Archive for the 'Crazy Religion' Category

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!

Rust Belt Road Trip 2009 pt 1 (It Hurts So Bad)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently embarked on a solo road trip from my Brooklyn to my ancestral homeland– The American Rust Belt. While I grew up in Michigan, my genetic material harkens back several generations in Ohio. And on my drive to my brother’s house near Flint, I had my new CC Witness with me in the car, which presented me with an opportunity I’ve never had. For the first time in my life I was able to record radio (or at least do so safely) while driving. Why was something so simple so impossible for so long?

So that’s what this post is all about. I’m offering you a montage of what I was able to find on the AM radio dial that Sunday afternoon as I circumvented Lake Erie on the interstates. It’s almost like you’re sitting in the car with me and I’m changing stations and carrying on. And we’re off on another adventure in amplitude modulation. I’m glad you could join me.

Unlike most major interstate highways, interstate 80 goes all the way though Pennsylvania without connecting to any of their major cities. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and a few significant metro areas are well south of I-80 and are served by other highways. Interstate 80 is just a fat transportation pipe connecting the Great Lake region with the East Coast megalopolis. While it’s a pretty drive with lots of hills and trees and road signs, without any appreciable population centers the long drive through the middle of the state is a rather sterile zone for medium wave reception by day. Of course nightfall would open up the DX possibilities, but that’s not what this post is about. This time around it’s the hometown sound. And it’s partly cloudy. Intermittent rain.

It’s not exactly a bandscan (you can’t change frequencies when the CC Witness is recording), but most of it was local radio captured as I zoomed through coverage patterns. It’s more like the previous collages I’ve posted from a road trip I took back in 1988 from Detroit to New Orleans. (I hope to get back to that again one day soon.)

And as it’s 2009, I’m driving through some desperate territory. Both Ohio and Michigan were not only hit early and hard by the economic downturn. But there’s been a hardscrabble vibe surrounding the American shore of Lake Erie and the Detroit River for decades. So many of the manufacturing jobs that once provided a good middle-class life for millions in this part of the world have been drying up for decades. This recession is just one more kick in the head. And while I can’t say for sure, if things would have turned out differently I might have stayed in this part of the world instead of ending up in New York. Despite so many strange but true horror stories, there is an appeal to Detroit that can’t be denied. It has an edge.

I start recording after I’d already been driving for six hours, when I was approaching Youngstown.

Rustbelt Roadtrip pt 1 (Northern Ohio and S.E. Michigan) August 23, 2009 17:48 
(download)

1390kHz WNIO Youngstown, OH – The Lettermen Hurt So Bad

We start with a small station that’s changed its format and call letters and frequency so many times that it almost doesn’t have a history. These days it’s a minor Ohio concern of Clear Channel Communications playing a canned format of safe old pop music, otherwise known as “America’s Best Music"” (or just “The Music Of Your Life”). While I must admit that I appreciate that these stations are still around (and are probably the most common music format left on AM here), these descendants of old-line MOR radio have all but disappeared in bigger radio markets. Yet, the appeal of this format within the 45 to death demographic still has some limited financial potential in markets that might not have ethnic communities that are large or robust enough to support more profitable brokered operations. And you almost never hear local DJs on these stations today. Sadly, this is a format an owner is likely to put onto a transmitter when they don’t have any better ideas (and aren’t willing to invest in any real programming).

1440kHz WHKZ – Cleveland, OH – A Christian Commercial Break

WHZK is one of three Cleveland stations owned by the right-wing media group, Salem Communications. And they all have nicely matched call letters– WHK, WHKW & WHKZ. Most of Salem’s radio properties offer either religious or political propaganda, or both. In Cleveland, WHK at 1420kHz carries Salem’s stable of “Townhall” talk shows, while fifty-thousand watt giant WHKW at 1220kHz (formally WGAR…) is a right-wing Christian talk outfit. And reflecting a lack of programming imagination and a poor local economy, WHKZ merely simulcasts the evangelical and super-conservative content of WHKW (with the exception of a few weekly hours sold separately). So in effect, WHKZ and WHKW are the same station.

And when those stations aren’t simulcasting scary shows like “Focus On The Family” or “Jay Seculow Live,” they fill the gaps with brokered programming from local churches and evangelical hucksters. When I come across this station, one paid program is ending and another is about to begin. We hear the tail end of “The Bible Stands,” presented by the Liberty Bible Church. And if you listen for the number, you might be able to call in for your own free “scripture portion.”

And speaking of tough times, aren’t you sick of people talking aboutstaycations” already? I’m not saying you can have fun around the house, but don’t call it a vacation. Yet, the chirpy announcer in this first commercial intones– “when you’re worn out and tired, what’s more appealing than going home?” So, instead of planning a weekend getaway, this Ohio mattress maker has a suggestions–. "create a luxurious retreat right in your own bedroom." In other words, buy a new bed and lay down. Give up. Watch TV. Have some wine. (I suppose if this wasn’t a Christian station they might hint at some other bed-friendly activities…) But more to the point, instead of spending some time on the beach or at a ski lodge, why not resign yourself to the same horizontal padded purgatory enjoyed by shut-ins, invalids and the brain-dead– “where you can relax and just be yourself.” Creepy.

And then you get something more modern– Internet dating care of eHarmony.com. I’ve come across their ads on secular radio stations quite a bit, but I don’t recall hearing anything like– “Do you ever feel that God has someone special in mind for you?” Hmmm. I personally don’t ponder god’s thought process in any great detail, but I guess some do. And a little web research reveals that the founder and brainchild behind eHarmony.com is a born-again buddy of the evil Dr. Dobson himself (Who knew?). Perhaps longing for an American theocracy is just one of the twenty-nine meaningful dimensions of Neil Clark Warren‘s personality.

1350kHz WARF – Akron, OH – A Minor League Weather Report

It’s the middle of a rain delay during an AA minor league baseball game. It’s the Akron Aeros hosting the Binghamton Mets. I guess it goes without saying that minor league sportscasters are probably aren’t the most seasoned announcers on the dial. And hearing them attempt to describe some slightly complicated weather patterns around Lake Erie (and how it relates to tarpaulin dimensions) provides for a little unintended entertainment. And if you’re interested in such things, the game was eventually called because of the bad weather. However, the Akron Aeros actually went on to win the Eastern League championship this year. Rah rah.

1420kHz – WHK Cleveland, OH – Kelly & Company Hate Barrack Obama

This is the Salem/Townhall rightist talk station I mentioned earlier. And as you can hear, a strong adjacent station is bleeding across the frequency on the CC Witness. I think it’s actually their WHKW transmitter at 1440kHz.

I was lucky enough to come through their broadcast zone and catch this snippet of their only locally produced talk show, “Kelly and Company.” And what you hear is more of the fear and smear campaign against any health care initiatives Obama may support, as well as childish paranoia regarding Obama administration “czars” driven by up and coming kooks like Glenn Beck.

Twenty-two percent of people under 65 in Cleveland have no health insurance. None. And who knows how many thousands more are under-insured. The Point? These two clowns can’t stop poisoning the airwaves with half-truths and nonsense cooked up to dissuade listeners from supporting reforms that could one day save their lives.

Of course, Kelly and Company is just one of hundreds of local and national programs participating in these scare tactics lately. Although a majority of Americans favor a "public option" in any health care reform package, on any AM radio in any town in America you’ll hear far more of these wild-eyed claims about "death panels" and "evil czars" than you will any common sense discussion of the issue, or anyone speaking in support of a health care safety net for all.

