Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Transcription Mystery Disc #104

This is a 10-inch, Wilcox-Gay Recordio, clearly labeled to "Xmas 1946". It spins at 78 rpm and has an outer edge start. The narrator introduces the singers "Mr. and Mrs' Branch and Mr. Bowles are going to sing Oh Little town of Bethlehem."  He breaks again in at about 1:50 to note that they're singing the last verse of Silent Night. The two gentlemen are very bassy, and Mr.s Branch is a bit off key.  They break down giggling at the end. They're probably liquored up to be honest.

Xmas 1946

The opposite side of the disc is unlabeled but the narrator explains it all again. This time Mr & Mrs Branch with Mr & Mrs. Bowles, and a Mr. Bavall sing a medley of Christmas carols. It's not any more notable than the A side so I'll save the online storage and let you just imagine it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

One Radio To Rule Them All

Since the dawn of wireless, the military has fantasized about one radio that can do everything. In January of this year Wired magazine called this their "doomed quest."  The goal was to create a single radio device that can replace the numerous types of radios they use daily. In October of 2011 the U.S. Army terminated their  Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). The idea was to develop a software-programmable and hardware-configurable radio. Some of the spec flat out write that "The JTRS radio is to be a telephone, computer and router in one box." That sounds like a big box to me. Ultimately even reducing the requirements wasn't enough to control costs. One billion dollars later it was cancelled. So here is why it failed, and will continue to fail. More here.
  • The Unified Antenna
 The problem is that this goal works against the laws of physics. One of the more obvious goals is to have one unified antenna. Having multiple antennas on a single radio is about as ungainly as having multiple radios in the first place. But using one antenna for many dissimilar wavelengths is...well it's just dumb. Any ham will tell you that a tuned antenna is more efficient than just a random length of metal. When you design an antenna  to be effective within one wavelength, you do so to the loss of effectiveness in other wavelengths. JTRS was originally planned to use frequencies from 2 megahertz to 2 gigahertz. That's not a small piece of RF real estate. Here's a complete list :
  1. Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW)
  2. Single Channel Ground Air Radio System (SINCGARS) with Enhanced SINCGARS Improvement Program (ESIP), 30-88 MHz, FM, frequency hopping and single frequency
  3. HAVE QUICK II military aircraft radio, 225-400 MHz, AM, frequency hopping
  4. UHF SATCOM, 225-400 MHz, MIL-STD-188-181, -182, -183 and -184 protocols
  5. Mobile User Objective System (MUOS): It is important to note that the JTRS HMS manpack is the only radio program of record that will deliver terminals supporting the next generation UHF TACSAT MUOS program. 85% of all MUOS terminals are expected to be ground radios, so if JTRS HMS fails, MUOS (funded in the billions) fails as well - unless a COTS solution is developed...of course MUOS has also had its share of problems, recently announcing yet another 6 month slip for launching its first satellite.
  6. Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS), 420-450 MHz spread spectrum
  7. Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) (under development)
  8. Link-4A, -11B, - 16, -22/TADIL tactical data links, 960-1215 MHz+
  9. VHF-AM civilian Air Traffic Control, 108-137 MHz, 25 (US) and 8.33 (European) kHz channels
  10. High Frequency (HF) - Independent Side Band (ISB) with automatic link establishment (ALE), and HF Air Traffic Control (ATC), 1.5-30 MHz
  11. VHF/UHF-FM Land Mobile Radio (LMR), low-band 25-54 MHz, mid-band 72-76 MHz, high-band 136-175 MHz, 220-band 216-225 MHz, UHF/T 380-512 MHz, 800-band 764-869 MHz, TV-band 686-960 MHz, includes P25 public safety and homeland defense standard
  12. civilian marine VHF-FM radio, 156 MHz band
  13. Second generation Anti-jam Tactical UHF Radio for NATO (SATURN), 225-400 MHz PSK Anti-jam
  14. Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), includes Mark X & XII/A with Selective Identification Feature (SIF) and Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System (ATCRBS), Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) and Traffic Alert & Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), and Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Addressable (ADS-A) and Broadcast (ADS-B) functionality, 1030 & 1090 MHz
  15. Digital Wideband Transmission System (DWTS) Shipboard system for high capacity secure & nonsecure, line-of-sight (LOS), ship-to-ship, and ship-to-shore, 1350-1850 MHz
  16. Soldier Radio & Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN), 1.755-1.850, 2.450-2.483.5 GHz, Army Land Warrior program 802.11
  17. Cellular telephone & PCS, includes multiple US and overseas standards and NSA/NIST Type 1 through 4 COMSEC (SCIP)
  18. Mobile Satellite Service (MSS), includes both VHF and UHF MSS bands and both fielded and emerging low Earth orbit and medium Earth orbit systems and standards, such as Iridium, Globalstar, et al. Includes capability for NSA/NIST Type 1 through 4 COMSEC, 1.61-2 [2.5] GHz. May allow use of geosynchronous satellites with special antenna.
  19. Integrated Broadcast Service Module (IBS-M). Currently three legacies UHF military broadcasts (TIBS, TDDS, and TRIXS) which will be replaced in the future with a Common Interactive Broadcast (CIB).
  20. BOWMAN, the UK Tri-Service HF, VHF and UHF tactical communications system.

