Archive for October, 2007

RN – The Best Of What’s Left

Monday, October 29th, 2007
Radio Kootwijk Building, Dutch site of global broadcasts from 1919 until 2004In my listening experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that Radio Netherlands consistently has the most thoughtful and professional English language content available on shortwave today. But you have to remember I’m stuck way out here in North America, the land shortwave radio forgot. The truth is, if you operate a shortwave radio in this continent, and are (sadly) limited to the English language, many of the world’s major content providers have decided that you are irrelevant (or at least there’s not enough of you to be relevant. Of course, it wasn’t always this way.

The political acrimony of the cold war provided a golden age for shortwave listening around the world. Yet, in the unfolding era of post 9-11 global chaos and corruption  (when we really could use it) shortwave radio has just become another media source where Americans are likely to get less international news and opinion. On the other hand, many of our old cold war enemies (Russia, China, Vietnam, etc) continue to beam lots of English language programming this way. But more and more of our traditional (and powerful) allies just don’t bother. Most significantly, two excellent English language global news sources have turned their backs on us. First the BBC World Service cut us off in July of 2001, then Deutsche Welle shut down shortwave transmissions to North America a couple of years later. And these are just the most notable of many cutbacks depriving North American SW listeners of dependable frequencies since the 1990′s. And in case you’re wondering, you can occasionally hear the official U.S. shortwave service (VOA) in the states, but there’s actually a law on the books that prevents them from trying very hard to reach American ears. But from what I’ve heard from VOA over the last few years, we’re not missing much1980's Deutsche Welle QLS Card

There’s not much mystery as to why all this is happening. Old lo-fi radio hasn’t been really popular here for decades. Since the 1980′s shortwave bands have become non-existent on standard consumer radios, and if you’re determined to listen to shortwave you have to go out buy a special receiver just for that purpose. And more significantly, new and powerful methods of listening to the world have come along– satellite broadcasting and internet audio options.  

And for years, international radio giants like BBC and DW have been piggybacking segments of their English language content on North American (mostly FM) public stations as well. Not that long ago, WNYC in New York experimented with running the World Radio Network overnight, and like so much programming I’ve enjoyed on that station, it’s gone. Based in Britian, WRN aggregates all sorts of national radio content from around the world and offers a whole slew of programming packages grouped by language and/or targeted global region. It’s a quite a project. And it’s not a World Radio Network Site Logoservice– It’s a business. Taking a look at their website, it looks like WRN has become a real high-tech behemoth of international broadcasting since I last listened. While some stations in North America must be running their content (I found no list of affiliates on their site), their full schedule in English for North America has its own channel with Sirius Satellite Radio. At least for now, a model like this seems like the future of state-sponsored broadcasting. And if you want to get a regular dose of international news and opinion without all the fading, RF noise, and propagation issues, I’d say signing up for Sirius to receive WRN might be a good way to go.

But for now, I still prefer the difficulty, noise, and unpredictability of the old technology. It’s free and a little more mysterious. As far as I know, there aren’t any pirates or clandestine broadcasters on satellite yet. And I don’t think Iran, or Albania or North Korea are going to be included in their packages obey...anytime soon. You get what I mean. And if Dick Cheney (or some other dictator) really does suceed in setting world on fire and high-tech telecommunication networks are damaged, hacked or shut down, your battery powered SW portable could be the only way to access information from beyond our borders.

In all honesty, outside of old-tech holdouts like me and culty-religious and “patriot” types, there’s not a lotta of interest in shortwave in these parts. Yet, Radio Netherlands continues to provide us service, and I say thank you. Considering that English is not the native to old Holland, it’s pretty amazing the range and depth of the programming you hear on RN. I’ve heard a number of poignant and compelling documentary features on Radio Netherlands, and plenty of cultural programming in general (and NOT just about the Netherlands or Europe). Impressive.

And to wind this up, I have a clip.

Radio Netherlands – Echoes – 04-09-07.mp3

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Mindy Ran, jounalist and RN host

This is a complete edition of short weekly RN feature, “Echoes.” It’s a listener-outreach program featuring listener mail (or email, most likely), with plenty of promos for shows RN’s English language schedule. In this quarter hour from early April you hear an overview of programming changes and a smattering of listener feedback from around the world. The host is American ex-pat journalist, Mindy Ran. She sounds friendly enough. Reminds me of Barbara Budd, a co-host of CBC’s “As It Happens.” Echoes is also a podcast, as are many RN programs. Apparently, programs come and go on RN’s English service. In fact, as I finish this post I’ve noticed that Echoes is no longer on their schedule.

