Archive for October, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 30

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Catskill_shack_1 Here’s the second half of the scan of the 25 meter shortwave band following my post from last week. And to be honest, I’m including it for completion rather than for compelling content. It’s international broadcasting, and almost none of it is intended for North American listeners.

And speaking of last week, I mentioned that a site I’ve depended on for identifying shortwave broadcasts, hfradio, has disappeared. Well, I’m happy to say it’s only temporary. If you try to pull up their site you get a (MS version of MySpace) page explaining that they took the server down for some maintenance and upgrades. Should be back up in a week or two. I’d personally like to thank the proprieter of the website, Tomas Hood, for all his fine work and service to the online radio geek community.

Almost all the radio reception I’ve been blogging has been recorded at night, when radio waves get the best bounce out of the atmosphere. But the 25 meter band has more life during daylight than most, and reader Ralph offered his own recorded adventure of these same frequencies a few weeks ago.

More than most radio recordings offer here, this is more for geeks and completists. No great music and very little English language content. However, if you were to tune in the world one afternoon you might hear voices like these, and radio noise like this.

This scan was captured around the five o’clock hour EDT on my Degen 1103 portable. The first segment of this radio adventure (in the last post) has some swell music and an interesting roundup of the weekly news from Cuba. This is mostly just foriegn language garble. But no less REAL. Most of these signals are being transmitted from overseas. However, I heard them in the Catskill Mountains. And so will you, if you download this file…

Segment 2 – 25 meter band 10-01-2006

(download)

11795 – Deutsche Welle (Germany)

English service for Africa. Not coming in well, and stepped on by an adjacent station.

11800 – Radio Habana Cuba

In Arabic, with a Cuban accent. Reception isn’t too bad. Wonder what they’re talking about?

11815 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain) & Radio France International?

Sounds right. Spain broadcasting (some sports type stuff) in Spanish to South America, as well as hint of what might be France speaking Portuguese to folks in Angola. Lots of buzzy off-frequency noise occurring as well. In short, a mess.

11820 – The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Saudiflag Either the Koran, or a discussion of it. Quite clear with some shortwave hissy effects.

11830 – (A Mess)

While I hear a male talking about a “health department” in this dense garble, I’m not sure there’s any actual English broadcasting going on here. That guy dominates this rather interesting reception train wreck, with at least one or more stations warbling in. Best guess is that Iran (in Albanian) and Egypt (in Hausa, an African language) might be part of the festivities here.

11875 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain)

The news in Spanish.

11895 – WYFR – Family Radio

Harold Camping’s quirky Christian crap in French.

11915 – The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

More Koran business. Some fading here and there.

11920 – (unknown Christian broadcast)

Can’t figure out what this is. Mediocre reception. Some white American woman all worked up on god.

11930 – Radio Marti (jammed)

Oh, the NOISE…. American propaganda waves stopped in mid-bounce by old Fidel.

Rdpi 11945 – RDP Internacional Portugal?

Some guy with a deep voice talking to Africa.

11955 – Adventist World Radio

Soothing biblical piano. So mellow…

11980 – The Voice of Russia

Interval chimes, getting ready for another hour of international radio, with some squiggly broadcast riding on top.

11985 – WYFR – Family Radio

Again, the Camping cult working their magic on French speaking Africans.

12000 – HCJB – Voice of the Andes

Spanish language fluffy Christian pop from Ecuador.

12015 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain)

In Arabic I believe, with a HEAVY whine. Is this a heterodyne caused by another nearby station? Or an ear piercing jamming transmission designed to make your brain bleed?

12025 – HCJB – Voice of the Andes?

Difficult for me to verify, but it sounds right. If so, it’s Christian radio in Arabic aimed at North Africa. Those Jesus-casters never stop trying to convert the world.

12050 – Radio Cairo

News of the Middle East, in Arabic. Female newsreader. Good signal.

12075 – (unknown)

Extremely lousy read of this broadcast. Male voice. Might be American clandestine “Radio Free Asia” broadcasting in Korean.

12085 – Radio Damascus?

Wdamascussyriaf Maybe. It might even be music. For me, this is the worst level of reception that I’ll vainly attempt to pull a listenable signal out of. No luck here.

12095 – BBC World Service.

Something about India. It’s difficult listening, and the UK international broadcasters could give a rat’s ass if we North Americans hear it anyway. It’s coming from the South Atlantic, and intended for African ears.

12133.5 – US Armed Forces Radio (Key West, FL)

A mutated Smokey Robinson number. They’re broadcasting on upper side band and I didn’t bother messing around with tuning it in correctly.

I’m always interested in corrections, suggestions and feedback on these entries. Either in the comments section or via email.

Thanks a bunch for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 29

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Cabin_table Okay, I’m back again with some shortwave reception. I made a number of bandscan recordings when I was in the Catskills around the beginning of this month and that’s where this entry was recorded. While I had hoped to duplicate some of the luck I had upstate while perusing the 31 meter band last June, that wasn’t possible this time around. One of the main reasons shortwave radio is both intriguing and frustrating is that propagation varies so damn much, depending on the weather of our solar system. One day or night a station (or a smorgasbord of stations) will be heard at a certain time, and on another date at the same time you’ve got radio silence, something else, or just RF noise. And on that weekend, two fairly dependable bands, the 31 and 41 meter band, were clear of many of the stations I hoped to find there in the evening.

The 49 meter band (the most dependable evening shortwave band) was chock full of broadcasts that weekend. However, this piece of spectrum typically offers fewer surprises, and lots of U.S. Christian garbage along the way. However, as far as shortwave listening the real action I found that weekend was on the 25 meter band during the late afternoon. Right when it’s gotten dark across the sea, and much of what I found was coming from over there. And as Ralph mentioned in his guest post, most of the overseas broadcasting you hear on the 25 meter band at these hours isn’t intended to be heard in the US. Programming meant to be heard in here (and there is sadly less of this all the time) typically starts up a little later.

Rcas This band is interesting because it swings both ways. Depending on atmospheric conditions the 25 meter band can provide better propagation during either the day or night. 25 meters roughly covers the 500kHz on each side of 12000kHz (or 12MHz). And as a rule of thumb, the bands with frequencies above 25 meters  (which have lower meter numbers) are better for daytime broadcasting and listening (22, 19, 15 and 13 meter bands). The bands below 25 meters (with higher meter numbers) are generally used at night (31, 41, 49, 60, 75 and 90 meter bands). So, if you turn on a shortwave radio and wonder where all the stations are, try the bands that fit the time of day. In general, I’ve always had the best luck with the bands between 5000 and 15000kHz (60 to 19 meters).

Okay, enough of the geeky stuff. It just always seems like a good idea to give a little background for people who might one day dip their toes into the world of shortwave listening. I imagine many readers either will never turn on a shortwave readers and then again some of you know far more about these things than I do.

