Archive for the 'Bandscans' Category

A Review of the Tecsun ICR-110 Radio Recorder

Monday, February 17th, 2014

In a number of ways, the Tecsun ICR-110 is unlike any radio I've experienced. The operation is almost too simple. It's idiot-proof in a way that will please some and frustrate others. At the same time it's an innovative multifunctional device that works very well. For less than fifty bucks (including shipping from China) you get a sensitive AM/FM radio, an MP3 player and recorder, an amplified hi-fi speaker for your phone or laptop and an external sound card for your computer. The_110Not bad, right?

It's cool. But hardly perfect. The built-in MP3 player/recorder interface is as primitive as anything I've seen. But it does make nice radio recordings. People who gather podcasts online or archive radio shows on their own could find the ICR-110 quite useful. For me it was an affordable impulse buy, but others may find this shiny box practical for any number of reasons. One thought I had: the 110 could easily upgrade or replace someone's aging AM/FM cassette recorder.

It looks just a bit like the new Tecsun PL-880, but it's not in the same league. And it's lighter. Less oblong. While the more advanced electronics in the 880 add heft, both radios beat with the heart of a high-performance DSP radio chip. Don't expect any of the bells and whistles of the 880 on this one, yet the raw medium wave reception is almost comparable. And they both have a surprisingly warm and rich sound. When you play music at room volume on the ICR-110 the sound is impressive in your hands. It's more hollow than the 880 and you can really feel it throb with signal.

After playing with this radio for over a week, I like it. I'd even say it's kinda cute. The display says "HI" when you turn it on, and it comes in three colors. I opted for red. Despite the lack of English on the radio or in the manual, after a little trial and error I felt like I had mastered most of the functionality. And the more familiar I get with the ICR-110, the more I'm starting to think we may eventually see more radios with a similar feature set. And that might not be such a bad thing.
    
New Toys from the Far East

Through my adventures in translating Chinese web sites, I've concluded that the ICR-110 is just one example of a new generation of radios and media players they're building over there. Most aren't packaged or marketed for the rest of the world (at least not yet) and Tecsun is only one of many brands in the game. The Tecsun PL-880 seemed to kind of come out of nowhere for many of us in North America, but after taking a look at all of these brightly colored radios and media players being sold overseas it puts some of the wonders of the PL-880 in context.

The 880 quickly earned street cred in the greater SWL community for good reason. It’s a nice machine. Specifically built as the flagship radio of the Tecsun line, the PL-880 is like a greatest hits package of features that have impressed many of us who have handled Tecsun winners like the PL-660 or any of their DSP family of ultralights. With the addition of some contemporary technological frosting, Tecsun has come up with a reasonably priced super radio of sorts for shortwave listeners all over the world. Like anything these days, opinions will vary, but considering the current price tag of just over a hundred and fifty dollars, I challenge anyone to come up with a new shortwave radio in that price range that's a better deal than the PL-880, or more fun to use.

880-110This creative streak in Chinese electronics is the result of a rash of consumer devices being created to take advantage of the "radio on an IC chip" technology pioneered by Silicon Labs here in the U.S. The development of these DSP processors has made it possible to include excellent radio reception on all sizes and shapes of radios and media players at a low cost.

As the price of flash memory continues to drop, it's a nice bonus that so many of these new Chinese devices also play MP3 files from storage you slide into an SD card slot. And having the ability to play high fidelity music is greatly enhanced by the trend to integrate an innovative audio chamber into many of these things. Looking through the little holes in the speaker plate, you might notice Mylar diaphragm with a front vent mounted alongside the speaker. First seen on these shores on the Meloson M7, this setup provides a fuller bass and treble response in a small package, with audio that's less mid-rangy than most portables.

While the PL-880 display is a little brighter and more yellow than the black on orange display we've seen on recent Tecsun radios, most of the new ones reverse that color scheme. The ICR-110 and other new Tecsun products sport dark black displays, with all the reception information provided in bright orange text and symbols. Perhaps you heard that Eton here in America is giving their line of shortwave portables a makeover of sorts. Part of their new look will include changing over to this same orange on black display. And no surprise, those radios will be coming from China.

Most radios from that part of the world seem to come with a USB port lately. And although there are more interesting options these ports could provide, so far most are rigged as simple power inputs for charging batteries inside the radio (using either your computer's USB port or an external AC charger). Instead of using traditional AA cells, a lot of this new gadgetry is powered by Li-Ion batteries, either flat cellphone batteries or those beefy 18650 cells. Many laptops are powered by a few of these, but the ICR-110 and the PL-880 just need one. (Inside the battery pack for the Tesla Model S you'll find seven-thousand of those things packed together!) Many believe the 18650 will become the standard for the next generation of electronic products. But they're not your mama's D cells. If you're not familiar with these batteries, it's good to learn their quirks and to know how to avoid having bad things happen. And don't buy the really cheap ones on eBay.

Good Radio, Weird Tuner

When it comes to purchasing an ICR-110 you don’t have a lot of options. Unless you live in China. At the time of this writing, there's only one overseas eBay dealer offering it for sale. It wasn't a vendor I’ve used before, and while the radio did arrive here safe and sound, a few of the pitfalls of buying from China were part of the deal. The English in the emails was a bit mangled. The online tracking was dysfunctional. And it took almost a month to get here.

For a while now, I’ve gotten great service and fast shipping from Anon-Co in Hong Kong. Over the years, I've had problem-free transactions with any number of Asian eBay dealers as well, but it's always smart to do some research and check ratings and feedback before you buy goods on eBay. It seems that most vendors avoid selling Chinese-text radios internationally. But a representative at Anon-Co told me you can inquire via email (at this address) if you'd like to order an ICR-110 directly from them. And they say they're working on an English language manual for the 110 as well.

110FACEOn the eBay page where I found the ICR-110, the description combined real specs with a sloppy copy-and-paste job from the description of another radio. Despite what I read there, there is no “power/volume knob” on the 110. More significantly, it doesn't have a “tuning wheel” either. (Come to think of it, you don't see those power/volume knobs much these days.) The 110 has a power switch on the right side. And all volume adjustments happen via two buttons on the lower right corner on the face of the radio. But oddly there are no tuning controls – only scanning buttons. And a keypad.

It's not all Chinese on the radio case. The switch marked "AM/FM" is easy enough to figure out. But if you press and hold that button for a second or so, Tecsun’s ATS (auto tuning storage) will kick in and the 110 will scan the band for signals and store them as presets. It works well, most of the time. Using it at night on the AM band, I was impressed by how many REW-FFfringe stations it found. But it often misses one or two. Once ol' ATS skipped over the monstrous fifty-thousand watts of Radio Disney, which pollutes a swath of the AM band from just a few miles away. Maybe the radio includes some artificial intelligence chip as well.

Under the display, there are five round buttons which primarily control the MP3 player/recorder. However, the rewind and fast-forward buttons also serve as scanning controls. A simple push will nudge the tuner over to the next (or the previous) frequency caught by the last ATS grab (labeling them as CH:01, CH:02…). And if you only punch in one or two digits, the radio will automatically take you to that "channel" in the ATS database. Holding either button down a little longer the radio will scan anew for the next signal strong enough to trigger it to stop searching. But that's all it will do. Unlike other scanning functions I've used, this one has a mind of its own. It may not stop at your favorite weak station it passes along the way. If you are determined to tune to a particular frequency, the keypad will always get you there. Just type in the numbers and you're listening to it instantly.  Nonetheless, taking away the art of tuning will probably turn off many in the DX crowd, despite the fact that it pulls in a lot of signal.

MODESWITCHESThere are a couple of settings you can actually change. A pair of buttons with Chinese text above the AM/FM button adjust each band for international use . Press the left button while in radio mode and it will toggle to expand the FM band down to 64 MHz (for Russia and Japan) or back to the standard FM band for the rest of the world (starting at 87 MHz). The button on the right changes the MW scanning step. When I got the radio the first ATS scan barely found any stations. Then I realized it was because the step was set at 9 kHz. After an extended session of button pushing I finally figured out how to change the step to 10 kHz, the North American standard. Despite the Chinese characters everywhere, this was probably the only thing about the ICR-110 that wasn't immediately easy.

A Bare Bones MP3 Recorder and Player

Since the golden age of the radio/cassette boombox, I've always been attracted to radios that let you keep what you hear. And there are plenty of digital recorders with built-in FM radios to choose from nowadays. But AM? Not so much. In close quarters, digital audio circuitry tends to broadcast a little noise on medium wave. So in order for the old and new technologies to get along, you need some shielding, or something. For the most part, Tecsun seems to have gotten this right. I've gotten nice, clear, AM radio recordings from the ICR-110's tuner– I'd prefer to be able to set recording levels, but the ALC seems to work well. 

After extensive experimenting, I did hear a bit of noise introduced into the ICR-110 while recording weak AM signals. Like a bad spot on a vinyl record, I heard a brief "phhhht" sound come around about every twelve seconds. I'm guessing it might be the sound of data packets being arranged on the memory card. In retrospect, this might have been related to having a low battery. I've only heard it happen a couple of times.

While there don't seem to be any settings for the recording feature, I was really happy to see that it creates MP3 files at a reasonable bitrate (for radio recordings), and not those horrible low-sample rate .wav files or in some annoying and proprietary nonstandard format. (Oh, it's not an Apple product so we don't have to worry about that..) It fills the micro SD card with 128kbps stereo MP3 files (which I think are actually dual mono files). Considering that this radio doesn’t seem to tune in stereo, it’s a shame that the recording isn’t mono by default. It encodes using a non-standard sampling rate of 32kHz (instead of 44.1kHz), but that's not something you’ll notice on a radio recording. Another funny thing, since there’s no way to set the date or time on the ICR-110, you'll notice when you pull the flash card up on your computer that the MP3 files you've recorded have no date stamp. So, if you need to recall when you were making a particular recording you might wanna write yourself a note.

M8In some ways, the ICR-110 is like a slightly larger version of the Meloson M7 or M8, except it also records. Like the Meloson, it gives you a lot of boom in a small box. But it's a measure bigger so it sounds even better. And like the Meloson, the MP3 playback display is super primitive. All you see is the assigned sequential number for the track playing. But what makes the Meloson a formidable little music player (especially for travel) is that you can fill a flash card up with a few hundred or a few thousand songs and shuffle the whole lot of them for many hours of random fun. As far as I can tell, the 110 will ONLY play the files in order, period. For that reason I think it’s more practical for playback of podcasts or radio shows, unless you have some songs you want to listen to in alphabetical order for some reason.