The initial reason I posted this was the series of listener letters pleading for Radio Netherlands to continue to English shortwave service. One is from Panama, another from India. Theiy bemoan their access to news and information in remote areas of the world, and how RN’s shortwave service makes a difference in their lives. But another comes from an American in Massachusetts also expressing his appreciation that RN continues to make their English programming available on shortrwave to (the eccentric?) American listeners. And from sampling other Echoes programs, these types of letters are routine. Listeners are increasingly thankful for what they can still find on shortwave. Even in America.

If the slight buzziness and phasing inherent in this relatively good shortwave reception recording gets on your nerves, you can always check out what’s available on the web, on satellite, or on TV. For more blather on lo-fi (and old-tech) radio broadcasting, please come by here again sometime soon. This broadcast was received on the north Virginia coast using a Degen 1103.

When Listening Was Still Easy

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

If you get in the habit of digging into the AM band at night, you’re bound to become familiar with some of the big regional 50,000 watt “clear channel” stations in your part of the world. Growing up in Michigan, stations like WCFL in Chicago, WLW in Cincinnati, and WGAR in Cleveland usually came in like locals at night. The east coast from Boston down to the Carolina’s offered all sorts of signals. Often WWL in New Orleans and WSB in Atlanta came in strong as well.

In the late 1980′s I had gotten into the habit of listening to KMOX in St. Louis on Saturday nights, and despite the fact that I happened to move across the country from Michigan to Louisiana, and then on to Alabama within that handful of years, I never lost the ability to tune it in. And what originally hooked my to KMOX on the weekends was an excellent big band program hosted by a old fellah named Charlie (Menese?). Although it was a great show (I’ll post one some time), and probably a long standing feature of KMOX programming I wasn’t able to find any reference to it on the web. However, what I really grew to love was the show that immediately followed– “Music and Musings” with Tony Oren. (I found one online reference to Tony’s show here.)

Oren’s program, which like the big band show is long gone by now, was the last of a breed of programming I sorely miss, grown-up easy listening. By that I don’t mean the seconal super syrup of “beautiful music,” or the yawny yearning of a “quiet storm.” No, I mean the low-key jazz flavored pop of “middle of the road” radio, specifically the sound of that format by night.

Okay, there’s the nostagia factor I won’t totally deny. If you grew up in the 1960′s, this is probably the kind of radio your parents listened to. And as I’ve written previously, there was a wonderful overnight program on WJR in Detroit, “Night Flight 760,” that played an array of smart easy listening that is embedded in my childhood memories as some of the best radio comfort food I’ve ever heard. And Music and Musings with Tony Oren was the last time I’ve heard anything like it. And I happened to record a show or two back in 1990 when I was living in Mobile, one of which I can now offer you here.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren 10-27-90 pt 1

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Yes, it’s true you can still find a few radio stations offering this kind of content. Over the last few years, I’ve known a number of like-minded friends who seek out stations who carry on with pre-rock pop music, calling them “old man stations.” It’s the only radio format left for seniors, and it’s certainly endangered. You’ll can still find a few local stations carrying on this kind of programming in senior hotspots in places like Florida and Arizona. And there the “Music of Your Life” syndicated/satellite thing (which I hear quite often on small town stations when I’m on the road), which is listenable but with no surprises. And AM 740 in Toronto’s mix of oldies and pre-oldies probably makes a lot of old fart DXers across North America feel at home, but I think the kind of radio you hear on this aircheck is probably extinct. These days, stations that cater to the oldest demographic groups inevitably mix in Elvis, the Beatles and the Carpenters. It’s not the same. “Music and Musings” offers something different. Something gone. And there’s nothing rock and roll about it.

Musically, in this aircheck you get some appropriate moody performances from typical stars of this format like Peggy Lee, Buddy Greco and Nat King Cole, and some rich high-fructose instrumentals from Andre Kostelanetz, 101 Strings and the Melachrino Strings. Even Pia Zadora doesn’t take away the beauty of it all. But to be fair, it’s not just the music, but the musings.