Speaking of that, tracking the stations in this particular listening expedition has more troublesome than usual. I have very few frequencies and times committed to memory and my logs are quite sloppy and temporary (kept primarily just to put these posts together). I’ve been depending on the internet as a source to lookup frequencies, and the best online database out there (hfradio.org) has been down this last weekend as I’ve worked on this post. While it isn’t perfect, I’ve found that the lookup page at hfradio seems to be correct at least 85% of the time. No other site I’ve found provides the service of simply entering a frequency to generate a list of broadcasters and times. Another site, Prime Time Shortwave has very up to date lists of English language broadcasts, but other than that discovering the origin of a foreign language broadcast on shortwave can get much more difficult. Sure, the information is probably out there, but there’s no organization to all that data that is simple or logical to navigate. It can involve quite an elaborated sequence of advanced Google searches., and occasionally still get almost nowhere. In other words, just trying identify some of the broadcasts featured in this post took me the better part of an hour (or more) to ID.

Passport_1 I know, I need to get those big guidebooks that come out every year (Passport to World Band Radio" and "The World Radio TV Handbook.") I’ve been thinking about buying these for a while, but they’re not cheap and you really should buy a new one every year. Up until now, I haven’t felt the need. Now I’m probably going to end up investing in these things. I still hope hfradio comes back online soon.

Now and then I’ve put out a request for other DXers to contribute their dial journeys here (both shortwave or nighttime AM). So far, only reader Ralph has come through with a viable scan (again, which you can read and listen to here). I discussed some of the kind of stuff I’m looking for in this post if you’re interested. While Ralph has offered to do it again some time (and I hope he does, it was a nice post) I’m hoping others can offer up their radio adventures here as well. If you think you’d be interested, you can email me here.

That said, I did get a bit of a donation of another sort along these lines. Reader Dan in Kentucky and his friends have been messing with shortwave radios in a more loose and sonic fashion, including making music using radios as instruments. There is a tradition of using radio receivers to create music and audio art for quite a while, and analog shortwave radios make such a variety of sounds, tones and noises that a deft manipulator can turn one into an offbeat analog synth with a bit of tweaking and fooling. Dan favors the musical wonders of the Panasonic RF-2200.

Worldstar Anyway, instead of sending me the audio to scratch my head over, Dan went ahead and created a four CD set (as MP3s with JPG covers) which you can download and savor on this webpage. Not very much of these recordings is actually music (there are a couple "songs" by his band "The Belgian Waffles"), and it’s obvious by listening that he’s as interested in the noises and anomalies of shortwave reception as he is the actual programming content. But I’m sure some readers will find some entertainment value in these recordings. Thanks Dan.

Cabin Okay, enough blather. Let’s get to the gooey cream center, the audio itself. As a city guy, I love those inexpensive efficiency cabins you find in the mountains of Pennsylvania and upstate New York. It’s like having your own cottage in the woods for a couple days. And that’s the kind of place I was staying up in the Catskills, where I had turned the little kitchen table into a radio listening post. In this instance I stuck with the Degen 1103 (and as usual just using the built-in whip antenna). I did an extended co-scan with the Degen and the Tecsun BCL-2000 which was interesting. While the BCL is fun to use and much of the reception was comparable to the Degen, I did come across some strong and annoying images not heard on the 1103.

This scan starts out just after 4 in the afternoon, which is 2000 UTC shortwave time. Have a listen…

Segment 1 – 25 meter band 10-01-2006  31:06

(download)

11625 – Vatican Radio

In English. A feature on breast feeding. I guess in some countries feeding a child from a naked breast in public is considered normal. What are we anyway? MAMMALS? Bad keyboard bed under content.

And then the (occasionally) musical sound of turning stations digitally at 1kHz intervals as I come to…

11640 – China Radio International

It’s English, poor reception from a relay in Mali. Something about Argentina, and money from China I think. A bit of hissy static here with a very quiet signal.

11680 – BBC World Service

Broadcasting in Arabic I believe. Again sounding quite distant.

11695 – (unknown)

Here is a loud fairly clear read of a station broadcasting in what sounds like Farsi or Arabic to me, but it could be another language from that region. It sounds like serious stuff. Perhaps he’s discussing the Koran. This is a good solid read from a station that is certainly coming from a distance. I would like to know what this is.

11720 – (unknown jazz program)

Ben_allison Again, I’ve spent way too long trying to figure this one out. It’s a jazz program, and it sounds like it’s part of a big national broadcast network. VOA? France? Russia? BBC? Israel? After looking through a couple dozen webpages I can’t match this frequency to this time online. At least not easily. It is coming in quite well, however. I believe the announcer is speaking French. And it also sounds like he has an America accent. The host appears to be featuring the work of Ben Allison.

11735 – Radio Tanzania Zanzibar

Also covering the 25 meter band in the afternoon in his scan, Ralph talked about his station at length in his post as well. Apparently it’s a regular stop for him when listening to shortwave around the house. They carry an eclectic stew of regional music. This song is sweet and cosmic. It’s my bet this was a big hit somewhere. I let it play for a while here before moving the dial.

11740 – The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia & Radio Farda

Again, this parallels with Ralph’s reception from just an hour or two earlier in the day, with the world headquarters of Islam battling US propaganda to Iran on the same frequency. I believe Saudi Arabia is broadcasting the Koran. What you get is just a messy mix of the two stations.

11760 – Radio Habana Cuba

This is as good as reception gets from Cuba. It a LOUD clear signal, probably intended for Europe. We get the news with US ex-pat Ed Newman. The guy’s got a great voice. He sounds more professional and personable than half the people I’ve heard on Air America.

Rhc And that’s the thing too. Radio Habana Cuba, once a steadfast defender of everything Communist and Soviet is now more like a viable "alternative" news source for us in the states. It used to be that you listened to Cuban shortwave to hear the other side during the cold war, but now we have such a criminal and corrupt government here in the states they seem to often just be just telling it like it is, instead of pumping out purple anti-US propaganda like in the old days.

For example, the lead story in this review of the week’s news is a report on a minor armada the US has sent to the Persian Gulf to cause trouble. And maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but this was the first time I heard this story (which I’ve heard repeatedly since that time). And at the time of this writing, our forces are in the Gulf are all ready to start something. Maybe a big October boom boom surprise.

11775 – Caribbean Beacon

The eternal Dr. Gene Scott. Something about "living meat."

11780 – Radio Nacional da Amazonia?

Sounds like Portuguese to me. But I’ve been wrong before. If I’m right, it’s a good catch from Northern Brazil.

Boy_and_girl_shortwave That’s it for this week. I would like to humbly request corrections and assistance in identifying a couple of these broadcasts. More than usual, I’m left putting this post out in a slightly less than informed fashion. While always appreciated the hfradio site, I didn’t realize how much I depended on it to write these posts.So, I’ll I’d like to amend this entry when I become a little smarter. And if you can help me out I’ll gladly credit you for doing so.