1040kHz – WJTB Cleveland, OH – 7 Sons of Soul song

I’m including this song in its entirety, because that’s the way I heard it in the car that afternoon. And after those clowns on Kelly and Company, it lifted my spirits a bit.

It’s the “7 Sons of Soul,” and from what I can tell this is one of their biggest hits– “Praying 4 You.” While I’m not a follower of any supreme being in particular, I suppose I’m as likely to pray as some believers (I just don’t picture a winged being or classic painting of Jesus). But all kneeling and beseeching aside, what first attracted me to this song was that it sounded a bit like Bobby Womack. And that’s a sure way to get my attention.

1380kHz – WDLW Lorain, OH – Mother’s Music Box

Here’s a sentimental little clip. Through most of the week, 500 watt WDLW now goes under the moniker “Kool Kat Oldies.” (Cute, right?) Yet, despite a number of format changes over the years "The Polka Express" has been a mainstay on 1380 AM transmitter since 1969. I’m not sure, but I think this the program’s host, Tom Borowicz, reciting a loving ode to "mother."

I’m sorry there’s not more of this show to offer, and it never comes in all that clearly. But when you’re moving along at 70 MPH you go in and out of the broadcast range of a class D transmitter pretty quickly.

1370kHz WSPD Toledo, OH – Cleveland Indian Baseball Game

While I’m not a sports fan, the sound of baseball on the radio gets the old nostalgia hormones seeping into my brain case, and I’ll bet some of you might feel the same way. In this instance, the Indians are up 2 to 1. And apparently, they haven’t played Baltimore all year. In the end, the Indians knocked in four more runs to beat the Mariners 6 to 1.

And now part two.

Rustbelt Roadtrip pt 2 (Northern Ohio and S.E. Michigan) August 23, 2009 18:27
(download)

1560kHz WTOD Toledo, HO – Dwight Schultz Goes Bananas

Oh man. It’s the “Monica Crowley Show.” Instead of the proclamations of Monica the manic-monotone you get to hear a character actor trying his hand at talk radio. It’s Dwight Scultz, who played the hapless Lieutenant Barclay on Star Trek. From what I read, he’s apparently even more famous for another eccentric role as part of the “A-Team,” but I can’t tell you much about that. I believe Mr. T was played by another actor.

Mr. Schultz has had his own internet radio show in the past (but it appears to be on hiatus right now). And I believe this fill-in gig is one of his first forays into real broadcast radio. While I haven’t taken the time to listen to his "Howling Mad Radio" podcast, the spastic performance here worries me. Will the rise of Glenn Beck encourage other up and coming rightist talkers to incorporate more hysteria and mental illness into their presentation?

Perhaps Schultz didn’t have much notice for this fill-in gig, or maybe he’s just buzzing through some “greatest hits” from his podcast to get some traction and attention in the real talk radio world, but this material is past its shelf date– mostly low-grade smear material left over from the campaign. And somebody should tell Dwight that the new TV sets don’t have all those blue, red and green dots when you snuggle up close to them these days. You’re dating yourself Dwight. And that whole bit sounds like something he might have adapted from some old comedy monologue.

While the earlier “Kelly & Company” clip dealt in exaggerations and ugly rumors, there’s nothing remotely informative about Dwight’s bluster. Just sensational jingoism and cheap emotional appeals packaged for simple minds. A lot of this going around these days.

1520kHz WNWT Rossford, OH – K-Love

Another waste of an AM transmitter, simulcasting a syndicated Christian pop format from at FM station, which also runs the same fare on four more FM repeaters around Ohio. The announcer is female and perky and plastic. But perhaps you’ll be inspired by her anecdote about how a particular singer was tapped by the master muse while in the middle of some household chores. 

1230kHz WCWA – Toledo, OH – The Festival           

Here’s some small town radio you can sink your teeth into. And I love the reverb. Perhaps it’s recorded at the actual community center. I’d like to think so. And the accents have that Midwestern flat twang I grew up with. After all, Toledo is practically in Michigan (But trading it away for the Upper Peninsula was really a helluva deal). But I digress…

It sounds like quite a celebration. Cold beer, rock and roll, and cheap carnival rides for the kids. And then there’s all those chicken dinners and lotsa pasta. And if that’s not enough, they’re gonna have that polka band again this year. All in all, it sounds like a church-sponsored party where a guy like me might even have a good time. I’ve been to similar types of events, and I hope you have too.

560kHz WRDT – Joey Was Eleven Feet Tall

Although this station isn’t owned by Salem Communications, it’s programmed with a very similar “Christian talk” format as their two simulcasting stations in Cleveland. And it also goes under the same radio brand name– “The Word.” There is just a short clip of some religious dramatization for kids. I think it might be “Paws and Tales,” a Christian cartoon that’s also a radio show.

As usual with these types of programs, there’s some wisdom lesson for children and the "moral" at the end illuminate how the Bible has all the answers to life’s difficulties. In this particular tale a group of “youngins” are constantly gossiping about a distant friend named “Joey.” And “since they had so little information, they just started adding to what they had… and before long they had convinced themselves that he was eleven feet tall and had a patch over one eye.”

I didn’t listen long enough to discover if the punch line was regarding “bearing false witness,” or something about how “gossip separates close friends.” Which seems like a suitable parable for so many teabaggers all clucking about on the web convincing each other that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Nazi Muslim Communist who’s preparing to put all the dumb white people in concentration camps. And have you seen that patch over his eye?       

690kHz – WNZK Dearborn Heights, MI – Serbian Dance Party

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a Serbian show. WNZK is an ethnic brokered station that I always enjoy a bit of when I come back to Michigan. And something strange about this station, at night their transmitter changes gears and move one notch down frequency to 680kHz. It’s the only radio station in America that does such a thing. At least the only one that does so legally.

I hear lots of Eastern European and Arabic music on WNZK that I don’t seem to come across on the brokered stations back in New York. Just a quick break is all you get in this clip. Some fast music and a female announcer in between. Something about a “Labor Day peek-neek.”

760kHz – WJR Detroit, MI – Come To The Table (featuring the Real Gerber Baby)

The last grab from my first highway recording adventure, and the only radio station in Detroit proper. And much to my surprise, not only is the iconic baby food model still on the planet, but she’s live on the radio with WJR’s Steve Stewart! Of course, when you hear her ragged old larynx it’s difficult to picture that little cherubic face in your mother’s cupboard. But hell, even I was cute once.

And speaking of cute, this Steve Stewart character is just too much. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard him before, but enduring his saccharin glow-schmooze in between the seasoned croak of Grandma Gerber makes him just sound even more annoying. I say take it down a few notches Steve. Try to sound a little bit more like a human being instead of a non-stop ad campaign.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, WJR used to be a fantastic radio station. One of the greatest full-service radio stations in America, bar none. And unlike a few similar great radio stations from that era like WBZ, KMOX or WLW, the “Great Voice of the Great Lakes” trashed their heritage and commitment to the region for pure profit and partisan propaganda. And not only is Steve Stewart the most fake and friendly fool I’ve heard on the radio for years, but he also makes the programming decisions over there. Or at least he’s stuck with defending them. 

I happened across this particular column in the Detroit News the other day and came across some disparaging words about WJR’s programming from Dan Mulhern, the husband of Democratic Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, where he bemoaned how WJR "used to be a pretty balanced station that really gave people a sense of what is going on. But now, with their national and local programming, there is such a Republican tilt to everything." And why was Mulhern venting? WJR delayed a live speech from the elected governor to broadcast a talk by a bizarre county-level Republican hack. There’s your public service Michigan.

