Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SMF to MOD

Sacramento and Modesto are about 75 miles apart. While I've been to Sacramento before, Modesto is all-new to me. they are connected by I-15 and also the older Route 99. I'll do as much of the trip on older roads because that's where you get to see the country. the website for the Modesto Radio Museum was invaluable in my advance research.

In between the two is Stockton, which has KQOD a decent Rhythmic Oldies station, KSTG-LP in Lodi a Christian satcaster. The Great Valley is loaded with eccentric radio stations: 89.5 KBES is the only Assyrian radio station in America, probably the world. 920 KVIN-AM runs some good standards, Capital Public radio has a stick here on 91.3 KUOP. But then we also have three LP stations right here in Modesto. 106.1 KQRP-LP, in Salida, and 106.9 KPSR-LP, and 107.9 KEQP-LP. The mayor of Modesto Carmen Sabatino does a weekend call-in program on KQRP. The station has a number of other social justice and activist programs that are really boisterous. KPSR-LP is part of the Westside Community Project. they play classic hip-hop, soul, R&B, and gospel. It's just a small community radio station airing local programming, exactly what a LP license is for.KEQP is more satellite fed religious talk, they also simulcast on 103.7 (K297AM-FM) in Turlock and as part of the international KYCC radio ministry. It's an unusual arrangement for an LP license and while not illegal, is a total violation of the purpose of the Low Power license. The purpose of LPFM, as described in J&MC Quarterly Journal, as

"... Necessary to offset the growing consolidation of station ownership in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed caps on radio ownership, as well as the decline of locally produced radio programming."

The city did once have a college radio station on 660 AM and later on at 107.5 FM. It was based at Modesto Junior College. You can read more here. Modesto is also home to the Modesto Anarcho catalog a fine group of fringe freaks and a big pile of their suggested reading material.
To round it off I grabbed a burrito at the Jessica #4 van. And spent a little time browsing at Salty's Record Attic. A fine source of vinyl and shellac.

Monday, March 30, 2009

TRAVELING!

Traveling. Flew: 1,557 miles then 910 miles = 2,467 air miles.
Drove: 134 miles
Time: 9 hours
TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED = 2,601

Friday, March 27, 2009

James Brown is the JB in WJBE

In November 1967 James Brown purchased 1430 WGYW-AM in Knoxville, TN. It was his first radio station and the validation of himself as a radioman. It was certainly not his intention to be a radio man, by all reports he was a bit of an absentee landlord. But he did change the call letters to WJBE to reflect his initials cementing the link forever. It was the start to "Brown Family Broadcasting."

In January of 1968 he changed the format of WJBE to Rhythm & Blues. It's new brand name was "Raw Soul." He bought more stations 1480 WRDW-AM in Augusta, GA; and 1360 WEBB-AM in Baltimore, MD. He was a big fan of radio, he was the ban that convinced Bob Bailey to found WZZA-AM in Tuscumbia, AL.

WEBB-AM also went the R&B route with DJs like Kitty Holdman Broady, Robert Dell Pinkney, and Rockin' Robin. Robin had been at WEBB in the 50s and left for WWIN-AM in 1967. He came back for the godfather of soul. It was after all now the first black-owned radio station in Baltimore.

Brown bought WRDW in his home town, Augusta GA in 1969. It was there he hired DJ Marion Cook who was still broadcasting in Augusta until 2003, almost 80 years old. On air he was known as "Mal your pal." In 1970 the murder of a black man by police at a Augusta jail set off riots. It was at WRDW that Brown took to the airwaves with the segregationist Governor Lester Maddox to cool out rioters. Rioters trusted Brown and the fires and looting stopped, the national guard got to home home. He sold off WGUS in the late 1970s. 1480 in Augusta is now WGUS and plays Southern Gospel these days under Beasley Broadcasting. The WRDW calls moved to 1630.The man that was all business in the 1960s was all booze and speed in the 1970s. By 1977 he was in debt and had racked up contempt of court charges in Baltimore. the station wasn't doing well and James wasn't covering the bills. WEBB went into receivership under the former owner Lean Back who sold it to Dorothy Brunson. She had been a controller at WWRL-AM in New York. WEBB stayed on air and black-owned.

