Archive for November, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 32

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Radios These shortwave bandscan recordings are the last I’ll offer from my trip to the Catskills at the end of September. This is from September 29, 2006, and the recordings start just before midnight. Officially, this first scan starts out at about 0344 UTC (11:44 EDT). This was the first time I tried to record two scans at once. And I’m using the radios I’ve used for most of these bandscan posts – the Tecsun BCL-2000 and the Degen 1103. As I’ve previously discussed, I like a few things about the BCL radios (specifically analog tuning/digital readout, a nice big sound and a bright always-on display), but the Degen is a much better portable and you hear that in these scans. The Degen is a digital receiver (also known as the Kaito 1103 here in the states) which is available for around the same price, or cheaper, than the BCL-2000 (which is known in the US as the Grundig S350 or the Eton S350DL). I bought my versions of these radios directly from China via ebay, which even with the shipping is a considerable savings over their counterparts branded for America. That said, if you happen to have a problem with a radio you bought from China you might have a harder time getting it fixed or replaced. But I took that risk.

These radios are comparable in that they are recent products from the growing and maturing Chinese electronics industry, and are innovative in the fact that they marry elements of digital and analog tuning. And compared to radios in the recent past, they offer more bang for the buck. Specifically, the Degen 1103 is probably one of the best shortwave portables to retail for less than a hundred bucks. The BCL radios are quite sensitive, but there is no filtering of wayward images of strong stations. The Degen is a dual conversion radio, which greatly reduces the chance of hearing signal "images" at places they don’t belong on the dial. And it can be a little confusing and annoying to find out you’re actually hearing a station from another band instead of a broadcast at the frequency you’re scanning.

The BCL-2000 is really better for AM than shortwave, although strong medium wave stations can cause the same problems. For example, I live near WQEW which blasts all sorts of images on a number of bands around my house on a radio like the Tecsun and others. There’s an especially loud image at 650kHz that eliminates the possibility of ever hearing WSM in Nashville near my place with the BCL.

Anyway, it’s not a contest. The Degen is obviously superior in most practical ways. But I was interested in general reception comparisons and how the images would pop up along the dial on the BCL. As I recorded these I was alternating between each radio, moving up to the next signal on one, then on the other. So, each scan is also a little bit different in that segments of a broadcast often start up or end at separate times. However, in my descriptions the Degen is the reference. The scan recording from the BCL-2000 is really only for those who are interested in hearing the differences.

As I mentioned in previous posts, there’s wasn’t much action that weekend on the bands I often haunt, 41 and 31 meters. But there was some stations popping up in lower bands than I usually listen to, so this time around you get to hear a bit of that– stations broadcasting late at night on the 90 and 60 meter band. Here’s the first scan segment from each radio.

The DE1103 scan…

90 Meter Band – 0344 UTC 09-30-06 – Degen 1103  14:48


And the BCL-2000 version…

90 Meter Band – 0344 UTC 09-30-06 – Tecsun BCL-2000  17:59


Lumpy_1 3185 – WWRB – Manchester, TN

The first solid signal I found coming up the shortwave bands. Some Bible parable on camels, water and servants. Kind of sad that people in Europe might hear this and it would confirm how ignorant they really think we are in here in the states.

3215 – WWCR – Nashville, TN

I actually thought this was Pastor Peters, but he just has a similar white guy delivery. The show is "Viewpoint," a fountain of ignorance hosted by a bible-brained attorney, Charles Crismier. On the official Viewpoint website it says the show is "Not Chuck Conservative…not Liberal…but CHRISTIAN!

You hear some advice on how to get ready for the end of time, more on that pillar of salt tragedy, and how homos generally ruin the world. It’s mildly amusing how he uses the fact that evangelicals as a whole have a higher divorce rate as a way of selling the lifestyle to listeners anyway.

3320 – Radio Sonder Grense – Meyerton, South Africa

Well, here’s Mary Hopkins big hit riding on a signal from eight thousand miles away. RSG is South Africa’s national Afrikaans cultural service. As you probably know, the Afrikaans language is like Dutch but kind of African, or something like that. And along with English, it’s an official language of South Africa.