To me, a guy like Tony Oren is the penultimate announcer. Just warm enough. Even a little dry. And able to conversationally segue together every element of the broadcast with simple panache and confidence. His pacing is remarkable. It’s not easy to sound so relaxed coming across as sleepy, preposterous, or just boring. I wish I heard more announcers like this today. A total professional. I guess you could call it style. To my ears, so many NPR types strive for this kind of presence and fail.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren 10-27-90 pt 2

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But it’s not NPR, it’s just musings. A little anecdote about ol’ Dan Rostenkowski and a big lobbyist funded luxury junket in the tropics here, and some this day in history stuff there. But this aircheck is unedited, and in the second half you get the a CBS newscast. It documents the point in history where Pappy Bush broke his moronic “Read my lips!” campaign promise and signed on to a tax increase and forever pissed off some of his Republican buddies (and may have cost him the 1992 election).

However, I’m not posting this for the news or the commercials, but as an artifact of long gone breezy broadcasting. And as a personal remembrance of all those Saturday nights years ago when I tuned KMOX in on the clock radio and shut out the light.

A follow up to this post (including another aircheck of Tony Oren) can be found here.

Easter Eve 49 Meter Band

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

So begins the first substantive post here at The Radio Kitchen. Welcome! This blog takes flight from my previous writing on the WFMU blog, specifically my “Adventures in Amplitude Modulation” series which featured AM & shortwave bandscans and airchecks, along with discussions of the content reception. Often, these audio captures were from DXing sessions, creeping along the dial looking for faraway broadcasts. And that’s what I’m serving up in this first post. 

This is a bandscan in three parts, trolling through the 49 meter band from the coast of Virginia last spring. I’m using my scanning toy of choice lately, a Degen 1103 portable receiver. It’s an able and relatively inexpensive Chinese portable, also available as the Kaito 1103 here in the states. The two or three times I’ve been able to get out of the city for a few days this year, I’ve brought the Degen and a couple other radios and recorded quite a bit of broadcasting. Some of which will become audio content here at The Radio Kitchen.

While the 49 meter band (5800 to 6300 kHz) isn’t the most popular shortwave broadcast band, it is the place where you’re most likely to pick up quite a number of signals at night, at least here in the eastern U.S. Somebody new to shortwave radio could be easily discouraged by the paucity of signals on many of the designated bands, especially during the day. However, if you’re rarely able to receive many stations on the 49 meter band at night, then you’re probably working with a lousy (or defective) radio. 

In searching for a bandscan to premier on the blog, I tried to find one with a lot of varied content and ended up choosing this one. In retrospect, quite a bit of the audio of this scan is a bit sub-par. But that’s part of the fun, both with this blog and DXing in general. As you venture to push the limits of radio reception you have to be willing to brave some weak signals and interference. I think that’s why you don’t find online audio accompanying DX logs on the web in general. It’s not pleasant listening. My compromise in posting DX bandscans has been to opt for the ones that generally have better audio quality. And I do what I can to digitally clarify the sound as well.

Nothing really cosmic occurs during this radio excursion, but there is stations you might find on the 49 meter band around 11 p.m. EDT. And if you’re a newcomer to shortwave, it’s important to note that the vast majority of shortwave broadcasting in the U.S. is Christian propaganda of some kind. And when you consider the fact that shortwave listening is far more popular in other countries, it’s kind of sad that the vast majority of programming we export on these bands consists of dogmatic diatribes and proselytizing.

All shortwave broadcasting is scheduled on “Coordinated Universal Time,” or UTC (The out-of-order letters of this abbreviation are the result of a compromise between some English and French radio bureaucrats). Years ago, standard time in London (Greenwich Mean Time) was the standard, and UTC is basically the same thing give or take a few-microseconds. It’s five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, and four hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.

Unlike most media programming, there is no foolproof source for identifying shortwave broadcasts. Schedules and frequencies change all the time, often without notice. In sorting out the reception in this bandscan I referred to both the “Passport to World Radio,” and the frequency lookup page at HFRadio.org. When I’m unable to discern the reception through those sources I often do an advanced Google search of the frequency on Glenn Hauser’s excellent “World of Radio” site. Another option is searching “rec.radio.shortwave” on Google Groups. And sometimes I can’t precisely confirm the reception anywhere, but I make a good guess considering all the evidence. If I make a mistake, I’d really appreciate a correction (send me an email), which I’ll note here.