His legacy lived on a couple decades longer though. His daughter continued to run Brown Family Broadcasting. She bought the CP for 94.7 WAAW-FM from bay Communications in Williston, SC. In 1995 it launched with a classic R&B format called "Boss." She sold it in 2002 and new owner Franky Neely changed the format to Gospel.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rev. Jozef Murgaš

Here is yet another claimant for the title of "inventor of radio." I read a Pennsylvania history book, and under a short media section it wrote much of KDKA of course but also Rev. Josef Murgas. And despite the fact that Marconi had been making transmissions for a decade already, Murgas was declared the inventor...

I find varying accounts of his works. The most lionized was a biography sponsored by the Pennsylvania Slovak Union; written by Stephen J. Palickar in 1950. Palickar was a Slovak nationalist who wrote frequently of their culture past and present. I am not saying that he's an unreliable source. I'll quote Regan; "Trust but verify."

The facts are that Murgas was born on February 17, 1864, in the Tajov, Slovakia and studied the wireless telegraph on his own while in seminary before he came to America. He was a bit of an autodidact, his technical knowledge all came from his own studies. He was experimenting with wireless in the basement of the seminary in 1898. He was strongly interested in painting, botany, electricity, and of course Catholicism. In 1896 he came to Wilkes-barre, PA to establish a parish. He continued his radio experiments almost immediately.

Murgas had read the 1888 paper by Hertz that described the transmission of radio waves through the "ether." The paper was wrong of course, but not so wrong that it stopped Murgas or even Oliver Lodge from transmitting radio waves. Marconi was at work with his first transmissions in 1895 with little disagreement with Hertz so there was little reason it should stop Murgas in 1905.

In 1904 Murgas got the first two of his eventual 13 U.S. patents (759852 and 759826.) He formed the Universal Aether Telegraph Company to raise funds for further experimentation. The Electric Signal Company, of Philadelphia was an investor. It's president Mr. Joseph F. Stokes has a keen interest in the experiments. Murgas erected a 73 watt transmitting station in Wilkes-Barre and a receiving station in Scranton, PA. The Early Radio history website has a great article on this. Josef began public demonstrations in 1905. Fred Kirkendall, then mayor of Wilkes-Barre, transmitted a message in Morse code to Mayor Alexander R. Connell of Scranton.

The history books are full of a lot of Murgas baloney unfortunately. His device is described as emitting a "direct beam wave." His biography stated "only the station for whom a message is intended will receive it." Murgas was using a spark-gap transmitter so that's obviously untrue. Anyone with a cohering circuit in range was receiving it too. But in 1905 that was a short list indeed. His receiving device had no tuning circuit. It relied mostly on the length of the long wire antenna to tune the signal. In July of 1905 Electrical World and Engineer Magazine described it thus:
The antenna is composed of 10 cables made of No. 10 B. & S. stranded, well-insulated copper wires. Each cable hangs from a separate insulator of particularly well-insulated construction. Each insulator is a rubber rod 30 in. long and 1.5 in. thick, with outer petticoat tubes of polished hard rubber. The insulation of the antenna cables is practically perfect, hanging as they do from a cross rope connected to the top of the mast arms. At a height of 30 ft. from the ground all of the cables are fastened to another cross rope attached at each end to a 150,000-volt insulator, and from that point they are gathered in a bunch and brought into the operating room through a hole in the center of a square plate glass window.
One article wrote that he used the "Slaby-Arco system" for his tuner. thsi was not off-the-shelf hardware, it was more like a kit that required you make half the parts yourself. More importantly, the Slaby-Arco system was not just a tuner, it was a transmission and reception pair made for the wireless in 1901. If he was using that name-brand wireless set in 1905, he didn't invent it. None-the-less when reading his patents, they make more sense in terms of modifying Slaby-Arco hardware.

If these modifications were patentable, they may have contributed to the cannon so to speak. His spark gap transmitter for example, was mounted in some kind of spinning barrel that alternated carbon and iron contacts. I think this may have been used to control the timing of the sparks, like a long series of dots in Morse code. And he does refer to it as a "rotary spark gap." He claimed it raised the frequency of the spark audibly. He was trying to make a continuous signal from a quick succession of sparks over one long spark. There is actually some logic to this. He patented that rotary transmitter in 1903. But the patent itself describes it as "imperfect." He was able to modulate this to broadcast both a high and a low tone. His idea was that these could be controlled to alternate like a dot and a dash. Skilled operators could transmit messages at about 40 words a minute.