When you’re listening to an MP3 file and then switch to the radio or shut the thing off, and then resume MP3 playback at a later time, it will start playing the file where you left off. This is a nice feature if you’re in the middle of an hours-long MP3 file (and holding down that fast forward or rewind button to find your place will take forever).

There are other quirks as well. When you’re recording from the radio you can change stations, but only by clicking through the ATS presents. While recording you cannot scan the band up to the next station by holding down the button. And you can’t change bands either. Of course, if you’re recording through the line input you can do whatever you want. And when you stop the recording it immediately starts playing it back to you. And the recording is noticeably louder than when you heard it the first time. It’s almost jarring. When you hit stop, playback ceases and it resumes playing the radio (or the line source audio) at the previous volume.

The ICR-110 treats the files you import onto the flash card differently than the ones you record. When you turn it on or switch to MP3 mode it automatically starts playing the last imported file played. Unless I've missed some setting, it appears that no matter what folder structure you've established on the card the 110 will simply play through each file on the card in alphanumeric order by path and name. But the recordings made with the radio are stored in a system folder the radio creates named “RECORD0" (at least that what it’s called on my card). The pair of Chinese text buttons that change the parameters of AM and FM will also switch the MP3 player's focus from the folders you've made on the SD card to the system RECORD0 folder, and back again. When in either mode you can move through the files in those folders by pressing the rewind and fast forward button once. However, when holding those buttons down the player will actually rewind or fast forward (silently) through the file at hand.

I also own another AM/FM radio recorder, the CC Witness. And while they do some of the same things, they’re very different gadgets. The CC Witness is a much smaller and more complex thing. And you'll pay a lot more for that. You can program it to record up to 20 different radio programs on AM or FM throughout the week, and encode them at bitrates you choose. But the line recording input doesn't have ALC like the Tecsun. When recording via the line input with the CC Witness, I've found it's better to dampen the felix-bose-110incoming audio with a headphone volume control adapter to avoid distorted recordings. Of course the CC Witness is nice, but everything about it feels very 2003. Not that I mind that at all, but the CC Witness is overdue for an update. My biggest complaint about the CC Witness has been the tuner. They could start there.

The CC Witness came into being when C. Crane smartly transformed a language learning tool called the TalkMaster Slim in Asia into an AM/FM VCR-like tool for all of us. And after spending some time with the ICR-110 I think this radio might have been engineered for a similar purpose.

Apparently in Japan (and probably other countries) language lessons are commonly broadcast on medium wave. A digital AM radio recorder would make a lot of sense for somebody learning a language that way, but if you shop around you'll discover that there are very few digital devices that include an AM radio, let alone offer you the ability to record AM radio programs. So it's not surprising that the few gadgets that offer this option might cater to language students. Like the CC Witness, the ICR-110 also has a looping feature.  While playing an MP3 file, you can press the button at the bottom left corner of the keyboard to select the beginning and ending of a chunk of audio and the radio will play it back ad infinitum, for pronunciation practice or mind control. Whatever works. But it's not like the voices in your head. When you press the stop button, the repetition ends. Once I discovered this feature, it made me think that the odd instant feature (when you stop an ongoing recording) is probably related to language acquisition as well.

A Radio, A Sound Box

And lastly, the ICR-110 is a fine speaker for your phone or your laptop, or anything really. It’s certainly portable and has a warm, full sound. All it takes is a 3.5mm patch cord inserted into the outlet above the headphone jack. The display will read “LINE’ and the speaker will emit any audio coming through that cable. However, like some of the other new Tecsun radios, the ICR-110 is different than radios we’ve seen before. When you connect the radio with the 110manualgrab02USB port on your computer it does more than just charge the battery. You’ve also probably just added an external sound card to your computer. When this is occurring you'll see “PC” on the display.

I didn't have much trouble navigating this, but depending on how your computer is set up (and your understanding of how it is set up), suddenly having another sound card may be problematic. I’ve used any number of external sound cards with computers over the years and when you attach and detach those things you may temporarily lose sound or change some settings. But if you were to use the ICR-110 as your primary computer speaker this could be an ideal scenario once you get it set up, with just one cable between the radio and the computer providing both the sound and power to the speaker.

I must say, other than that I haven’t really figured out what real advantages there might be to having the ICR-110 become a separate USB audio device when you plug it in. One thing I did notice: when connected to the computer USB, I hit record on the radio, and much to my surprise it recorded me. I don’t know where the microphone is hidden on this thing, but it's there somewhere. Again, this feature may be related to using the 110 as a learning tool.

Perhaps there are more hidden settings on this thing, like all the easter eggs found on PL-880. But I kind of doubt it. I’ve tried holding down numbers of the keyboard and such, but nothing special seems to happen. 110manualgrab01And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the MP3 playback and recording features of the ICR-110 added to a future version of the PL-880.

As I mentioned, the ICR-110 is just one example from a new wave of Tecsun radios and media players. You can find this radio's FM-only little brother, the ICR-100, on eBay, but you can take a look at the family of new Tecsuns here and here. And if twenty years of Tecsun radios has shown one consistent trend, I think it's safe to say that you'll see some of their new line of gadgets re-branded (and perhaps transformed a bit) for international distribution, and ultimately bearing logos like Eton, Kaito, C. Crane or Roberts. Or maybe some Radio Shack nameplate.

Bottom line, many of these new Chinese gadgets offer great sound and decent radio reception at a good price. They're fun to carry around and I don’t remember portables ever sounding this good. The ubiquitous flash card slot and MP3 playback seems like something that’s been a long time coming. As flash memory gets cheaper every day, one of these players and a packed memory card offers a world of high-fidelity music that fits easily in a knapsack, or even a pocket, at a price a pauper might afford. But the MP3 interface has got to get better. RockBoxThe displayed information and the choice of settings for these MP3 players (and recorders) on these devices is a far cry from all the playback options and ID3 tag information you see on devices from Apple or SanDisk, or with almost any contemporary digital audio player.

I’m a big fan of Rockbox, the open source alternative firmware for digital audio players. Over the years I’ve installed it on dozens of MP3 players, making them more versatile and more fun to use. And if the idea of being able to tweak and perfect your player beyond the stock settings sounds appealing, you might wanna check out their site and see if they’ve adapted Rockbox for your device. A few years ago SanDisk famously sent some Rockbox developers one of their new players at the time to help them reverse engineer their hardware. I wish Tecsun would do the same thing. A marriage of the Rockbox firmware, with over a decade of creating a highly stable and adaptable audio playback firmware, together with these handsome and innovative radios, would be a real technological game changer. And who knows? Maybe some of those old and tired electronics titans like Sony or Panasonic might actually wake up and start making innovative radios for this century for a change.

card110The predictions of the demise of over-the-air broadcast radio have always seemed a bit overblown to me. Maybe once they give every paper clip and bone in your body a URL, we can just surrender to that surging internet everywhere spirit and do everything online. Until then, the old AM/FM technology works fine (and it's nice to consume media without logging in). This DSP technology paves the way to keep terrestrial radio around as one choice of many in our media landscape for a while. Sure, there are good arguments to be made that the programming on AM and FM is overdue for new thinking, but there's plenty of dreck streaming on the web as well.

The truth remains– the old technology is stable, practical and proven. Why not improve it and make it more available, instead of trashing it? And why not include SD card slots on every kind of media player out there? Years ago when technology was in flux, we bought converters to dock to our radios and televisions so we could receive FM in our cars and UHF stations in our homes. But soon all those tuning options were built in. So after over a dozen years of fastening iPods and smart phones to the stereo, isn't it time that our listening experiences have to include docking little gadgets to bigger ones?

And perhaps, in between listening to their favorite songs and podcasts, people might turn the radio back on every once in a while. Just for fun.

(This review will also appear at the SWLing Post)

New York, New York, New Year (2010)

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I know. I KNOW. And I’m sorry.

It’s been a number of weeks since I’ve posted anything here. Perhaps the longest time I’ve been away since I started this blog. The truth is I’ve taken on a project or two that’s been taking up more of my free time over the couple months and I haven’t been able to dedicate myself to the Radio Kitchen as much as I would like. And I really am sorry.

I’m not giving up this blog. At least not yet. But I’m not a good blogger in the traditional sense. I’m not so good at firing off quick and succinct entries, and my posts generally take some time. And there’s usually audio involved and research and rumination and it’s rarely a quick process for me. However, if there was actually some money in it, you can be sure I’d be packin’ this thing with content almost every week.

But I was inspired the other night. New Year’s Eve. And I didn’t have a gig. I didn’t have a party to go to either, and the girls here at the house were fast asleep. So instead of ducking into some local dive bar for some holiday misbehavior, I stayed home– like Jack Horner. In the corner. Just me and my radio. (And a recorder.)

And the result is this bandscan– an hour and twenty-minute crawl up the AM band recorded in my Brooklyn apartment as the year 2010 was sweeping over America. Right before midnight, I turned on my G5 and started crawling down from the top of the AM dial. A powerful Radio Disney outlet at 1560kHz is very close to my house, and that nearby fifty-thousand watt signal wrecks havoc at this end of the dial. So I opted to start this bandscan where their signal pollution yields to clarity– with a holiday greeting from the lovely and talented Alan Colmes on progressive talker WWRL.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 1
(download)

And then, Radio Disney itself. Their transmitter (broadcasting at 1560kHz) is so close to me that I’ve heard their signal in on every possible band at some point, as well is in my home stereo and even on a pay phone down the street. On some of my radios, every frequency from 1530 to 1600kHz suffers from some form of Radio Disney intrusion.

Next up 1520, WWKB in Buffalo blasting in strong with a sleazy “get out of debt” commercial. Then a little “Auld Lang Syne” and a promo from “Federal News Radio” (WTOP 1500kHz in Washington D.C.). However, the magical odometer click itself is served Cantonese style at 1480kHz, WZRC. It’s quite exciting. Probably more so if you happen to be Chinese.

While I don’t know for sure, I suspect that this was probably a simulcast of the New Years festivities on the American Chinese-language TV network– SINO Television. While simulcasting obviously saves a lot of money, if you’re a serious radio listener you can usually tell the difference. There’s a lack of microphone intimacy, and the assumptions of visual cues make audio-only TV less interesting than real radio.