WJR was once a place where there was an ongoing regional conversation, where news and issues of Michigan and the Great Lakes were aired and discussed and reflected upon responsibly. And there was lots of great music and a regimen of informative and unprofitable features. More than any station I’ve known, WJR offered radio that provided companionship. But that was many years ago. Now your companions at 760kHz are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin– meanspirited and partisan talk monsters syndicated from afar. And Stewart’s response to his challenge is cynical at best– “It’s the sort of programming that makes money” he insists. And isn’t that all a radio station is about in the first place? Cash, right? What else is there?

Located in a Wayne County where almost seventy-percent of the voters are registered Democrats. And the registered voters in Oakland and Macomb County (the densely populated and wealthier adjacent counties) also lean slightly more heavily toward the Democratic party. And if you think I’m insinuating that WJR should shift to a progressive talk format, I’m not. I think a less political stance would make more sense for such a strong and historic radio station. And as it stands, the WJR transmitter is a fifty-thousand watt erect middle finger offering it’s profane message to all of downtrodden southeastern Michigan. 

While I may despair at so much scary ultra-conservative radio stations usurping the American AM dial, I’ve really resigned myself to the fact. The Fairness Doctrine (and the wisdom that once made it the law of the land) is history. But when an important regional radio operation that was once a font of information, wisdom and good music becomes just another conservative propaganda repeater it’s just a tragedy. Then again, maybe I’m just another strong personality with a strong opinion. It just seems like the more you love radio these days, the more it breaks your heart. Yes, it hurts. And it’s so bad.

And I’m glad you could join me for this afternoon of medium wave sightseeing. You probably won’t be surprised that I made some more recordings out there, including the trip home. As I recall there was a lot more religion, some sports, and more of the increasingly more vicious (and common) attacks on the authority and humanity of Barack Obama. I haven’t decided if I’m going to post any more of that. (You want more?) There’s already a number of interesting shortwave recordings I made last summer I’d like to go through too. And then there’s that New Orleans trip (and some New Orleans radio…) It’s just hard to find enough time.

And speaking of my summer radio recordings, I’ve recently encoded all the bandscans and airchecks I’ve captured over the last few months and dumped them all into the programming folders for my internet audio stream– "Radio Kitchen Radio." "What stream?," you might ask. There’s a link there on the sidebar on the right. The adventures in amplitude modulation there are yours to enjoy. And if recent statistics mean anything, there’s probably no waiting as you read this. Have at it. If you enjoy this blog you’ll probably hear something you like on the stream as well. There’s almost 500 hours of fun there.

I made a plea for more comments in my last post, and although a few did land on the blog afterwards I’m still going to come back for an encore. When I DJ I almost always take requests, and the same goes for the blog. What do you like to see (or hear) more of here? What do you like? What’s boring? I’m never quite sure what types of posts readers enjoy here. I so see which ones get the most hits, but that’s mostly driven by search terms. But as a blogger I’d like to know what regular visitors think. Should I post more  AM radio music? More bandscans? Shortwave? Historic or exotic recordings? Medium-wave DX? Or more of those kooky radio conspirators? I haven’t decided where I’m going with the next post, so I’m throwing it open for suggestions.

As you may have noticed, I really like being able to make most posts multimedia affairs, including radio recordings with almost every entry and occasionally a video or two. But I always wonder if people actually listen to these audio files, and I you might stream or download them. I don’t have a way of knowing these things yet.

And when I look at my stats I see so many of you in distant lands are coming to the Radio Kitchen, and I wonder if distant readers are looking for shortwave radio posts or for articles on American broadcasting. I am curious about such things. Just looking at my most recent logs I see people just today from Brasil, Germany, Poland, Russia and the U.K. have visited the Radio Kitchen. And a while ago I remember some of the people who visited my blog the most were located in faraway lands like South Korea and Israel. Yet I get very little feedback from outside North America. Do you come to the Radio Kitchen to hear American radio? Or were you just looking for hot pics of shortwave supervixen Melissa Scott? (If so, I don’t have any…)

The bottom line, most comments are helpful. And it’s always nice when they add more information or insight to the entry. And charity is nice too. I really do love working on this blog, and if there was real money in it I suppose I’d pound away every day here. But as it is I do what I can, and do I appreciate hearing from visitors now and then.

I’ll be back soon. Thanks for listening.

Trolling The American Id Between Four And Eight Megacycles

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

A few generations ago, another American president took office when our country was mired in another devastating financial disaster. Of course, I’m talking about Franklin Roosevelt, a president to whom Obama is occasionally compared (after JFK and Lincoln, I suppose). And following tradition, he addressed the nation announcing his vision for America. It was a bit of pep talk really. And although few who actually heard that rousing speech are still around today, we’ve all heard (or read) the declaration he delivered in this opening remarks:

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Always presented to me as the key phrase of a historic speech, those words themselves never rattled with great wisdom for me. It always seemed a little redundant, and too straightforward to offer much in the way of revelation. But then again I didn’t grow up during the Great Depression.

Now we’re living though the worst economic crisis since that time, and while our circumstances aren’t nearly as dire as the day Roosevelt moved into the White House, no one knows how much worse things may get. Or where we are headed as a nation. And as luck would have it, we seem to have brought in a decent and thoughtful man to help steer our country out of this new financial morass of our times. It seemed almost hopeful.

And then the fact that he happened to spend some formative years overseas in a Muslim country seemed fortuitous as well, following on the heels of an administration that incited so much hatred and animosity from Muslims around the world. Yet, for all the logic or serendipity that seemed inherent in the rise to power of Barack Obama, others see something else.

There is a bizarre streak of American humanity which is utterly convinced that Barack Obama is not an American citizen. And once you’re willing to chain your brain up to that premise, it’s an easy leap in logic to assume that this astute mulatto man must be an an evil foreign agent assigned to destroy our country. And there’s more. A lot of these less than enlightened Americans also are certain that Obama is a communist, the leader of the evil “new world order,” the devil or the Anti-Christ (are they the same thing? I’m still not sure), a fascist dictator, and perhaps gay or a Muslim, or worse– the most liberal politician alive. And they are scared. They are angry. And what should worry ALL of us, is that they seem to be beyond the reach of all logic or common sense.

And now I get it. FDR was right. As a country in crisis at a critical point in our history, the greatest thing we have to fear IS fear itself. And I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to really fear the fear. And I think the paragraph that surrounded his heralded declaration back in 1932 is even more illustrative of our current dilemma:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

(download)

And this is EXACTLY what’s going on– now, in these critical days. In the face of across the board loses at the polls, the Republican party and their media agents have chosen to unleash an unheralded fear and smear campaign to brutalize the enemy (i.e., the actual elected government). Rush Limbaugh, the defacto (media) leader of the G.O.P., openly cheers for the failure of our government under Obama. And he’s just setting the tone for a massive ongoing effort– nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror is being instigated and encouraged via the many-headed hydra of the right-wing media machine. And it’s nonstop.

And it’s no secret around the world that Americans, in general, are some of the most ignorant people on the planet. Add to that, the anxiety that continues to grip our country since the September 11th attacks and the inconvenient collapse of our economic system, and there’s suddenly a buzzing and bristling bunch of screwed Americans who suddenly want to know what the hell is going on? (While they didn’t seem too concerned during eight years of mayhem and plunder under Bush.)

