In late August I went away. Not far, but I did get out of the city for a few days. Upstate– an inexpensive rental in the Hudson Valley between the Berkshires and the Catskills. Nothing special, but one of those little free-standing cottage deals that kind of makes you feel like you briefly have another “home” in the country. And as usual, I set up a listening shack in the corner.
While I almost never even touch the ubiquitous television while I’m lodging, the Democratic Convention was in full swing. And big election cycle events like the DNC can actually suck me head first into a cable-enabled television. It’s as close as I get to watching sports crap. And speaking of that, I was really pissed to learn that out of the three channels offered by C-SPAN, I couldn’t find one of them on the cable service where we were staying. I found that troubling. As I kept going through the hundred or so channels they did offer, I did notice one that seemed to be dedicated to replaying tennis games all night long.
So, I was kind of stuck watching the convention padded with punditry and diversions. Nonetheless, it was somewhat inspiring, and there were good speeches. However, I really do miss Barbara Jordan. She was awesome.
Between the convention, having company come by, and tending the wants and needs of a resident four year old, my quality time with the receivers wasn’t all I hoped. Yet, the reception in general was very good and the hours (mostly late night) I was able to squirrel away were well spent monitoring the world. Armed with my Degen 1103 and it’s nearly identical cousin the Grundig G5, two tape decks and a Degen DE31 active loop antenna attached to the window (which I could switch between radios) I went to work archiving the most compelling amplitude modulation I could sort out of the sky on the fly.
Once I found a frequency (or band) that seemed to have some promise on one receiver I’d start recording that, and search for something else to grab out of the sky on the other radio. I tended to plug the antenna into whichever signal seemed to need the biggest boost. But when I had Australia coming in on the Grundig and found India on the Degen, I had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with the antenna.
As usual when I come back from some time out of the city, I now have a pile of DX recordings to consider. Typically after some thinking and listening I pluck out a few things under some thematic heading and work up a blog post in some logical or topical fashion. However, these things take time, and these days the national and world events that drive information broadcasting are transforming and mutating by the day. So this time, instead of spending so much ruminating and researching some focused reception into a post, I thought I’d just start posting some of the broadcasting I happened to find. Without thinking about it too much.
Recent conversations with David Goren (of the excellent “Shortwaveology” site) have persuaded me to pay a little more attention to the traditional “tropical” bands at the low end on the shortwave spectrum. Largely the domain of third world radio for local consummation, the three bands between three and five thousand kilohertz are reserved for the equatorial zones where routine electrical storms make medium wave broadcasting problematic. Traditionally, most of the stations you find on these bands are located in the third world offering programming for local and national audiences. I suppose that I haven’t spent as much time wandering through these frequencies because there’s not a lot of English language programming to be found down there (except for freaky christians of course, who are everywhere…) As you might guess, there’s not a lot of strong signals on the tropical bands. And like the rest of the SW bandspace, the tropical bands aren’t as crowded or interesting as they once were. But they are still there.
On my first night away (Wednesday after Joe Biden’s speech), I went through the 60 meter band, and didn’t hear all that much. Here’s a couple snippets of some far off exotic broadcasting. Some singing first.
Radio Rossii (Kyrgyzstan) 4050kHz 0339 UTC 08-28-08
It’s only a minute, but the operatic singing is stellar and poignant over the static. And it sounds so ancient, like it’s preserved or fermented or something. Dried flowers perhaps. Or just the acquired taste of an ear nurtured by antique technology. Either way, I think it’s still an attractive moment of sound.
And I admit it’s a guess. This Russian service from Kyrgyzstan seems to be the most likely culprit. And from the downtempo vibe of this music it’s not hard to believe that Russia is somehow behind it. However, if you have a better guess or actually know what this is at 0340 UTC, please leave a comment informing us all below.
Togo… or Tanzania (or some other tropical "T" kinda place) 5050kHz 0350 UTC 08-28-08
Okay, I don’t know what this actually is. But I believe it’s French with some type of African accent. The reception’s not bad but the signal is kinda crappy. Usually when I’m scanning I narrow the bandwidth, but here I think it was wide so I’m absolutely sure of the frequency. I thought a likely suspect might be Radio Lome at 5047kHz, but David told me he hadn’t heard them for a while, and I find no recent reception reports on them. Another possibility is Radio Tanzania is possible too, but it’s even further with a fraction of the power that Togo is supposed be transmitting.
And it would be swell if a couple of French speaking readers could translate some of this clip. And further information on this broadcast in general would be nice, if anyone has a better clue.