And then there’s a couple more ethnic notches on the NY AM dial– some pumping macho reverb from WNSW at 1430kHz and some kooky jubilance care of WKDM at 1380kHz. Whooooh!

And so ends all the “live” sounds of celebration captured in this bandscan.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 2
(download)

“Thank you for inviting me into your prison cells.”

At first, I thought there was going to be a punch line. Or that there was something metaphoric going on I might have missed. But no, it was all real, just like prison. It’s some regularly scheduled religious inspiration for the incarcerated (with your host– a real "retired correction captain”). Although I typically I hear religious stuff at 1330kHz (WWRV) all the time, it’s usually a Spanish language scenario.

We pass by 1300kHz for a quick ID. I think it’s the ESPN Radio station in New Haven. And how about this Spanish language drama at 1280kHz? Wow. Give that guy a hankie. Man. Then a brief interlude with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles on WMTR, at 1250kHz in Morristown, New Jersey.

From 1250 we slide down to 1210– the Big Talker WPHT in Philadelphia, where they were replaying a Michael Smerconish program. He’s an odd bird, and the only right wing talk show host to support Obama in the last election. At least that’s what I’ve read on the internets. I don’t watch much of the talking head pundit shows on TV, but I gather he makes his appearances on a few of them too. And he has a shiny head.

Then on to some urban contemporary gospel from WLIB at 1190kHz. When Air America left the station to settle over at WWRL at 1600 they gave up a great signal for a pretty crappy one. That’s followed by some messy and overlapping signals. And then this clown…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 3
(download)

As if there wasn’t already enough meanspirited blather emanating from this Clear Channel owned Fox News affiliate (WWVA at 1170 kHz in West Virginia), they also see fit to let this hateful son of a bitch run at the mouth on a transmitter that might reach a third of the U.S.

It seems that all the major religions (especially the powerful monotheistic ones that dominate our world) have a dark beating heart of intolerance and malevolence somewhere at their core that leads some twisted "believers" to spew forth the kind of filth that tumbles out of the mouth of this old geezer, rambling incoherently about “judgment” and “vengeance” and “punishments.”

The particular brand of stupidity at play here is uniquely American and Protestant flavored, which seems to the most popular type of religious mental illness you hear on the radio. If you’re interested in getting some good hate on for Obama (and all the Catholics and Muslims and almost everybody else), then you’ll probably find something to celebrate in this fulmination. Happy new year!

I let that guy carry on way too long before shuffling down dial to Bloomberg’s “business” station at 1130kHz. It’s a panel of experts on the human brain. Wow. The trouble is (again) that we’re obviously hearing some TV simulcast. And we’re supposed to be looking at some incredible computer generated images of the computing machinery of the brain. You see anything?

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 4
(download)

Then, the bewitching baritone of Art Bell from WTAM, 1100kHz in Cleveland. Since he’s retired (four times!) you don’t hear him host his old “Coast to Coast” show much these days. But he does often show up a few times a year– especially for his annual “Ghost to Ghost” program (with call-in ghost stories) around Halloween and then for his annual prediction (for the next year) show. And being a bit of a legend these days and rarely on the air, you can hear some real affection and fan awe from the callers who are able to get through to talk to Bell.

I used to be entertained by Bell’s late night sideshow many years ago. His love of everything radio has always been kind of inspiring to me. But I gotta say, he does sound uncharacteristically low-key in the samples in this bandscan. I guess he’s been though plenty of changes over this last decade. But you do hear a lot of people calling in predictions that are pretty dire and cataclysmic. And that, is typical.

Then we slide down into the lap of snarling neocon Laura Ingraham, care of WBAL (at 1090 AM in Baltimore). Then it’s 1050kHz here in the city, a frequency with a colorful history that’s been the home for a number of call letters over the years. These days it’s just WEPN– another syndicated ESPN yawner on the AM dial. Sad. And then 1010 WINS, one of the oldest all-news stations in the country (and they continue the teletype sound effects in the background to drive the point home). And here you get one of the joys of MW DXing for some, the local traffic and weather forecast. The crowds are dissipating in Times Square. And in the sky, a wintry mix. Meanwhile there’s been a few fire fatalities over the holidays. And through some unexplained turn of events New York City “apparently” has found some extra money laying around. A surplus.

And in a broader sense, I suppose that’s one of the things that make New York so appealing. Somehow, somewhere, there’s some extra money laying round. In a place like Detroit, not so much.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 5
(download)

Mike Gallagher (AKAThe Smellster”) is one of the least evolved human beings I’ve come across in the national media. A man who does not seem to actually think, but just react to things (in a predictable and ham-handed partisan manner). And when he’s not scripted well, his program can really go off the rails. Yet he kind of sounds like Rush (which may account for his radio career), and his show is powered by the same kind of boomy and barely educated bluster Rush practically invented. Also like Limbaugh, Gallagher seems to get his greatest insights and inspiration from watching professional football on television. I suppose it’s almost like going to college. The fact that this guy’s show has risen into the low end of the talk radio top ten (at #8!) says a lot about the audience for this format today.

And while I’m all in favor of heartfelt apologies, this tear-soaked confessional from some a highly-paid prima-donna athlete is just so much difficult listening. However, to Gallagher all these sniffy regrets amount to a “life changing moment.” Usually all I get from the Smellster are “station changing moments.”

Then I move up to a man speaking in a language I don’t understand on another local “ethnic” (and brokered) radio station– WPAT at 930kHz. And then at 900kHz it’s the “old time radio” programming I’ve been hearing late at night on CHML for years (They’re in Hamilton, Ontario). It sounds like we missed the setup for the joke here.

Then into the nasty IBOC sound (in-band-on-channel) sound that surrounds WCBS at 880kHz. It’s an envelope of nasty digital noise that bookends the analog signal of AM stations carrying “HD” programming. And it’s also why you don’t hear WLS in Chigago at 890kHz anywhere near the city. And not a chance of getting WWL at 870kHz in New Orleans (which reaches well into Canada for some). 1010 WINS and WOR do the same thing. DXers hate it. And in many major cities you hear it across the dial.

On WCBS you hear about the eminent retirement of Robert Morgenthau. At 90 years old, Morgenthau had been the District Attorney of Manhattan since 1975. Amazing.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 6
(download)

I really don’t know a lot about the CJBC, except that it’s a CBC powerhouse that broadcasts in French at 860kHz. And it’s the only significant CBC station broadcasting to the U.S. It wasn’t always that way. Years ago, their English service reached a large swath of North America from 740kHz. But there was a move to consolidate all thier broadcasting to FM, and the far reaching AM frequency was abandoned by the CBC. CHWO (better known as "AM740") is a unique musical presence on the AM dial in these parts, but the loss of a major CBC on the AM band is still a damn shame. That said, I think I’ve been hearing interesting music late at night at 860 AM since I was a kid. And the music varies so much that I couldn’t even qualify what kind of music I’ve heard the most on that station. I don’t know what kind of pop music is at play in this sample. It’s old. A show tune?

Art Bell again. From WHAS Louisville this time (at 840kHz). Another kooky caller. I wonder if Bell ever succeeded in giving up the smokes. His voice has that same nicotine gravitas as Larry King (and a bunch of guys who ain’t around any more). At 820kHz we find the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. I’m not a fan, although he occasionally has good guests. It’s local. It’s NPR. Then the inevitable Art Bell once again, on 810kHz, WGY upstate in Schenectady.

CKLW (800kHz in Windsor) is a funny kind of talk station that you don’t hear really hear in the states. Or certainly not on a big transmitter like this. I’ve never heard a "political" show on CKLW (but lots of centigrade weather!) And listen to the promo for the nightly astrology show. “Life might feel like a struggle…” Lots of self-help and health shows in general on this station. In America, AM talk radio is about personalities agitating listeners with propaganda all day long. And while there is certainly political talk on Canadian radio, they seem to still be able to have radio stations and call-in shows that aren’t agenda driven or enslaved by the news cycle.

That said, I really can’t listen to “call the doctor” talk radio for very long. All those symptoms make my stomach hurt.

Nothing really comes in until I hit WABC here in the city at 770kHz. John Bachelor, who recently moved into a nightly slot on WABC since crazy blabbermouth Curtis Sliwa took his little red beret down to WABC’s relatively new competitor, 970 “The Apple,” where he’s their new morning-drive entertainer.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 7
(download)

Now we’re at 760kHz. Detroit. (No IBOC from WABC, so the signal is still audible here.) There’s still a little crosstalk from WABC next door. It’s an ad for a drug rehab joint in the Detroit suburbs. The announcer says they can help “teens, college students, business people, CEOs, lawyers and health professionals” with their addictions.

I guess if you want to get a handle on the marketing of drug treatment services you could probably learn a little by decoding this list of less than socioeconomically diverse list of prospective "clients. Seems like they left the majority of common folk off this at list. Every style of addict mentioned here probably can afford their services, and some might have a willing (or desperate) parent who can come up with the dough.

Then it’s the ABC News. The world’s biggest pseudo-event of the season totally obscured any other feasible healdine that night. news focus for a few hours. Their reporter spends so much time “poetically” describing the panorama of litter and debris in the street in Times Square that it’s just a little weird. And sad for a major news outlet to lend so much weight and instant nostalgia to a run-of-the-mill clean-up scene at the end of a big party.

Then there’s three more quick headlines in ABC’s top of the hour news. And they’re all sports related. The last one is regarding the contract stalemate between Times-Warner and Fox, which was resolved a few days later. And the ABC take on this little media turf war was that if the se companies wouldn’t come to a peaceful resolution agreement don’t come to some agreement that a number of “Fox” football games might not air on Times-Warner cable the next weekend. Right before WJR cuts to local weather the football story is capped off with a sound bite from some media analyst. Although it wasn’t the intention, I think his words may capture some of the spirit and passion of our great nation as we enter 2010:

“There is no hue and cry louder and angrier than if you deprive the American viewer of football.”

I’ll bet that’s true. And ABC only has two minutes to encapsulate current affairs at the top of the hour, and this is what you get. No international issues. No war updates. And certainly no investigative reporting. There is no breaking news. Perhaps because the news is already broken. Tiger Woods? Still in trouble as far as I know.

At 750kHz you can hear WSB in Atlanta. But it’s not pleasant. Some nights this station comes in pretty clearly up here. But then again, often I come across a Neil Boortz rebroadcast on this station. This noise is more pleasant.