Not a bad copy on this station with the Degen. However, with the BCL-2000 it’s quite noisy and indistinct. First "Those Were The Days," by Hopkins and then a female announcer, and I turn the station right after the annoying keyboard bumper music.

3350 – Radio Exterior Espana – Spain

In Spanish. Female announcer, and then a pop song. The BCL recording starts earlier, with another pop song before the announcer. Again, the Degen pulls in a much more robust signal out of the noise floor.

Now up the dial a bit. Here’s the Degen…

60 Meter Band – 0414 UTC 09-30-06 – Degen 1103  14:49


And what I recorded on the Tecsun…

60 Meter Band – 0414 UTC 09-30-06 – Tecsun BCL-2000  19:32


Rr 5025 – Radio Rebelde – Cuba

The clip kicks in with some kooky "la la la" number with an epic flair, sounds like it could be from a movie. I hear some dance steps in there somewhere. Then an interview. All in Spanish.

5050 – WWRB – Manchester, TN

It’s funny how now and then you can definitely hear a shortwave station that’s broadcasting in English, and even without that much noise it’s still difficult to hear what’s actually being said. That’s the case here and the signal is only coming from a few hundred miles away (at fifty kilowatts). Heterodyne_1 Listening to the bandscan recorded on the Degen, I can tell it’s a discussion of aircraft hitting towers. Most likely this a conspiracy type of show.

However, the reception on the Tecsun is quite a bit different. For one, the reception of WWRB is even more indistinct and it’s being eaten by a heterodyne. The whine is being caused by the image of another station, which I eventually tune in although the whine never goes away. The image sounds to be Japan’s NHK, broadcasting from a relay in Canada at 5960kHz.

And then moving up the dial on the Tecsun I come across another image at 5065kHz, which is actually Radio Netherlands (speaking Dutch?) at 5975 (along with another heterodyne). Neither of these images appear on the Degen.

Southern 5070 – WWCR – Nashville, TN

More Christian mumbo jumbo, this time correlating biblical stuff with power politics. The idea being that "we," the "great unwashed," are kept from the technology of freedom because we’re not responsible enough to be free. Or something like that.

5110 – WBCQ – Monticello, ME

Some corny country gospel, followed by a more saccharin Jesus tune.

Then at 5145kHz I come across Spain’s shortwave service on the Tecsun, which is an image of their broadcast at 6055. And then I come upon an image of Radio Netherlands at 5255, which is actually an image of 6165. It’s a news magazine program in English. Again, the Degen picked up nothing but static at these frequencies. Which is all there really was there in the first place.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 31

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Catskills Here’s another foray into the AM band, as explored in the middle of the night. This recording begins just before 1AM local time, and was captured in the Catskill mountains of New York on Sunday October 1st (or the 2nd officially). Usually I start a scan recording at the low end of a band and work my way up, but this time I’m going the other way. Usually when starting at 530kHz and moving up the AM band, I never quite reach the end of the band, so this sample of broadcasting starts at the ass end of AM, and then I roll backwards through the dial.

I don’t spend that much time DXing though the higher end of the AM band. There’s less powerful stations, and especially here in the city there are far more ethnic talk outlets up that way. But unlike the previous post where I offered a taste of these frequencies, this reception was snatched from the sky out in the country away from the RF noise and the bullying strong local signals of the megalopolis. In fact, there are really no local AM stations in the central Catskills where we stayed that weekend. By day, the AM dial was basically silent all the way across the damn thing. Of course, once the sun went down there was some kind of noise or better at every 10kHz stop. Not a bad location to DX medium wave. And this was recorded with my Tecsun BCL-2000, a very sensitive, but buggy analog radio, which should have been on its best behavior on AM without powerful local signals stirring up annoying images across the dial.