Antenna efficiency measures the electrical losses that occur while it is operating at a given frequency, or averaged over its operation across a frequency band. This metric depends on three kinds of loss: coil losses, ground losses, and other losses. (Let's not get into 'other') The antenna's total resistance is the sum of these losses plus the radiation resistance , which is the effective resistance representing emitted RF power. Antenna efficiency is the ratio between its radiation resistance and its total resistance. This will always vary with the type of antenna, the dimensions of the antenna etc. !
  • A Unified Amplifier
If you are using one amplifier, it has to operate across the whole spectrum of signals you may be tuning. But the fact is that wide-band amplifiers consume much more power than narrow band amplifiers. In this case efficiency simply describes the ratio of power in to power out. Then consider that virtually all power lost in an amplifier is converted directly into heat.You can only radiate so much of that out with a heat sink and a fan. Now try to imagine doing that in a desert. Houston we have a problem.
  • Tuner Selectivity
No matter how you receive a signal, that signal must be rectified. In modern hardware we use an DPLL (Digital Phase Lock Loop) circuit, sometimes an ADPLL (All Digital Phase Lock Loop).  Undoubtedly JTRS was more vested in the even more ragged edge tech toy the SPLL (Software Phase Lock Loop.)  With these, in theory, tuning is implemented by software rather than specialized hardware.In reality it has to control hardware and it's usually just synchronizing a VFO (variable frequency oscillator) or VCO (voltage-controlled oscillator.) Spectral purity is more or less contrary to the goals of wide spectrum width, producing an inevitable loss of frequency stability, and phase noise.

But there is a solution. They should be looking at this from a manufacturing point of view. In supply chain management the answer was vertical integration. The problem here is resource management, so the answer is horizontal integration. Instead of trying a one-size-fits-all solution, merging all services, instead merge only similar services. Belligerent MBAs asking engineers to fight against the laws of physics will produce a radio the size of a refrigerator that does ten things poorly for half a million dollars each.  If you begin instead with the immutable laws of physics, start with signals that are decoded by software, who's signals can be rectified from the same or similar antennas or even modular antennas you can reduce 20 radios to 10 or even 5.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Will Rogers and his famous Alarm Clock

Will Rogers first appeared on the radio in February of 1922 at KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, PA. He was accompanied by the Ziegfeld Girls, from Ziegfeld Follies. Ziegfeld Follies were a Broadway show that ran in New York City from 1907 through 1931. They became a radio program in their own right in 1932 as The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. It ran until about 1936 and Rogers did occasionally make a guest appearance.  KDKA wasn't exactly new, it had been on air as 8XK as early as 1916. Founder Frank Conrad received the call letters KDKA in 1921. This was a pivotal time in radio history.  Radio was a new medium, and really before 1922, it was just a hobby. Will Rogers arrived in that crucial window when radio was first able to create national celebrity.  More on KDKA here.
Will Rogers was the first king of all media. In 1922 Rogers was recording monologues for Victor records,and he'd already published two books:  The Cowboy Philosopher on the Peace Conference and The Cowboy Philosopher on Prohibition. In late 1922 he began writing a weekly piece for the McNaught syndicate, who distributed his column to 5 hundred newspapers. He'd already been in his first film in 1918. So by 1922, At that point in time, Rogers had more to offer radio than radio had to offer to him. But in November of 1922, Rogers appears on a syndicated broadcast on NBC that reached an estimated 8 million homes. That was bigger than Broadway.

He started making his first regularly scheduled broadcasts in the spring of 1933. His program, The Gulf Headliners was sponsored by  the Gulf Oil Company. Also called the Good Gulf Show was broadcast from 640 KFI-AM in Los Angeles. It ran for half an hour on Sunday evenings and by 1935 was ranked nationally among the top fifteen radio programs. It was said that he often lost track of time and was often cut off in mid-sentence. To compensate for his wandering mind, he brought in a wind-up alarm clock, cued him to wrap it up. By 1935, the show was sometimes referred to as "Will Rogers and his famous Alarm Clock." There were a total of 53 episodes.

Technically, it was actually his second try at a weekly radio series. Previously, the pharmaceutical company Squibb had sponsored a series of 15-minute monologues at KFI-AM in April of 1930. There were only 12 broadcasts before the series ended.

But getting back to the Gulf Headliners, its popularity led to certain problems. In January 1934, Rogers used the word “nigger” in a radio skit, referring to a song as a “nigger spiritual” and possibly up to a total of four instances. This was not the first time he'd used the word, Rogers had used it in print in his syndicated newspaper column as well.But this was the first time he had used it on the radio. Roy Ottoway Wilkins at the NAACP launched a telegram-and letter-writing protest campaign against the comedian. In response, Rogers switched to the marginally less offensive term "darky." (It sounds pathetic now, but prior to the civil rights of 1964 you could honestly call that a victory)

Rogers died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed near Barrow, Alaska Territory. He was 56 years old. For more information, I recommend the book Radio Broadcasts Of Will Rogers by the Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma State University.  It's available here. It is a compendium of the actual transcripts of many of his radio shows.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Midnight Jamboree WEVD

The Midnight Jamboree sounds like another barn dance type of program. It's not. Host Gene King worked from 7:00 PM to 4:00 AM. That shift included "The Midnight Jamboree" and whatever else they threw at him. More here.

The  Jamboree aired six days a week, and was sponsored by Alka-seltzer back in the golden era of late-night request programs. Starting in 1936, he hosted the program at least into 1941 running against the "Milkman's Matinee" on WNEW-AM. Some issues of Downbeat Magazine note the program still airing in 1958, though clearly with a new host. *Interesting note: the Midnight Jamboree and the call letters WEVD appear multiple times in the personal letters of Ayn Rand.  Even while she recognized them as "pink" (a reference to communism) she remained an avid listener .