AM740 is a big bunch of noise as well, which is unusual. In 2008 this station changed hands, and changed call letters. No longer CHWO, it’s now CFZM. I don’t hear much beyond the overnight programming, and at that timeit’s still a MOR/nostalgia mix, only with more classic rock. But it’s still the only full-time music format blasting out a full (“clear channel”) fifty-thousand watt signal in this part of North America (WSB at 650 in Nashville is the only other one you’re likely to hear in this area). AM740 has actually been coming better than I’ve ever heard it this month. Like a local. But on New Year’s Eve the reception wasn’t so hot…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 8
(download)        

Let’s listen to the radio horrors of wading through that IBOC racket once again as I approach the “analog” version of New York’s WOR at 710. (Which denies us the chance to hear both CKAC in Montreal at 730kHz and WGN at 720 in Chicago.)

The local news is still underway on WOR with Pat Wallace. The news is a little more substantial than the trivial world synopsis offered by ABC. The Joey Reynolds show reconvenes after the news. As an intro (instead of playing one of his many “theme songs”) Joey plays some old comedy bit he recorded during his top-40 heyday in the 1960′s. Let’s just say some types of humor have a longer shelf life than others.

As I’ve written before, the Joey Reynolds show is kind of an anarchic affair. While there are some focused interviews, more often than not Joey gets a few folks behind the microphone and lets it rip without much of a game plan. When it’s not good it’s pretty bad. And in this particular clip it’s not so good for Joey as an unidentified guest (a local restaurateur who apparently knows Reynolds and his thrifty nature rather well) gets the better of the old "shock-talker."

However, the real roasting occurs when Reynolds makes a few cracks about Dick Clark’s brief appearances during his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” spectacular. As you probably know, Clark suffered a massive stroke a few years back and the once glib "eternal teenager" now speaks in a somewhat slurring and halting fashion these days. While trying to avoid sounding cruel, Reynolds makes a few lame jokes about Clark’s performance that night and then wishes that he just wouldn’t appear on TV at all. As you can hear, the guest (sporting a hardcore NYC accent) directly takes old Joey to task and doesn’t let up. You don’t often hear a radio host let a guest chew him up like this on the air. Instead of standing his ground, or taking on the animosity directly, Reynolds keeps running away, trying to change the subject. Odd.

If it wasn’t for the IBOC digital garbage on each side of WOR’s signal, powerhouse WLW in Cincinatti would almost certainly have been audible here. But not anymore. The first credible AM signal I came across is a messy read of a Bob Seger song at 690kHz. I don’t know what station this might be. Typically I get French talk radio from Montreal here. There’s an oldies station in West Virginia at this frequency, but I see they’re running at all of fourteen watts at night, And then at 620kHz– WSNR, kind of a sad brokered station hanging out there in the breeze. Here they’re broadcasting something in a language I do not know. Hebrew perhaps?

Nearing the very top we find the once mighty WMCA at 570kHz. Once a top 40 giant, then a pioneering talk radio station in New York, WMCA is now it’s a lowly Christian outlet with a lot of brokered hours up for grabs. This is some kind of religious self-help talk show, featuring a woman complaining about her sister making the rest of her family miserable in the name of Jesus.

    “There’s something wrong, isn’t there?”

The answer of course is “yes.” Her sister reminds me a little of a certain scary relative my family tries to avoid. And it seems like a good place to close as well– because more significantly, there was something wrong with 2009 too, wasn’t there?. After that one night a year ago, when it was new, it wasn’t much of a "happy year.” And it seems stupid has become the new smart. At least we have football. And Jesus.

But I think things are going to get better. I really do. But I’m not counting on 2010. At least not yet. It certainly didn’t start out so well.  Maybe by 2012 will bring some good luck for us. And from what I understand, a lot of people are looking forward to that year anyway.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to you soon. And to get another post up where before so much time goes by next time.

I suspect if you’ve gotten this far, that you might just have more than a passing interest in radio. (And if you got this far by skimming over this post, maybe might wanna read this. Or at least look it over…) And in closing, there’s two things I’d like to mention. For one, the Winter SWL Fest is coming up soon in Kulpsville, PA (March 5 & 6), which is a completely unique and entertaining way to spend a weekend. I certainly recommend it. I had a lotta fun there last year.

Also, if your DXing habit fell by the wayside during the interminable solar minimum over the last couple years you might wanna dust off your old receiver and try scanning around again some time. The sunspots are back! And although I haven’t been able to do much serious monitoring lately, I have noticed my portables seem rather lively lately when I’ve taken the time to sample HF the bands, with improved reception across the board.

Meanwhile, thanks a bunch for listening. And good DX to you!

A Brooklyn Radio Triptych

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

It was easy to come home from the SWL Winterfest with a slight case of equipment envy. But times are tough and I don’t need another fancy shortwave radio right now. But it sure would be nice to have one to play with now and then. But suddenly, I do.

On loan from the most gracious David Goren, I have a big plastic Chinese monstrosity known as the Grundig Satellit 800 (made by Tecsun, and recently discontinued). If you wanna know the vintage, it’s also called “Millennium,” you know like that spooky TV show you probably never saw back in the late 1990′s (at least I didn’t). And until the incredible Eton E1 came along in 2004, it was a top of the line portable (but it’s really too big to be very “portable” outside the house). And while it’s not an especially cute radio, it is a damn fine receiver. And it has a feature I’ve never gotten to play with– an AM sync detector. And it also has three bandwidth settings. In other words, when you come across something weak and distant you have a few options to make the signal a little more palatable.

Nonetheless, the RF noise issues within my Brooklyn apartment still give the Satellit 800 a lot of grief. Having such an impressive radio set in the house put me into a more detailed hunt for stray RF around my little home. I would tune to particularly nasty blasts of RF and then start systematically shutting down just about every electrical device in the house (including “always on” things like TV’s and stereos). I did find one really awful (and LOUD) power supply on an external hard drive, which I’ll now always unplug if I plan to DX. Even with the extra quiet that may offer, there are still some roaring sheets of nasty RF mayhem coming into my apartment, no matter what I do.

Actually, David Goren came by recently (to visit his radio…) and experienced the RF hell here that I’ve discussed so often in these pages. From the sound, his guess it that it may be some issue with the power wires outside. A bad insulator or something. And you know, he might be right. But I’ve had enough problems over the years making sure that the telephone service, the internet bandwidth and hot water are all getting into my apartment in a timely manner over the years. I guess I just don’t have the courage to ask Con Ed to come by and do a bunch of work so I can get radio signals from Asia a bit better. 

Yet, the 800 is a better and stronger animal than the other receivers here and does drag some signals up out of the noise floor better than most. And last April the girls went away for a week to visit the in-laws down in the sub-tropics, and me and the 800 had the run of the place for a little while. I spend a few nights out on the kitchen table with the whip antenna flush up to the north facing window trying to see what kind of reception I could lure onto my tape recorder. And this post includes some of these adventures on the 31 meter band.

In my limited experience trolling shortwave bands, I’ve had some my most interesting DX journeys on 31 meters. And there’s less religious and paranoid garbage as well. In fact, there’s not one warped preacher or “new world order” freak in any of these clips. (At least not in English.)

All these bandscans were captured on two separate evenings in mid-April. I’ve opted to offer highlights rather than more complete scans, just because some of the ripping interference through some of the reception here in my Brooklyn radio setting can be rather obnoxious. But you can still get some of the raucous flavor of what I have to deal with when I try to DX at home.

Other than the lack of mental illness, these samples are rather representative of what you’re likely to find on shortwave these days. There’s some English language programming here, and some tasty music from other continents there. And not one second of Gene or Melissa Scott. Let’s begin.

This one starts out a little shady, but it gets better…

31 Meter Band – Segment 1 – 0041 UTC 04-15-09  24:29

(download)

9665 – Romania? Russia?

Unsure. But it is a song, and oooh it sounds crappy. Even after I lock on with the AM sync mode it’s still an unhappy little transmission knee deep in my noise floor.

9715 – RDP Portugal

It’s such an “ah…” moment turning the dial out of that racket into this Portuguese music. Fado, I believe. Nice and meaty signal from Western Europe and the songs are splendid. I leave the knob untouched for over ten minutes. Great bittersweet minor-key stuff. It might sound even better accompanied by a jug of wine and some stinky cheese.

And significantly, Spain and Portugal offer the only broadcasts from Western Europe in the batch of reception I’m offering here. There ain’t much left, and very little of it is in the English language. So, let’s get back to the noise

9820 – Hmmm

I don’t know what this is. I can’t get it to sync either. Here how awful the RF can be here when there’s no signal to hold the receiver’s attention?

9870 – All India Radio

And here’s a ragged signal from far far away. It’s not a pretty sound, at least not at first. However, I am able to work a little alchemy on the poor thing with the big Grundig beast. I pinch down the bandwidth, reducing the fidelity a bit (but mostly reducing the fidelity of the NOISE) and then turn on the sync. It locks nicely, although the signal is NOT a strong one. I fiddle with the SSB to get the best side of the frequency and well… It is listenable, in a forgiving DX kinda way. The cosmic Indian music comes through, up to a point. But the announcers, not so good. But after all these years I still marvel at the sound of exotic music falling out of the sky from the other side of the world.

31 Meter Band – Segment 2 – 2355 UTC 04-15-09  13:13

(download)

9535 Radio Exterior Espana

Care to dance? Some urgent pop music. Boy singer, electric guitar, loco-rhythmic keyboard funk, then silence– some top of the hour tones and a clear ID in Spanish. Good evening from Spain. As the news begins I pack up and head further up the dial.

9545 – Radio Republica
   
Ah… Radio Re-POOB-lee-ka!. Sounds like the interval signal (or an extended station ID) from this Florida clandestine operation run by the Cuban Democratic Directorate (a “pro-democracy” NGO, Republica that supports human rights causes in Cuba. And it often jammed by that country. I can’t tell if that whizzy audio interference is Castro’s jamming or just RF problems on my end.

However, I move on again to find something in my native tongue.
                                       
9570 – China Radio International

It’s the news– typical “statist” shortwave-style headlines in accented English. Mostly unadorned bullet points from Beijing. International stories, matter-of-fact national boasting as well as some reassurance that things are getting better all the time. Except for relations with North Korea.

However, the cross-straits complexities between Taiwan and “the mainland” don’t seem to be getting in the way of the “two Chinas” improving their political relationship. Did you know that China has become the world leader in "ultra high voltage power transmission and transformation technology"? Me neither. But it’s good news for the Chinese power grid. And their infrastructure in space just got a boost as well, with a new navigational satellite now in place in the Chinese sky.