Not everything on the tropical bands is faraway or sublime. There’s also the bizarre wasteland of American shortwave broadcasting spilling over on the lower frequencies. Like this…
WWCR Nashville, TN – The Alex Jones Show – 0500UTC 08-28-08 (a rebroadcast from the previous afternoon)
WWCR. Lovingly known as "World Wide Crackpot Radio," but the big "C" is really shorthand for "Christian" (I.e., worldwide Jesus). Last I looked, they had four big transmitters covering the planet from North America. Their time is brokered and almost all the content is intended for believers, of one kind or another.
In all my radio blogging, I’ve resisted writing in any great detail about Alex Jones. Not that there isn’t plenty to say, but for me just initiating a discussion about Mr. Jones and what he does is kind of like stepping in a steaming pile of cultural excrement. But his show is occasionally fascinating. Kind of like looking at gangrene under a microscope.
While there have always been conspiracy nuts, doomsayers and righteous fanatics with microphones ever since broadcasting began, the meteoric rise of Alex Jones and his one-man paranoia factory could only happen in a dystopian political and media environment like the one that is rotting all around us right now. I like to think of it as necromodernism. Our culture, society, and the stories we tell, are overripe– with flavors that are often rich and complex. And tart with rot.
For all his boomy bluster, Alex Jones fancies himself an info-warrior, and is in fact the driving force behind a fear-based cottage industry gone worldwide. He’s not just the host of a daily national radio show and a weekly local TV show, but he also runs a few very popular paranoia websites and continues to pile up an arsenal of dark and denunciative documentaries and assorted viral presentations proliferating across the net.
But all his high-tech machinations, Jones is more of a reboot of the old John Bircher archetype. With a broad appeal toward "patriot" types, gun freaks, and the web savvy Ron Paul set (as well as the kind of folks who follow fringe media for specific new information about UFO’s or Jesus). But instead of calling out commies and the international Jewish conspiracy like back in the good old days, Jones and his followers are at war against "global elites." And from what I understand, the victory sought by Jones and his "infowar" is to defeat the elites from actually putting their evil "New World Order" into effect. Which would be bad. Apparently, worse than the way things are now.
And While I’m not an expert on this New World Order thing, I do know that it would trigger some kind of oppressive "one world" government (which may or may not originate from the UN), and then other bad stuff would happen. If these topics interest you, I’d advise you get a hold of shortwave radio and tune into all the American broadcasts you can find. If you can suffer through all the mind numbing Christian dreck you’ll eventually find out everything that’s known or prognosticated for this coming NWO problem.
Without getting into a mire by offering my opinion on the validity of all the sundry conspiracy theories that are under attack daily by the info-warfare of Alex Jones, not everything you hear on the show is completely ridiculous (except perhaps the windbag in charge). We live in dark times, and that’s the theme of his program. But fact and fantasy and fiction are all interchangeable once you start to accept the conspiracy canon of the Alex Jones, and there’s plenty of bad news out there ripe for assigning blame and calling out scapegoats.
Okay, the Alex Jones show does have a certain entertainment value, if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing. And while the program is devoid of wit or whimsey, it’s hard not to laugh now and then at the super-serious vibe of the show and the monster truck persona of the host.
However this sample is less harsh, with DIY filmmaker Jason Bermas (of the Loose Change documentaries) filling in for Jones as he lumbers around outside the convention in Denver with his infowar squad causing trouble (which I gather was also being streamed live on this website at the time). At the onset of this aircheck, Jones calls in to inform the audience that Ralph Nader was coming on the show (a relatively big name and normal guest for Jones). But more significantly there’s discussion at the beginning of the clip of a street altercation between Alex and right-wing media hack Michelle Malkin, which drives home my point.
Michele Malkin (and if you don’t know who she is, that’s good) is a vile right-wing media bitch, in the mode of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. Yet as loathsome as she might be, when confronted on the streets of Denver by the info-warrior you almost feel sorry for the little monster. Take a look at this shining example of Jones confrontational activism here or here and see what I mean. Does that sad ruckus make you feel any more informed? Maybe some folks enjoy watching a big rude oaf annoying a nasty scrap of humanity like Malkin, but I don’t. And since Jones’ activist assault of Malkin, he’s been wearing the whole event as some badge of courage. Please…
Alex Jones is a clown, an entertainer/activist/journalist/crackpot who seems at first impression an interesting character until you start to feel that just by paying attention to him you might be encouraging him to be even more of an asshole. And while it’s never been more important to take in a wide variety of sources for your media diet, be careful. Pigging out on the dark stream of junk doom churned out by Alex Jones could literally make you stupid.