And finally I have a question my own medium wave question for some of you DXers out there. I’m wondering about two Latin music stations that have popped on my AM dial (here in the NE of the US) at 840kHz and 890kHz? The music on one at 840 is much more contemporary and schmaltzy, but the station at 890 plays some wonderful old stuff and more authentic Latin jazz. They both dominate the clear channel stations at those frequencies now and then, and 890 comes in rather strong in the city, despite the power of WCBS at 880. If I have heard them before a few months ago, they didn’t have the kind of power they do now. I always assume these Spanish DX intrusions into the American AM dial are coming from Cuba, but I am truly curious if anybody has more information on either of them.

Thanks for listening.

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

Bye Bob

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

I was in the middle of working on another radio piece for this blog when I took a break to eat and trolled a few blogs for some dinner reading. I guess I was feeling a bit braver than usual and ended up at a blog I’ve been avoiding lately because the content there has gotten increasingly painful to read. That’s when I found out that Bob Lassiter has signed off.

No, he’s not dead. Not yet. But the running theme of Lassiter’s blog has always been about the rapid approach of the end of his life and the thoughts and reflections inherent in being aware during the process. In his last blog entry (May 21), Lassiter says: “I am faced with both a certainty that cannot be denied, and an uncertainty that consumes me. I choose to make the remainder of the journey in privacy…” 

In a way, Lassiter’s blog has been a long goodbye letter to his fans, and that’s never been more true than this last post. You can read it here.

In this profound period for Lassiter, it’s as difficult for me to write about him as it ever was. Lassiter is a such a paradoxical character. He’s a brilliant high school drop-out, an introvert who loves attention, and a man who debated great spiritual and intellectual issues with callers just to entertain and attract listeners. On any given show you might hear a raging provocateur, an obsessed geek, or just a sentimental fool.

Bloglassiter_1As I’ve said before, Lassiter was one of the greats of talk radio. A host like no other who sought and created adversary listeners, demanded intellectual honesty over belief, and was often audibly bored or uncomfortable when embraced over the phone by fans or folks who agreed with him. There was nobody like Lassiter in talk radio before, and there won’t be another anytime soon.

 As Lassiter’s blog comes to a close, the other popular site for Bob’s fans is going strong and getting better all time. "Bob Lassiter Airchecks" started small a while back when a fan put up a simple site with a few recordings he’d purchased from a collector. I happily sent him a bunch of the Lassiter material I had, and more people have been doing the same thing. While it’s hardly complete, this site now offers a compelling overview of most of Lassiter’s career, and quite a variety of his antics and monologues. No eye candy there, just plenty of Lassiter radio you can download for free (thanks George!). Have at it. And there’s more… VIDEO.

Yes, you can now WATCH Bob Lassiter. There’s two extended clips there. One is from 1988– a wacky local Tampa public access show– "Hot Seat

(download)

 

Hot Seat was a Florida public access TV show hosted by Carroll Sudler (Who now has a loopy left-wing talk radio show out in California as “Harrison”) And doesn’t Lassiter look remarkably healthy and confident in this clip? And he actually seems to be having fun.

However, what’s really amazing is an episode of CNN’s "Crossfire" featuring Lasster AND Rush Limbaugh. 

It was 1990, and Limbaugh had only been national for a couple of years and Lassiter was doing afternoon drive at WLS in Chicago. At this time they were roughly equals in their field. Of course, it’s the same obnoxious TV slapfight Crossfire always was, and nothing is really discussed or decided. However, Lassiter actually looks more comfortable than Limbaugh on camera (and for all the talk of Bob’s weight back then, he is CONSIDERABLY thinner than Rush), and he gets his licks in nicely over the course of the bickering. If you’re a Lassiter fan, you’re going to want to downloadboth of these clips and take a look. You’ll see him in his prime and at the peak of his career.

The irony I get from the Crossfire clip is how flustered and defensive Limbaugh gets about being labeled a "radical." He retorts that he’s merely “an entertainer” who doesn’t want to “change people’s minds or to cause people trouble.” El Rushbo says he just wants to “fun on the radio.” It’s too bad Lassiter didn’t say it. Because in that case it actually would have been close to the truth.

(download)

 

But I gotta tell you, one aircheck that’s recently been added to this site is one I’ve been wanting to hear for a long time. It’s Lassiter’s final radio show, from December 1, 1999. And fans will be happy to know that the Mad Dog went down in style that day, raging and ranting with his dark sense of humor intact. The target of his anger? The very station he was on– WFLA. You don’t hear this kind of thing very often in commercial radio.

Bobrush_1WFLA management (and Clear Channel) had apparently decided not to renew his contract, and were avoiding Bob in the hallway and not taking his calls. So, breaking a big talk radio taboo he took his beef with the station on the air. It’s “nothing to lose” radio and Lassiter is in fine form.

By this time, Lassiter knew he was a lame duck. He’d lost gigs before and was well aware that radio was a cutthroat business. However, what really irked him was the silent treatment he was getting. I mean, who WOULD want to fire Lassiter face to face? And no one did. He says on his blog that he got a short call the next day simply telling him he didn’t need to come in to work anymore.

On this last show, Lassiter mentions several times another show he did a few years before where he discussed the heartless and gutless realities of the radio business. It was quite a program. For three hours Lassiter didn’t take calls. He just recounted his radio career in dramatic detail, highlighting the lack of mercy in the business. I featured some of it when I did a two part profile on Lassiter for WFMU’s “Aircheck” in 2003, but you can hear the last two-thirds of that show at Bob Lassiter Airchecks. It’s called Radio For One.”

In fact, you can go to the Bob Lassiter Airchecks site and listen to his last show at WPLP, then Radio For One, and finish up with the WFLA finale you’ll hear the definitive history of Lassiter’s radio career from the man himself.

Squares1_1And now, it’s equally difficult to end this post and say something meaningful about Lassiter’s declining health, or that he’s ending his relationship with his fans and followers. So I won’t. Except to say I wish him well (as much as that means). And thank you Bob, for the time you  spent with me a decade ago, as uncomfortable as it was for the both of us.

So, for a few hours or days (or until Lassiter turns the comments off on this latest post) you can still say something to Lassiter if you wish. Or you might just want to read some of the comments there. He’s requested “no questions.” Seems fair. And also, don’t pray for Bob. He wouldn’t like that either.

Be good.

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

The Last of Lassiter

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Lassiter_smile The Mad Dog has been silenced. After six years of rapidly declining health, talk radio giant Bob Lassiter passed away Friday morning October 13, 2006. His died in his bed, unconscious and without pain. And while Lassiter didn’t choose to suffer as he did over the last few years, he did manage to die as he had wished (considering the circumstances). And an integral part of that process was discussing his impending death with his fans, or anybody who cared to read about it. For over a year he blogged his slow demise.

Lassiter had turned 61 just days ago. Although the official cause was kidney failure brought on by diabetes, Lassiter was also a heavy smoker, a junk food enthusiast, and somebody who carried around a lot of bottled up frustration and anger. All life-shortening habits. Up until the end, Lassiter did what he wanted to do the way he wanted to do it. Sometimes being headstrong can be fatal.