Again, this starts from the right and the dial moves slowly to the left, stopping at every place a radio station that might be something, and then listening. The first station I found was in rural Michigan. Here’s the audio…

Catskills Late Night Medium Wave Scan 10-02-06 A – 1590 to 1410  21:23


1590 – WTVB Coldwater, MI

The_coldwater_cardinal_3 A good way to start, with a solid (if faint) station ID from a distant low power station. It’s a one kilowatt oldies station in south central Michigan broadcasting in a directional pattern (to the northwest!). Station identification comes right before the top of the hour. It’s just about 1 AM EDT.

1580 – CKDO Oshawa, ON

An oldies station broadcasting from the other side of Lake Ontario. Starts out with some syrupy 1970’s EZ pop song (sounds like Hall & Oates meets Smokey?) that I’ve never heard before. Maybe it’s some of that “Canadian contentthe government forces their music stations to integrate into their playlists. Then “Green Onions,” still one of the greatest insurgent instrumentals around. Sounds great with static too.

1570 – (a hopeless mess)

Lots of talking.

1560 – WQEW New York, NY

Radio_disney_pop_dreamers Back home in Brooklyn, this waste of a booming clear channel AM signal (carrying the moronic Radio Disney) that lays waste to most of this end of the AM dial. Here’s it’s just an annoyance I can just pass by. Some urban greasy vocoder number on the subject of loneliness.

1550 – CBE Windsor, ON

It’s the news on CBC One. A BBC story on Brazilian politics, and a report of a horrific airline crash there as well. And a tropical storm watch for Newfoundland!

As I’ve complained before, it’s a damn shame that CBC sold their English Language clear channel station in Toronto (at 740kHz) a while back. As much as I appreciate what CHWO does there now, it would be great to have a full service CBC English language station covering the northeastern US on the AM band by night. While everyone is all abuzz over satellite radio, digital radio, streaming radio, and all these new audio broadcast technologies, they seem to have forgotten that AM radio is still so much more efficient, and almost everybody has a receiver that’s ready to go. It just seems like with all this continuing interest in talk and news on AM that it ought to make some national media outlets like NPR, CBC and BBC reconsider snatching up some clear channel AM frequencies in North America, where they would get far broader coverage per transmitter than on FM, and more oomph than any new audio delivery system currently offers. And jeez, they could start with WQEW at 1560 in Queens. Although they squander fifty-thousand watts on mindless kiddie crap, the transmitter is actually owned by the prestigious New York Times.

Cbe_2 And another good example of what the Times could do with WQEW, would be the in-depth news and issue radio station the Washington Post offers at 1500 AM in the DC area. But obviously the New York Times doesn’t respect or understand the power of AM radio, and especially the broadcasting potential they’re sitting on (and the NYC market!), and they lease all those kilowatts out to Mickey and Goofy. Just like the way NYC radio powerhouses sellout primetime hours to infomercials on the weekend, it’s really stupid and short-sighted.

After the news, it’s CBC Overnight, a rebroadcast of a Radio Netherlands feature. Of course, there’s not a chance I could pick up this station in New York City because WQEW’s RADIO DISNEY eats up anything near it on the dial, but I can pick it up OK in New Jersey.

1540 – KXEL Waterloo, IA

Weather and a Jim Bohannon promo from Iowa. It’s a 50 kilowatt clear channel signal broadcasting from over nine hundred miles away.

Kxel By now I’m noticing a trend in this DX session– Windsor, Coldwater, and Waterloo are almost all in a line straight west from the Catskills. I don’t know enough about propagation to tell you why, but I’ve seen this before when listening to distant AM and shortwave. If I’m picking up some faraway signals from a certain part of the continent or globe I often end up coming across other distant broadcasts from that same direction. It must be some radio "wind" out there.

1530 – WCKY Cincinnati, OH

Stair It’s the culty and crusty Christian geezer, Brother Stair (or Brother Scare as he’s known by people who’ve actually seen the guy). I wrote briefly about this dark Rumpelstiltskin-like codger before (here). The old fart seems to always be carrying on over several shortwave frequencies at any given time. However, this Clear Channel owned Cincinnati 50kW station sells him a few late hours every night. Not only that, but after Brother Stair, an even more disturbed character comes on WCKY, Roy Masters. Masters is so creepy, he makes cult leader Stair actually sound kind of avuncular, and almost normal.

