and transmitter. This microwave link at 950 MHz has a wavelength of about 11 inches.

This physical size is behind the design for the "long wire antenna" Each type of long wire is suited to respond best to an even fraction of the full wave. A 1120 foot long wire antenna would be best to receive WNYC-AM. But also impractical inside a Manhattan apartment. At 560 feet it is tuned to the half-wave. At 280 feet the quarter wave. At 140 feet, an eighth and so-on. Great article on Long-wire antennas here.

This same concept applies to the broadcast of the signal. 880 WCBS broadcasts from a tower rigged to output almost a perfect half wave. More info here. There are no AM radio stations that I know of radiating a full half-wave. If you do, please fill me in.