Archive for July, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 22

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Michigan_backyard_1 As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a week around the July 4th holiday in Michigan. And many of those evenings were spent in my brother’s backyard scanning shortwave and the AM band. Although I’ve yet to dig into all the tapes, I really don’t recall any particular bandscan to be all that fascinating. To me, what makes a broadcast band tuning adventure memorable is ultimately a crap shoot. It’s a roll of the dice under the influence of atmospheric conditions and the happenstance of coming across interesting content. Better luck next time…

That’s not to say that in twenty or so hours of recording I didn’t capture some intriguing and revealing broadcasting along the way. But I was ultimately disappointed that most of scans didn’t stand out as being blogable or as significant audio artifacts. To me, there’s several factors that make a particular scan worth posting and discussing here. While it’s always exciting to come across viable signals from very far away (or from countries I’ve rarely if ever heard on shortwave), this is an English language blog and it seems imperative to present some radio English content in the mix (although foreign music programs often have a powerful charm all their own).

Of course, exotic non-English programming is part of what makes shortwave so interesting. But in the end radio is supposed to be a communication medium. When I turn on a shortwave set to explore I want to receive information and ideas from around the world, as well as log some far off programming I can’t understand. Actually my recent listening sessions upstate (for only two evenings) yielded more interesting scans, and I may return to those recordings in the next few weeks. Like I said, it’s always a crap shoot.

Michigan_scanning Most (but certainly not all) of what I did capture in English on shortwave during this were those damned US Christian shortwave broadcasters, as well as some decent AM DXing scans, which I have yet to revisit.

In this post I’m offering a late night scan of the 49 meter band (from June 30, 2006), which is primarily a ghetto of Jesus-casting in the US at that time. The 49 meter band (the frequencies directly surrounding 6000 kHz or so) is the most popular shortwave broadcast band overnight, but after midnight very few international broadcasters aim their mighty transmitters toward North America with English broadcasts (except Cuba and perhaps China, which never seems to stop broadcasting in English and dozens of other languages on shortwave). What you typically get in the wee hours are a few distant stations intended for other continents in between the stronger signals spewing English language Christian evangelism and propaganda, most originating from the US.

Although there have been rare instances where I’ve heard something actually inspirational or original from a Christian shortwave broadcast, I can’t think of any right now. In this scan, you get the usual– heaping helpings of righteous ignorance, lots of authoritarian blather, and some creepy xenophobia thrown in for good measure. At its worst, shortwave bible-banging is full of intolerance and disdain, if not hatred, for those who are the wrong color or don’t embrace the beliefs of the particular sect transmitting the propaganda at hand.

In this sampling you’ll hear a bit of that. So, let’s scrape the bottom of the 49 meter barrel, starting out just before 2:30 AM (0624 UTC) on Friday night (or Saturday morning) June 30, 2006 (or July 1 if you’re a stickler).

49 Meter Band (5765 to 6160 kHz) 07-01-06  49:05

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5765 – WWCR (Nashville, TN) – Scriptures For America

Peters_mag_cover It’s the “Scriptures For America” program, with Pastor Peter J. Peters of LaPorte, Colorado. Tonight he’s offering a replay of his Martin Luther King holiday special broadcast from January of this year. And what a tribute it is.

Okay, it’s not a tribute at all. This is a venomous indictment of MLK. Pastor Peters is a leading figure in the American “Christian Identity” movement, a racist theology based on the rather kooky theory that white folks, or “Aryans” (or just generally pale Americans) are descendants of the "lost tribes of Israel." That said, it doesn’t stop these bizarre Caucasoid practitioners from despising Jews (who one would assume they believe are actually their ancient cousins), and of course, loathing African-Americans (and basically all brown and black people). And that’s not all. Christian Identity types really HATE homosexuals, and many aren’t too fond of Catholics either. No surprise, a similar theology has been quite popular in South Africa as well.

Anyway, you get the idea. To make a long story short, Pastor Peters is a hateful little racist asshole who happens to have an international radio show. Funny how Peters barely mentions the civil rights movement (or any need for such a thing in America during MLK’s era) in this nasty diatribe. Nothing original here. It’s basically a restatement of the John Birch Society case against Martin Luther King that’s been passed around in racist circles for decades. Much of it is based on rumors based around the infamous FBI surveillance of King, under the pasty guiding hand of J. Edgar Hoover.