I suppose it’s only natural to look for BIG answers when you’ve got big problems. And two unrelated historical milestones (moving into a new millennium and electing a black president) seems to have driven some of the logic-deprived among us to apply grandiose meaning to current events and invoked lots of irrational suspicion regarding any proposed changes in governance or our economic system. The three horsemen of contemporary apocalyptic fear (religiosity, paranoia, and xenophobia) were already mounted and ready to ride before Obama’s election. And since that historic moment, a fourth has come forward. And I think he’s going to lead the charge. Perhaps you already know where this is going. (Let’s just say he used to wear a white sheet.)

Despite the fact that we miraculously elected a man with African heritage to our highest office, there’s a seething element of race hatred that’s still alive and well in this country that once enslaved people who looked like Barrack Obama. And although the dirty racist words and imagery are only used by the most extreme and extroverted of that crowd, for every one of them there’s hundreds more across the fruited plain who will never accept or respect that uppity brown man who gets on the television and has the nerve to act like he’s president.

And make no mistake about it, all this garbage about the invalidity of Obama’s birth certificate, and all the disenfranchised and hateful white people alleging Obama is something "other" and not like you and me– it’s all frosting and filagree on top of the word they dare not utter– nigger.

And whether or not the people who are behind all this incitement of hatred and fear mongering are actually racists themselves is beside the point. I mean, Karl Rove’s atheism never got in the way of manipulating fundamentalists to vote (and campaign) for Republicans. It’s not hard to see how it works. There’s no shortage of less-than informed Americans to run through manipulative focus group studies. Then with data in hard, you go forward with media weaponry you know will be effective– no matter how profane or irrational the entreaty might be. Lee Atwater was an expert at this kind of thing, and he didn’t seem to be an actual racist in his personal life. And when Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination began to founder, her operators started experimenting with the same kind of toolbox.

If you haven’t seen this clip online of Shepherd Smith of Fox News, you oughtta take a minute and ingest this artifact of contemporary culture. I don’t watch enough of Fox (mostly clips online…) to know much about the guy, but he seems to be emerging as some kind of reactionary conscience over there. (Like this outburst regarding our government’s involvement in torture, or his habit of making fun of his unbalanced Fox News cohort, Glenn Beck.)

But in this particular clip (from the day that white supremacist loon went ballistic at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.), Smith noting he’s frightened by the torrent of twisted and psychotic email that’s been filling the Fox News servers since Obama’s election. Mr. Smith and his guest agree– the realms of the internet provide a powerful clubhouse for all sorts of angry and misinformed people to feed into each other’s insanity, loading up with “hate not based in fact”. Although Smith seems shocked to discover some Fox viewers are “out there in a scary place." I’m sure others weren’t surprised at all.

And what he doesn’t say (and what he can’t say), is how much the network he works for is feeding these people tainted factoids and manipulative Republican propaganda. Even Charles Krauthammer came out this year to congratulate Fox News for creating an “alternate reality.” And he said that the relative consensus on current events we used to enjoy in our society was the result of a “liberal bias” in the media…which apparently existed for all time until Fox News came along to balance everything out. Which makes you wonder what a network like Fox News would have had to say during the great American labor struggles or the civil rights movement.

Of course his argument is bogus. But it doesn’t matter. There’s always Fox News, and NewsBusters, and the World Nut Daily out there to back him up. Once we had a marketplace of ideas where agendas and opinions and versions of events battled it out for the public’s allegiance, and at a certain point some semblance of common sense would win out, and as a nation we would decide that slavery was wrong, and women should vote, and minorities should have equal rights, and wars of choice like we had in Vietnam were immoral. Sure, not everybody agreed. But some form of consensus came to pass and differing sides moved on to other battles. But not anymore.

Today, the natural coalescence of public thought is easily thwarted the monied and manicured "alternate reality."While some semblance of consensus is battled out in (what is pejoratively called) the "mainstream media," a conservative flavored narrative flows freely beside it as a more simplistic consumer-friendly product.

And it’s not that corporate America or the Chamber of Commerce is necessarily invested in all that ignorant claptrap, but by putting that kind of manipulative language and cynically clever sophistry churned out by Karl Rove or Frank Luntz. And there’s not a lot of quality control on some of these mindless appeals to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. An example might be a headline I saw at the Drudge Report on a slow day in June– BEWARE THE OBAMA ‘EVIL EYE. Again, this was a headline on one of the most clicked pages on the web. Assorted photos of Obama’s "menacing glance were included with this short and shabby piece of original Drudge journalism (something you rarely see)." And while it’s easy to find almost any facial expression imaginable when you’re dealing with someone as photographed as a sitting President, but the shots Drudge put together merely showed Obama looking attentive or tired, or perhaps just appropriately sober. Take a look yourself. It’s ridiculous. And everybody knows, President Hairy-Eyeball went back to Texas months ago.

How did things get so ludicrous? You might wanna check out this confidential memo written by a corporate attorney named Lewis Powell (soon to be a Supreme Court Justice) back in 1971. It was a manifesto outlining how the business interests of America needed to get serious about shaping public opinion in their favor. It’s one of those little known documents that truly changed the world, and not in a good way.

And if you recall those days so long ago, they used to call the mechanisms of wealth and power in this country “the system.” And visionary people like Upton Sinclair, Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader successfully took on “the system” and helped protect millions from the deadly consequences of amoral profiteering and unregulated capitalism. Well, Lewis Powell saw these people as the enemy. And through his writing and counter-activism he helped create a broad public relations front in media and academia to defend and protect the raw capitalist ambitions of the system itself. But even the late Mr. Powell (who is often recalled for his perfect manners and genteel nature) might be shocked at the divisive and brutish behavior of the swarms of ignorant and politically agitated Americans who have been home-schooled by a sensational and partisan united front of right-wing media he arguably fathered.

In a recent column, Frank Rich discussed Shep Smith’s scary inbox and how the new wave of anti-Obama rhetoric is increasingly paranoid and irrational across the board. While some white voters wouldn’t support someone like Obama in any situation, the fact that they see him as the cause and architect of all the frightening generational changes that are happening all at once. He’s the new boogie man– the embiodiment of a new century they’re not ready to understand.

In closing, Rich linked to this video featuring Jon Voight at a Republican fundraiser, where he called Obama a false prophet, and said the Republicans have to get back in power so they can “free this nation from this Obama oppression.” Which on the face of it seems like just so much mean-spirited red meat for the conservatives on hand, but in reality words like “false prophet” resonate profoundly in religio-paranoid circles. (And a lot of them have guns…) Plus– saying Obama is the cause of whatever “oppression” people might be feeling in the middle of a financial disaster that was coming on long before Obama came to power isn’t just disingenuous– it’s toxic. (And did you hear about his evil eye?)

And conversely, this column from a Fox website might be as good of an illustration as any of how much self-serving bullshit can be crammed into a short editorial. I don’t even know where I ran across this piece, which reads like a ten-year old’s attempt at a persuasive essay. The author of this gem is a guy named Noel Sheppard, who routinely churns out rightist grist for the unintentionally comical “NewsBusters” site (which often reads like a lampoon of a conservative news portal). But his point is this– if the electorate wasn’t scared off by all the guilt-by-association tactics used by douche bags like Sean Hannity (i.e., using Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright and Tony Rezko as scarecrows), then the press must have hypnotized us into electing Obama. How else could it have happened? I mean, McCain had so much more charisma

Sheppard’s weak thesis somehow merited over four-thousand comments before they shut the floodgates. And if you have the stomach for it, you can go read a few. But I wouldn’t recommend it. I hate to think of all the time I’ve wasted looking at all the ignorance and vitriol on display in the comments addendum to online articles and opinion pieces. Especially if I happen to follow a link from the ultimate right-wing portal behind this new Age of Unreasoning– The Drudge Report.