9580 – Radio Romania International

News with female reader. Clipped Romanian monotone. Nice signal. She says Obama is doing a decent job with the American economic crisis so far. And how about that bumper music? Right out of the 1970′s.

Actually, this news broadcast and the previous one from China sound remarkably similar to what you might have heard from these “communist” countries so many decades ago. Sure, Romania is no longer a Soviet satellite nation and the flavor of communism in China is quite different than it was back then, but it’s more than just the production values that make these shortwave newscasts sound like vintage broadcasting, but all the talk of nuclear weapons and missile programs makes you wonder if the cold war didn’t actually end, but turned into something less distinct but just as dangerous.

And now I’m skipping over some rather uninteresting reception of Spain and Cuba in Spanish, which was accompanied by a loud and grating noise floor. And then on to another former Iron Curtain nation, once the heart of the Soviet empire…

Segment 3 – 31 Meter Band 0014 UTC 04-15-09  8:53

(download)

9665 – The Voice of Russia

I don’t know if Russia is spending more money on their shortwave service than CRI or VOA, but it always sounds better than they do. I think it’s those voices.

Like the male announcer at the beginning of this clip, talking about Russian sailors patrolling the Somali coast to defend international merchant traffic from piracy. I believe this fellow has been around since the “Radio Moscow” days. But what a voice. It’s from another era. The woman is good as well. But I’ve always that there was some odd magic in the processing of the audio over there in Moscow, or some extra sauce in the transmitter that just gave the sound of both Radio Moscow and now the Voice of Russia this extra texture, some richness I can’t describe because I’m not a tech guy that way. But it’s something I remember distinctly when I first began to really listen to Russia on the radio in the 1980s, that they had a “sound.” And that radio magic is still there. In fact, it sounds very 20th century to me.

And the woman who does the light news feature on the annual return of migrating cranes to Moscow is awesome as well. It’s just the kind of human interest non-news that RCI offers all the time, but it you would be in the hands of some chirpy radio amateur instead of this smoky and authoritative Russian woman discussing elegant birds in their nation’s capital. I guess there’s a bit of mystical grandeur to the way their English service presents Russian culture and history and natural resources on shortwave. And while it may be overblown and self-serving, they still have veteran radio professionals in house making it believable on the radio.

And anybody who listened with any regularity to Radio Moscow (and then the Voice of Russia) remember Joe Adamov of “Moscow Mailbag.” (who I wrote about here), another elegant radio voice from Russia, in English.

9675 – Radio Canção Nova?

Portuguese… is it? But instead of talking about the glories of the Pope, it sounds like she’s talking about some “final four” sporting event.

It seems rather clear and strong for such a low-power operation, otherwise I don’t know what I’m listening to. Please comment if you know what this is, or what she’s talking about. And you know, if you have something to add (or I made a mistake with my logging or guessing) please leave a comment below, or you can send an email.

Also, I’ve been doing some work on the blog behind the scenes (and have more to do if I find the time), and I’ve linked some of my past content to the categories in the sidebar. Like if you like these bandscan posts, you can find a bunch more by clicking that category. They all have audio as well.

Thanks for listening.

New Orleans Road Trip 1988 pt 1 (Ohio)

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Sadly, I was in love with radio for a long time before I realized that it might be a good idea to keep some of it for myself. It's mind boggling for me to think of all the radio stations, radio shows, air personalities and programming formats that have passed on since I've been listening. While I don't regret all that much of my life, I do wish I could have been a little more prescient and stored more radio on magnetic tape in the last few decades. Memory is good, but it’s not accurate and you can only share impressions.

When I was a kid I actually did record from the radio. But like the file sharing teens today, I was simply doing what came naturally– “capturing” music directly from the radio with my tape recorder to avoid paying for it at the store. It was before they made that kind of thing illegal. But all I wanted was the songs. I couldn’t care less at the time about the DJ banter, the commercials, the news– all the stuff that in retrospect makes an aircheck interesting in historical context.

My perspective changed in late 1983 when I went on 4000 mile road trip circumventing the Midwest. I brought a boombox along, and when we found time to put our mix tapes aside, we listened to the radio and now and then I dropped in a few blank cassettes to record some souvenirs. I’m not exactly sure what made me think to make those recordings during that trip (which I still have and plan to feature a bit of here one day), but I enjoyed them enough after the fact that I began a habit of creating and collecting “airchecks” that continues to this day.

 In the spring of 1988 I happened to go another extended automotive trek, this time driving a rusty Buick station wagon from the Detroit area (where I lived at the time) to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival. And I brought cassettes and another boombox. And this post begins a series of posts here on the Radio Kitchen blog, featuring some of the more compelling and entertaining portions of radio I snagged on that excursion– a cross section of American radio in the late 1980's.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I never understood why car cassette decks can't simply record from the radio. Looking online, I guess Pioneer did make such a thing a few decades ago but if you think about it just about every other tape player made always came with recording potential. And car radios are often great for DXing. Anyway, I’ve never seen one. But on this particular trip, I tried to make my desire a reality by recording some radio on the road with the boombox (while my friend was driving). If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know it’s not all that easy. Especially recording AM radio, where you really have to hold the radio up to window level to get a reasonable signal.

After I got the tapes home I did something I’d never done before (or never did again). I combed through hours of raw (and rather random) source tapes and winnowed it down to a one-tape 90 minute compilation (with cassette to cassette-pause button editing). Unfortunately, most of the original tapes are long gone. This is a little different from other posts here, in that this aircheck scrapbook years ago for my own entertainment, with no logs or notes. While I believe that most (if not all) of these edits are in chronological order, the actual recording on the road was intermittent. I tended to turn on the recorder when we neared larger cities. That is, unless I was driving (when I didn't record). While the cities and stations included in this homemade artifact is hit or miss as we crossed the country, the variety of radio I included from New Orleans on this tape is somewhat extensive and full of local flavor. But then again, most things New Orleans are full of local flavor.

I'm including these installments as "bandscans," even though almost none of it is technically a real time scan of the any particular band. They are however, compelling samplings of a time and of places that make for some compelling listening twenty years later. Also, for the first time I'll be including some FM broadcasting in on this site. If you've read much here, you may know that my taste (and curiosity) in contemporary broadcasting is focused on AM and shortwave these days. But that wasn't always the case. It wasn't until the 1990's that I lost my stomach for almost all FM radio.

So, here’s the first installment in this radio journey. We drove straight through, and I believe we left for New Orleans Wednesday April 27, 1988. But it might have been Thursday. I'm not sure, but either way it took around twenty-one hours or so to complete the trip. This first segment begins somewhere in early afternoon (northern) Ohio heading south on 1-75, and there’s quite a bit of material from the Dayton market through to Cincinnati. I’m going to post this in digestible chunks, and then when I get to the end of the whole 90 minute affair, I’ll provide a listen/download link for the entire archive as well. Here’s the first installment:

1988 Trip to New Orleans (part 1) – 1-75 in Ohio  9:34

(download)

A cuddly country pop snippet of unknown origin gives way to a frenetic commercial for household goods on sale. Based in West Virginia, Hecks’ Department Stores had spread to nearby Ohio and Kentucky since 1963. But the “Almost Giving It Away Place" had already filed for bankruptcy by 1987 and within the next couple years they called it a day and sold assets off to another couple retail chains that wouldn’t last much long either. A whole lot of regional discount outlets have disappeared since that time (smell the Wal-Mart?), and I miss hearing this kind of sales exhilaration for items like toilet paper and bleach.

A couple of quirky bits later (including some jesus optimism), you hear a punchy keyboard intro for “The Mike Sento Show” on Dayton’s 1290 WHIO (what great classic call letters!). It’s not just a talk show, it’s a “midday forum” I wish the tape gave us a little sample of Mike himself. Apparently, Mr. Sento doesn’t have regular talk gig right now, but he’s still around. Not so long ago he filled in for the dull-witted Mike Gallagher on his national program. (Not a good sign…)

And then there's the "Van Man.” Bobby Layman. Apparently, Bobby was selling vans with a bit of a personal style. He measures “your needs” and “fits you to a van.” (Something snug with side-mirrors, perhaps?) But however Layman was fitting all those vans back then, he must have been doing something right. He now has his own Chevy dealership at the same address as the Columbus, Ohio "Van Man" headquarters advertised here. Catchy commercial.

Then there’s perhaps the greatest living legend in radio today— Paul Harvey, the one-man “Reader’s Digest” of radio. While not a mind blowing moment, this little capture is in classic Harvey style– clipped and slightly alien, in a warm and corny way. And he’s still at it! But he sounds reassuredly young in 1988 (When he was only 69). This particular program, his daily “News and Commentary” has been a radio staple since 1951. Enjoy it while it lasts. "Mr. Slow-Motion" Fred Thompson has been known to fill-in when Harvey takes time off.

Remember Fawn Hall? The Iran/Contra Hearings… Oliver North’s secretary… Shredding critical documents… and the her infamous testimony: "Sometimes you have to go above the law." She was still shining ripely in the middle of her fifteen minutes of fame in early '88, and Harvey announces she starting to cash in it by co-hosting a syndicated talk show next month (which we can assume didn’t exactly set the world on fire). Since then, Hall actually had to kick a nasty crack cocaine habit in the 1990's. Which is kinda ironic, considering her old boss Mr. North funded the Contras with cocaine cash.

“Race fans! Put this in your mind! The sheer spectacle of wheel standing super-charged funny cars with their front wheels up in the air and then showering sparks of titanium all the way down the quarter mile drag strip at a hundred and sixty miles per hour!”

Now, that sounds like entertainment. It’s the vintage boom and bluster of a classic drag strip radio spot for Kil-Kare Speedway in Xenia, Ohio. Do raceways still advertise like this? I hope so. When I was a kid CKLW and WKNR thundered with ads for the Detroit Dragway– boisterous announcers glorifying the exploits of drivers like Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and promoting all the earth rumbling rapture to be found at the corner of “Sibley at Dix.” While the old Detroit Dragway is history, Kil-Kare Speedway which will soon celebrate 50 roaring years of fun in Southern Ohio. Bravo.