Younger than most of the 1960′s rock stars still working the oldies circuit, Lassiter died of old age. If there is some mercy in all of this, it’s that Bob’s radio career was marked by an impatience and disdain for old feeble callers, and he became elderly rather quickly and in private. And thanks to the blog he kept right up until the end, it was plain to see that he never lost his edge.

It seems a bit pointless to recap all I’ve written about Lassiter while he was alive (you can read those here, here, and here). In his own strange way, he was a talk radio giant who continues to have a huge effect on those who recall his program, as well as those who continue to hear his work via the growing archive available on the web. And when Lassiter’s blog occasionally opened for comments from readers (as it has now at its closing) the onslaught of listener accounts of changed lives and his influence were astounding. Having such power always seemed to baffle Lassiter, who once said: "It makes no difference if I change anyone’s mind, or influence anyone to do something. It’s not the point of my show."

Lassiter delighted in making listeners look at issues and ideas from a different angle, to break open clichés and tired narratives to re-examine the contents. For me personally, I know that after listening to Lassiter’s show for a while I’ve never heard (or thought about) talk radio the same way. 

Through almost pure happenstance (basically by being in the right places at the right time) I found myself in the strange position of becoming a torchbearer of Lassiter’s legacy over the last few years. However, that torch has since been passed into the hands of others who have provided online places where people can hear, discuss and learn about "The Bob Lassiter Show." While it only aired in three radio markets over the course of roughly twelve years, Lassiter’s program was one of the most powerful in the history of talk radio. And although he never reached the national syndication status many felt he deserved, Lassiter in all his show biz complexity is now international and forever. Aspiring talk hosts would be wise to study his work.

Before I ever heard Bob Lassiter on the radio, I had heard of him. Almost by accident (it’s a long story…) I ended up moving to Tampa in early 1991. While it took me a while to adjust to Florida life, I was immediately impressed with the local talk station, WFLA. I’d never heard anything like it. The presentation was cocky and irreverent (Lionel was doing afternoon drive at the time) and more importantly, it was unpredictable. And except for the warm and breezy morning show (and the daily syndicated Limbaugh garbage) WFLA’s hosts would insult and spew and hang up on stupid callers and talk about things I never heard discussed on the radio before. Little did I know that I was witnessing the heyday of Florida entertainment talk radio. But at that time, Bob Lassiter had already come and gone.

I used to occasionally chat with one of my neighbors over the fence behind my subtropical apartment, and often he’d hear me out on my little patio listening to WFLA. He would always talk about how WFLA wasn’t the same since this Lassiter guy had left town. He’d recount Lassiter’s antics in great detail and talk about how popular he was. I imagined Lassiter as some dark prince of talk radio, a strange force of nature I had sadly missed out on. It was still a few years away from the time when you could discover a distant (or dead) talk host through the web.

Then a year and a half later, Lassiter reappeared on the Tampa radio scene. This time at a new talk station, WSUN. It was billed as “Entertaining Talk Radio For the 90′s,” and they set out to out-attitude the fearless Jacor talk leader in the market (and Lassiter’s former employer), WFLA. (For some reason, I was mailed a promotional cassette promoting WSUN at the time, and you can download a copy of from the Bob Lassiter Airchecks website.)

It’s hard to imagine today, but WSUN was not only apolitical in its approach to talk radio. It was also rabidly un-topical. Topics they said, were “poison.” The format jumped into the Tampa market with a bunch of high-end radio talent (specifically Neil Rogers) by shipping in most of the programming from Cox Broadcasting sister station WIOD in Miami. Lassiter was cooling his heels in Iowa after his tumultuous gig at WLS in Chicago when Rogers lobbied for Cox bring him back to do morning drive at WSUN, followed by the WIOD line-up.

While I’m not a morning guy, I went as far as setting up a timer and tape deck to occasionally listen to this show. Although Lassiter was impressive and funny, it wasn’t the wild radio ass extravaganza I’d been led to expect. In retrospect, at a station where shows weren’t supposed to be topical Lassiter’s trademark incendiary monologues and convoluted set-ups were rarely heard. Most of the time Bob was left to try to do what Neil does so well– to riff and bitch and cause trouble for hours on end.

When Lassiter moved to afternoons at WSUN, now following Rogers show, I listened to both of them all the time. And when Lassiter and his mentor began their famous on-air feud, their back to back programs took a nasty turn. Neil incessantly provoked Lassiter into a frothing rabid dog every afternoon, and Lassiter responded in kind, countering Rogers point for point and it got meaner every day. And just as getting stuck at station where a loose shock-talk approach prevailed put Lassiter at a disadvantage, the on-air slap fight between talk monsters was just something Rogers was much better at as well. While Rogers seemed to enjoy getting Lassiter’s goat more every day, Lassiter seethed and sniped and became moody and dark as he found himself becoming the public enemy of his radio mentor. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard Lassiter lose a fight. For those of us who witnessed the carnage it was nice to hear them made amends last year when Bob made his last radio appearance on Roger’s show.

And then after WSUN disbanded, Lassiter was under a contractual non-compete clause and couldn’t work in Tampa area radio for a number of months. But as soon as he became available, WFLA started sniffing around and brought Lassiter back into the fold one more time. And thus began his last hurrah.

Suddenly, I was hearing the Bob Lassiter I’d only heard my neighbor talk about. Lassiter was truly the Mad Dog once again. For me, Lassiter’s new nightly show on WFLA was immediately addictive in a way I can only compare to how people get locked into television programs. It was like a soap opera you couldn’t miss, or the way a geek might crave a Star Trek or Twilight Zone fix. I found myself spending my daylight hours recalling Lassiter’s antics from the night before with my friends, and then coming home in prickly anticipation over what kind of crazy shit Lassiter might do that night. It was a constant parade of unpredictable drama and wit and thought, and countless strange radio conversations. 

I was doing a lot of freelance journalism at the time, and I got a green light from one of my editors to put together a cover story feature on the Mad Dog. Suddenly something I just enjoyed for entertainment became an intellectual pursuit, and so much more (and less).

Now instead of just listening, I began recording every Lassiter show to study for the article. Of course, I had no idea at the time that airchecks of Lassiter would be something I would collect or cherish years later. As the tapes piled up, I would edit significant monologues and calls from these tapes into complications for source material for the profile. Then, after weeks of listening and recording and interviewing many of Lassiter’s past associates and co-workers, I assembled a tall stack of questions and was ready to actually talk to the man himself. When I asked for the interview, I assumed it would take place at the radio station. Instead, Lassiter invited me into his house. Several days later I spent four hours in an air conditioned suburban kitchen drinking hot weak coffee and interrogating Bob Lassiter. And boy did he hate it.