Anyway, I could spend all day linking to all the spewing spigots of ignorance and intolerance on the web. But I won’t and I can’t. But I will say this, when we went and hooked ourselves all together with all these computers and cell phones and hand-held whatchamacallits there was a general feeling that being able to share so much “information” was going to make us smarter or wiser. But “information” is neutral, it’s just patterns of data. It can be good or bad or right or wrong. Or persuasive, if you have a particular mindset you wanna spread around.

And all we’ve done is make it possible to share “data” between ourselves like never before. We’re not creating more truth. And just as old “information” industries like newspapers, magazines and the film and music business see all this data sharing as a devastating profit killer so far, there’s no assurance that setting all this information free has made us any smarter either.

Like the flood waters after Katrina, some of the information that floods the American mind is a toxic soup. Awash in carefully targeted misinformation and logic-free passion screeds, there is a pandemic of fear and ignorance sweeping this country. And all this unjustified terror is poisoning American political discourse and is most certainly paralyzing “needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Thanks to the craven manipulation by people who should know better, the new American ignoranti are marching backward– into our racist past, into a new McCarthyism, and eventually all the way back to that Christian apocalypse continually predicted since the first century. And when these folks fire up their PC in search of information, you can bet they’re not looking for verifiable facts, reasoned journalism, or opposing views. No no no. That’s stuff the devil uses to fool ya.

And it gets worse. Since Obama’s election there’s been a huge surge in sales of guns and ammunition in this country. Prices are up and ammo is getting scarce. People are stocking up. For what? Good question. Meanwhile, the Obama administration really hasn’t made any moves or statements indicating any coming new gun control regulations. However, there’s lots and lots and lots of “information” out there telling folks that “Obama is coming to take their guns.” So, are you scared yet?

After talking about so much trouble in our midst, there’s an urge to come to conclusions– to predict or to warn of some assassination or apocalypse. Or perhaps to offer some road to widespread common sense in all this madness. But I don’t have a good answer to plug into such an equation. When you have human beings as your adversary, there’s always the last resort call for decency, or that chance of some recognition by the losing side that their goals or motivations may have been flawed. The system fights dirty. And empathy that makes us human is our fatal disadvantage.

When the Supreme Court granted corporations the rights of human beings and equated the money they spend as free speech (with the same Lewis Powell writing the majority opinion)– it set loose the hellhounds of capitalism in this country, allowing amoral ambition and soulless motivations to run rampant in the marketplace. And then Ronald Reagan came along to make it all official. And the legacy of Powell and Reagan (and more contemporary operators like Grover Norquist) is a Republican media machine that works on behalf of the large corporate financial concerns. Period.

And the Democratic party? Some of them are better than others. I generally trust Robert Kennedy Jr, who believes that the constant influx of big business money has completely compromised our political process, and says: "the Republicans are 95 percent corrupt and the Democrats are 75 percent corrupt." Sounds about right. It certainly helps to explain the inadequacies of the House and Senate under Pelosi and Reid. And while the nature of the Republicans is to stick to "the plan," the Democratic party is bigger, more varied, and unlike the Republicans they have to deal with the tough stuff– like consensus, ordinary constituents, and the most difficult of all– reality. The Republicans are in favor of God and lower taxes.

And if that sounds like a sinister plot, I suppose it is. And while you could make a case that this powerful triumvirate of transnational capitalists, the Republican party and assorted dark masters of media had a good ride, from the Gipper to the attack on Iraq. (Making Clinton’s Presidency about a sex scandal was even somewhat of a victory, and he was half-Republican anyway.) And now we’re left with a broken economy and two endless military occupations, and the Republican Party unpopular and out of power across the board. Yet, despite so many recent political losses their alternate reality media machine seems to be cranking even harder into the American psyche. It might seem counterintuitive, but winning isn’t everything. It’s all about not losing (money).

And I don’t think you can blame it all on Rupert Murdoch or Rush Limbaugh or any of those guys. And if you look at the movie "Network," Paddy Chayefsky was incredibly prescient in almost predicting what would become the Fox Network and Fox News (although Glenn Beck is far less appealing version of Howard Beale). But I don’t think the Ned Beatty character in that film really exists. My personal idea for this incredible conspiracy of fear and unreason is that there is no evil leader behind it all. I think we’re through the looking glass now and a simple mathematics created to serve the short-term profit margin of the entrenched financial status quo is in charge now. And the right wing noise machine is running on autopilot. The reason there’s no leadership on the right is because they don’t need it (or can’t have it). The politics, policy and all the Republican party products are generated by a big simple algorithm. And all their major candidates need to do is step up and put it on like a nice blue business suit. (Remember how McCain "transformed" during the last election?)

While they’re getting the white and right crowd energized by these tactics, they’re not winning over the rest of us. Big money had an eight year free reign over our government and economy, and it didn’t work out so well. They’ve spent their wad, and run out of ideas, leadership, and vision, and all seem to do right is make a mess, while the media machine does all the heaving lifting. All the links on the Drudge Report and everything that comes out of Sean Hannity’s mouth is the result of this crude media mathematics. And there is no real rumination behind the on-air musings of Bill O’Reilly or Michael Savage, and no innate desire to leave a legacy of a life dedicated to the greater good of mankind. No, it’s much simpler than that. When the other side is ahead in the polls, you operate like Limbaugh during the Democratic nomination process. You cause trouble. "Operation Chaos."

Perhaps by this point you’re wondering what does all this have to do with radio? Well, for as long as I remember, in between the sane programming coming in from around the world on shortwave there’s always been mad preachers and nutjobs from America exporting fear to the planet. And now that kind of diseased discourse has spread far beyond shortwave. Especially on the web. And Glenn Beck and his eyeballs have brought paranoid lunacy into the mainstream like never before. But shortwave has more charm. And you don’t have to look at their faces.

So for a week in June I went back to the source, scanning the back alleys of radio with my antique Zenith Trans-Oceanic. It’s an H500 from the early fifties, and it still works pretty good– at least on the band setting between four and eight megacycles. (We call ‘em megahertz these days.) And more significantly it overcomes a bit of the RF noise of my Brooklyn digs. I guess it was my steampunk adventure of the summer– drinking hot tea and tuning in the apocalypse with a big gilded vacuum tube device.

It’s a fun radio to use, but it’s not so good for bandscanning. There’s no digital frequency readout (for logging and ID purposes). And the dial itself needs to be calibrated. And besides, I wasn’t DXing. For the first time, I was intentionally looking for as much stupid as I could find. Because of other obligations most of my roaming occurred after nine or ten at night. But I don’t think there was any time when I couldn’t find someone, somewhere saying something ridiculous. For this post I scooped up some of the more flavorful froth I found from the 60 and 49 meter bands. And I invite you to join me for some urgent and uneasy listening. You just might unlearn something.        

WHRI – Trunews with Rick Wiles & guest Roy Moore 4:15
(download)

In this clip, former judge Roy Moore is chatting on the phone with Rick Wiles of Trunews. Which is not just the “end times newscast,” but also the “only nightly newscast reporting the countdown to the second coming of Jesus Christ.” And Wiles says that Obama has been put in office for one purpose– “to start a civil war in this country,” just to give a flavor of the thoughtful rhetoric on this program.

Ever wonder if America just might be better off without all that “separation of church and state” business? And public school teachers reading the bible to our children, and religious police would enforce public morality? (like in… Saudi Arabia?) Then you might wanna head over to Alabama and get behind Roy Moore’s 2010 campaign for Governor.