49 Meter Band pt 1 – 5950 to 5875kHz 04-09-07 0258 UTC 

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5950 – Radio Taiwan International (via WYFR in Okeechobee, FL)

It’s the end of Taiwan’s English language broadcast for North America, relayed from one of Family Radio’s Florida transmitters. Very clear and loud. International broadcasters in Western Asia who are serious about reaching the eastern two-thirds of America typically relay their English language (and Spanish as well) from some location in around eastern North America. The most popular relay location is Radio Canada’s transmitting complex in Sackville, New Brunswick. And some beam in from Europe as well. In my experience, it seems that the Rocky Mountains provide a formidable hurdle for radio waves coming my way on the east coast or the midwest. On the other hand, I suppose European broadcasts are a more difficult catch on the west coast. And unfortunately, it’s what prevents me from listening on North Korean’s English language broadcasts.

I think this is the first time I’ve noticed Christian shortwave superpower Family Radio renting out their equipment to anyone (possibly heathens!). I’ve often wondered how they afford all that electricity.

What you hear after the schedule/frequency update and sign-off is a Family Radio (WYFR) ID and then the beginning of their hourly interval music (Interval signals are recorded bits the are repeated several times right before a program is about to air to assist listeners in finding the frequency, which usually precede the top or bottom of the hour.) And then I turn the station.

5960 – NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, Japan)

This is a relay from either England or Canada. Is it Japanese? I think so. It’s a little dark and murky with a buzz and another signal elbowing in.

5965 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain)

It’s in Español. Not speaking Spanish, I’m not completely sure but there’s an outside chance that this is Radio Habana Cuba. But I think Spain, since they mention the country several times in this brief clip.

5975 – Voice of Turkey

It’s English language news from Turkey. The signal’s not bad and the interference is moderate, but the reception here is an odd combination of clarity and muddle. The Voice of Turkey comes in just before the three minute mark in this archive, and continues until the end for about twelve minutes.

It take some effort to listen all the details in this reception, but you can certainly sort out the spirit of the newscast. The barrage of bad news from neighboring countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran provide the majority of the events discussed. A sad litany of bombings and attacks dominate the news, along with associated political intrigue. There’s also some mention of Turkey’s pursuit of European Union membership, which has been a consistent topic (with much cheerleading in favor of their inclusion in the union) on Turkey’s English language programming for a while now. They want it bad.

The news is followed by a lightweight news magazine featuring pop culture info bits from around the world. Love the cheesy cinematic bumper music.

49 Meter Band pt 2 – 6000 to 6100kHz 04-09-07 0313 UTC 

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6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

A sweet Cuban love song, with harmonic noises.

6005 – BBC (From Ascension Island in the South Atlantic)

Almost impossible to hear. Some other station munching hard on the signal. I think they’re speaking English, but I’m not even sure. Just another reason to curse the BBC, and their decision to cut off North America from their shortwave world service.

6020 – China Radio International (from Sackville, Canada)

Clear and crisp Chinese programming.

6025 – Radio Budapest (faint Russian w/CRI on top?)

This is horrible. It’s Russian, I guess. I believe the CRI broadcast is destroying the reception.

6040 – Vatican Radio (Sackville, Canada)

It’s the Catholic HQ, relayed from New Brunswick. Just the very end of some Easter thing. And then there’s their interval music and the turn of the station. Good reception. Happy Easter from Popeland!

6050 – HCJB (Equador)

Christian shortwave stalwart in South America. I think they have a nice big mountain for their transmitter. They’ve been on the shortwave scene since I can remember.

It’s a Jesus ditty in Spanish I suppose. Reception okay.

6060 – Radio Habana Cuba

In Español. I don’t know the routine, but they switch their English language programming at night between 6000 and 6060kHz. I suppose 6000 was playing English language programming when I came across the Cuban music a few minutes ago.

6065 – WYFR (Family Radio) – Florida, USA

It’s the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s Easter. It’s Family Radio.

6075 – Deutsche Welle (Germany)

This bit is in German, and brief.

Until not long ago, Deutsche Welle was an excellent European shortwave news source for North America, with daily English programming beamed here every day. However like the BBC World Service, DW has cynically decided to save money and depend on allotted slots on some U.S. public radio stations and the web to reach North American listeners. This simple decision was a dull kick in the groin for American shortwave listeners looking to balance their news diet.

6090 – Carribean Beacon

It’s Melissa Scott, the most celebrated widow in televangelism. While impossible to explain her late husband in a few sentences, I’ll just say that he was kind of the John Huston of broadcast evangelism– a crusty, profane, and ultimately esoteric old goat who commanded respect and lived life to the fullest. Did I mention he was a little kooky?