1520 – WWKB Buffalo, NY

Joey_3 It’s "The Joey Reynolds Show," originating from WOR in New York. It’s the number two overnight radio show in America, after Coast to Coast AM. So as an overnight radio listener, I run across Reynolds show quite often. And, I confess I’ve tried to like it.

Reynolds is a consummate broadcaster, originally a Top 40 DJ who had gigs in a number of big radio markets in the 60’s through the 90’s. Supposedly, Reynolds was a key figure in the early “shock jock” scene, although hearing his late night yuk-it-up show you’d never know it (on his page at WOR’s site they call him the “Mr. Nice Guy of Night Radio”). When Reynolds gets on a good rant, he can be quite entertaining. And if he has a good guest, Joey has a personal and quirky interview style that often works quite well. However, most of the time the show is just a messy free-for-all where Reynolds holds court with TOO many co-hosts, or panelists, all talking over each other and carrying on in a less than compelling fashion. And a good example is what you hear in this clip. I believe it’s a repeat of Joey’s weekly “Jewish Hour” (look at the crew here) where there’s usually plenty of kvetching and kooky conversation as they pass the pastrami, but not much more.

And perhaps more significantly, in this piece of his program you hear Joe and the gang discuss what it’s like to be Joey Reynolds, a quasi-celebrity– almost famous, almost great, and almost invariably infatuated with yourself– and mildly insulted that more people don’t feel the same way.

Joeyshow_1 Reynolds show isn’t bad, it’s just not great very often, and every now and then it’s just plain sloppy. I hear a need for some discipline, some tighter formatting and better co-hosts.

Although Reynolds is mostly apolitical (although he does oppose the Iraq war), here he’s on WWKB, one of those Clear Channel “progressive talk” stations ("Buffalo’s Left Channel”). And significantly this particular station features absolutely NO Air America programming. I often listen to WWKB from midnight to one AM when the final hour of Lionel’s show is cut off on WOR (by an extra local hour of Joey Reynolds). And for listener’s in the New York City area who haven’t heard the Ed Schultz show (the biggest liberal talk show in the country now), with the sun is setting so early now you can often catch the last couple hours of most nights on any decent radio (from 5 to 7 PM). However, the local host they rebroadcast from 7 to 10, Leslie Marshall, is a bit shrill and has a rather exuberant gym teacher approach to talk radio which really isn’t my cup of tea.

1510 – WWZN – Boston, MA?

It’s the most likely suspect. It’s sports, that’s for sure. Superbowl hysteria, etc.

1500 – WLQV Detroit, MI & WTWP Washington, DC?

Wlqv_logo Another broadcast from the direct west. A Detroit religious station. At first there a spot advising listeners to avoid all those awful secular snowman and reindeer holiday cards, and order up a bunch of official Jesus Christ type Christmas cards. Let your friends know just how holy you really are! The show itself is “Walk in the Word,” where there’s a discussion of some super-Christian boy scout type organization and a day in a car pool.  Sorry I didn’t catch the whole thing. In the background there’s a Geico commercial, probably WTWP which normally comes in fairly well in the city.

1490 – (a big throbby mess)

This is one of the infamous graveyard frequencies (along with 1230, 1240, 1340, 1400, and 1450kHz, where all the stations are VERY local, and are only allowed tiny transmitters. Unless one of these babies is fairly close to you, or you get lucky, this is what you usually hear at one of these stops on the dial– LOTS of far off stations, all at once.

1480 – (Joey Reynolds again)

Don’t know what this might be. In looking for a Joey Reynolds affiliate at this frequency I did find WABB in Mobile, AL, but that seems a bit unlikely. Then oddly, the bumper music on Joey Reynolds (going into a Tanya Roberts Vegas ad) is the Four Tops, and then turning the radio brings in another Four Tops song, which might be an oldies station in Canton, OH (WHBC).