Perhaps you recall when Moore was the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court a few years ago. Because there was a big stink when he refused to remove an ostentatious display of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. Not surprisingly, his stubborn religiosity cost him his high court gig, but it gained him a lot of brownie points with fundamentalists across the country, and served as the launching point for his new political career. And in his state he’s effectively established a splinter sect of religious conservatives who are working on taking over the Republican Party there.

At first, Wiles gets Moore lathered up with talk about Obama’s socialist agenda, but Moore quickly diverts the conversation into more religious territory– decrying Obama’s recognition of Gay Pride Month. Perhaps if Moore is elected he could counter this move by observing a month of gay shame in Alabama.

“It’s a travesty,” Moore says when Wiles tells him there was actually a “gay party” in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. While it doesn’t seem likely that all of our tax dollars that have gone toward death, torture and destruction would bother Moore all that much (he doesn’t like Muslims much anyway), the idea that American money has gone toward letting a few gay service people blow off steam is too much for him to bear.

Only God can right these matters,” Moore says, seeming to stop himself from finishing where that thought might have been going. I’ll leave it to you to ponder how that might play out if Moore and his ilk could play out their theocratic fantasies in real life.

(Probably WWRB) – The Prognostications of a Yahweh Cult Couple 29:59
(download)

I suspect this broadcast originates from one of the two giant brokered shortwave monsters in Tennessee– WWRB or WWCR. It’s "Mark" and a female co-host I assume to be his wife. I guess you could call them radio missionaries working on behalf of the big sky guy– Yahweh. There doesn’t seem to be any production to the program itself. It’s just your basic phone call to the transmitter. Mark has a handful of notes and news stories to share, and when gets lost in his "documents" he hands the phone to the wife, letting her riff on the wornders of Yahweh until he has paperwork in order.

This clip starts out with Mark reading a letter from a concerned soldier from Kentucky regarding how the army is actively taking detailed inventory of all the personal firearms belonging to soldiers and officers on base. Hmmm. Could this have something to do with the internal Department of Homeland Security report on the threat of right-wing extremism that became public last April?

I don’t know about you, but I kind of like the idea of the government keeping better track of heavy-duty home weaponry these days. The recent murder of an arbortion doctor as well the bloody incident at the Holocaust Museum added more validity to the warnings of Janet Napolitano and the DHS report she presented on the dangers of the deep and dark entrenched right-wing element in America.

And Mark has more bad news. Apparently, the world elites (including Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and the Rockefellers) are meeting on yachts and planning to kill off most of the rest of the people in the world. And I gues this may happen quite soon. Before the rapture. Massive depopulation theories have been popular on shortwave since I can remember– almost as common as the world government-new world order paranoia. And I guess it all feeds into the same colorful narrative, as the last hurrah of the evil forces on Earth before the messiah comes down and takes the faithful up to heaven for a big shindig– while the rest of us spend eternity as human barbeque. Burn baby burn.

Next up, some rather animated fire and brimstone style conspiracy radio.

WWRB – The Beast Preacher  1:38
(download)

This guy’s worked up. And his sermon almost plays out like an exorcism, as he proclaims the names of all the evil he can think of– OLD Satan, and the anti-Christ of course– and THE BEAST, and then he goes down a list– the serpent, the old dragon, the devil, the son of perdition, Lucifer, the Destroyer, and more. Not only is the reception bad here, but he’s a loud and boisterous guy and it’s hard to understand all the prognosticating going on. But what he does do is move onto another important list. This time he proclaims the names of the embodiment of the “the beast” on earth. Specifically the one world government problem– the “one-worldism, the United Nations, the new world order, the Knights Templar, and the Priory of Sion (who apparently are even more powerful than the Illuminati), and all the sons of Cain. It sounds like the devil has quite a social calender.

He ends his rowdy lecture with a spirited sign-off worthy of a Latin American football announcer. All in all it’s a testosterone-soaked overview of most (if not all) of the paranoia conspiracies that have haunted the followers of Jesus for hundreds of years. And then when it all ends with a telephone disconnect and an automated recording (just like the Yahweh cultists radio show) it even seems a little stranger, that this big voice being broadcast on an international radio transmitter was just another guy yelling into a telephone.

And the fact that this program cuts off in the same sloppy manner as the Yahweh believers program tells me that they were probably broadcasting on WWRB as well. And it seems that this big international radio outlet doesn’t pay for an actual human board operator in the evening hours. From these recordings it appears their programming runs through some sloppy automation interface that doesn’t compensate for incoming programming on the telephone ending a few seconds early. I guess everybody’s cutting back these days.

Of course, if you listen to shortwave radio you’ve already heard all this heebie-jeebie hullabaloo before. All this rapture preparation and mark of the beast anxiety didn’t just hit the airwaves when Obama was elected. It’s a bizarre sickness in the very fabric of our culture. And while it infects so much discourse and entertainment all around us, only on shortwave you can hear (and almost smell) the mythical doom visions in their unrefined state. And while we didn’t invent crazy religious thought, the United States of America has been a breeding ground for it for a mighty long time. Much in the same way Australia later became a dumping ground for unwanted criminals for the British Empire, the new world was a dumping ground for all sorts of wild-eyed religious fanatics from Western Europe. And their legacy lives on.

A 2002 Time Magazine poll found that almost sixty-percent of Americans believe “the events in Revelation are going to come true.” And an AP poll in 2007 determined that one in four of us believed that Jesus was going to return to earth that very year. You get the idea. We is crazy. At least a lot of us are. And even among people who might not consider themselves overtly religious, there’s still plenty of superstition and irrationality to go around. After all, when it comes to apocalyptic sensationalism and pornographic arousal of the conspiracy gland, why should the religiously-ill have all the fun?

WWCR – The Alex Jones Show – with special guest David Icke
(download)

Here you have a couple of the most successful secular scaremongers in the world in a bizarre radio pow-wow. It’s one-time rivals Alex Jones and David Icke, rolling around in the mud of some middle-ground they’ve cleared between their divergent paranoid theories. These apocalyptic showmen mine the concepts of science fiction TV and movies instead of using the King James Version for narrative support. And a few years ago these two giant fear-purveyors realized that there were just too many more books and DVDs to sell if they could put their differences behind them and create some viable consumer crossover business by joint media appearances, like this one.

For those who don’t know the history of these two professional paranoids, let me offer a little background. David Icke (pronounced like “Ike,” not “icky.) was a BBC sports announcer and then a spokesmen for the UK Green Party when he realized he was “the son of god.” and from that time forward he’s taken himself quite seriously and has created a whole cottage industry based on his own magnificence and need to enlighten us all. While he seems to have abandoned all the son of god business, his claim to fame eventually came through exposing the evil cabal of shape-shifting reptile people who rule our world (like the Queen of England, Henry Kissinger and Bob Hope). Alex Jones on the other hand, is a big loud Texas talk radio host who got his start on Austin cable access TV. I"ve written about Jones before (which you can read here), and hardly feel the need to promote a guy who’s one of the most ambitious self-promoters I’ve ever seen. When it comes to secular "new world order" conspiracy, Alex Jones is probably at the top of the heap these days. And at first he considered David Icke’s presence in the paranoia panorama as a big problem. His concern over letting blood guzzling reptilians into the conspiracy cannon led Jones to call Icke a conman and an opportunist, and his theories the "turd in the punch bowl” for all the seekers of hidden truths.