Gene Scott was an incredibly unique and strange religious broadcaster who’s first claim to national fame was via his California based syndicated TV show in the late 70′s and 80′s. An irreverent maverick on the televangelism scene, Scott was a seriously educated (able to read and interpret untranslated original biblical text) and a deep oddball scholar (willing to entertain all sorts of off-the-wall theories and perspectives). A true self-made man, Scott built a religious media empire through his surly and passionate on-air fundraising techniques. To get a flavor of the Gene Scott at his peak, check out a 1980 Werner Herzog documentary (“God’s Angry Man”) online. You can find torrent downloads, or at least YouTube edits from it, if you do a little searching around.

While I believe his national TV presence reached a peak in the 1980′s, his ministry remains a fixture on the fringes of cable and satellite TV. However on shortwave Gene Scott is ALWAYS preaching. And for a while, he didn’t let his death get in the way…

Although he passed away in 2005, until recently his website didn’t reveal that fact. Although I hadn’t been paying a lot attention, in my routine scanning of the shortwave bands after his demise I would occasionally come across his widow carrying on his rambling esoteric preaching style on his frequencies, but usually it was a recording of old fellah carrying on as if nothing had happened. And then I for quite a while, I didn’t hear Melissa Scott at all, just her late husband rallying his flock from beyond the grave. I don’t remember where I read it, but I seem to recall reading that there are literally tens of thousands of hours of Mr. Scott in the can over at his LA headquarters. Sometimes you hear the onry middle-aged preacher captured in Herzog’s film, other times you’d get a taste of the croaky rumbling and mumbling characteristic of his latter days. To my ears, his meandering preaching was a bit  boring and difficult to follow. Occasionally, it was intriguing. An exegesis on the apostles could drift into a conversation of the pyramids, extraterrestrials, or his beloved race horses. (To get a flavor of Scott, just, check out his old site pictured above, which his widow has taken offline.) He was a deep kind of guy. And more than any other media minister I can remember, old Gene was really a man’s man. And it wasn’t much of a shock for me when I found out that his purportedly brainy and obviously ambitious widow previously had a rather successful career in adult entertainment. In the movies she performed under the pseudonym Barbie Bridges. Now she’s found herself as the owner and figurehead of a far-fetched media ministry created by someone old enough to be her grandfather. It must be an interesting life.

In his heyday, Scott used to pull in a million a month through his brute charisma It’s easy to understand how she opted to continue Gene’s money machine on autopilot for over a year, running reruns of her late husband almost exclusively. From my experience in sampling the shortwave broadcasts from Scott’s empire this year, it seems that she’s been going live (or at least creating new broadcasts) to bolster revenue, and bring the ministry up to the post-Gene Scott era. The website has drastically changed, and now focuses on Mrs. Scott (with a small page on her late husband) and has far less features. It will be interesting to see if she can keep it up, and make the oddball media juggernaut of Dr. Gene her own. Or turn it into something else.

6100 – Radio China International?

It’s kind of an anthemic Spanish dance number. Passport to World Radio says it’s a Chinese broadcast from New Brunswick. Seems right. 

49 Meter Band pt 3 – 6140 to 6180kHz 04-09-07 0336 UTC 

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6140 – Radio Habana Cuba

Noisy and Spanish. A broadcast aimed at Central America.

6150 – Carribean Beacon

It’s Gene again. Broadcasting from the great beyond on another of his frequencies in the Carribean. A little noisy. Something about a “flashlight on the trail.” Sounds like an old recording.

6165 – Radio Netherlands

In Spanish. Something about explorations of the ancient Inca resort, Machu Picchu. Reception, okay.

6175 – Voice of Vietnam

In English, again a relay from Sackville in NE Canada. Some arts discussion. Tennis and opera, or just “Culture and Sports News of the Week.” And then “The Sunday Show.” It’s a typical state radio presentation for the rest of the world– a feature rich news magazine exploring national culture and history. For some reason, the old “Iron Curtain” countries do a better job of selling their heritage on shortwave than the rest of the world.

6180 – Radio Habana Cuba

Again in English. Reception could be better and there’s a lot of noise.. I pick out the voice of RHC’s Yolanda Fisher in this mess.

That’s the end of this bandscan and this post. It’s good to get this blog underway and to decorate it with some mildly random shortwave reception. Expect another shortwave excursion sometime soon.