Art 1470 – (Coast to Coast AM)

It’s Coast to Coast, with Art Bell. Which can be found on dozens of stations any night of the week, almost anywhere in America. However, looking through the CTC affiliate list I found a few possibilities for this frequency– three in the Midwest and one in Georgia. Hard to say.

1460 – (mess)

Music, and somewhere in there, Art Bell again. In fact, I think Art Bell can be heard somewhere in the next two indecipherable heaps of reception as well.

1450 – (mess)

If you like cacophony, you got it here. You can hear why I say this end of the band can be a real morass.

Revista 1440 – (mess)

More pulsing noise and voices. One talk show rides on top with of the confusion, but never breaks out into anything very readable. 

1430 –  CKYC Toronto, ON?

Another jumble to be sure, but it sounds like Chinese is spoken throughout, and this ethnic Toronto station seems like a likely suspect. Reception is poor.

1420 – (another stinky mess, with one station dominating)

Lots of advertising, invitations to go online, etc. A very hazy collection of low power AM stations in competition here too. If I was more patient I could have stuck around figured out where the dominant station (featuring a set of ads) was probably coming from.

1410 – KQV Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh news station rebroadcasting old radio shows in a late night segment called “When Radio Was.” Here you get a segue from “The Adventures of Sam Spade” to “The Shadow.”


Well, that’s as good a place to stop as any. As I look at my log here, there’s really not any decent reception until I get up into the 1300-1200kHz range. But you get the idea, lots of local stations and less important outlets in larger markets. The few big clear channel AM’s in this part of North America are mostly in the 1500’s. If I continue on with this scan in another post, it will start further up where you can actually hear what’s being said without eight other stations pulsing in the background.

I must admit that I would still love to hear some AM scans from across the country. I’m really only familiar with the AM radio scene east of the Rocky Mountains, and I’d sure like to hear (and post) some recordings of medium wave scans from way out west, and from other places as well. I kinda set out what I was looking for in general, if any readers would be so kind to record their adventures in amplitude modulation and send them my way. I’m still interested in other ears, other radios and other parts of the world, if you’d like to chip in you can email me here.

And as always, thanks for listening.

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

Progressive Talk vs. Fast Food, Gasoline and Box Stores

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Chuck_d Very soon, the Air America radio network will either be sold or "so long." The word on the street is that if somebody doesn’t come forward and bail out the network by December the bankruptcy proceedings will move into Chapter 7. Liquidation. The end. And if that does happen, it will be sad to see a brave media experiment crash and burn so quickly, but it won’t be tragedy. However, if after the votes are counted the opposition party long championed by Air America doesn’t take at least the House, if not the Senate, THAT would be tragic. If some folks from the other side of the aisle can’t put some reigns on all these ongoing runaway disasters the Republicans have brought on, then we got trouble. Big trouble.

And please, if you disagree with me politically on this, just leave me alone. To say I’m tired of getting embroiled in such online debates would be an understatement. This is a post about radio, not the start of an argument I’m willing to engage in, or will host.

As before, I’m admittedly repeating a few unsubstantiated rumors as I have in earlier Air America commentaries. And what I’ve heard is that Air America does indeed have some solid leads on finding a buyer, and the brain trust is making plans for 2007. HartmannThen again, I’m not going to underestimate Air America’s potential for making mistakes (or worse). There’s very little time, and the possibility that Air America Radio may soon be a memory is still very real.

 However, if it they do survive the year I”m happy to pass along that one of the supposed decisions that should soon follow the anticipated sale of the network is the departure of Al Franken from Air America. While I’d hate to dismiss all of Franken’s activism, authorship, and (for lack of a better word) comedy over the years, it’s increasingly obvious by the day that Franken is out of his element, and chronically tedious on the radio (beyond brief and tightly formatted guest appearances). Whether you liked Franken’s show or not, you ought to be glad to see it go as well. Not only is his yawn inducing program a high profile disaster, but the huge drain on the now bankrupt corporation is intolerable. It makes no sense. Thom Hartmann would make a fine replacement.