In an odd turnabout, in this clip Icke kicks into some rambling discussion about the inherent weakness of our “reptilian brain.” And he’s NOT talking about scaly skin blood suckers, but the brain stem and all that squishy stuff around it that makes up the vestigial remnants of our pre-mammalian legacy. In light of Icke’s long-standing fixation on reptilian villains, Jones steps in to let his listeners know–“this is not debatable. ” Icke is talking about real brain science this time, not scaly-skinned Republicans. And Icke responds with a quick hint of nervous laughter before carrying on with his neurological mumbo-jumbo. And so the ambitious Mr. Jones has kept the “turd” out of his punch bowl once again.

But here’s the funny thing. Protestant Armageddonists are even more bizarre. Instead of tending to their own souls, they seem more obsessed with the “sins” of other people– total strangers who don’t necessarily have the same religious beliefs. And many long for the day when America will become the theocratic state they believe it should have been all along. The dream of Roy Moore and his ilk is to indoctrinate our children in the public schools. And let’s face it, the only reason these people can keep riding that same sick pony around the American stage is because too many people let religiously infected people get a hold of their children at an early age. As their irrational belief beliefs are passed down generations it’s not just child abuse– it’s a viral infection that continues to stunt our spiritual growth as a nation.

However, the post-religious doom prophets don’t worry about everyone’s sins. They realize all that perverse religion turns a lot of people off. So, instead of putting a modern spin on ancient myths, they put an ancient spin on contemporary economics and politics. If you figure out we’re under the thumb of powerful people, they’ll tell you it all stems from bizarre rituals, or exotic bloodlines or visitors from outer space. Whether their conspiracy theories are more ridiculous than the burning bush or the impending return of Jesus doesn’t much matter. Dressing up the machinations of big money and the world power mafia in the garb of the Illuminati or jumbo lizard suits just turns your righteous anger into comic angst. Because you’ve invested into a load of crap.

If you’re willing to wade into the online swamps that surround showmen like Icke or Jones you can read how all these earnest believers create a burgeoning support group together to brace themselves against the coming cosmic doom they both predict. in their narratives, a seductive mix of fact and fantasy is always at play. Legitimate concerns about transnational corporations and governmental regimes twisting the truth, stealing our money and taking away our rights are all shuffled into fantastic all-encompassing conspiracies. And If I happened to be full of money and the devil, I’d pay clowns like Alex Jones or David Icke to exaggerate my crimes and mythologize my powers. Not only do the bad guys get all the best roles in the extravagant sci-fi narratives they fashion around themselves, but they also magically discredit every legitimate concern that gets sucked up into their conspiracy narrative. Call it disinfortainment.

I say this while hoping not to attribute any more power or pedigree to the postmodern carnival provided by David Icke or Alex Jones. They’re more like parasites than movers or shakers in all this insanity. And when they talk about corporate bias in mainstream news and our government relieving us of rights and choices we once enjoyed, it’s got to be seductive to people who are half-aware of what’s going on. And if it’s already in your makeup to believe in miracles and people rising from the dead, then how much of a stretch is it to imagine Dick Cheney (or Barack Obama) as a blood sucking reptile, or to obsess over what Republicans really do in the woods around the bonfires of Bohemian Grove.

And none of these samples of American sickness on shortwave radio are in and of themselves worthy of any great significance. But it’s all symptomatic of something strange going on. In a country founded in the Age Of Enlightenment by thoughtful and brave men who wanted to improve on the European models of government for the greater good of our people, there’s always been a counter-story. To get the United States off the ground, we relied on enslaved Africans for many decades. And then the mindset that helped people accept and embrace that kind of inhumanity didn’t go away. It evolved into an ugly legacy of lingering bigotry and hatred. And it’s easy to qualify the bizarre fundamentalism and the mindless racism as artifacts of the American South, but all this irrationality is much more widespread than that. (I’m resisting the urge to quote Pogo.)

While the Republican Party is in more serious disarray than ever, the big brutish media operation that brought them to power seems to be set on automatic, creating at least enough havoc to justify its cost. And lots of nameless unreasoning is indeed sweeping the nation. And when Icke sticks to the script he used on the air with Jones, that our lower "reptilian" mind is being manipulated by the man, he’s stumbling onto some truth there.

As far as shortwave radio these days, I guess the tables have tuned. Once a tool that brought us the rest of the world is fast becoming more relevant as a way to tune inward, into the lower brain of our very republic. And plenty of people get in touch with their creator that way. And even Tim McVeigh found inspiration and guidance through listening to his shortwave.

And when you’re out stocking up on ammo, you might wanna pick up some extra batteries for that radio. After all, a lot of folks are hoping for bad news.

The Cosmic Pirates Next Door

Monday, June 8th, 2009

As much as I love DXing, I still have a place in my heart for the local AM stations. The low power and low budget radio operations that don’t have the transmitter muscle to be heard much further than the county line. And when I travel I always hope to find that unique truly local station, that has that low power community magic. And it’s an extra bonus if you happen to like the music they play, but it’s almost always interesting to hear how local folks program radio for each other.

In the past, I’ve mentioned a couple of low watt gems (like WHVW and WCXI), but I never think to look into some of the lesser AM stations here in New York City. And if you don’t live here, it’s easy to think of America’s biggest city as a monolithic unified whole. But it’s not like that at all on the ground. It’s a whole bunch of communities all stuffed into five boroughs (as well as a few surrounding counties). And a number of them have staked their claim on the AM dial.

And the medium wave territory in New York here has got to be as crowded as anywhere in the world. Besides the big "blowtorch" clear channel AM stations everyone knows (WABC, WCBS, WFAN…), there are a lot of little "sparklers" across the dial. And it seems that most of them are on the right side of the band. While WLIB is a gospel station these days, I don’t think any AM’ers in the city have a real music format. (Okay, a few stations play oldies and "music of your life" fodder out past the perimeter.) What most of the little AM stations in NYC offer is either religious or "ethnic" programming. Most are "brokered" They sell time on their transmitter. And in New York City, it’s not cheap. It’s much less expensive to just have your own radio station. Until you get busted…

However, the bottom line for me is that they’re all speaking another language on most of those little AM stations crowded around the top half of the AM dial. And I have to admit that Spanish or Chinese or Russian talk shows don’t do much for a poor unilingual American bastard like myself. Then again, like listening to the world via shortwave, music is compelling beyond language or ethnicity (at least to me). And over the years, almost by accident, I have run into sublime gospel and quirky 60’s Asian rock and all sorts of Carribean things when I was turning the dial to find something else. And when I do try to go back to that same area of the dial I often find the programming is totally different than what I had enjoyed the last time around. But brokered radio stations are especially like that– very different animals by the day and by the hour. I suppose I need to prowl the schedules online more often.

Thus, the point of this post. Sometime you miss some really interesting that’s always been right there– in your own backyard. Like this oddball pirate radio station that up until a just recently was broadcasting at 1710kHz here in Brooklyn.

Radio Moshiach & Redemption is a rarity here in the states, a illegal religious broadcasting operation and just another tentacle of the massive Lubavitcher media machine. The Lubavitchers (or Chabadniks) are one of the oldest and most well-known tribes of the ultra-orthodox and mystical Jewish Hasidim. And why do they have a radio station? Let’s just say they do a lot of outreach. In other words, they actually proselytize like the kooky born-again Christians. Sort of…

Actually, the Lubavitchers are only looking for Jews who have strayed from their faith. They’re a little infamous here in the city for going out on the streets (and into the subways) and approaching people who look like they might be Jewish (and might not be practicing enough…). A little annoying, but it’s gotta be less pathetic than those glassy-eyed Jehovah’s Witnesses holding that dopey magazine in front of their faces.