Supposedly Edison even came down to inspect his apparatus as did Marconi. But in late 1905 gale force winds destroyed his towers, the 50 foot masts collapsed. He needed more money to continue his experiments with radio. His telegraph company was now selling public stock so the funds for this were on hand. Murgas went on to attempt to conduct signal through the earth itself which failed miserably. This seemed to be the turning point. The parties that his investors thought would extend further funding such as the U.S. Navy did not. He filed a few more patents after this but largely faded from public view. He died in 1929 after a fishing trip.

His legacy lived on though, one of his assistants, John Stenger went on to found WBAX in 1922 which still broadcasts today on 1240 in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lum and Abner

Lum and Abner were a comedy duo in the 1930s. Their fame has largely outlived their affiliates, and the men who played the characters. They began as a black face act locally at the University of Arkansas, they became a nationally syndicated program of great renown. But for some reason they are rarely grouped in with other golden era programs.



The general store that appears in the above film actually exists now as the Lum and Abner Museum. Chester Lauck and Norris Goff knew each other since childhood. They attended U of Arkansas together and even joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity together. They decided to try to get a job together at KTHS-AM in Hot Springs, AR but before the audition decided to drop the black face routine and do a hillbilly bit instead. It was something in the spirit of Amos & Andy but with decidedly more rural flair. PD Campbell Arnoux signed them for one 15 minute program each week. Their gig at KTHS went so well that after just a few weeks they got picked up by NBC for syndication. NBC even got them a national sponsor, Quaker Oats. When the Quaker contract expired, the duo picked up Ford as a new sponsor and broadcast just on WBAP and WFAA out of Dallas and Ft. Worth. In those days they were considered separate markets. More here.

NBC didnt' treat them well and In 1934 Horlick's Malted Milk because their new sponsor and the program moved to WCCO in Minneapolis and were heard on the station alone. When the station joined the Mutual Broadcasting System they picked up WXYZ in Detroit and Chicago's WGN-AM. In 1940 Alka-Seltzer became the sponsor and in 1944 they left MBS for ABC. which had only just ceased to be the NBC Blue network. The Keystone Broadcasting System recorded their programs for stations not directly connected to ABC. In 1948 they became a half-hour comedy series sponsored by Post Cereal. More here.
Those keystone network recordings are why we have recordings of Lum and Abner today. In 1948 they moved over to CBS where their program ran until 1950. the show ended in 1953. By then they were already on the big screen. They made 7 movies by the 1950s. My personal favorite bits are when Lum & abner start a radio station a plot that stretched over 3 15-minute episodes. You can download the Boxcars Oldtime radio podcast here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

FM overtakes AM

Today FM enjoys a huge dominance over AM radio. In every market the number of FM stations both outnumbers the AM stations and overall carry superior ratings. It is a rare market that an AM station of any format remains dominant over a comparable FM. At one point in recent history FM radio overtook AM in popularity. FM overtook AM in terms in total number of stations, and in ratings. let's consider the progression...The first commercial radio license ever issued went to KDKA October 27th 1920. Only about a year later the FRC had licensed 62 licenses... all AM obviously, by 1929 they had licensed 143. Growth continued steadily. FM didn't begin licensing until 1937. That year W1XOJ was the first FM radio station, to be granted a CP from the FCC. In 1937 there were 704 AM radio stations, a growth of over 400%.

In 1946 we were up to 62 FM radio stations. This fulfilled what was then a plan to allocate only 70 licenses for commercial FM and 20 for non-commercial. Almost all of the 600 FM applications were filed based on the original FM rules, which they had promptly changed. They denied most of them. The Annual report of 1946 clearly notes that 250 FM applications are pending. The start was shaky.

In 1963 docket 14185 adopted most technical FM rules and really established a nation wide tabel of FM assignments. At this time the FCC was openly considering a ban between FM /FM simulcasts as an "a waste of valuable spectrum space." By 1965 at least 7,570,000 homes had FM radios. This leaned heavily toward urban areas. New York City had a penetration of over 50%. There were 4,097 Am stations at that time and 1628 FM stations. You can see the gap closing at least in terms of raw numbers.