Arising from the aromatic rot of necromodern culture is a family of conspiracy religions, most loosely based in Christian fear of demons or heretics. And Alex Jones is the self-appointed pope of his "Prison Planet" faction. Jones practice in particular is obsessed with the alleged occult practices of the global elite. Others are more concerned with space aliens or biblical prophesy. Yet I’m sure that the followers and acolytes of Alex Jones would consider the conspiracies that dominate his activism to be of a secular nature, or even a reasoned study of current affairs. That’s when you get into trouble.
Just like personality and gossip "news" that makes a mockery of the whole idea of being aware of the events of the world, looking at every event and issue in the news as a chess move by clandestine evil forces in their efforts to take over the world makes you truly foolish. Somewhere along the line you joined a cult.
I’m not saying that conspiracies don’t exist, or that ugly decisions by powerful people aren’t made in secret. What I am saying is that it’s stupid to believe in things you don’t as a fact. Perhaps comedian Marc Maron (a recovering conspiracy nut and unemployed talk show host) said it best:
"You act the same as a religious fanatic if you are a conspiracy theorist. You pick a series of unprovable "facts" that become dogmatic tenets and you commit your life to it. If anyone argues with it you say, "Well, I guess you just don’t want to open your eyes to the truth. You want to live in darkness. You don’t want to see the light." So, how are they any different?"
Exactly. And once you start dividing the world into people who are for or against the New World Order, it may just be a matter of time before you become convinced that the bad guys are actually shape shifting giant lizards masquerading as human beings.
And if it was just a shortwave radio phenomenon it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But Jones is on a few dozen AM and FM stations, and more importantly he has a huge web presence with daily podcasts and 24/7 streaming. And the sad truth is, people who get on the internet to become more informed about some of the serious issues of our times could easily google their open minds right up to a prime feeding spot at Jones’ sloppy trough of murky fantasies and half-truths.
Just listen to the calls through the hour archived here. A lot of half a brain types proposing half-baked theories proposing all manner of sketchy and shady scenarios. A dose of "chemtrails" from overhead air flights has made a town sick. A cluster of old cold war movies on cable tv is trying to get us to hate Russians all over again. And then there’s Bruce in Connecticut and his "four minute shock treatment." You kind of have to hear it to believe it. Then as a bonus you get some of the quirky advertising of patriot style radio–mostly survivalist and apocalyptic fare.
I know, I started out this piece by saying I was going to post some shortwave broadcasting, without thinking about it too much. And then I went on an extended diatribe about conspiracy talk radio. And maybe you wonder why I find Alex Jones and his followers so alarming. Well, there is a personal side to the story. There was a friend I used to have. A good friend. A journalist of sorts, and a smart and funny guy. Or so I thought.
And we had many things in common, including a somewhat voracious intake of alternative news and opinion on the web. And for years we both shared the guilty pleasure of sampling some conspiracy-style talk radio, like Coast to Coast back Art Bell was still the host and occasionally the more wacky shows on shortwave like Alex Jones or Bill Cooper’s "Hour of the Time. Eventually I began to realize that we might be taking the paranoia radio shows a little more seriously than I was.
And over time, when we would get in discussions about current affairs, he would shift the conversational focus to demons and "global elites" and the Illuminati and Skull and Bones and the Bilderberg Group. Pretty soon we couldn’t discuss politics or the war or almost anything in the news without my friend slopping up the whole discussion with theories and half-facts and rumors and bullshit. And I guess I really must have liked this guy, or I wouldn’t have spent so many hours in sad fruitless arguments trying to counter his non-logic and Alex Jones-style worldview. And when I wouldn’t buy into whatever conspiracy narrative he was pushing on me, he called me "a truth hater." That’s when I actually started to dislike this person, and not just feel sorry for him.
And it just got worse. Every time there was a natural disaster, he say it was part of an international plot (For example, Katrina striking the Gulf Coast was Japan’s revenge for the atomic bombs we dropped). And he’s also rather worked up about how the government spraying us with nano-bots that crawl into our bodies and cause trouble. And on any given day you might find him up on his roof with a video camera, looking for incoming craft. I’m not kidding.
It really does pain me that my charming old friend has become a morbid shell of himself, warning anyone that will listen about the coming New World Order. Perhaps right now he’s holed up in his dark one bedroom, watching Alex Jones doomsday videos. Or just staring up at the sky in anticipation of his own demise. And I don’t even think he’s mentally ill. He’s just really religious. Kind of like Tom Cruise. Just a little more necromodern.
And we don’t talk these days, so I don’t know which global elites are behind the hurricane that about to hit Texas. But that’s okay by me. I’m a radio guy. When I don’t like the show I turn the station. And my life is better for it.