The racing spot is followed by some juvenile banter on an unidentified high school radio station (A likely suspect might be WKET, which isn't far from 1-75). Too bad you can’t hear both sides of this little squabble, as one of the kids hogs the microphone. “Oh, save the whales Keith. Save the whales…”

Waterbeds. Remember waterbeds? From the seventies on, it seemed like every mile of suburban highway sprawl was decorated by two or three waterbed outlets stocked with all your splashy mattress needs. Local radio and late night TV were littered with waterbed store advertising as well. Things have changed. (When was the last time you’ve seen a waterbed?)

We miss the beginning of this commercial for “Henry’s Waterbeds,” but there seems to be a sports theme at play. The announcer hawks his wares in a loud and gruff testosterone fashion over the sounds of a simulated cheering throng. Which falls right in line with the general appeal of waterbed stores– to specifically lure men in to browse and buy household goods and furniture, thanks to the fact that the main attractions on the sales floor offered the promise of carnal hydraulics in the bedroom.

Rock and roll on the AM dial is almost as hard to come by as a highway waterbed outlet these days (or a drag strip for that matter). However, in the late 80's the oldies format was still a big contender on the AM dial. But not for long. By this time the playlists for these stations had gotten so tight and so predictable that format burnout has assured the passing of many of these stations. Just like this snippet from that afternoon of Cincinnati’s 55 WKRC, a segueway from the Turtles’ “Happy Together” to “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks. How long can anyone continue to listen to those same three-hundred songs?

And like many former oldies stations, WKRC is now a run of the mill talk station carrying syndicated rightist dreck like Limbaugh, Hannity and kindred scum. And the dilemma is not unfamiliar. And just how long can anyone continue to listen to Republican party talking points from the same handful of windbags every day? Kinda of like a never ending chorus of “Hey Jude.” In radio, cynical programming and overt predictability will eventually breed listener contempt.

Next WLW, the Ohio Valley powerhouse. And at first sample, this bit of afternoon WLW sounds like boring and typical talk radio. It’s mid-day host Mike McConnell winding up an interview with "David" on the phone. He's written an “insider’s guide” which contains valuable tips and secrets that can make anybody wealthy. It’s the wrap-up of the segment.

“Rich or old, young or poor, even if you have very little money and you have no credit or bad credit, don’t let that stop you.”

There’s a time check here, it’s almost 1:30 in the afternoon. I switch to another station. An AM signal with a stiff whine. It’s one of those soap opera update features (do stations still do this). It’s a somewhat inspired synopsis of the ongoing saga of the “Young and the Restless.”

Then back to WLW, coming out of the commercial break. Listen to all the promotional crap that happens before McConnell resumes the show. This is back when WLW was a Jacor station, and I'd posit that you hear the “Jacor effect” as soon as McConnell ditches the get-rich-quick author. Lame guests like David are some of the worst talk radio filler out there, but nowadays goofballs like this author would (thankfully) have to buy ad time or get into the infomercial business to sell his schemes to listeners. But before talk radio got wise and came up with other ideas, people selling bad books were common filler on the air. And here McConnell is a harbinger of the more savvy talk radio to come, smelling BS from his guest and turning his suspicion into what probably became a spirited call-in segment (which I wish we could hear…).

“Have you ever gotten a book through a situation such as this, through which you made money? Or that improved you in any way, shape or form? If so, I’d like to hear about it…”

While Jacor has since merged and dissolved into Clear Channel Communications, in their heyday they made a lot of headway in a number of radio markets with their inventive, subversive and occasionally vicious programming and promotion. While I wasn’t much of a fan of some of Jacor's music radio projects, Jacor really did know how to manage and tweak a talk radio station into something profitable and compelling. At heart, Jacor was really a loyal cadre of competitive and provocative radio geeks who were major players in the radio business back in the 1980's and 90's. As far as talk radio, Jacor naturally attracted sharp and witty (and often abrasive) talk radio hosts who understood the nuances of exploiting the format for all of its emotional and entertainment potential.  By the 1980's, Jacor realized that being nice, or being “respectful,” was really only important to their oldest listeners. And people who understood the business of radio (like Jacor) knew that talk radio was more than ready to shed its one time role (and continuing image) as a safe haven for old folks.

And although Jacor is no longer, the flavor of the upstart company is still a part of what makes WLW great, ever since Jacor radio maestro Randy Michaels turned it into a hot talk station in the early 80's. And there’s been remarkably little turnover in air staff in the last two decades. In fact, Mike McConnell still holds down the same mid-day slot he’s had on WLW since the early 80's. Which is very rare in the fast changing and incredibly cutthroat business of radio.

“Z-93 Where the hits always hit first. I’m Cat Summers with one of the hottest ladies around right now, just coming off her Academy Award for Best Actress. The new one from Cher, written and produced by Bon Jovi. It’s called “We All Sleep Alone” on Z-93.”

Well, that was a near perfect mic break from “Cat Summers” (My GOD, the greatest fake name in top 40 radio history?…) on Z-93 (in Eaton, Ohio). It's really a perfect mic break– warm, succinct and pure smooth all the way to the post (where Cher starts to sing). It hits the pop culture buttons and says nothing. And the positioning statement– "Where the hits always hit first," is catchy enough. But by 1988 there was no bravery in corporate music radio, and you can be sure no song would make a playlist in a market like Dayton if it hadn't been officially approved by consultants, sanctioned by some kind of payola, and blessed by some call-out research. Of course, the illusion remained for some that the DJ on the air had some say the music they would play.

Z-93 is the late lamented WGTZ transmitting from Eaton, Ohio a couple dozen miles west of I-75. Z-93 was born when they canned the beautiful music format on WGTZ in 1983, and it served as the major CHR (contemporary hit radio, or top 40) station for a large swath of southeastern Ohio, including Dayton and Springfield for over two decades. While this kind of radio ain't my cup of tea, for years this station was local spot on the dial where kids and young adults went for the hits and the happy camaraderie of shiny jocks like Cat Summers. In November of 2007 the owners (Main Line Broadcasting) went out and fired all the DJ's and flipped the station to the new "variety hits" format, otherwise known as the "Jack." Some people in Ohio are still pissed off

This leaves us at the crossing of the Ohio River that April afternoon in 1988, and as night falls we’ll sample some southern R&B radio along I-40 and then I-55. As I mentioned, the coverage from the road in either direction will be spotty, but once we get to New Orleans there’s plenty of broadcasting to hear from the Crescent City, back when it was all still there.

Click here to read (and hear) the next installment.

Sin, Static & Creepy America

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

I’ve been remiss in offering up another bandscan since I kicked off this blog a couple months ago. So, here’s another. When I go about trying to choose a tuning session to present and discuss here, I like to offer one that features some compelling English language content, a few interesting overseas broadcasts and hopefully not too much RF noise and interference. However, this particular scan is noisy, there’s no great DX catches and the content is kind of ridiculous. But as I was recording this, I couldn’t help thinking about how strange human beings really are. Shortwave listening can do that.

Because I live in a very RF polluted environment, I do most of my shortwave listening and DXing when I get out of town. And while there was less radio noise than home at the cabin in the Catskill Mountains where I recorded this, it was still less than ideal. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and after a meal of leftovers I set up my little recording setup and started roaming around the bands.

I will say one thing about shortwave radio– if you want to hear thoughtful opinions on current events and learn more about the world we live in, then you can find all that and more from broadcasts originating from places like Europe, Asia and Africa. But if you’re more interested in listening to religious intolerance, ignorant diatribes and the kind of entertainment only mental illness can provide, then tuning into one of the many shortwave transmissions originating from the United States will certainly suffice.

Besides the Voice of America (the U.S. international service) there’s a couple dozen or so privately owned shortwave stations in the states, many with multiple transmitters. I believe that all but two of these are owned and operated by Christian organizations. Most are brokered outfits– selling chunks of time to churches, groups and preachers to scold and beg and talk about the bible. And to be fair, as shortwave listening in America has declined so drastically these days, Christian programmers and their listeners are by far the most viable financial resource for these stations. WBCQ in Maine, with their handful of SW frequencies have heroically cobbled together a creative and entertaining secular programming and cool music shows on their schedules (mostly on the weekend on 7415kHz), but the bulk of their on-air roster is the same holy-roller nonsense you hear on most U.S. shortwave stations.

Here’s a little sample from WBCQ’s weekend lineup. This was recorded not long before the bandscan I’m posting here. It’s nine minutes of a relatively new program on WBCQ– Bluegrass State of Mind, hosted by your buddy "Hawkeye" Danny Haller. I’ve never heard this show before, but this guy sounds great and the music’s mighty fine.

WBCQ – Bluegrass State of Mind 11-23-07  23:35 UTC

(download)

Besides WBCQ, there’s not much on U.S. shortwave that ain’t about Jesus. There’s a few DX shows and Glenn Hauser’s "World of Radio," on a number of stations, but the only other format that gets any real traction on American shortwave radio are the paranoia and patriotism talk shows. There’s quite a number of these programs. And although they come in a variety of flavors, the’re generally populist conspiracy based presentations invoking fear and vigilance. Some of these programs come from a distinctly Christian perspective. Some do not. However, none of them are anti-Christian. That wouldn’t be a good business model for shortwave broadcasting in America.

And if you’ve never listened to shortwave, the darkness and irrationality of shortwave radio paranoia is typically more stark and strange than what you might stumble upon on your AM radio. There’s an urgent novelty to millennial shortwave broadcasts from independent stations in this country. And it often makes me wonder whether I’m actually living in the future, or if I’m stuck in the middle of a poorly written dystopian novel.

Like the first bandscan I posted here, this is another amble through the 49 meter band– which is as close as shortwave gets to the reception dependability of the AM (medium wave) band here in the states. From around 5800 to 6300kHz, there’s almost always a lot of activity after dark. I rarely get anything farther than western Europe on this band. But it’s very popular for the Asian and European state broadcasters who relay their programming to North America via Canada and the Caribbean. But most significantly, it’s the most popular band for the sideshow barking of the evangelists, doomsayers and hellfire merchants of American shortwave radio.

49 Meter Band part 1 – Catskill Mountains, NY 11-24-07  00:17 UTC

(download)

5755 – KAIJ – Texas, USA – Radio Liberty

As the host of one of shortwave’s many conspiratorial talk shows, Stanley Monteith is as cool, calm and collected as they get. However, you don’t hear much of old Doctor Stan in this clip. Just his female guest– an author and professional pessimist who’s name I wasn’t able to discern. Reception is kinda awful.