The magic year was 1978. That year AM became a ratings minority. Of Arbitron's 500 top 10 stations in the top 50 markets, AM only had 240 stations. To quote from the Broadcasting cable article written that year:

"Take the number-one market, New York, where WBLS, WRFM, WPLJ, and WXLO, all show up in the top 10. Tehre are also four in Chicago (WLOO, WLAK, WBMX, and WCLR) and three in Los Angeles (KJOI, KMET, and KLOS). Rounding out the top-10 markets-Detroit has six, Philadelphia has five Sanfrancisco four, Boston Five Dallas-Ft. Worth six, Pittsburgh six including one AM-FM simulcast combination and Washington eight (including one combo)."
That same year there were only 3,896 FM stations to compete with 4,495 AM stations.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Obama is wrong

I have been thrilled with many of the early actions of the Obama administration. In the cases where we disagree, or I am uncertain their consistent populist tilt have kept me contented. In general I've been pleased with what amounts to our new administrations Q1. Today I read something that just bothered me.

The Obama administration has sided with the RIAA in favor of excessive P2P fines. these are fines ranging from $750 to $150,000 per instance. This is insane. There is no math to validate this. These "infringements" are normally sold for about 89 cents each or 0.000593% of the fine. More here.

In other words the fine is up to over 150,000x the price. The notion is that these are statutory damages. The rationale is weak. No one is arguing that copyright law is bad. Clearly both artistic and scientific works need protected to encourage business and innovation. (Protecting them indefinitely is ridiculous but that's a side issue) The problem is section 2 of H.R.3456 also known as the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999. Overstepping the 200 previous years of rational statutory copyright penalties they just took the percentage structures we used for 2 centuries and increased it by 50%. I'll quote the wording here:
Section 504(c) of title 17, United States Code, is amended--
(1) in paragraph (1)--
(A) by striking `$500' and inserting `$750'; and
(B) by striking `$20,000' and inserting `$30,000'; and
(2) in paragraph (2), by striking `$100,000' and inserting `$150,000'.
The text is readable... it means leave wording as-is, take out old price insert new price. I find that the first time I strongly disagree with the Obama administration is the first time they firmly agree with the Bush administration. it's no coincidence that two lawyers in the new DOJ are former RIAA lawyers: Donald Verrilli Jr. is the one-man wrecking crew that destroyed Grokster, and Tom Perrilli the satanist that thought ISPs should release customer information to the RIAA even without a court subpoena. No subpoena. You know... the distant legal cousin to warrantless wiretapping. Anyway back to the legalese:

The section 504 the edit reads as follows:

§ 504. Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits:
In General. — Except as otherwise provided by this title, an infringer of copyright is liable for either —

(1) the copyright owner's actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer, as provided by subsection (b); or
(2) statutory damages, as provided by subsection (c).


This is simple. If you "share" an MP3 what damage did a record label incur? they had no physical loss. There were no physical copies of the CD stolen. Copies were made and distributed, so the only argument for actual damages is loss of sales. This has been laughed at internationally because we all know intuitively that each illegal download does NOT supplant a sale. Nonetheless distributing a work you do not own is also intuitively wrong even if the actual damages are difficult to compute.

That difficulty has moved the emphasis to statutory damages. The RIAA has lost millions on these trials so far. They lose in court frequently. But they can penalize the P2P users to intimidate other users. it's ugly, but under the present letter of the law they have some standing.

My objection is that in court these onerous fines can levy greater penalties than those on a drug dealer, a wife-beater or a burglar. They woudl levy up a fine of $450,000 on an 11-year old kid who downloads three Kelly Clarkson songs. This is an imbalance of power in the favor of very powerful corporations in to the detriment of everyone else in the entire world. You could be fined half a million dollars for 3 songs. That is more money than many Americans make in their entire lives. That is incongruous, and in my estimation that makes it unconstitutional. In my estimation this countermands our very plainly worded constitution. The eighth amendment of the US constitution explicitly prohibits excessive fines:
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Job Talk

Today we have no end of job websites to find employment. Joblessness is worse than it's been in 20 years, but while you may not be able to find another six-digit salary... the act fo job hunting itself is easier than ever. You can find jobs more easily and in more places than ever before: Craigslist, Monster.com, Careerbuilder, indeed.com, simplyhired, and others. but in past decades options were limited there were trade magazines, the classifieds, and radio.

Radio was never a conventional way to find employment... at least for finding employment outside of radio. But in Grand Rapids Michigan 93.7 WJFM. They dropped for WJFM call in 1992 when they dropped classic rock for country music becomming B93, WBCT. The station launched in 1951 under John Fetzer as WJEF just simulcasting country station 1230 WJEF-AM. In a way they just came back to their roots.