The Midnight Jamboree debuted in 1936, back when 1330 WEVD-AM still shared time with WBBR-AM and WHAZWBBR was owned by the Jesuits Watchtower Society, and ran all religious teaching. The share-time continued until 1957 when the station was sold, under some duress to Tele-Broadcasters, who only held the license for 2 years before selling 1959.That buyer, John Camp retained the license and bought WHAZ in 1973. Salem bought WEVD in 1979 then WPOW in 1984 finally unifying the license. They were the last remaining AM dayshare agreement operating in New York City.

Gene graduated from the Ohio State University in 1936, and made a bee-line for radioland. He learned his chops on WEVD. In that time it was owned by the Jewish Daily Forward,a newspaper that still exists but now owns zero radio stations. That was by no means the entirely of his career. He also did man-on-the-street" interviews for them in 1939. Still on WEVD in 1940, Gene King also announced for the "It Happened To Me" a daytime drama.

Then he went on to WOR-AM in 1940 under the Mutual Network where he came in as a DJ and left as the manager of program operations until 1947.  He left that gig to move to Boston to be the Program Director at WCOP-AM in Boston. In 1951 he left that post to become the director of radio in Europe for the Economic Co-operation Administration (ECA). The ECA was a United States government agency set up in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan. It was based in Paris. Prior to that he'd had some nebulous involvement with the French Broadcasting System (FBS) which operated on shortwave internationally. He became the program manager of Voice Of America, out of New York in 1954.

His trail peters out after that. From about 1965 to 1963 it seems he was the WCBS Radio program director, then was elected to the advisory council of the VOA English-teaching radio programs. Then  he pops up again in 1971 joining the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) as program director,  working out of Washington D.C. He held that post into 1974, then after that there's just nothing. A 1983 copy of the Broadcasting Cable Yearbook had him still there as the VP of broadcasting. He had to be in his late 60s by then.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I ♥ College Radio

I was actually a bit surprised that the HTML heart symbol was permitted in the title field there. The iHeartRadio brand launched with the URL iheartmusic.com back in April of 2008. It was sort of a mix of ideas from the start. they were going to stream music to mobile devices and webcast 800 of Clear Channel radio stations online. The comedy here is that Clearchannel is simultaneously moving toward a national programming model where hundreds of these stations will be more-or-less identical.So as tech-savvy as it might seem at first, the content is about as edgy as cheese-whiz.

Last year they debuted the ability to make custom music streams, much like Pandora. Clearly they had figured something out about the content problem. Then I got news yesterday. Clear Channel was soliciting college radio stations to join their platform. This was unexpected.  They put out a press release confirming everything on January 23. You can read it here. Sources report that they are negotiating individual deals with university and radio station representatives, indicating a level of motivation and interest that cannot possibly be generated by a sense of charity.  The first college stations to get involved are below:
  • Appalachian State’s WASU – Boone, NC
  • Connecticut College’s WCNI New London, CT
  • Dartmouth College's WFRD - Hanover, NH
  • Denison University’s WDUB – Granville, OH
  • DePaul University’s Radio DePaul – Chicago, IL
  • Emerson College’s WERS – Boston, MA
  • Flagler College’s WFCF – St. Augustine, FL
  • Green River College’s KGRG – Tacoma, WA
  • Ithaca College’s WICB – Ithaca, NY
  • Rice University’s Rice Radio – Houston, TX
  • Seton Hall University’s WSOU – Orange, NJ
  • Stanford University’s KZSU- Stanford, CA
  • Temple University’s WHIP – Philadelphia, PA
  • College of Wooster’s WCWS – Wooster ,OH

You will notice that not all of these are even radio stations in the broadcasting sense. Rice radio is the webcast that the students were left with after KTRU was sold off. WHIP, and Radio DePaul are all also strictly online. The rest are a mixed bag: WSOU is arguably the biggest college radio station in America, WERS is nearly as big.  WICB is a large but rural college station with s strong commercial lean, KGRG, WASU, WCNI and WCWS are all rimshots to major markets lost in the suburbs. WFRD is in the unrated market areas on the Vermont and New Hampshire border. There is no pattern to this list, it screams shotgun approach, and these are just the early signers. There will be more.

What is the purpose?  That's an open question.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Transcription Mystery Disc # 45

This Wilcox-Gay Recordio has a very promising label. The words "test" and "radio" suggests it's a test recording from an early amplified loudspeaker. The home test recordings are often strange experiments and practice runs. The results range from comic flubs to amateurish narration to inexplicable noises. This one is no disappointment.

Test Melody Off Radio

This one has an outer edge start and spins at 78 rpm as you'd expect from the given date of 11/03/1942. The recording engineer does a radio band scan from wherever they were at the moment. The audio starts out with a pretty bland parlor music, around the one minute mark a crooner kicks in and he's bland too. At 1:07 he flips it to a comedy of some kind. at 1:19 it flips to a news broadcast about the republican nomination for a primary out of Baltimore, then at 1:39 he punches back to the crooner.

The audio is a mixed bag, I applied both a high pass filter and a low pass filter which normally I'd consider a gratuitous no-no, but I needed to remove both surface noise and enough of the indigenous radio static to make the verbiage intelligible. the rest is pretty good.  If I knew Baltimore politics better, I might be able to corroborate the date or guess a location.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Best Chart Ever

Because of a single comment on an old post here. I just got to see the best chart ever. All the Venn diagrams in the world can't explain the pace of consolidation the way Ben Bagdikian did in 1983. But this flow chart is strikingly clear. You can see the whole page here.

It spells out the eventual consolidation of a slew of old media groups: Jacor, CBS. Midwest, Citicasters, Gannett, Point Communications, Capstar, American Media, Viacom... and many others who all now boil down to just two conglomerates: Infinity and Clear Channel.