What made King such a bad guy to Peters and the Birchers? Well, apparently he was a naughty person first and foremost. But more importantly, they’re outraged that anyone would honor a communist sexual deviant, who was also a false prophet (whatever that means). Hoover_fez_shot And what really pisses off Peters? King’s “wild interracial sex orgies,” of course. (Of course, when Jeff Gannon, Karl Rove and George W all locked themselves up in the White House bathroom for an hour, that wouldn’t technically be "interracial.") To Peters the group sex thing is kinda bad, but it’s the skin color stuff that is almost too sinful for words. “Interracial marriage is a violation of god’s law,” Peters says. It’s “a ploy to weaken America’s strength!” No mention of bodily fluids.

What I felt was mildly amusing in all the hatred and spite, was that Peters actually decries the policies of torture and our loss of privacy rights under Bush, despite the fact that Bush seems as close to Peter’s beliefs as any US President in our lifetime. Perhaps he’s only concerned that government sponsored torture might not be used exclusively on black and brown people. Peters doesn’t seem to find any problem with the FBI snooping on King’s every move for years.

5850 – EWTN – Eternal Word Television Network (Vandiver, AL)

Schlafly From scary racist Protestant blather, to equally frightening crap from this huge Catholic shortwave station in Alabama. On the phone is nasty old Phyllis Schlafly, who made a name for herself by fighting equal rights for women and public school sex education for decades. She also once said the atomic bomb was a gift from god. And lately she’s been promoting the idea that an independent judiciary is just a plain bad idea. According to Schlafly, some judges have too much power (i.e. independence), especially on the Supreme Courts. According to her recent book, these judges are “supremacists,” which is her terminology for what other rabid right-wingers refer to as judicial activists. It’s shorthand for judges who make decisions Phyllis and her ilk find distasteful, or somehow not Christian enough, whatever. It’s a catchy term, right?– supreme court, supremacists, super-bad… Easy to remember. However, if you happen to look up the word “supremacist” you’ll notice that it a tern defining certain humans who believe that their race, religion, belief system or culture is superior, or are more deserving of certain rights, privileges and freedoms than people who are not like them. So, Rowe vs. Wade was a matter of supremacy? Of what, secularism? Please.

Make no mistake about it. Half-wit theocrats like Schlafly and Peters are TRUE supremacists, and these days like-minded people who want to scrap our secular representative republic for something more like Taliban rule are working overtime behind the scenes to make this country a religious state. It’s happening within the Catholic and Protestant church in this country, and it oughtta scare the hell out of you. That is, unless you’re a zombie too.

5920 – The Fundamental Broadcasting Network

Holy singin’ in a big room. How much joy can you handle?

5935 – WWCR – Gene Scott

Scott_cigar Hearing an old-fashioned money grubbing (dead) preacher is kind of a relief after all that hate and prudish garbage. Even if it is a bunch of tired gobbledygook about how HE us gave his son, and that makes us givers, or something "axiomatic" like that. Amen.

5950 – WYFR – Family Radio

Spreading Harold Camping’s warped Christian message around the world in Español.

5965 – Radio Exterior de Espana

The first secular broadcast here. Lots of weather noise. Some guitar action.

5985 – WYFR – Family Radio

More Jesus for all garbage, in a Chinese language I believe. With the contact information given in slow distinct English.

6005 – BBC World Service (from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic)

If there was one blip in the news cycle that seemed to eventually snowball into what has become a huge ongoing human disaster in Lebanon, it was the capture of the young Israeli soldier mentioned in this newscast. That already seems so long ago.

Bbc_big_wig_1 And what is really irritating, especially in a time of a major world crisis, is that the BBC World Service is now difficult, and at times impossible, to hear in North America on shortwave. The BBC has decided that American shortwave listeners just aren’t worth the time or money. Sure, it’s still a great news source (much better than NPR), but it’s really not the world service it once was. I wonder if the planet really starts to go up in a ball of flames if the BBC might butch up and offer North America the English service they need and deserve via shortwave again. After all, If things get really bad shortwave could again become the only way to hear what’s happening around the globe.

Gosh, am I pessimistic today or what?

6030 – Radio Marti

It’s freedom lovin’ America, spreading democracy to Cuba via radio instead of using good old fashioned warfare and torture. Broadcasting from North Carolina, I believe this signal is being jammed by Cuba with their infamoushavana gurgle” machine.