In the 1970s they tried classical, beautiful music MOR, another swing at country and AC. It was in these years they ran a program called Job Talk. The program was good for press, not so good for ratings. They went on to try CHR, Soft AC and Classic Hits before Fetzer sold off the station.
This was not the world only employment focused radio program. 1400 WILI-AM in Willimantic, CT has a job-talk progam, as does WJJG-AM in Chicago, and 640 WGST in Atlanta. But it's still a fringe format on a handful of stations all arcane or obscure.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WCMS Marine Patrol!

1050 WCMS-AM no longer exists of course; neither does WCMS-FM 100.5. That frequency is presently occupied by WVXX-AM. Presently Davidson owns 1050, having bought it from Barnstable in February of 2005.

But the WCMS calls had been gone from the AM dial for a year already. Davidson dropped the WCMS-AM calls in December of 2004 when they dropped their country music format for sports-talk. And the format on that AM stick had been volatile a long time. In December of 2003 they had flipped from Adult Standards, and in April of 2002 they'd dropped Black Gospel. WCMS was a waste of a heritage callsign. In the late 80s it was playing Urban AC... that at least had some continuity with black gospel, except they tried an easy listening format (as WFOG) in between for several years in the 1990s! Today WVXX-AM is a spanish station and looks to stay that way for many years yet.

For the record...WCMS-FM had stuck with country music and still does today. That is the root of the WCMS brand. From it's foundation in the 1950s into the early 1980s WCMS-AM had been a country station. George Crump bought the station in 1961 and really innovated a commercial country format our of a heritage station. He signed on as an all-country radio station on July 1, 1954, broadcasting from sunrise to sunset. This was the first time that a radio station had dedicated itself to playing nothing but country music.
Crump was was an advertising savant. He bought and converted an ambulance into a rolling billboard stenciled on it's side "WCMS stands for We Cure Sick Businesses." The ambulance was staffed with actual trained medics and strangely led to a real paramedic service he eventually sold to the city of Norfolk. He also sponsored a marine patrol boat to provide first aid around Chesapeake Bay. (See image above.)

Crump sold the station to Barnstable in 1999, and retired with his wife to Suffolk. He wrote a book Write it Down: a history of country music in Hampton Roads. In 2008 the Country Music Hall of fame unveiled a terrace in his honor. He died in 2005 at the age of 79.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sears, Roebuck and KBIM

It was May of 1977 and both 990 KBIM-AM and 94.9 KBIM-FM had to operate out of the furniture department at a Sears in Roswell New Mexico. If you look carefully at the picture, you can see over their news desk, a FREE DELIVERY sign. the one on the right says FURNITURE. This is the only incidence of radio literally located in retail that I know of so let's begin in the beginning.

In a great step of irony, KBIM owner Bill Taylor worked at a J.C. Penny's before founding KBIM-AM in 1953. In 1959 he built KBIM-FM, and only months later KBIM-TV. In 1963 he built another AM. 990 AM was running a Top-40 format and was #1 in the market. His cluster was on the upswing. Then the crap hit the fan. In the summer of 1966 Walker Air force base closed. 15,000 servicemen, workers and their dependents were all left in the lurch. 25% of the population of Roswell just up and left. Selling ad time on their new TV station got hard. then a windstorm took down it's 1800+ foot tower. Then the building that houses their AM, FM and TV air studios was destroyed by a fire. This was a total catastrophe. More here.
Thankfully insurance covered repairs to the TV tower. But money was still short and Rosewell descending into a ghost town. Bill looked around for some workable floor space. Just blocks away was an closed and now vacant Sears building. A local bank had bought it to demolish for a parking lot. He cut a deal with that bank to delay the wrecking ball temporarily.

With a new base of operations, KBIM-FM was back on air within 24 hours, the AM in 72 hours. The TV station was out for another week. After that it was back to business. Roswell recovered somewhat in the 1970s. In 1989 he sold off KBIM-TV for 5 million dollars and his son-in law John King, bought out the radio stations. In 2008 King sold off the stations to Bill Nolan at Noalmark Broadcasting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back Where I Come From

It was hard at first for me to imagine but in this program, Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie had equal footing. We all know Alan Lomax did a lot of field recordings. Most of them are presently in the Library of Congress. But he also did radio programs. One of them was a nightly program for CBS called Back Where I Come From.