Friday, January 20, 2012


History is better than fiction, because the punchline is always that it really happened.  The research for this post began here. Presently WKDU is a college radio station owned by Dexel University in Philadelphia, PA. As with all things, it had a beginning, and in the beginning there was no such thing as 91.7 WKDU. It began as a carrier current station with the informal callsign WMAX. Most sources date it's debut to 1958. In 1962 they switched to cable on 830AM as WXDT. It began broadcasting in 1970, but it's transition to FM came only from the fall of another station, and the defeat of another. There was a battle royale for the 91.7 frequency and WKDU was the last station standing. More here.

But there was a third station in this tale. WPWT was the radio station of Philadelphia Wireless Technical Institute (PWTI), hence the call letters. It was located at 1533 Pine St right in Philadelphia. PWTI had been operating since 1908 and is post-worthy on it's own.  It wasn't a large school, though it was accredited by the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools (NATTS). It was lost accreditation in 1998 and no longer exists. [More here] PWTI had signed on WPWT in December of 1949, (originally on 90.1.) The book Philadelphia Radio by Alan Boris reports this as 1950 but it's sign-on is even clearly described in the November 1949 issue of Billboard as "earlier this year." They were the second FM station in Philadelphia which is quite an achievement.

But by the 70s it had perhaps 60 students at any given time. With a small student body it can be hard to maintain a station. So in about 1972 they began a share time arrangement with WXDT to keep the lights on. To share time The Drexel kids needed a real callsign to share time so they became WKDU with just 10 watts. They split the week with the 180 watt WPWT operating from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM daily, and by all reports, the format was Disco. In the early 1980s they segued to Top-40. In 1981 WKDU gets FCC thumbs up to jump from 10 watts to 110 watts, escaping the confines of their Class D license. Spontaneously WPWT developed much better taste in music and began broadcasting a metal-centric playlist similar to WSOU.
At almost the same time that the WPWT/WKDU share time began, WEXP began operations from it's home on the campus of La Salle University in 1950. They too were a closed cable 1972, operating on 1600 AM. But they made a tragic misstep. In 1980 they made an ill-fated attempt at pirate broadcasting. Rumor abound about the actual wattage, but reports of listenership in Albany are remotely possible, but Florida is just absurd. It's highly likely they managed to cover a large enough portion of Philadelphia to notice. This event was viewed poorly by the university administration and the FCC as you might imagine. The operations of WEXP were halted for a few years. and it's schedule was erratic. But the station united in 1988 in an attempt to purchase the now ailing WPWT. Ultimately this was rejected by the University Budget Committee.Full stop. This immediately follows the first year that WKDU won "Best of Philly" Radio Station from Philadelphia Magazine.  Ouch.

WEXP still exists today, but only online. Had they succeeded in buying the then 250 watt WPWT license, this story would have ended very differently.  Perhaps WEXP would be a share-time with WKDU, or perhaps they would have won out entirely with Drexel students drifting away from the then puny 110 watt WKDU. Instead, in 1988 WKDU went stereo and WPWT ceased operations with WKDU buying out their side of the license. In1996 WKDU got the nod from the FCC to increase power to 800 watts... as reigning champion.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I came across this in my research yesterday but it's worthy of it's own post. It's a military training film about a certain New York radio station, owned by the Nathan Straus family. It discusses it's ownership, management and daily activities.  On one side it's a strange little film that exists for virtually no reason, except to demonstrate the connections between Straus and the government.  On the other hand it's a dandy little film about what was an independent radio station while we sit here in an era with precious few.  More here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New World A-Coming

Vincent Lushington "Roi" Ottley attended St Bonaventure University for two years, beginning in 1926 and transferred to the University of Michigan in 1928 to study Journalism. He stayed on there for a year and dropped out to return to New York where he attended Columbia and St. John's University for a law degree. It may seem like he lacked direction, but there was more going on than that. He grew up in Harlem, and only got into college on a track scholarship. In 4 years he went through four schools and at least 3 majors without completing any.  But all along he'd been writing. He wrote for school newspapers and their literary magazines. When he returned to New York he started writing for the Amsterdam News. In 1943 he published he first book A New World A-Coming, and won a Peabody Award. He went on to publish five more books. So how does this relate to radio?

 That gifted writer and later became a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and later a war correspondent in WWII. While overseas, he wrote for Liberty Magazine, PM and the Pittsburgh Courier; he made a bit of a name for himself. There were very few black reporters overseas. Some sources say he was the first. More here.  But it was that first book, A New World A-Coming inspired an eponymous radio program on WMCA-AM.  Some sources say that Ottley produced it, others that WMCA produced it. It's opening credits state that it was produced by WMCA and the "The City-wide Citizen's Committee on Harlem." It's most likely that both had creative input. But it was definitely narrated by Canada Lee (Ottley did narrate a few episodes) and it's theme song was written by Duke Ellington. The program was about black Americans, and showcased black literature, poetry and was at the same time vigorously patriotic. They plugged war bonds too. The 30 minute program aired on Sunday afternoons and the series was continued on into 1957. (Once source claims it ran into 1966) You can hear a few episodes here.

It featured accounts of African-American social life in 1940s Harlem and serving in the military during WWII. That gets back to that City-wide Citizen's Committee on Harlem. that group was founded by reverend John Johnson, Walter Francis White and Algernon Black in 1935. They were involved with the NAACP and the Urban League. It's wroth noting that by this time, the Urban League had already been producing radio programs such as "Minority Opinion," "Americans All," "Immigrants all," and "Freedom's People."