6070 – Radio Mundial Mahanaim (Santiago, Chile)?

Chile_qsl One thing for sure, this is NOT CFRX (a shortwave simulcasting relay of talk station CFRB in Toronto, which I did hear at other times at this frequency while in Michigan).

It’s a pop song, in Spanish with guitar (and perhaps flute) with hip hop overtones. Not that I’m crazy about this song, and the reception is piss poor, but in my opinion this one stop on the 49 meter band had more humanity and sanity than any other signal I came across that evening. However, the clip is short here.

6090 – Gene Scott

Beggin’ for money from the grave again. I wonder how many years it will go on?

6110 – RAI – Radio International Italy (Rome)?

Or maybe a Christian station in Chile. Not sure. Very poor signal.

6160 – Radio Habana Cuba

In English. AWFUL reception.

Thanks for listening!

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)

How I Love My Country

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

A couple weeks ago I went home. Not exactly, but close enough. I went to Michigan. We were subjected to the incredible hospitality of my brother and his family and had a great visit. I spent many hours in their suburban backyard listening to the radio with the recorder engaged, scanning the broadcast bands for my radio series on this blog. As I ford through those tapes and digest all the reception, I thought I’d share something special I found on the AM dial there– WCXI.

During past visits, I hadn’t paid much attention to WCXI. Years ago, a contemporary country station with those call letters at about the same place on the dial was a mainstay in the Detroit market, and when I came across it I just assumed it was the same station. It isn’t. The old WCXI ceased to exist in the early 1990’s, and their AM frequency (1130 kHz) is now the home of yet ANOTHER sports talk station. This WCXI, based out of Fenton, Michigan (just southwest of Flint) broadcasts at 1160 on the dial, and grabbed up the old call letters in 2000 to help brand their new “classic country” format in southeastern Michigan. And six years later, in an era where AM dial music stations across the country have been almost completely replaced by talk, news, sports and ethnic brokered programming, WCXI is bucking this trend and doing it the old fashioned way.

I don’t know exactly when classic country became a format, but I suspect it occurred in the early 1990’s, coinciding with either the rise of Garth Brooks or the runaway success of Billy Ray Cyrus and his “Achy Breaky Heart.” Country music was changing, and traditional artists and old classics were increasingly left behind on the newly popular “hot country” stations to make way for the new sound. While never a big player in the U.S. radio scene, the classic country format filled a niche out there for an (aging) audience who wanted to hear fiddles, pedal steel guitars, mandolins and rollicking Nashville rave-ups coming out of their radio. And who could blame them.

Well, a decade and a half has passed, and in the world of radio programming that’s a long time. A fringe format that appeals to middle-aged to older listeners doesn’t get a lot of oxygen these days, when advertisers have nearly abandoned trying to sell to anybody older than thirty assuming they are already “brand loyal” (and/or not as easily subject to marketing ploys). In fact, the most successful format for the older set, talk radio, is filled with ads for OLD people. Any talk radio listener quickly becomes familiar with a number of anti-aging supplements and local cancer and heart disease treatment facilities via advertising. Here in New York, I’ve always gotten a good laugh from the jingle for the “Hebrew Home For The Aged” with the lyrics– “This is the place you’ll remember…” I don’t think so.

Not so on WCXI. The advertising is almost embarrassingly intimate, and not cynically based on demographic studies and focus groups. Almost all the ads I heard on WCXI were live D.J.’s reading ad copy, not produced spots and nothing national. It’s advertising for adults, not just senior citizens, with ads for car repair outlets, shops, restaurants and assorted services. You can bet the ad time is CHEAP and the account executives have to work overtime to make a living. Instead of the usual national ad campaigns and overtly-ironic (i.e. Geiko Insurance, etc) jokey stuff, you get earnest appeals to patronize striving local businesses. For people who love this station, it’s easy to imagine they might be swayed by an ad on WCXI just as a way of supporting the music they bring into their lives everyday. It’s the way advertising was supposed to work.

And why or how in 2006 could a station playing grandad’s hillbilly favorites survive, and possibly thrive, north of the Mason-Dixon line? It probably has something to do with vehicles.