Lomax was involved in several programs over the years like School of the Air, on CBS, and Ballad Man on the Mutual Network in 1948. In 1940 he also did a series called American Folk Songs and Wellsprings of Music. In 1950 he was blackballed in America after he was accused of being a commie, he fled to England and brought his programming ideas to the BBC. In all these programs Lomax may have been a producer or a host but he always came to the mic to sing a little as well. More here. Damn you Joe McCarthy!

But Back Where I Come From was the first of his programs that went prime-time. It featured folk tales, proverbs, prose, and sermons, as well as songs. Burl Ives, Aunt Molly Jackson, The Golden Gate Quartet, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger all performed regularly on the program. This was the program that really introduced city-dwelling Americans to old-time music, folk music and world music. Sadly it was short-lived. I have found a very concise tale of the etymology of the program name and quote it here unabridged.
"The show’s title came from an incident they had observed at Barney Josephson’s Greenwich Village nightclub, Café Society, in which a tourist loudly objected to the club’s inter-racial atmosphere, saying that such things were unheard of “back where I come from.” It stressed the America is, on the contrary, a multi-cultural mosaic of people from different ethnicities and backgrounds; guests swapped stories and anecdotes as well as music."
In 1984 Ronald Regan awarded Lomax the national medal of Arts. In 1995 Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1995 an honorary doctorate in philosophy from Tulane... the list goes on. He retired in 1996 and died in July 2002.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The First Simulcast

On January 4th 1923 the first simulcast occurred. A concert live on 660 WEAF-AM in New York City was carried on 1230 WNAC-AM in Boston. the connection between the two stations was not by STL, it was by telephone line, leased from Bell telephone.

The word "simulcast" did not yet exist. They called it a "chain broadcast." If you're wondering how WEAF explained this all to the phone company dont. AT&T owned WEAF making the experiment much more feasible. At 8:03 PM Davera Nadwernay sang the song "Habanera" from the opera Carmen by Bizet. That broadcast only lasted 5 minutes, emanating directly from Carnagie Hall. (While this is the ersion I beleive, other sources refer to this as a solo saxophone performance)

For KDKA thsi was less than a year after they received the first commercial license from the FRC. This was also of course the very beginning of network broadcasting. Only a few months later they attempted a bigger simulcast involving 810 WGY-AM in Schnectady, KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, and 1500 KYW-AM in Chicago. This too was successful. AT&T enthused by the success of the two projects built a station in D.C. 980 WCAP-AM to advance their ability to syndicate programming. The facilitiy they built at WCAP for the purpose of linking staitons by phone was called the "Red" layout. This became the NBC Red Network, which formally launched Sept. 9th, 1926.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Freddy's on KSTP-AM

Today 1500 KSTP-AM is a conservative political talker. Minneapolis is a pretty liberal city which explains why their ratings are typically half that of WCCO-AM. But in the 1980s they were a much more mixed talker under Hubbard broadcasting. They were the station that gave Jesse Ventura a talk program in 1988. In the 80s who thought he'd have a political career? More here.

But today I look back to KSTP-AM circa May 1960. In 1928 a share-time between KFOY-AM and WAMD-AM ended in a merger. The resulting station was KSTP. They ran some NBC syndication but were a full-service MOR outlet for most of the 60s which was in my mind a non-format. MOR is what we now call Standards or nostalgia and full-service means you have block programming.

What sent me on this flurry of research was the last 30 seconds of an 1981 Jack Teagarden LP. I knew the LP was recorded live at Freddy's Cafe in Minneapolis by KSTP. Freddy's no longer exists but they had comedy, jazz, live entertainment of all kinds. They were a night club in the classic sense. I don't know who recorded his program but in catching Teagarden at the end of his career they captured a now famous DJ at the beginning of his. The hosts of that show was Leigh Kamman.

Leigh Kamman started out just a jazz fan and got a gig at WMIN-AM as a janitor. he moved to WEBC-AM in Duluth in 1942. He left that to to do AFRN programs out of KOA-AM in Denver during WWII. He went to New York City in 1950 and did a jazz program on WOV in New York.