Collectively all these groups were trying to improve race relations, but they were also civil rights activists. In the late 1930s there had been a series off riots set off by police violence against blacks. To his credit, mayor Laguardia did not order a crack down. He reached out to the Citizen's Committee on Harlem. At this time Roi Ottley was reporting on these issues at the Amsterdam News. By the time he won that Peabody award, he was a big name in their community. In 1944 he became the director of the Negro Unit of the New York Federal Writers Project. These writings became fodder for his radio program. More here.

That's all very impressive but the leap to radio is the twist in the story. Nathan Straus bought  WMCA in 1943 from Ed Noble, and became it's chairman of the board. Straus was the former head of the United States Housing Authority and Noble was trying to buy the NBC Blue Network and trying to ingratiate himself to the FCC. But even from the get-go it was expected that Straus was doing something different. The Billboard article describing the purchase was titled "Noble Buy Of WMCA From Noble Points Up Entry Of Public-Minded Into Field."  He shared the board with H. M. Stein, the president of Davega-City Radio. The book Broadcasting Freedom by Barbara D. Savage described Straus as "a New Dealer with progressive views on race..."  No surprise then that it was Straus who bought the rights to A New World A-Coming from Ottley to create the program. It wasn't his only black oriented program by far.. but for every program there's a story to tell.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Transcription Mystery Disc #108

That is not a helpful label.The only marking on either side is the single word in large letters "Void." It gives the impression of a bad take or a dead mic, or a blank disc I always get curious about discs like these. This one turns out not to be blank. It has a comedian named Mortimer and a little piano work as well. But the noise on that is abominable.

The opposite side is all piano and vocal but the speed is...odd. At 78 rpm the vocals sound like chipmunks, but even as slow as 33 it sounds off. I have not satisfied with this one but I cannot accept that it was recorded slower than 33 rpm. Throughout this side of the disc, there are several interruptions where you can hear the sound of a tape jump. I suspect that this side is made of different takes from tape and some are dubbed at the wrong speeds, hence the irregularities.

It ends with someone humming and what sounds like a a baby cooing. . Then someone says "say goodbye folks" and it ends abruptly after a few more bars of piano.

Monday, January 16, 2012


This label was a bit more orange back in 1966 I expect. I scanned this off of the Earl 'Fatha' Hines LP "Life With Fatha" on VSP records (Verve VSP-35). There was a mono version and the sticker was intended to distinguish them. (The recordings were actually made back in 1960.)

But the sticker is interesting. For a jazzhead, stereo mattered more so than other audiophiles; or at least marketing types thought so. But for a brief window consumers had a teensy problem. The stereos from the 1940s and many from the 1950s were made for mono. Even if they'd been playing vinyl records (or polystyrene), they were often 78 rpm as well. the danger here wasn't that the cartridge and amplifier were mono, it was that the tracking weight on the tone arm was intended for those 78s. You could measure it in grams instead of milligrams. Older phonographs tracked in ounces! That kind of weight could peel the groove off a record like an orange rind.

So the label warning label was appropriate, if not exactly stated accurately.

Friday, January 13, 2012

American Negro Theatre

The ANT was formed in 1940 by Abram Hill, Frederick O'Neal, and some versions also include Virgil Richardson and  (more on Virgil here) It's Headquarters was set up at the public library at 103 West 135th Street, New York City. In 1942, ANT began its Studio Theater training program for beginning actors. In 1945 The American Negro Theater became the first Black Theater Company with a weekly radio program.This series was produced by Ted Cott, a radio veteran. This was a really big deal. Time magazine wrote up the event in September of 1945 [HERE]:
"Manhattan's independent WNEW last week signed an all-Negro company to do a 13-week series of radio dramas, starting Sept. 16. WNEW said that it hired the group because it was good, not because it was Negro. One proof that the company, the American Negro (repertory) Theater, is indeed able: its Anna Lucasta is now in its second year on Broadway."
According to one source WNEW-AM auditioned 70 black performers and in what was then surely a rakish move also hired one player who was also half-Mexican. The American Negro Theater has both stage productions and a separate radio program. You'd recognize a lot of he names that came from this theater group: Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Frederick O’Neal, Ruby Dee and even James Earl Jones. Their performances included On Striver’s Row by Abram Hill (September 1940), Natural Man by Theodore Browne (May 1941), You Can’t Take It with You by Moss Hart  (August 1946), Rope by Eugene O’Neill (July 1947),  and Freight by Kenneth White (February 1949). You can see a complete list here

While the plays were being offered, the company was also presenting opera on Sunday afternoons also on WNEW. Of course, drama was more common on radio in that era. WNEW for example had seven different drama segments on their schedule in 1945: Manuel Komroff, American Negro Theater, American Theater Wing, Easy Aces, Isn't It A Crime?, New York In A New World, and Side Street. In 1946 they cut that down to Five: American Negro Theater, Adventures Of The Spirit, So You Think You Know People, and High School Hour. Only two of them had sponsors. In 1946 Billboard curtly said that WNEW was unable to get sponsors because nobody could peddle that content to advertisers anymore. WHN in that same year cut all their drama programs entirely. It didn't bode well.

Despite the relative success that got them a slot on on WNEW, and the big Broadway success of a Anna Lucasta, ANT stopped production by the early 1950s.  Notably, founder Frederick O'Neal went on to more political and civic roles off stage.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Radio Stock Update 4

I read just today that Peak Broadcasting was headed into Chapter 11. It reminded me that perhaps it was time to do an update to my long-running series of posts on radio stocks. I've been checking in on the radio stocks that had IPOs in the 1990s to see how one might fare if they'd held onto those. Peak Broadcasting is a private company and I cant include them here, but there is plenty of other fodder.

As you can see very few meet or beat their IPO; Sinclair makes the cut, as does Saga. Many of the others have turned out to have been solid buys had to liquidity in the 2008 crash, but that's all too few of us. Radio stocks continue to be a dubious buy.