Speaking of has been TV celebrities hosting AAR programming, Jerry Springer’s demotion from the regular lineup into syndication was almost enough to make a few of us think that Air America’s management might be on the right track again. But perhaps the TV ringmaster has been getting his revenge by lending his program out to a couple of Air America’s disgruntled former hosts. While Springer was "Dancing With The Stars" (or something else) he turned his show over to Mike Malloy a couple of days, and to Marc Maron (with his partner Jim Earls) twice as well. You can download archives of Maron and Earls filling in for Jerry Springer here if you have a BitTorrent client installed. Or you can hear a clip here. And now Malloy is actually back on the air nightly with a new network. And if a deal can be worked out, The Marc Maron Show may join the lineup too.

Novamlogo_1 Two of Air America founders, Anita and Sheldon Drobny, have partnered with Arizona entrepreneur Dr. Mike Newcomb to form “Nova M,” a new liberal talk radio syndication startup. After offering a failed bid to purchase Air America, the trio decided to go into business for themselves. And for now, Malloy provides the star power. You can stream his live from nine to midnight from the Nova M site. You can podcast his program (for free) from Nova M as well, and as always The White Rose Society offers full shows as well. (However, the Nova M downloads and podcasts have the commercials removed.) No news yet on whether Maron will actually join up as well. So far, their programming is only reaching a handful of lesser market stations, but taking on one or two rejected Air America programs with built-in grassroots support isn’t a bad start. And several west coast stations in larger markets have already signed on to adding Malloy’s show to their roster in short order.

It seems to me that in the scheme of things it would make sense for Air America to scale back their operations (within a realistic budget) and become more of a provider of sydicated progressive programming, along with companies like Nova M and P1, instead of attempting to provide a round the clock network. In general, real competition helps engender better programming.

Oreillymalkin Of course, the neocon nutbags and their online goons are rubbing their calloused knuckles together over the possibility that Air America may go down in a ball of flames. And if that does happen, you can be sure that clowns like O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin will spin around in circles, spittle flying, howling that liberal talk radio is dead! (And perhaps that it should be made illegal.) Just like Kerry’s botched Bush joke was superficially covered as some monumental exposure of Democratic Party disdain for America troops, the supposed demise of progressive talk will certainly reverberate within the rightist media machine if Air America bites the dust. And not surprisingly, it will be picked up by what’s left of the mainstream media as well, and well meaning talking heads will repeat it as if it were a foregone conclusion. And that’s why progressive talk will live on, and why it was created in the first place.

As far as Air America’s fate, it’s important to remember this. When the network was assembled in early in 2004, there were no "progressive talk" radio stations. And if AAR does go under, progressive talk is NOT going to go away. Although Air America didn’t exactly invent the left-wing talk show format (one might say i.e. America did that), they were the first to introduce shamelessly liberal commercial talk stations into major cities. Probably the primary reason AAR made the risky decision to create a seventeen (and ultimately eighteen) hour clock of weekday syndicated programming out of the box was that there was this overwhelming opinion that liberal talk shows couldn’t work and wouldn’t fit on all the established talk stations then in operation. Talk radio that dared to oppose the Republican Party in any real way just didn’t fit on mainstream talk radio by 2004. According one of Air America’s founders (and he’s still there!), Jon Sinton: "Just as you wouldn’t tune in to a country station to hear jazz, so you wouldn’t turn to a conservative talk station to get a liberal show." Air America was slowly adding affiliates through the spring of 2004, coaxing stations into airing all, or most, of their programming, and then to the surprise of many, radio giant Clear Channel decided to help out, even if just for business reasons.