In 1956 he blew back into Mineapolis and picked up work at WLOL and KSTP and he hosted show's at Freddy's. The jazz shows at Freddy's were broadcast live on KSTP. This program evolved over time to become a regular late night gig for Kamman called The Jazz Image on Minnesota Public Radio. That program ran from 1973 until September 23rd 2007. Kamman retired at the age of 85.

If you have any question of Jack Teagarden... He was a man of red hot jazz in his era. Try this old 78s on for size.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

K-Rock is dead

Long live K-rock on HD? Yes the once mighty rock monolith has fallen... again. If you feel mournful you can visit their freeze-dried remains at Krockradio.com. Their motto "New York's only alternative is especially meaningful as they no longer occupy the traditional analog radio dial. WXRK is now 92.3 Now.

WXRK hadn't made it to a 2-share in the last year after abandoning the "Free FM" experiment in June of 2007. They never recovered their former success when they ditched K-rock the first time in January of 2006. This leaves WDHA as the only rock station in the number one metro in America. WRXP was quick to re-brand themselves as "101.9 RXP, New York's Rock Experience." The Emmis Triple-A outlet is making a play to usurp the K-rock audience. We'll see which one picks up listeners in the next book.

This leaves WXRK competing with four other CHR stations in the metro: WHTZ, WBLI, WPST, WSPK. It the maneuver brave or foolhardy? I have no idea. I thought tossing it the first time was retarded... Kind of like WCBS dropping oldies.

The flip was smooth as silk as we've come to expect from the Manhattan clutch. This afternoon, at ten of five they played Van Halen's Right Now which segued into a clock sound that stretched out for a few minutes. That broke through some SFX into a montage of pop music and clips that at 2 after the hour dropped smoothly into the Black EyedPeas' Boom Boom Pow.

But why? To quote Wikipedia here's what happened:
"Free FM's ratings had plummeted since the change to an all-talk format. As the replacement for Howard Stern, Roth lost nearly three-quarters of Howard Stern's previous audience, dropping a 7.9 share to a 1.8. Among the core audience - 18-34 year-old men - the numbers fell from 13.8 to 1.3. Overall station ratings went from 3.2 in Summer/Fall of 2005 to 2.7 in Winter of 2006, and later to a 2.0, leaving it in 20th place in the New York market."
In short, without Howard there was no K-rock. Until the Free FM brouhaha, K-rock had been K-rock since 1985. Sure the playlist changed the actual rock content waxed and waned but it was K-rock. they picked up Howard Stern in 1986 and that arrangement stayed rock solid (if you will) until January 2006 when Stern left for satellite radio. The station has never recovered. Long time GM Tom Chiusano bailed in January 2008. We all knew this was coming, K-rock as we knew it has been dead for years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson (Aleck "Rive" Miller) had a show on KFFA. I've written of Sonny Boy Williamson once before in passing and of KFFA twice. This third time is far more obscure, it is too arcane to resist. There turns out to be a song detailing the facts of his last day.

Sonny Boy Williamson was born in 1914 and died in 1948 but his death is largely unexplained. He was only 34 and died of a heart attack. His longtime band-mates at KFFA James Peck Curtis and Houston Stackhouse wrote an ode to him that described the morning of their last show. The Uncensored History of the Blues was kind enough to post the song already. It's 17 minutes into the program and appears on the album Blow My Blues Away Vol 1. The lyrics to "The Death of Sonny Boy Williamson" are below:
"Now ladies and gentlemen, this is ol' James Peck Curtis with the life story of Sonny Boy Williamson. The last night he was with me. I mean, Sonny Boy Williamson used to be on King Biscuit Time on radio station KFFA. The last night we were sitting down at my home listening to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But on that night when he got ready to leave he told me daddio, I'm going home and put the old man to bed. I'll see you in the morning early. Which he had been coming around to my house each and every morning taking breakfast, drinking his coffee we;d sit there and talk to near about broadcasting time.

But on May the 25th which was on a Tuesday, I went around to pick up the program and he hadn't made it there. I hurries to the radio station and check with the disc jockey -they told me that James, they hadn't saw him this morning. That's word I left with the Disco at radio station KFFA. I say I'll go back and check -and which was Neil Wallace. I told him get out some records just in case something done happen and play them if I don't get back. I walked upstairs to Sonny Boy's room, knocked on the door. Nobody said a thing. Awful sad, I pushed the door open and there he lay with his hand across his chest, mouth twisted to one side, I circled and he didn't even smile.