Clear Channel Communications CCU/NYSE
IPO 7/6/1994 - 29.9
Peak - 11/5/07 - 38.4
07/24/08 -WENT PRIVATE

Cumulus Media CMLS/NASDAQ
IPO - 11/16/2001 - 6.99
Peak - 4/23/2004 -22.25
10/15/08 - 1.77
03/02/09 - 1.82
12/22/10 - 2.27
12/15/10 -  3.70
Currently -  3.71

Saga Communications SGA/NYSE
IPO - 10/15/1993 - 5.4
Peak - 5/3/2002 -23.20
10/15/08 - 4.9
03/02/09 - 4.28
12/22/09 - 12.75
12/15/10 -  24.40
Currently -  38.39

Entravision Communications EVC/NYSE
IPO - 8/11//2000 - 18.1
Peak - 8/18/2000 - 20.0
10/15/08 - 1.3
03/02/09 - 0.84
12/22/09 -3.39
12/15/10 -  2.49
Currently -  1.38

Citadel Broadcasting CDL/NYSE
IPO - 8/1/2003 - 20.09
Peak - 12/26/03 - 22.7
10/15/08 - 0.26
03/02/09 - 0.2
03/06/09 - DE-LISTED

Regent Communications RGCI/NASDAQ
IPO - 3/4/2000 - 13.12
Peak - 3/11/2008 - 13.68
10/15/08 - 0.7
06/30/09 - DELISTED (Stock now trades on the OTC Bulletin Board.)

Cox Radio CXR/NYSE
IPO - 10/11/1996 - 7.2
Peak - 12/31/1999 - 33.25
10/15/08- 6.85
03/02/09 - 5.20
06/01/09 - WENT PRIVATE

Entercom Communications ETM/NYSE
IPO - 3/12/1999 - 29.68
Peak - 2/4/2000 - 65.8
10/15/08- 2.34
03/02/09 - 1.28
12/22/09 - 7.48
12/15/10 - 9.35
Currently -  7.21

Salem Communications SALM/NASDAQ
IPO - 07/02/1999 - 26.375
Peak - 04/23/04 - 33.08
10/15/08- 1.01
03/02/09 - 0.56
12/22/09 - 4.48
12/15/10 - 9.35
Currently -2.54

Beasley Broadcasting BBGI/NASDAQ
IPO - 02/11/2000 - 14.125
Peak - 02/13/2004 - 19.05
10/15/08 - 1.71
03/02/09 - 1.11
12/22/09 - 3.82
12/15/10 - 4.77
Currently -  3.38

Emmis Communications EMMS/NASDAQ
IPO - 03/04/1994 - 7.75
Peak - 12/31/1999 - 62.32
10/15/08- 0.60
03/02/09 - 0.31
12/22/09 - 1.23
12/15/10 - 0.47
Currently - 0.72

IPO - 06/02/2000 - 65.00
Peak - 06/02/2000 - 65.00
10/15/08 - 0.301
03/02/09 - 0.41
12/22/09 - 3.29
12/15/10 - 1.01
Currently - 0.94

Sinclair Broadcast Group SBGI/NASDAQ
IPO - 06/09/1995 - 9.54
Peak - 04/03/1998 - 29.81
10/15/08 - 6.64
03/02/09 - 1.13
12/22/09 - 3.66
12/15/10 - 8.36
Currently - 12.74

Spanish Broadcasting System SBSA/NASDAQ
IPO - 11/05/1999 -26.625
Peak - 12/31/1999 - 40.25
10/15/08 - 0.41
03/02/09 - 0.09
12/22/09 - 0.75
12/15/10 - 0.74
Currently - 2.84

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DJ Hubert Humphrey

Hubert Horatio Humphrey worked at a variety jobs, including teaching at Macalester College, he was a pharmacist, and he served as a news commentator for radio station 1280 WTCN-AM, and managing an apartment building. It was only in 1939 that he got a BA, and then continued to a M.A.in political science in 1940! He was 30 years old. He went off and worked for the WPA after that and then ran (unsuccessfully) for Mayor of Minneapolis in 1943. In 1945, he was elected Mayor of Minneapolis and served until 1948, when he made a successful run for the U.S. Senate and he became Vice President under Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Rewind a bit, see that gap between 1943 and 1945?  He was in radio. He broadcast the news nightly over 1280 WTCN-AM.

Actually According to the book Hubert H. Humphrey: The Politics Of Joy by Charles Garrettson, Humphrey  had been on several other stations in his first run for office in 1943. He could buy a 15-minute spot on a small-time AM station for only $26. But there is little record of this time on air. So between runs for mayor, Humphrey became a news commentator, and ran an apartment building on the side. Maybe it wasn't glamorous, but he was biding his time, he was making a second go at it in 1945.

The station had come a long way before1945. It began as WRHM-AM in 1925 and was purchased in 1934 by Twin Cities Newspapers. They promptly changed the call sign to WTCN-AM. They were an NBC Blue affiliate until 1945 when NBC Blue became ABC,. they also carried some programming from Mutual.  Under NARBA in 1941, WTCN was shifted from 1250 AM to 1280 AM. The station was using an experimental FM transmitter to simulcast while Humphrey  was at the station. W9XTC operated on 26.05 MHz, but in his era it was run only intermittently.  They tried again in 1947 with  97.1 WTCN but Humphrey was in office by then. He continued to do interviews on air in Minneapolis, but usually with the much larger station 830 WCCO-AM.