In the course of working on the article, I probably met with Lassiter three or four times (including sitting in with him during his show) and he was always civil and basically pleasant. But he was never friendly. Not even close. In fact, after the interview Lassiter went on his show and made fun of me and complained about having to put up with the inquisition. To add insult to injury, he misrepresented my questions and generally made me look foolish. I hadn’t expected that.

In general, writing the piece became an unpleasant experience. The more I delved into Bob’s reality the worse I felt. I was having Lassiter nightmares, dreaming he was taking me to task for my foolish musings or that I never was able to actually finish the damn profile. In the end I found myself trying to adequately balance what was good and bad and true about Lassiter without writing a puff piece, or mentioning how creepy it felt being in the same room with him. There was so much to say about Lassiter, but it was difficult to have it all make sense.

But finally after much rewriting and editing it all came together. In the article, Lassiter claimed he tried conduct a two-tier program. "I do a show for half the audience that understands what I’m doing, and the other half that don’t can amuse the other half" he said. The piece I ultimately wrote was two-tier as well. I hoped that those who loved or hated Lassiter’s show (and there were many in both categories in the Tampa area) would find many reasons to justify the feelings they already had about the man, and that others could get a grip on his interesting inconsistences. My father, who couldn’t stand Lassiter thought the feature helped him understand why Lassiter was such an asshole. On the other hand, Lassiter himself really liked the article. (If you’re interested, you can read the text here.) And contrary to his earlier insults, Lassiter was quite appreciative and personally thanked me for writing it (and for getting all his quotes right). I was glad it was all over, and was a little thankful that I wouldn’t have to deal with Lassiter again, except as a listener.

To be fair, Lassiter wasn’t any more or less warmhearted with me than he was with most people. On his show (and later on his blog) he’d always been quite open about being a misanthrope. “I don’t like people,” Lassiter told me during that interview. “I don’t like people around me.” And while I never intended to be his friend, I was a bit taken aback by how awkward it was just talking with him. I’ve never experienced anyone quite like him in person– soft-spoken, cordial, and cold. Then again, it didn’t feel personal. I don’t think he disliked me in particular. But he did want to make it profoundly clear that he wasn’t going to be my pal.

By the time I left Tampa in 1997, Lassiter’s show lacked the buzz and crackle it had just a year before. After not being able to ply his provocative trademark radio style for a number of years, Lassiter burst out of the box at WFLA with guns blazing. But this time around was different than the times he did the same thing at WPLP, WFLA the first time around, and at WLS. Lassiter was wiser this time. When I interviewed him he told me: "You have to constantly change, yet without giving the perception of having changed, or you eventually burn out your audience." He knew his hostile radio style could create a big splash in a media market (and occasionally create some really unique radio), but maintaining that abrasive vibe for an extended period would likely darken the show into a negative mess for all concerned.

I think his new game plan that time around was to cycle his approach. All his previous gigs hadn’t lasted much longer than two years, and this time around in the home park where he had perfected his style he planned to have a long successful run. I asked him if at the beginning of this WFLA stint if he’d ever shift into the warm and fuzzy persona he often offered up at WSUN. “I will eventually be able to,” he said. “But I can’t right now."

Then a few months later Bob took on a female co-host as he did at WSUN. At SUN it was Sharon Taylor (who is mentioned in the last post on his blog, and currently is part of the morning team at WFLA), but on WFLA he was joined by his wife Mary (who masqueraded as “Lou”) and often his producer “Flounder.” While it wasn’t bad, and Bob at times was still the irascible “Mad Dog” when cornered, it wasn’t the carefully constructed outrageous drama with a constant stream of entertainingly angry callers. It was an attempt to be conversational and to have fun without resorting to being a prick so often. Bob’s obsession with computers and day trading became a major feature of his show as well. In retrospect, I think that the less than ballistic Lassiter was still a more compelling and individual talk host than over ninety percent of what passes for talk radio nowadays. But it wasn’t the same wild ride that made Lassiter the legend who burns bright in listener’s memories.

Once I moved to New York, I occasionally checked out Lassiter’s show over the web. I don’t recall anything special. I had heard second hand from Florida friends Lassiter’s three year run at WFLA ended in late 1999, and that in the end he did something you rarely hear. He went on the air and trashed the station. The Bob Lassiter Airchecks site has an archive of his final show, and it’s classic smoldering Lassiter. As his contract was running out, WFLA management was putting off negotiating a new one with him. Even the staff was avoiding him in the building. But after his audience was made aware of the situation and his anger at the station, Lassiter was asked to stay home. And that’s where he spent the rest of his life.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Bob Lassiter had been on the WFMU radar for a long time. I was working a table at their record fair when I discovered the first volume of the station’s “Radio Archival Oddities” cassette featuring a “Tampa talk host” who was none other than the magnificent Lassiter. When the Aircheck program debuted in 2002 I began contributing clips I had compiled when I wrote the article, and people beyond Tampa and Chicago began to discover there was more to Lassiter than those calls from Rocky the Rock-n-Roll Klansman and the guy in the Airstream trailer (who in reality were actually the same person).

Meanwhile, the state of talk radio (especially in New York) was increasingly right wing and depressing. It seemed like a prime time for Lassiter to appear in some market and stir up trouble again. As I regularly searched the internet for news of (and references to) Bob Lassiter, two things became obvious. The first was that Lassiter had indeed disappeared from the talk radio scene. Occasional postings on message boards and Usenet only revealed people who were doing the same thing I was, wondering what ever happened that Lassiter character?

The other thing I realized was that the few clips of Lassiter that were floating around hardly gave a full picture of his complicated and convoluted radio persona. Many people who discovered Lassiter through WFMU were blown away by his provocative talk style, but it also gave many superficial snapshots of his work. In the age of Bush, Lassiter sounded to many like a cunning and angry liberal who bravely battled rednecks, fundamentalist kooks and conservative morons. While he indeed contended with all sorts of folks on the battlefield of his program, Lassiter was never really left wing. He was a libertarian leaning contrarian with a mean streak. And he was so much more (and sometimes so much more frustrating) than what newcomers might glean from a few heart-pounding bits.

So in 2003 I set upon the task of providing a more complete overview of The Bob Lassiter Show by assembling a retrospective which turned out to be a two-part special on WFMU’s Aircheck program. (Which you can hear and/or download here.) I had recently swapped copies of some of my Lassiter archives with an aircheck tape collector for some 80′s Lassiter material he had. And after carefully combing through it all I had enough stuff to assemble a feasible documentary of Lassiter’s career, which aired over two weeks in late July of 2003.

Although, I considered contacting Lassiter to give him a heads-up on what I was doing, but I was frankly apprehensive about reaching out to him again. And while working on the shows I began to get a sinking feeling that he wouldn’t be happy about it. I chickened out.

I was wrong. In less than a week after the first installment aired, Lassiter had found the archive, listened to it, and sent me an appreciative email. “I had forgotten most of the calls, and even some of the "monologue" snippets,” Lassiter said. “Things sure were different back then. It’s hard to believe that I actually got paid to do some of that stuff. It was a lot of fun – though I didn’t always realize it at the time!” In that email I also found out for the first time that Lassiter had serious health problems stemming from diabetes.