I rushed back downstairs to his landlord. I told them about it. He told me the best thing james, you can do is go call the morgue. I call the morgue and the coroner come . The coroner come and investigate the body. Told me that Sonny Boy had been dead six hours and a half. I thought him had to die between 4:30 and 6:00 that morning. On the back stregnth of that I turn right around call Miss Mattie Williamson in Milwakee Wisconsin and told them about the decease of her husband. Sonny Boy, great guy, my great manager. That's all."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Parakeet Audio

As a crate-digger I do come across the odd train-your-parakeet record. This one I felt compelled to share as the audio included a recording of an actual trained parakeet, not just a woman repeating simple words over and over. it also had a tenuous tie to a program I covered once previously.

On the back was another surprise. It was not made by Hartz Mountain. The record was made by Custom Sound recording Studios 1563 Sherman Avenue, Evanston Illinois. Their catalog includes six other train-your-parakeet releases and one of the Parker canaries singing with blended organ music. That last one is obviously an ode to the American Radio Warblers.

This parakeet is named "Little Peter Parker" and he says a number of things you would not expect a parakeet to say.

"Sprechen sie Deutsch"
"Spottie is studying mathematics, Austin Texas"
"I'll play bridge of I'm dummy."
"Happy is the man that findeth Wisdom"
"Let's have another cup of Lipton's tea"
"Zippity doo dah zippity aye"
"watch the Fords go by"

Friday, March 06, 2009

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Vintage Radio & Communications Museum

Vintage Radio & Communications Museum of Connecticut to be exact. I visited and was duly impressed and will be donating a few odds and ends from my collection. Things are safer in their hands than mine no doubt. The gentleman on duty today set off a Tesla Coil and zapped a number of high voltage electrical arcs for my entertainment.

They have a nice retro radio studio, a Rek-o-kut transcription disc recorder, all manner of tubes and microphones, reel-to-reel decks, tunes, phonographs and ephemera. The collection grew from a simple storefront window display but has truly become a destination in it's own right.
It's easily accessed from Interstate-91 or Interstate-291 and East Windsor also has a few other Historical sites: a Tobacco Museum, a trolley museum, and more. I do recommend you make a day of it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Steel Hour

The Theatre Guild on the Air was on air from 1943 to 1947 on ABC. Then it was brought back in 1949 by NBC and continued until 1953. In 1953 it was converted to a TV program the US Steel Hour that ran until 1963. Both sponsored by the United States Steel Corporation. It was an era of corporations feeling civil obligations to their employees, to their country and to our culture. It seems every so foreign now, but yes, this was real.

Here is the closer for their 52 minute version of George Orwell's 1984 on NBC.


In 1918 the Theatre Guild was Founded in New York City by Lawrence Langner. They really intended in the beginning just to produce high-quality plays. Radio had already had dramas, but this was the real deal, big stars the whole she-bang. In 1943 they had to learn how to adapt their plays for radio. Programs had to play out in under 52 minutes to leave time for station identification and ads. They created a radio department with Armina Marshall in charge. More here.

At their peak they had upwards of 12 million weekly listeners. You'd know the names of their stars and writers: Theresa Hepburn, Alfred Lunt, Walter Huston, Karl Malden, Kenyon Nicholson and many others. Mr. Norman Brokenshire was the announcer for the series. By the 1970s they had really faded out of existence, their last offering to the world was a co-production of the play "State Fair" in 1996. Probably it's last.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A little travel

Just a little conference... I'll be posting irregularly this week.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Paul Harvey: The Last DJ

Paul Harvey died Saturday at the age of 90 at a hospital near his winter home in Phoenix. In the year 2000 ABC renewed his program for another 10 years; a vote of confidence at the end of a radio that lasted over 70 years. He was the last DJ in America older than radio itself. He was born in 1918, three years before the first commercial radio license.

His program "News & Comment" began on ABC in 1951, his other "The Rest of the Story" began in 1976. He began at KVOO a radio station in his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He briefly worked at KSAL in Salina, KS, KOMA in Oklahoma City, KFBI in Abilene, Kansas and KXOK in St. Louis. In 1941, He became program director for WKZO in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

But a year later he moved to Chicago for a gig at WENR Chicago. It was there that his 10 p.m. newscast became the top-rated program and his real career began. It is rumored that Paul Harvey Jr. may take over the program.