He did have one other broadcasting highlight.. In February of 1953, he and Senator Edward J. Thye were a part of a ceremonial powering up for WCCO-TV.  They pressed the key in Washington, D.C.which "signaled" the power increase to 100,000 watts. WCCO-TV then became the fourth TV station in the USA to operate at the maximum allowable power. He left office in 1969, unseated by the evil empire of Richard Nixon. Humphrey returned to the senate, and not to radio. He died in office on January 13th, 1978 of cancer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Transcription Mystery Disc # 33

 This disc spins at an oddball 39 rpm with an outer edge start. How do I know it's 39 rpm?  Well for starters it's labeled that way and when I digitized it, the speed was clearly too slow at 33, and too fast at 45. So after some tweaking, my ear naturally found it about 10% faster than 33 rpm... so they were at least in the ballpark.
The Dixon Family

This Federal Perma Disk dates to October 14th 1945. Fred the engineer dutifully labeled both sides of the disc properly. He even left a note that the other side came out poorly so I knew not to bother with it. I the end I tried a few things with the audio and found a basic low pass filter to be the least offensive change. There was another minute of a small child named Marlene, warbling in the beginning that I tripped off, she was virtually inaudible with anything less than a harsh noise filter.  Still quite audible are Fred, Toots and Skipper. At the end "Daddy Dixon" thanks Fred for being the engineer. However, if Fred had recorded this at 45 rpm instead,  it would have sounded much better.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Radilroad Radio Rules

In 1966 The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Co. made a pamphlet to enumerate the rules for radio use on their rail lines. Mostly it lists FCC operating rules and it explains as much in the preamble (the typo is theirs):
The railroad communications system rules covered the transmission of data between fixed points, moving points and between moving equipment and fixed points. Unlike most other applications, a railroad certainly has all three. It doesn't list anything as specific as frequencies I'm afraid, but it is a quick tutorial that was probably handed out to every yard man that might use a radio

You can download it all 

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Trouble with WCQS

About a week ago I read an article in the Citizen Times Newspaper [LINK] about the troubles at 88.1 WCQS in Asheville, North Carolina.  Western North Carolina Public radio used to be branded as "NPR News, Classical Music and More."  Earlier this year, their new executive director, Jody Evans effectively got rid of the "and More."   WCQS became what Alan Bernard at Poormojo News Wire calls an "NPR Zombie." Their local programming was all but wiped out. Being a radio network this removed local and regional programming from not just one station but from all of it's affiliates and repeaters: W298AY, WFQS, W269AY, W237AR, W234AS, W218AB, W209AD, and W209AE.

Enter Fred Flaxman. Mr. Flaxman, is a former public radio and television executive who retired in the area. Previous to the troubles, he had volunteered to serve on the station’s community advisory board. That's how he discovered they hadn't bothered to have one for over a decade. That happens to be a violation of the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act.

After some urging, a programming board was formed, but Ms. Evans mostly ignored them. Then this year, made some radical changes cutting local programs like “Conversations,” “Byline” and “Evening Rounds.” She didnt' even both to tell them until after she did it. Flaxman and thirty others banded together and filed a petition with the FCC to deny their license renewal. This is a rare event, the only recent similar petition I can think of was pointed at KPFT following a big board shake up. So I reached out to Fred for some more details, and he was kind enough to oblige me.

JF: I'm familiar from your bio that you helped found WETA, and were also at WTTW after that. Could you tell me how you got started in radio? I'd venture to guess you didn't start at WETA.

FF: My first work in radio was for a campus station at the University of Michigan and as a paid script writer for WUOM-FM, Ann Arbor, writing what the announcers said for live concert broadcasts. I majored in journalism there and worked in public relations and as a newspaper reporter and magazine writer/editor before joining WETA-TV, Washington, D.C., as special assistant to the general manager. In that capacity I wrote the proposals that brought in the funding to put WETA-FM on the air, and then became its founding manager.

JF: Having worked in both public television and public radio do you feel you have a preference for any reason?

FF: Yes, I prefer radio because it is a more personal medium. It doesn't take lots of people and money to get things done. Television is more creativity by committee. Basically, I'm a writer, which is even more personally creative than radio.

JF: Did you have any connection to WCQS, previous to this?

FF: They did broadcast six of my "Compact Discoveries" programs as specials, shortly after I moved here six years ago. They have not broadcast any of my programs since. You can find out everything you might want to know about "Compact Discoveries" programs at www.compactdiscoveries.com. You can even stream the programs on demand via links to PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. You'll also read there what professional public broadcasters and listeners have to say about these programs.

JF:  Ideally what should have WCQS been doing with their programming?

FF: Before making any major changes, they should have asked the advice of their Community Advisory Board and conducted surveys of their members and listeners to get their input.

JF: How do you feel about the syndicated NPR programs that make up their schedule now?

FF: NPR is a tremendously valuable service, but the future of local public radio stations lies in their service to their own local and regional communities. This is because satellite and Internet radio makes it possible to receive NPR programming without tuning into a local station.

JF: I have read that you helped found WETA-FM, when you look at that station today how do you feel about their programming in respects to their listeners in DC?

FF: I listen to them on my Internet radio and they seem to be doing an excellent job of serving the classical music listeners of their area. WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., serves the area's audiences for public affairs, news, and talk programming. I advocated that kind of split of responsibilities when I put WETA-FM on the air in 1970, but couldn't get WETA to agree to it. I'm glad it finally happened for the benefit of the Washington, D.C., radio audience.

JF:  In your vision, what is the ideal way for a public radio station to be programmed?

FF: It should be programmed with input from the public via a Community Advisory Board, surveys, letters, e-mails, phone calls, independent producers, etc. It should not be programmed in a dictatorial manner without such input, as has been the case here with WCQS.