Years ago, it was easy to laugh off shortwave crackpots and their fear of Communist infiltrators and water fluoridation. But paranoia just isn’t as funny as it used to be. On first listen, her concerns make a lot of sense– the dangers of data mining, our ongoing loss of privacy. Yet, when I hear dark talk shows like these programs I usually have the same experience– I’ll be following along, thinking– "jeez, I basically agree with almost all this scary shit"… up to the point where the host turns a corner and enters fantasyland. It could be some mumbo-jumbo about the anti-christ, a rant against the U.N., or some messed-up racist twist on current events (or the plans of the super secret lizard people). In this particular instance, I start shaking my head when the “scams” of global warming and the environmental movement are singled out as evil forces. But then she gets around to the root fear of many shortwave paranoids– depopulation.

In countries like Rwanda and Iraq, where over a million people have been slaughtered in recent years– depopulation has been a reality. But when you hear apocalyptic radio types use that word they’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill genocide. They’re talking about millions of pale-skinned types (specifically nice Christians Americans) getting wiped out. While this paranoia narrative may sound similar to what Republicans and other freaks are saying about Muslims and brown people in general, but the deep conspiracy crowd is usually anti-Bush, and often against the Iraq War. In their narrative, Bush and Cheney and their CEO pals are in league with the bad guys– the global elites (and perhaps the lizard people).

5810 – EWTN Alabama

I should make a confession. I’m not Catholic. Never have been. And when I do come across their religions broadcasts on the radio (usually EWTN on shortwave) I am almost always taken aback by how damn practical they are. The Catholic shows I’ve heard on relationships and sex are kind of amazing. Instead of the threats of fire and brimstone to scare you holy (or any of the protestant-style proselytizing), the hosts and priests and nuns on Catholic radio just try to help their flock follow the rules. Hell, they know you’re a sinner. They just want to make sure that you confess and atone for each moral crime, according their official book of penance. After all, it’s not easy to be good. And there’s a comfort of Catholicism. If you just screw everything up over the course of your life, just make that “act of perfect contrition” on your death bed, and you’ll get into heaven okay. Or at least it shouldl buy you a ticket for that scary purgatory waiting room place.

Again, this is just my interpretation. In practice I’m sure it’s a little different.

5810 – WHRI – World Harvest Radio

And what fresh hell is this? I guess this is one of the reasons I keep listening to shortwave– to hear bizarre America in all of it’s glory. This is as twisted as anything I’ve come on the radio in quite a while. Imagine you’ve picked up a preppy freshly scrubbed hooker, and once you get her up in the room all she wants to do is talk about "the father." That’s kind of what this sounds like. 

It appears to be some interlude between programs on the World Harvest Radio schedule. It features a perky young tart (accompanied by a noodling new-age guitar track) admonishing all of us sinners to shape up. Rather like a cross between a self-help tape and a phone sex commercial. All I can say, is this woman is selling some damn creepy bliss. “God will use you. God will use you,” she insists, followed by a sexy plastic Mmmmm-moan for Jesus.

By the way, World Harvest Radio originates in Indiana.

49 Meter Band part 2 – Catskill Mountains, NY 11-24-07  00:39 UTC

(download)

6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

Sitting right in the middle of the popular 49 meter band with the round figure of six-oh-oh-oh, RHC has one of the most easily remembered frequencies in shortwave. From the eastern US, it’s always there at night. Usually clear. I believe they switch their English service on and off with their 6060 signal, and I’m never sure how that works. But here it’s Español, and a booming actuality of some man, from somewhere, saying something. And then I turn the station.

6005 – NHK Japan

I believe this is relayed from Sackville in eastern Canada. It’s sounds Japanese to me. Some energetic broadcasting.

6020 – Radio China International

Just as dependable as Cuba at 6000 and 6060, is China at 6020kHz at night. And often in English, as here. This broadcast is relayed from Albania or Canada. Unlike many western countries, China doesn’t seem to be cutting back on their international shortwave service. With relays all over the world broadcasting in many languages, China is still keeping shortwave radio alive as a viable global communication alternative. I guess they might as well. They’re making almost all the shortwave radios these days.

However, as much as they’re investing in transmitters and infrastructure, when I catch their English service it always sounds like they’re getting their announcers on the cheap. Not only are they not the most seasoned voices on the block, but as you can some hear many aren’t all that familiar with the English language itself.

The female announcer is all jazzed up over the upcoming “high-level” Olympics Games in Beijing. And she’s not just worked up about the opening ceremonies and all those athletic performances, but apparently the security work and favorable press commentary promises to be very “high-level” too. All in all, they’re expecting a “high level Olympics with distinguishing features.” Me too. As well as a few distinguishing health events once some international athletes get their lungs full of the high level of Chinese toxins floating around.

6030 – Radio Marti

Propaganda broadcasts from America to Cuba, in Spanish. And that funny noise? The “Havana Gargle”– a burbling broadcast generated to prevent Cubans from hearing our propaganda.

6040 – Radio China International

In Chinese here. Male and female tag team announcers with tinkly piano at the end of this short clip.

6060 – Radio Habana Cuba

It’s Cuba, with worse than usual reception. But it’s a sonically interesting bit– Spanish announcer with odd-sounding Asian music splatter from another station (Do you hear some Yoko-style yodeling in there too?). Even if it doesn’t mean all that much, it’s rich aural eccentricities like this that keep shortwave radio interesting, as well as the psychodrama and the international reception possibilities.

6085 – Family Radio

Something about getting some religion and loading it on a canoe for some kind of missionary work. A lot of noise too.

That’s it for this bandscan. I promise the next hike up the dial will be another shortwave band, or perhaps a medium wave journey. These two chunks were not every thing I picked up on 49 meters, but is everything that seemed worth sharing. Believe me, you’re not missing much. And if you don’t usually turn the knobs on a shortwave set, let me assure you that the reception isn’t always as problematic and buzz-ridden as you hear in these archives. Then again, it can be much worse.

You don’t have to listen to the 49 meter band to know that the U.S.A. has a strange and superstitious dark side. But some of the crap you come across on that band sure does drive the point home. And sadly, shortwave signals still travel far beyond our borders. And this is what we broadcast to the world– our preoccupations with personal sins and lots of crackpot dogma. And thankfully, a little bluegrass.

 

Super Cheap, and Almost Super

Friday, November 2nd, 2007
As an urban dweller living in close quarters, I do have one luxury– my own room, or office of sorts. Maybe if you’re lucky you have one too. It’s where I write, think, browse the web and fool with audio. And being a somewhat modern guy, I do most of these things with computers. In fact there’s a few computers here, a monitor, and a bunch of external devices, power supplies and a battery charger or two. It all makes for a very noisy environment. But it’s not the kind of noise that wakes the neighbors. No, it’s the scourge of AM and shortwave listening, RF noise, that fills my room. And as someone who regularly partakes of the amplitude modulation, listening to the radio where I spend much of my time is chronically problematic.

This is why I don’t do much DXing around the house. Too frustrating. A few times I have set up a couple of radios on the other end of the apartment, but here in the big city there’s already quite a bit of RF to contend with anyway. For example, my neighbor four or five buildings down the street has some loud high pulsing noise I can hear at a certain AM frequency from my bathroom, and it’s much louder when I drive by his house. Wonder what he’s doing over there?

Anyway, I’m happy to report I’ve found a solution of sorts– a GE Superadio III. Actually it’s recently been re-branded as an RCA Superadio, but it’s bascially the same affordable workhorse that’s been around for a few decades. No shortwave, just AM and FM. While I hear the FM works pretty darn good, the Superadio really shines as an AM receiver. I have to admit that I haven’t had this radio long enough to cart it out to a good RF quiet spot (which usually means getting out of town) and actually DX with it, I can tell you that more than any other AM I own, it really stands up bravely to the RF barrage. It’s quickly become my radio of choice while I work and write here at the house.

Typical AM DX mainstays around here like AM 740 and CBC’s 860 frequency in Toronto, and WBT in Charlotte can indeed be heard here at night with the Superadio only a few feet from three computers, albeit with a thin layer of noise on top. Which is actually pretty impressive. But what it does really well for me, is bring in many local stations with clarity in the midst of a lot of RF pollution.

And it sounds good too. Has a large six inch speaker and a tweeter for the highs. It’s quite loud if you want to crank it. On the downside, it’s a bit big and not so portable. It’s made in China these days, and the "feel" of the workmanship and the response of the controls tells you that this is not a luxury item. Some people might be put off by the analog tuning, which I have little problem with on medium wave (it’s a bigger issue with shortwave tuning). Speaking of that, perhaps the most annoying issue is the AM dial calibration is WAY off. And unlike the RF-2200‘s beautiful analog tuning setup, the frequencies are increasingly closer together as you go up the dial. On mine, twenty or so AM frequencies occupy the first half of the dial, and the other ninety-some occupy the second half. Somebody’s posted a rather technical and difficult fix for this here, and I see that if you buy the radio from C. Crane they’ll fix this up for you for an extra ten bucks (on top of fifty for the radio, and the shipping).

From what I’ve read online, what accounts for the Superadio’s good behavior in a heightened RF environment also accounts for the sloppy tuning scale situation. Unlike the Superadio I and II, the third version uses something called varactor tuning diodes instead of the usual variable capacitor tuning. In retrospect, what seems to have happened was that during the process of upgrading the performance of the Superadio in the early nineties, they didn’t complete the job of perfecting the interface.

However, if you know the AM dial well and have patient tuning fingers you can work around the dial issues. What makes this radio worth having is that it’s a time-tested performer. It also sounds good. And it’s inexpensive. I found one brand new on ebay for just over thirty bucks, and only ten dollars shipping. Hell, that’s what? Two or three large pizzas? Otherwise you can find the Superadio for forty of fifty dollars in many places online, and in some stores as well I’ve never seen it in a store, but I read that some carry them. Other than J&R in downtown Manhattan I never see DX worthy radios in stores these days. (For fun, go in a Radio Shack and TRY to find the radios.)

I already knew this was a decent radio to have around, and when found it selling at such a bargain price I impulsively bought one for myself. I actually already had a Radio Shack copycat version of the Superadio, which isn’t bad either. But the real thing outshines it. If you look online, there’s quite a mythology/community surrounding the various versions of the Superadio. All three are good radios, and can be found easily on ebay. And if you’re looking for something more classic and handsome, the great granddaddy of the Superadio series, the GE P780 (from the early 1960′s) shows up on ebay now and then. From what I hear, it’s a helluva of a performer. (I’d love to snag one someday.) For a little radio history, you can pick up a little here from one of the key developers of the P780, Conrad Jutson.