Well, that was a relief. Lassiter was happy and I got plenty of positive response from listeners as well. And thanks to the internet, all the Lassiter featured on aircheck continued to find old Lassiter fans and create new ones. Instead of the politically driven smear merchants who clutter talk radio today, Lassiter offered edgy entertainment that was both intellectual and absurd. And at his best he created gripping theater of the mind.

A few weeks later an old Lassiter fan from Tampa heard the Lassiter Aircheck specials and sent me an email. It has inspired him to digitize hundreds of old tapes of Lassiter and other Tampa talk hosts he rescued from his garage. I swapped some of my material with him, and he went on to create some nice CD’s collecting some of the highlights of the golden age of Tampa talk radio. I hope one day that all the material he’s gathered together finds a home online. Speaking of that, a few months later a guy named George in Texas who used to listen to Lassiter on WLS in Chicago found these shows as well, and sent me a nice email thanking me. “Man, I just shit my pants,” he said. And then George set out to spread the joy.

After purchasing some of the aircheck tapes of Lassiter available on the web, George put up a bare bones website featuring MP3′s of these tapes, and asked fans to contribute more. That was the beginning of the wonderful “Bob Lassiter Airchecks” site, which continues to grow with more new additions all the time. Now anyone who wants to truly explore (or remember) the full breadth of Bob Lassiter’s radio magic and mischief can access a huge online resource that could keep them busy for months. And I should add that it’s free as well. More than anyone, George has assured that Lassiter’s radio legacy will live on for many years to come, warts and all. That’s what I call public service. A busy Yahoo Lassiter fan group has sprung up as well, which often served as a place for his followers to converse when they were shut out of speaking on his personal blog.

Sometime in 2004 the first “blog lassiter” began. Lassiter shut it down after he began to get too many people wanting to associate with Lassiter via the comments section. The second (or maybe third?) version of his blog went online last summer, and it remains today. While comments were normally closed (except on the rare posts where Lassiter would allow them), the last post has been opened for comments from readers and fans. And as you might guess, they’re piling up quickly at this writing.

What became obvious to anyone coming across Lassiter’s blog was that it was going to be a chronicle of the end of his life. It was the document of a grouchy old man going through a slow and painful death. But it served a more important purpose in the long run. It kept the long love affair between Lassiter and his listeners alive until the very end. To be sure, it was often a dysfunctional relationship, but he cherished the attention and his fans clung to having some connection to a voice that had meant so much to them.

I’ve come to believe that Lassiter was as shy as he was egocentric and angry. He functioned best when he was in charge of the things, especially when lording over a talk show. Or by conducting a personal blog which allowed only a minimum of reader comments. Which brings me around to Lassiter’s last words.

While we all have no idea of the what Bob actually said or did in those moments before he lost consciousness or took his last breath, what we are left with is the personal public diary he left for his wife Mary to post after his passing. And his very last entry is telling. Until the end, Lassiter obsessively monitored his blog readership and web presence. And after seeing a post in the Yahoo group regarding how his last employer, WFLA, was putting together his obituary. “Overall, I’m amused that the bastards who threw me out in the gutter, now want to honor me with a fancy obit,” Lassiter spewed. “I’m sure that it will be a warm and fuzzy thing, praising me to the hilt – why must the world be so phony?”

There you go. While not knowing those would be his last words in public, that final accusation exemplified what made Lassiter good and bad and a little strange. Radio is a cutthroat business and many of those who work in the trenches on the business end find themselves in ugly roles and end up doing disingenuous things. And there is a phoniness there deserving of some bile and bluster. On his show, Lassiter was always a master of revealing the hypocrisy of many institutions, including his insights into the dark side of the radio business. However, if you read between the lines on this one you also get a sense of how difficult it could be to know (or care about) Lassiter the person, not the voice on the radio or the writer of a blog.

I know a few of Lassiter’s “many friends” at WFLA who Lassiter denounced for not calling or visiting him over the years since he parted ways with the station. While I don’t know the details of why his contract wasn’t renewed or the business angle of the decision. I do know that there was a huge respect for Lassiter at WFLA, which I’m sure didn’t end when he left the building. Lassiter had his greatest success there, with two stints marked by now historic moments of cutting edge talk radio. More than at any other station, they let him do his thing, to the hilt. They promoted him. They were proud of him. The acrimonious split with WFLA aside, you can be sure that the concern many there felt for Lassiter in his last days was hardly phony.

In real life, Bob Lassiter was a formidable character. Difficult to read. Difficult to approach. As a former co-worker, Lionel, said the other night when offering a brief eulogy during his show was that Lassiter wasn’t "somebody you’d wanna hug." He could be as pungent in real life as he was during those acerbic moments of radio genius. There was always the sense that he might unload at you at any time. It was a strange feeling, being in the presence of a man you respected and admired and having the distinct feeling that he not only didn’t care, but thought less of you because of it.

Lionel’s Lassiter Eulogy 10-16-06  02:38

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I don’t want to delve into psychobabble regarding what made Bob tick. By the time he started his talk radio career he was already around forty years old, a fully formed man with all his powers and faults well-defined. And like many in show businesses, he employed his flaws into his act. The bitterness and anger you might hear during his show was real. And so was the honesty and the intellect, and on those rare occasions– the warmth.

So, the truth is I never really knew much more of Lassiter than what I heard on the radio, and what he told me. Although he could be painfully confessional on his radio program, it seems that during the last third of his life Lassiter was a cipher to most of the people who actually knew him. But what we’re all left with at his passing, is the power of life itself that he invested into his radio program. What he had such a difficult time expressing in person, came out in blustery torrents over the radio. He had a rare intellect powered by raw untethered emotions. And nothing was sacred… except his wife, him mom, a few friends and Christmas.

There will never be another Bob Lassiter. And as long as I’ve been aware of him, I’ve never heard anyone (including myself) fully define or explain his radio program, or his power as a media personality. Anybody with any interest in the guy should go through the archives at the Lassiter aircheck site and give a listen. Bob would like that.

There was only one last question I wanted Lassiter to answer. I did ask it once in an email, but he never responded to the question. Lassiter was such a storyteller and often built his show around extended monologues. And I’ve long wondered if he was influenced by the great radio raconteur, Jean Shepherd. Lassiter grew up in New Jersey and could have easily heard Shepherd’s show. And he even used to pull out a kazoo bust into a hot number when he was in the mood, just as Shepherd would. And I was actually considering emailing Bob one more time, just last weekend, to ask this one more time. I didn’t know he was already gone.