Schultz Shortly after Air America went on the air, Clear Channel revamped a losing oldies outlet in Portand, Oregon by incorporating and up and coming new lefty host Ed Schultz with AAR programming, and it was almost an instant success. With that victory, the station’s positioning statement- "progressive talk" became a format beyond the name of any network or host. While Air America programming has generally been a part of all these Clear Channel liberal talk outlets, each is programmed individually, with other local and (left-leaning) syndicated hosts mixed with other content. So in reality, although there are a number of stations which do carry exclusively just Air America (and perhaps local) programming, that’s the minority. The loss of Air America would hardly mean losing the foundation of the format itself. Although I don’t see it ever becoming more popular than conservative talk radio, progressive talk isn’t going away. At least not until things get a little more… normal.

Not long ago, blogger Michael J. West wrote a post entitled: “Rush Limbaugh And Company, Air America Radio, And The Folly Of All Of Them.” In his piece, West quoted the late talk host Bob Lassiter giving his opinion of the talk radio format: "This is not a battle between the forces of good and evil," Lassiter had said. "It’s entertainment. Period." And in the piece West puts forth the idea that conservative and liberal talk radio merely preach to their respective faithful, and that they have no real political influence. And in a Lassiter inspired closing West intones: "Let the babies have their bottles."

The problem with West’s dialectic isn’t the logic itself, but that he only discovered Lasstier and his inherent talk radio wisdom on the other side of a paradigm shift that has changed all the rules. The clip he quoted was from something I recorded and used in the Lassiter profile I wrote a decade ago. And back in 1996, that provocative evaluation of talk radio made sense, or at least explained the self-serving zeitgiest within right wing talk radio that made it immediately distasteful at the time. But, in the scheme of things 1996 seems like a thousand years ago. And it would be folly to ignore or deny what has happened to AM talk radio since then.

I’ve always felt there was something fishy about the rampant breakout of conservative talk radio that’s gone down since Lassiter uttered those words. And now an uglyexhibit a” has emerged that increases my suspicion. Although it was barely covered in the major media, a talk show listener made an in-house ABC radio memo public last week, and it included a list of over eighty heavy-hitter radio sponsors who have an ongoing request that “NONE of their commercials air within Air America programming.” On the list– Microsoft, GE, Sony, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Exxon Mobil, the US Navy… and so many more. Jeez. No wonder I hear half a dozen Geico ads per hour on Air America. (Download the memo here.)

Texas_gerrymander Just like how Tom Delay and his friends gerrymandered Texas to assure Republican dominance of the state’s representatives in the U.S. Congress, these huge corporations have gerrymandered talk radio itself to assure their money flows specifically to the Republican talk show hosts who support their corporate/political interests. And need I remind you that ABC initially launched Limbaugh’s national program, and since have spawned rightist smearmerchants like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin into syndication as well.

And speaking of 1996, at that time ABC stations like WABC had notably non-conservative hosts like Lionel and Lynn Samuels on the air. And Mike Malloy had just started his successful four year run on their Chicago affiliate, WLS. Over the years, almost all the on-air voices of dissent against the Bush administration have disappeared from the official ABC affiliates as well. (However, as the memo says ABC syndicated programming appears on many other stations, including those that broadcast AAR content.)

1090 By 2004, talk radio had not only become incredibly political, but feverishly right wing across the board. And worse than that, every talk station in the country had become a defacto public relations outlet for the Republican party. And if the US was really really overwhelming Republican, maybe that might be… okay. But however you feel, be real. That’s never been true, and never will be. Who would want that? It’s bad enough they play "The Twist" and "Runaround Sue" everyday on oldies stations, but do you want Bush talking points to become the sole topic of conversation on commercial syndicated talk radio? I mean, even if you agree with that crap you must have limits. The fact that the right wing media commandeered the commercial talk format created a grassroots demand for a counterpart– a corresponding “pole” to balance an extremely polarized media landscape. Something never really needed or desired before, progressive talk radio, is an artificial construct setup to resist and oppose the near monopoly of syndicated Republican spew across the AM dial.