Looking forward to taking this black plastic box into the hinterlands (along with my external loop AM antenna) and hearing how it performs in the wild. Speaking of that, while I don’t have any audio from the Superadio to offer here yet, I do have a video. It’s nothing I made. I just came across it on YouTube in the middle of a web search. It’s a quick daytime DX scan of the AM band (from Pennsylvania perhaps) with a Superadio II. While none of the reception is logged or identified, he does pick up nearly seventy stations in one sweep of the band.

While I’m not sure I’ve ever come across an audio archive a radio bandscan on the web (other than ones I’ve posted), not long ago I discovered that there’s actually quite a number of videos of bandscans posted on YouTube. Search under “bandscan” or “dxing” and you’ll find quite a few. However, no videos I’ve seen make a point of identifying much of the reception they come across, but it’s interesting and a little enlightening to hear (and see) what other radios in other places can access out of the ether.

And for me it’s reassuring to know other people do such things, and admit it online. That’s part of why I started this blog, to know that there’s other people who sit alone (typically at night) turning knobs and listening intently, and have a good time.

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 

(download)

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 

(download)

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 

(download)

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.

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

(download)

And the BCL-2000 version…

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

(download)

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

(download)

And what I recorded on the Tecsun…

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

(download)

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 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 27

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Deck_view_4 Here’s the second installment of an AM band dial scan I began a couple weeks back at BOTB. This little radio safari was recorded while I camped out on the deck of a beach house on the Connecticut coast near Bridgeport in late August.

Serious DXers favor the eastern coast of North America for picking up AM stations broadcasting from Europe and Africa (although a location right on the Atlantic Ocean rather than Long Island Sound would be preferable). However, the best time for that would be early evening and the best results would include employing an external antenna. I’d love to try this sometime, but was hardly equipped to do so on this excursion. One day…

This upcoming weekend I’m headed out of the RF noise of the city for the Catskills Mountains where I plan on scanning the international shortwave bands in search of interesting and exotic programming to feature here. With these two posts I’ve made a point of getting back to exploring the AM band again, because it remains the heartland of amplitude modulated broadcasting and sometimes it’s just fun to hear traffic reports from other regions of North America.

Oinky I gotta say that I think we may be coming into a prime season for some compelling and strange content on both U.S. AM radio and international shortwave. In a few days we’ll enter October, a month preceding a national election in this increasingly bizarre country of ours, and the polls still hint that the Republicans are at risk of losing the house and possibly the senate. It might just be prime time for a big political firestorm… I mean, a BIG surprise. And it’s not just the constructively paranoid types predicting it. Word is King Pig Karl Rove himself is promising something special for the faithful. So do stay tuned.

Meanwhile, as far as the content offered here, there’s nothing all that amazing (or ghastly) in this scan (other than some pleasant music from Canada)– just a fairly representative sampling of the AM band filled with a number of clear channel 50 kilowatt transmissions (on an evening when the big story involved a pale clown eager to be charged with the murder of a baby beauty pageant contestant).

Listening_2_2 As far as archiving AM radio, I try to sweep the band before 1 am Eastern time when “Coast to Coast” comes on the air. Because after that the dial is clogged with the five hundred or so North America affiliates carrying the show and there’s so much less variety of programming available for the rest of the night. And sometimes the supernatural and paranormal topics on Coast to Coast can be so damn boring.

This reception was recorded on my Degen 1103, a portable digital receiver. It’s has decent medium wave performance, but the way it renders the sound of coming in and out of frequencies (and inherent radio noise in general) has a bit more of a edge (and to my ears is less graceful) than you’d usually hear using an analog set. This part of the scan starts sometime after midnight.

Segment 3 – Connecticut Coast AM Radio 08-28-06 – 780 to 840 AM  8:44

(download)

780 – WBBM Chicago, IL

It’s the AM news station in Chicago. Reception is dodgy.

790 – (nothing intelligible)

But lots of signals throbbing in the distance.

800 – CKLW Windsor, ON               

To Canada again, this time it’s Windsor (across the river from Detroit) and CKLW, the former North American top 40 giant. Nowadays they do “lifestyle” talk, which seems to be much more popular in Canada than the U.S. After a promo for their lightweight morning drive program and a beer commercial it’s “Healthy Talk.” Like I said, it’s a talk station but politics isn’t on the agenda.

810 – WGY Schenectady, NY

Rollye It’s Rollye James, kind of an anomaly in the talk radio world. A smokey voiced blonde with without much of a particular political slant who does kind of a conspiracy/paranormal “lite” routine along with an on-air obsession for discussing (and occasionally playing) old R&B hits.

I first heard Rollye (strange spelling, eh?) a few years ago when she was trying out as a guest host on Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast” program. Then I came across her on WPHT in Philadelphia. Now Rollye is national, but not currently syndicated on many stations. Mostly small markets. It ain’t easy being a freelance talk host these days. Lots of competition. Coast to Coast is hugely popular and other hosts in that vein (Jeff Rense for example) haven’t made much headway in syndication.

Gosh, what a rushed and uninspired version of “Stranded in the Jungle” Rollye.

820 – WNYC New York, NY

The AM side of New York’s NPR outlet, playing the BBC World Service, which they do a handful of hours each day. Superficial money and business news, not terribly exciting. And not a strong signal from WNYC here in southern Connecticut at night.

830 – (nothing intelligible)

A few stations. I assume one is WCCO in Minneapolis.

840 – WHAS Louisville, KY and ?

Not coming in well at first, but this is the usual suspect at 840– WHAS, a Kentucky talk station. Instead I move the radio around, attempting to pull in the more exotic broadcast emanating from further south. This is where the circumstances may have changed since I’m listening right on the coast. North American clear channel stations like WHAS usually own their frequency over a huge swath of the continent.

Kentuckiana_1 However, here a Latin music station is coming in with a bit of power if I turn the radio to a certain angle– a flute and conga drum can be heard. Just after eight minutes into this archive you can hear what I believe is an ID for this station in Spanish (it’s right before the blank space caused by a tape flip). Anybody catch this?

And when I turn the radio (again, I’m not “tuning,” I’m adjusting the internal antenna by physically rotating the radio) WHAS is as clear as usual, with a little bit of distant thunderstorm static on top.

And “Attention Kentuckiana!” (You gotta love this local nicknames for regional media markets. Metro Chicago is known as “Chicagoland.”) is the intro for a car dealership spot offering a free little car if you purchase a big (SUV) car. Wow. Two-for-one car deals? As automotive sales continue to slump, the industry is coming up with some creative schemes to lure buyers these days. What happened to balloons and candy for the kids?

Segment 4 – Connecticut Coast AM Radio 08-28-06 – 840 to 900 AM  19:40

(download)

840 – WHAS Louisville, KY and ?

The rest of this frequency after the recording was interrupted by the tape ending.

850 – WEEI Boston, MA?

Well it might be this sports station or maybe KOA in Denver (but I doubt that). Two boring network ads come up and I’m not patient enough to wade through more commercials and end up moving up to the next frequency.

860 – CJBC Toronto, ON

Unfortunately, this is the last major CBC outlet on the AM dial that has any widespread reach into the U.S., and it’s all French all the time. Female announcer, sounds like she might be reading off Canadian tour dates for one of the recording artists she’s about to play. Then it’s a moody folk-rock number, dark and a little quirky. Sound to me like Richard Thompson might be playing guitar on this one. If anyone can ID this song, or translate the french announcer in the comment section below, I’d sure appreciate it.

The next song (and what a nice segueway by the way)–  sounded very familiar to me for some reason. It’s a catchy pop tribal rave-up, featuring a singin’ and stompin’ kid chorus. It’s “Ani-Kuni” by the French-Canadian singer (and actress?)– Madeleine Chartrand. Yes, it rocks.

Anikuni_1 Beside’s the classic country of Nashville’s WSM (at 650kHz) and the easy oldies of AM 740 in Toronto, I’m hard pressed to think of any clear channel AM stations that can be heard in the Eastern U.S. who play a good mix of music. In fact, I’m not sure there’s any that play music at all. It’s a sad thing. But in all my years of AM DXing east of the Mississippi I’ve consistently heard the most interesting and diverse mix of music on CJBC at night. On any given evening you can hear great African music, all sorts of jazz, obscure rock and folk, all kinds of stuff. If there were a just a few more powerful North American stations blasting music programming half as thoughtful as CJBC, the quality of listening to AM radio at night around here would improve exponentially.

If you’re scanning the AM dial late at night anywhere within a few hundred miles of Toronto, CJBC is well worth checking out. Although Cuba’s Radio Reloj also beams in pretty strong on at 860kHz from time to time.

870 – WWL New Orleans, LA?

That’s probably what this is. They’re a sports heavy news/talk station, and this definitely sounds like some sports commentary or something, but it’s buried by adjacent (clear channel) WCBS at 880, which is what usually happens anywhere near New York City.

880 – WCBS New York, NY

Yankees_suck I believe this is the tail end of a Yankees game. What astounded me was the list of sponsors. Instead of two, three or four companies funding these sportscasts, I was blown away by this list of TWENTY advertisers. Just listen to the roster with each business’s name followed by a strategically edited slogan. Capitalism at its finest. Imagine how many bazillion dollars WCBS paid to snatch the rights to air Yankee games from WABC back in 2001? While the NFL must be a media profit machine beyond compare, I’d bet that the Yankees are the most lucrative sports franchise on Earth.

890 – WLS Chicago, IL & ?

It’s a mixed bag here, again the fact that this reception is from the eastern edge of the continent might have something to do with it. Some Spanish "la la" music introduces this segment, and then it’s an impromptu collage with the sappy Español pop music vying with a WLS commercial break as I rotate the radio to focus on each signal.

When I lived in deep south, finding foreign (mostly Spanish) stations infiltrating the AM band was much more common. As I recall when I lived in New Orleans you could actually receive English language broadcasts Radio Habana Cuba on the AM car radio most evenings.

900 – CHML Hamilton, ON

Ontheair_1 An antique radio drama from Ontario. It’s cool that a clear channel AM station lets loose a few hours of old time radio across a large expanse of North America each night. Again, it would be nice if more old broadcasts would fill some of the night time hours on some AM stations with historical content instead of crap like rebroadcasts of right-wing talk shows.

That’s it for this medium wave scan. With some good luck, I’ll be back in the next week or two with some intriguing shortwave radio recordings confiscated from the night sky of upstate New York.

Thanks for listening.

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