Lassiterwfla_2 If there would ever be a school for talk show hosts (and sometimes I think there oughtta be one) it should have a specific class (or seminar) on the work of Jean Shepherd and Bob Lassiter. Not to inspire imitators or clones, but to make future talk hosts realize the potential of talk radio. Sure it’s a swell forum for spreading propaganda or keeping people company, but it can and should be so much more. On the radio, both Lassiter and Shepherd explored the rudimentary mysteries of being alive, and threw aside conventions and assumptions to explore what things really might mean. They created something very rare– adventurous radio. That’s why people collect and trade their old shows. That’s why their work is as compelling now (or even more so) than it was when they were on the air.

In closing, I want to say that my intention here is to neither sully Lassiter’s legend or to inflate my small role in an important man’s life. I guess I wanted to pass along some of the ways I was personally bitten by the Mad Dog. I suppose I would have liked to have been his friend, but it was an honor to have been able to occasionally shepherd his legacy. And yes, Bob Lassiter was a strange and difficult man. But he was always honest about that. In fact, the one thread that runs through all of Lassiter’s work was a raw honesty that made his work intrinsically human and valid and ultimately appealing. And let’s be honest. It was almost always fun to hear foolish callers make fools of themselves.

"My worst fear would be that no one wants to listen to me," Lassiter told me that afternoon at his kitchen table. Don’t worry Bob, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

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

Bare America

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Frankenmug_1 Perhaps you’ve already heard the shocking news. Air America Radio has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Gosh, and things seemed to have been going so well…

Okay, all joking aside. Anybody who’s been been paying much attention to the ongoing situation at the left-wing talk network knew this was coming. Despite the fact that "progressive radio" is proving to be a profitable and timely radio format, two and a half years of bad management and poor decisions have savaged the radio network that had a rocky start to begin with. Lefty website "Think Progress" predicted bankruptcy was imminent weeks ago, and perhaps Air America was trying to hold out until after the mid-term elections. But just too many people were NOT getting paid. (Take a look at the long list at the Smoking Gun website).

For now, AAR has received court permission to dig into a nine-hundred grand pile of dough from a group calling itself "Democracy Allies LLC" who agreed to lend AAR the cast to keep them in business as the legal proceedings continue. It’s not clear if any of the "Allies" money will pay Franken any of the $360,750 he’s owed (according to the court filing), but the money could certainly be better spent.

And while Franken salary has climbed to an ungodly two million a year (and the better part of another million per year for his bloated staff) he probably can’t be blamed entirely for Air America poverty. While it’s easy to understand why this may have seemed to be a good idea to promote AAR at first, after Katherine Lanpher left the program Franken’s foray into talk radio quickly proved to be not only an embarrassment, but a HUGE drain on the struggling company. Apparently, the Air America executives haven’t figured this all out, and Franken’s ego is so huge that he can’t see it (or hear it) for himself.

For better or worse, Franken’s rubbery mug has been the face of Air America from the very beginning (In fact, I think every story I say online today regarding the bankruptcy filing included his name), and since he’s personally responsible for sucking away millions from the Air America’s coffers you’d think that on the day of the court filing he’d come forward on his program and deal with the issue. Fat chance.

On that Friday, Franken opened his show with an extended jokey segment preceding an interview with Bob Woodward in which Franken made fun of the way Woodward says the word "report." It seems that Mr. Woodward pronounces the word rah-port instead of ree-port. Wow. Hilarious stuff. This went on for several minutes before the Woodward interview, and then there were more knee-slapping clips of Woodward’s mispronunciation of rah-port after the interview was over. Jeez Al. Bob Woodward is from Boston, where some people talk a little funny. And that’s one of the many irritating things about Franken’s show, is that there seems to be nobody brave enough to let him know when his material is really NOT funny– like making a big stink about an important guest’s regional accent. And of course, he didn’t do it to Woodward’s face. Because Franken is even less than a lousy radio host. He’s also a coward.

Celebairamerica Franken not only failed to address the bankruptcy on his show, he didn’t take callers either. Actually, he almost never take calls during his program and he’s also a horrible interviewer. Why is Franken on the radio again? Oh, that’s right he’s a CELEBRITY. Other than the Woodward interview and the rah-port jokes, and an extended extremely unfunny repeat of a Franken humor segment (about negative campaign ads) from a previous show, the rest of his three hour program on that Friday consisted of interview after interview of Democratic candidates running in the upcoming mid-term election. No analysis of the elections from anyone other than Franken and the candidates themselves– just Al throwing softball questions and candidates in turn pleading for votes. As much as I hope every single one of those folks win their races in November, it was boring misguided radio. It was The Al Franken show, which somehow makes NPR sound pretty damn exciting in comparison.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 28

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

Mmmm_ham_2At the end of September, I escaped the big city again. And at a little cabin in the Catskills I unwrapped and unzipped a couple radios, my recorder and all the assorted cables, batteries and cassettes and set up another little DX outpost for the weekend. Hey, it’s how I have fun…

The reception wasn’t nearly as impressive as the last time I got a chance to scan upstate, but I had some luck on the 25 meter band in the late afternoon with my DE1103. I also had a chance to conduct a couple somewhat simultaneous band scans with the Degen and my analog Tecsun BCL-2000. The results were interesting and somewhat predictable. However, I’ve just gotten all that audio dumped into the computer and haven’t had a chance to go back over it yet. Somewhere in the next couple entries I’ll dig into some of these recordings.

Instead, I’m serving up some ham radio today. Late on Friday (September 29) I had already gone through what seemed to be happening on medium wave and the 49 meter band. I had heard quite a bit of sideband activity as I prowled around, so I decided to turn on the SSB and dig on into that action. The two hot spots I’d come across were the 40 meter band (just above 7000kHz) and 20 meter band (just below 4000kHz) bands. That’s where I came across the reception below.

Ham_radio Amateur radio operators, or hams, are licensed independent broadcasters who talk to each other on specially reserved chunks of the radio spectrum, a number of which are within the shortwave (or high frequency) range. Some hams still use Morse Code for communication, other’s have added digital technologies, and some are actually broadcasting television these days. But all I know anything about are the guys who talk to each other, over the radio.

From what I understand (and I don’t know that much), hams typically bond together into roundtable groups for “ragchew” sessions (yes, that’s the term they use). At certain times or days or frequencies, people who have over time become part of a group will look for each for a chat on some agreed schedule. There’s bigger moderated operations called “nets” where large groups of people check in on some frequency and a big radio powwow ensues.

Happy_hammer I haven’t spent much time eavesdropping on these net gatherings and I don’t know enough about how they work, but I have heard a number of ragchew groups over the years. And it can be as interesting or boring as any group of friends sitting around bullshitting. One thing that’s distinct (and a little odd) is that the biggest topic of discussion when hams gather on the radio is the radios and gear they’re using to have their conversation. By nature, these guys (and they are almost always guys) are gear heads, geeks and electronics aficionados. So if they’re not carrying on about their transceivers, they’re talking about computers, TV’s, or other radios or toys. But sometimes they talk about what’s going on around the house in more personal terms, and that’s where it can get interesting (to me). But rarely do the conversations get intimate or bizarre or emotional. They know they can be easily heard, and there’s some basic rules and etiquette that comes along with being a ham operator. And although I’m sure it happens now and then, I’ve never heard a ham spew on another or be anything less than polite.