Today we find ourselves immersed in a talk radio cold war. Unless you’re doing a specialty show on pets, nutrition or investment, it’s almost impossible for a talk program to ignore what’s been going on in Iraq and within our government itself. In the previous environment, liberal, moderate and conservative political sentiments arose occasionally in commercial talk radio, as well as on NPR. Just like in real life. And left-wing thought always had a home on many community and college stations (and of course the Pacifica network). Conservative talk, which was already on the rise, became ever more powerful over the course of the Clinton Impeachment and the 2000 Election disaster. But once the 2001 terrorist attacks launched millions of Americans into a fear-based jingoistic frenzy, the talk radio industry purged nearly every host who might question the Bush regime, or any of the questionable actions they have initiated since that lethal day.

Npr And NPR? In the ensuing years National Public Radio has been busy pleasing the empowered right wing critics in the government who are trying to eliminate federal funding from anything they deem as “liberal media.” NPR is now so balanced that their programming seems to counter every bit of common sense with a right wing commentary giving the Republican counter-spin. While there are exceptions, more than ever NPR has evolved into of a "lifestyle" network focusing on apolitical cultural fluff. And the community and alternative stations do their reporting as bravely or ineptly as one might hope, but their reach is so small in the scheme of things. And sure, the internet and podcasting makes it easier to find alternative news sources, but the "turning on the faucet" aspect of local traditional radio still overwhelmingly trumps new media by the numbers. And if the original talk radio faucet was bought and paid for by the Republican party, radio types opposing the Bush talking points had only one choice– build a new progressive talk radio faucet.

Frankly, I’m not convinced that progressive talk radio can influence the electorate, or sway national opinion. In general, political radio is as Lassiter claimed– "support group radio." And while it seemed like a pointless idea in the middle of Clinton’s two terms, in this scary new America there’s a lot of listeners in need of some support. And when you realize the AM dial is bursting with lies and smears and narratives skewed beyond belief, there is comfort in knowing that there are “entertainers” on the same band who are actually telling the truth, and making fun of the villains and propagandists. It’s kind of sad, but we really do need progressive talk now. Not because it’s the best radio concept ever imagined, but it’s the reality we’re left with– communing with broadcasters who are willing to counter the Republican media loudspeaker, and hosts who can figure out how to make us laugh when there’s not much funny to go around.

The_cheney_1Optomistically, perhaps progressive talk radio will actually win over a few heartland listener’s from the clutches of the Republican spin machine. But that’s not why it’s so important. Outside of a few interesting non-commercial radio stations, music radio is dying. Dead, perhaps. For many of us the only radio format that consistently offers personality and humanity is talk radio. And if in these incredibly political times one side has been practically eliminated from the debate, we need to support the underdog, even if you don’t agree. And for those of us angered and frustrated from being shut out of the dialogue, it’s heartening to gather around these new progressive radio troughs and have our meetings and exchange information. In the rampant madness of our times, it’s so important for us to try to hold on to our sanity.Let’s face it. Two plus two must continue to equal four, no matter what. And when so many talk hosts are shouting "five,"with great emotion and rightousness it helps to hear from more thoughtful voices and be reminded that the equation still yields "four," no matter what they say, and to celebrate the glory and importance of that small fact.

Whether you like it or not, progressive radio is here to stay. Get used to it. Whether Air America continues is really beside the point. However, if Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld (and a number of others) find themselves on trial for war crimes one day, and our government embarks on a path of trying to heal all the grief and hatred it has engendered all over the world. And if some of these high roller war profiteers are actually rounded up and tried… And if all those talk radio entertainers who cheered our nation into a needless bloody war of aggression are publicly shamed, then maybe once again the idea of "support group radio" for dissenters will be just as absurd as it seemed a decade ago. And then perhaps talk radio can once again be as mischievous and truly experimental (or even pointless) as it was in the days of Bob Lassiter. Maybe.

Meanwhile, all we’re left with now is satire and bad news. In fact, I suspect more bad news is on the way. Get ready. Hey progressive talk hosts? Bring the funny. And bring the facts.

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