Much of the glory and tragedy of southeastern Michigan is based in the automotive industry. In the early to mid-20th century, the area thrived making cars and car parts for America and the world. Decades ago, when the U.S. was transforming from a rural economy to an industrial one, landing a job in the automotive industry was an unprecedented surefire ticket to a middle class life for unskilled workers. And not unlike today’s influx of immigrants across the Mexican border, many thousands of job hungry Americans from the south and southern midwest flooded into southeastern Michigan looking for profitable work they couldn’t find in their region of the country. I can trace my own origin to this migration as both my grandfathers came to Michigan from farming communities south of the state to build cars and trucks for the rest of their lives.

This migration brought a southern flavor to parts of lower Michigan. When I was younger, small towns like Ypsilanti and Walled Lake were jokingly referred to as Ypsi-tucky or Wall-tucky, in reference to the number of the twangy accents you might find there. I once met a teenage girl who was born and raised in Saline, Michigan who had a genuine Tennessee hills accent, despite spending her whole life an hour away from the Canadian border.

Of course, country and western music is now popular all over North America and around the world. But the older and more traditional stuff  is rarely heard on the radio these days (except for certain shows on non-commercial stations). While I don’t have the facts and figures to prove it, you can imagine that there are still some full-time classic country stations in places like Texas and across the south, and most are probably on AM. Then there’s WSM, the AM clear channel powerhouse in Nashville (which can be heard many nights across eastern North America). Still the home of the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night, WSM almost shifted to a talk radio format, but loud protestations from fans of WSM’s country music heritage prevailed, the station did not become a run of the mill propaganda outlet.

Now, those of you who have followed some of my extended musings on this blog know that I listen to a lot of talk radio. (And if you’re as sickened and/or bored by all the right wing talk garbage flooding the dial as I am, you know how difficult this can be.) However, I still I have a soft spot in my heart (or my head) for AM music radio, specifically stations that program music originally made to be played on AM (or jukeboxes). Call me strange, or old fashioned (you wouldn’t be the first), but I sort of PREFER to hear old pop music on AM instead of FM, or in any digitally rendered scenario. I often find it jarring to hear an old song I grew up with in hi-fi stereo on an FM oldies station. It just sounds wrong. I enjoy the old hits in mono, as well as limited, compressed and modulated in an amplitude fashion. But I don’t experience them that way very often these days.

As I noted in an earlier post, there is not one full-time English language music station on the AM dial in New York City. And not only is music leaving the AM dial in general, but commercial radio formats across the board have dropped almost any songs recorded before the 1960’s or 70’s. So, it doesn’t take a psychic to realize that classic country stations like WCXI aren’t going to be around forever. And while I was recording faraway AM and shortwave reception by night, I was having a blast cranking up WCXI around the house and in the car during the day. Toward the end of my trip, I realized I really needed to capture some WCXI to take home.

So, here’s all the WCXI I managed to tape while I was in Michigan, all available below for your downloading and listening pleasure.

This is "Sweet Sue" filling in on Friday for the regular host, Brian, who apparently had some car trouble that day.

WCXI – 07-07-06 pt 1  47:03

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WCXI – 07-07-06 pt 2  47:02

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WCXI – 07-07-06 pt 3  47:02

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I’m not sure if the DJ in the recordings below ever mentioned his name on these recordings. In fact, he sounds like he’s been on the radio for all of a month. But that’s okay, he tries hard enough and seems to get all the song titles and product names right. (The little bit of buzzing and whining interference you hear on these recordings thankfully dissipates quickly.).

WCXI – 07-08-06 pt 1  55:38

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WCXI – 07-08-06 pt 2  56:27

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As you can hear, WCXI is obviously a low budget operation. While the jocks are endearing, a lot of the air talent I heard on the station had a bit of a “minimum wage” quality– lots of goofs, repetition and cornball sentiment. But I gotta tell you, when I travel around the U.S. I kinda like to hear the sound of earnest amateur announcers on local radio. It can help flush some of the accumulated irony out of your media intake valves.

If you love old country music, or the sound of REALLY local smalltown radio, you may find a lot to love about WCXI. To get the full effect, take your MP3 player out in the car and hook it up to your stereo and take a drive down a lonely two lane road somewhere on a sunny day. It doesn’t have to be a flat tree-lined Michigan highway to have the same effect.

I also have another post about WCXI which includes almost four more hours of airchecks. You can find it right here.

 (This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)