While most of what you hear are just guys socializing and jargon-ridden small talk, public service has always been an important (and at times strategic) element of the amateur radio scene. During emergencies and disasters hams often play an important role in saving lives, like during Hurricane Katrina.

Hamoperator_1 As I said, when I turn on the radio I’m usually more interested in programming rather than casual conversations. But there is an appeal in the hearing the real home broadcasting of ham radio, even if it’s very rarely exciting or controversial.

Most hams broadcast on sideband (SSB) because they get more oomph out of their transmitters that way. So in order to hear them you need to have a radio that has SSB functionality (although there are ways to listen to sideband with one or two ordinary shortwave radios). While the DE1103 is a solid inexpensie receiver, it’s not as easy as it should be to focus in on SSB signals with the Degen 1103, I found that once I did get a good copy of a ham conversation (by carefully adjusting the fine tuning to de-weird the audio) I could scan through that same ham band and generally not have to fine tune again. From what I’ve read, ham broadcasters generally use lower sideband (LSB) when on the 40 meter band on down, and upper sideband (USB) when they’re using the 20 meter band on up. But unlike normal shortwave broadcasting, they don’t hold to the 5kHz rule (with all frequency’s ending with a 5 or 0). For example two of the frequencies the recordings below were found on 3937kHz and 7197kHz.

Anyway, the world of ham radio is quite complicated, with a long heritage and plenty of jargon. And the hams themselves seem to be getting older as well. While it’s hardly dying, there isn’t a big youth movement in the amateur radio hobby right now. Most of the guys you’ll hear in these clips are middle-aged to elderly, and many sound to be from more isolated areas of south and midwest. I have heard hams from around New York City from time to time, but it just seems like it’s probably more common way to communicate out in the low population zones where it’s not so easy to find many friends to sit around and “ragchew.” And whether you listen or not, that seems like a good thing. It’s not as common as it used to be, but it’s still nice to hear that radio is serving such an purpose in people’s lives.

Ragchewers So, here’s nine chunks of hamcasting from late night on Friday September 29 (or early morning on the 30th). It gives you an idea what you might hear if you scout out these bands late at night. But I should tell you that there’s plenty of action earlier in the evening, on these bands and others. I apoligize in admitting that the files below are wrongly marked 09-28-06, but I’ve already uploaded them with the wrong date and I don’t feel like doing it all over again. I’m sure that’ll okay with you. If you’re keeping track, add a day or two.

It was raining that night, and somewhere over the horizon there must have been some lightning as well, which you’ll hear. Some of the recordings are better than others, and on a few you’ll catch a bit of simultaneous conversations or off-frequency buzziness. The fi isn’t so hi half the time. However, if you take the time to listen you’ll get a nice pink stack of homespun heartland geekiness from a number of night owls roosting in their ham shacks.

Ham Conversation #1 Late Night Coffee 09-29-06

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The louder voice here is Larry, who had downed a coffee or two so he could stay up late and banter on the radio. Like most of the hams I received that night, it sounds like they’re country folk (Even folks in suburbs don’t have chores). Larry plans to barter some garden harvest for spare parts (for his antenna?). At the end of this clip I believe they’re discussing the wisdom of pacing yourself when climbing your tower to work on your ham radio antenna.

Ham Conversation #2 Ham Radio Etiquette 09-29-06

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A little bit of a discussion on the rules and manners of ham radio social intercourse. Roundtable discussion groups can last many years, and while civility is routinely practiced within amateur radio itself, it can be bad manners to jump into a group of long standing radio buddies and leap into the festivities without being invited or spending time on the sidelines. Other operators and groups are more open about things, like the larger moderated net mentioned here– “The Freewheelers.”

Out of all these clips, the fidelity on a few of these is rather dodgy. Quite a bit of crosstalk, and my reception is slightly off frequency.

Ham Conversation #3 Pig Psychology & Modern Farming 09-29-06

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Pork Believe it or not, here’s a ham radio chat centering around the pink sweet meat itself. Jerry the swine farmer offers some tips and tricks of the hog trade. Learn how to fool a pig into loading itself into a trailer, and how offering the porkers extra helpings of fresh water can improve your yield and dollar return.

While animal husbandry and farming in America is overwhelmingly run by corporate interests these days, independent farmers are still out there. But as you hear in this clip, there are more options (fish and tree farming) to raising traditional crops and animals nowadays.

Ham Conversation #4 RF Woes

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Reception not great here either. Lots of distant thunderstorms all through this clip. In fact, this conversation is about interference, namely the RF horrors of entertainment and household electronics. The radio spectrum where the shortwave and ham bands reside sadly coincides with the majority of the same frequencies many modern appliances and electronics radiate as noise. For example, one of the fellows in this discussion bemoans the horrible RF noise of his giant TV, calling it a “splatterbox” (That’s a new slang term to throw around.). And there’s another problems– the damn Dell printer bleeding noise into the repeater. Some "freaky stuff."

Ham Conversation #5 Gadget Tweakers 09-29-06

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Lots of talk of programming, frequencies, and resetting things. Men. Can you imagine two women chatting sociably about such esoteric electronic dilemmas?

Ham Conversation #6 Geek Geezers 09-29-06

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Moontenna Here’s some aging good old boys boasting how they were playing games on computers and sending email decades before "it was cool." Then their ragchew associate "Terry" breaks into the conversation. but he’s “a speck-tad off frequency” and distorted. Eventually Terry adjusts himself (coming down fifty cycles or so) and begins to sound more human.

Then the discourse drifts into radio esoterica– single, dual and triple conversion receivers, selectivity, big antennas, radio kits, and a recollection of a radio with so much gain you could “hear a mouse cut cheese on the other side of the Earth.” And then there’s that ankle injury…

Ham Conversation #7 Bait and Switch 09-29-06

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Some tales of electronics shopping– a small victory in a bait and switch scenario, and the sad story of a defective Shure microphone that kept “fryin’ like freakin’ bacon in the pan.” Also, some insight into the correlation between audio quality and signal manhood.

Ham Conversation #8 Bad Luck 09-29-06

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Freewheelers In my limited experience in eavesdropping on the ham bands I’ve heard plenty of tales of poor health and some tragic stories now and then. But the bad luck discussed here is of more a financial nature. One of the guys here (John) mentions he’s in the middle of Ohio. Then their friend Jim pops up (from near Allentown, PA) who they haven’t heard from in “a coon’s age.” Apparently he has a “bodacious signal,” but I’m sure not getting a good copy on it from upstate New York.

Ham Conversation #9 Antenna Talk 09-29-06

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Typical rig talk– wires, dipoles, pulleys. And also some updates on the garden crops.

That’s it. In the next post, shortwave. It’s been a little while. And the next time you see a live pig, think of how you might cajole him into a trailer.

Thanks for listening.

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