JF:  Are there any stations left still working from that play book?

FF: I hope so!

JF:  Do you have any immediate plans in radio land?

FF: I love retirement and just doing what I want every day. That includes making radio programs out of my love for classical music. I sure don't want to be involved in management any more, and absolutely hate fighting with a local public radio station. But I know we could have a terrific station in Asheville if we only had management that was responsive to our great community! That is why I have joined with others who feel the same way to file the Petition to Deny with the FCC.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A Dubious Quote

"The time will come, and that presently, when, by making use of the magnetic waves that permeate the ether which surrounds our world, we shall communicate with the Antipodes."

-Joseph Glanvill, The Vanity of Dogmatizing

That's how I first read the quote and like anything else presently that way I assumed it was true. It's usually described as the earliest prediction of the invention of radio. I've seen the quote in many texts, magazines and term papers. It first appears on the frontispiece of the book "Hello America" by César Saerchinger, first printed in 1938.  It seemed believable because he was an early scientific and philosophical septic. Glanvill was a writer, philosopher, clergyman and early proponent of the scientific method. So the quote seems like something he would have written. It was the right time, the right place and he was the right man. Nonetheless, it appears we have all been pranked.

Famous as this quote is, it does not appear in his 1661 text The Vanity of Dogmatizing, nor it's 2nd revision Scepsis Scientifica. I have found a number of newspapers including the Florence Times, the Tuscaloosa News and the Register herald which all  ran the same 1941 article titled "Amazing Prophesy" that probably propagated this myth. Harpers Magazine ran the same quote in an article that year as well. It's hard to say which was quoting which, but clearly no one bothered to check the source material. I even checked his other works including Sadducismus Trimphatus, Witches and Apparitions and Philosophia Pia. Inexplicably, it's just not there.You can see for yourself here or here.

I don't dismiss it entirely yet, but at the very least those lines either don't originate with Glanvill or at least not within that text. He does use the word magnetic a couple times but spelled "magnetick" as would have been common in that era. Likewise he writes "ether" as "Æther" and other similar archaic spellings. But I did find one quote possibly related which which the myth is derived. 
"Now those, that judge by the narrowness of former principles and successes, will smile at these paradoxical expectations: but questionless those great inventions, that have in these later ages altered the face of all things; in their naked proposals, and mere suppositions, were to former times as ridiculous... That men should speak after their tongues were ashes, or communicate with each other in different hemisphears, before the invention of letters; could not have been thought a fiction. Antiquity would not have believed the force of our cannons; and would as coldly entertain'd the wonders of the telescope. In these we all condemn antique incredulity; and 'tis likely posterity will have as much cause to pity ours."

Glanvill's words (if they are his) didn't come true until 1932 with the debut of the BBC Empire service. [Antipodes is a now arcane term meaning two points on the Earth's surface which are diametrically opposed.] Maybe it was just that it appeals to our sense of wonder, and our profound belief in unrelenting technological progress. But the joke appears to be on us, courtesy of César Saerchinger, some 74 years ago. Congratulations.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Paper Radio

Cross media topics are kind of a novelty unto themselves. How many TV shows can you name that are about radio, even tangentially?  There was WKRP In Cincinatti, Newsradio, and Frasier. I think that's it. Radio returns the favor a bit as well: TV Confidential, and TV Time Machine on 1170 KCBQ-AM. Print media does one better, analyzing and examining the historical record of everything, Radio, TV and itself. But largely radio magazines died out in the 1930s and 1940s. Sure Radio World, Radio Ink and Radio Magazine are still published regularly but those are trade magazines. They're not in general circulation.  there are a coupel irregular Ham mags out there too but I've found only one 'zine.

Zines are hard to define. They are generally self-published works, though they often have multiple contributors. They fill a narrow market niche, and are usually reproduced on a photocopier.Circulation is small by definition. According to issue #4 of the zine Paper Radio, only 100 copies of each issue were printed. That's real micro publishing. I bought mine at Ms. Valerie Park Distro out of Olympia, WA. The zine itself is based in Warner, New Hampshire, and published by DJ Fredrick.

Paper radio is about the art and history of radio. Issue # 8 reads in plain language "The goal of Paper Radio is to help readers connect and reconnect with radio. Unlike other mediums, radio sparks the imagination, it paints scenes with sound..."  Topics include pirate radio, shortwave (WCBQ, CHU, WWCR, WRMI), pirate shortwave, DX'ing and in the few issues I have, they cover a slew of small local radio stations WNEC, KPFA, KMUD, KENC, WRKU, and WFEA-AM.  More here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Transcription Mystery Disc #42

I picked up a couple booklets of mixed acetates so we're back in action here with an optimistic weekly Tuesday offering of archival audio. This disc is well labeled, at least with first names and a specific date. The discs include a set of recordings by a singing duo Betty and May. Someone named Skippy plays piano. This is one selected at random. The booklet notes that it's recorded at "slow speed" which turns out to be 33 rpm with an outer edge start. It was recorded on August 28th 1942.

The bed noise is a bit high, but I was able to diminish that with a low pass filter. The first side is the song "Gypsy" which was a single back in the 1940s. On the B-side the song is "With Someone like you" and Betty and May manage a skilled harmony, I don't recognize that tune. It may be an original.The first attempt is clearer and I opted to not use a band pass filter as it hacked off too much of their vocal range. 


There's an introduction by the engineer, then sing for 2 minutes and then chatter, and do a second take and the engineer talks to himself inanely narrating out the last few rotations of the cutting needle.I am hoping the other discs are this good.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Yr

(Tomorrow we return to our regularly scheduled programming. )