From what I understand, most of the Brooklyn Lubavitchers are clustered around the Crown Heights neighborhood here in Brooklyn. And most assume that’s where their broadcasts originate. The "programming" I’ve heard has alternately been in English or Yiddish (and perhaps Hebrew, I’m not sure…). More significantly, the actual audio product of Radio Moshiach is outrageously awful– distorted and noisy. Yet, the raw and unprofessional urgency on Radio Moshiach was often kind of intriguing. I recall one particular time I heard them in the car (where I usually listened to them) and, like usual, I was struggling to understand what was being discussed (Even when speaking English they use so many Hebraic words that outsiders like me are left constantly trying to decipher the topic at hand). But what kept me glued to 1710 was the chronic coughing fit the old fellah on mic couldn’t get under control. At a real radio station, there would usually be a "cough button" to work around a situation like that, and a real hacking fit would be usurped by commercials or music But this elderly Hasidic gentlemen was determined to finish his lecture. And he just kept going– endlessly forward though so much choking and gagging and wheezing. It was quite a display of some strange fortitude. And no, I have no recordings of that. But I do have this little piece of history.

Radio Moshiach & Redemption (Brooklyn, NY) 1710kHz – 11-15-06

(download)

From what I little I’ve heard of this station over the years, the "lecture" on the recording is rather typical. Lots of talk on how to live a more sacred life, and extended discourse on the ruminations of their holy men. But like their Christian cousins, they have a fascination with a coming "end times" and are a little obsessed with the coming of the Moshiach (their messiah). And that what you get in this aircheck, some messiah anticipation and a little music.

And you might not believe it to hear it, but I actually performed a bit of digital hoodoo on this tape to up the fidelity. Yes it was worse, knee deep in a thick rich hiss before I did some tweaking and filtering. It’s still crappy, but believe the clip here is certainly better than the actual reception at the time. (You still here some nasty distortion during the musical interludes on this tape that I couldn’t fix.)

I’m not going to pretend that I really know much about the Lubavitchers or the Hasidim in general. Although I do live in Brooklyn, and run into quite a few Hasidic folks in my travels, the local tribe here in the Williamsburg area are the Satmars, who differ in many beliefs and practices from the Lubavitchers and their obsessions with the end times, and the messiah, and converting wayward jews. And I wouldn’t be the first to say that most of the public interactions I’ve had with the Satmars are rarely warm or friendly. And apparently I’m not quite Jewish looking enough to get the attention of the roving Lubavitcher missionaries.

However, in the cursory research I did do before writing this post I came across a couple points that caught my interest. There’s no fire and brimstone in the Hassidic world. They don’t go for all the eternal damnation business that makes Christians so scary and ridiculous. But I gotta admit, that a few things I came across on the web regarding the Lubavitchers that made a lot of sense to me– specifically the wisdom of one of their big thinkers: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. For example, he believes that God is too great to be understood by any one religion, and he really believes in science. Besides his Rabbinical studies he also took in big education doses of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and sociology. In 1988, Time magazine praised him as an "once-in-a-millennium scholar.

Of course, I suppose it’s not really all that unusual that so much intellectual thought and so much religious thought can do so much good together in the brain of one person. It’s a habit from all the exposure to the pseudo-holy hucksters and parasites I run across on shortwave radio, I suppose. And it’s important to remember that the religious goofballs you hear on the radio (or see on TV) are not necessarily representative of the faith they might espouse. Yet, all that said, there’s plenty of things Steinsaltz and other Hasidim believe that I find a completely wacky and wrong-headed, but the point is there’s a lot of real thinking going on in Lubavitchers-land. And then there’s all that mystical Kabbalah business. That’s a deep topic I’m not going to address (but Madonna may cover some points on her last album). And did I mention that old lead-larynx himself, Bob Dylan, is a practicing Lubavitcher these days. (Although I’ve never heard his music on Radio Moshiach.)

I guess what impressed me, is how much more thoughtful the religious discussion was on 1710kHz than ninety percent of the Christian broadcasters I come across on the radio. I’m not saying I was ever impressed by the eloquence or narrative power of anything I heard on this odd pirate station (It’s some esoteric stuff), at least they never claim to talk to any supernatural beings. And don’t seem to feel a need to point out how evil other people or other religions might be. And while they may have their agents out on the streets to looking for wayward Jews to bring back to the faith, they don’t get on the radio to convert anyone. And they don’t ask for money so they can pray for you either. None of that crap. And, they’re outlaws!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s nothing really wrong with "religious radio."In fact, wouldn’t it be interesting if all sorts of believers and thinkers and religious types were on the radio having intelligent conversations about spirituality and wisdom and the human condition. Instead, almost all the thousands of religious broadcasters on radio and TV are malignant Christians preaching intolerance and ignorance and damnation. Although I have to admit that some of the Catholic broadcasting I come across on AM and shortwave is a little more thoughtful. At least they talk about real some human topics, and don’t talk about hell and blood all the time.

There’s a meanness to so much of the Protestant preaching and teaching I hear on the radio, and a very willful ignorance– and enough dogma to clog up a weak-will thinker’s brain for life. Of course, there’s a long tradition of colorful and ridiculous bible bangers on the radio (like Gene Scott), but most are neither interesting or humorous. And the worst of it– it’s always been about trolling the countryside with a transmitter and a line of bullshit looking for weak and downtrodden listeners who might have a few bucks they can filch in the name of Jesus.

While I can no longer pick up Radio Moshiach in Northern Brooklyn, David Goren lives much deeper into the borough and he’s still picking up some Lubavitcher broadcasting, but not at 1710kHz. He says they seem to capable of running a few little transmitters in the x-band (the new USA upper extension to medium wave beyond 1600kHz), sometimes several at once and different programs on each "station." And are currently still broadcasting at 1640kHz., and perhaps on FM as well. But it’s the 1710 signal that was the heartiest of them all. And it’s the one most DXers run into. And I’ll bet it sounds REALLY bad from far away. But all that hackin’ and coughin’ I heard probably cut through the North Atlantic skynoise for some DXer out there…

Speaking of that, what led me to post this aircheck in the first place was just to share Radio Moshiach with as much clarity as I could muster from my New York City outpost. I’m sure a lot of DXers have never heard what the station actually sounded like (with some degree of clarity), other than a shaggy little heterodyne or maybe some lo-fi Yiddish accented words wedged sideways into a noise floor. I have another tape I recorded around here somewhere, which featured a lot of old and interesting Yiddish music. If I find it one day I might attach it to the this post as well.

And just to be clear, I’m not looking to pick a fight with Christians or Protestants any believer really. Actually, most of the time when I come across the way these religious are being expressed on the radio, it’s the sound of fighting words to my ears. That’s why I rag on radio evangelism. Most of these (supposedly) "Christian" broadcasters I come across on my radio are vile examples of humanity. And I stand by that. Yet, the truth is, all in all, I find Christianity rather interesting– even if it’s not my belief system. And if you wanna make me mad– just waste my time by going to great lengths to convince me of something unbelievable that you can’t prove. What could be more annoying?

And when I dig into a shortwave band, I get annoyed that way quite often. Or worse. And while Radio Moshiach could be quite boring and occasionally unintelligible. It never was never annoying. And never stupid or mean. Unlike Harold Camping, who is always boring and always annoying. And although he doesn’t look so healthy, he is still alive.

And wouldn’t that be awful– when he does give up the ghost, if they give his tapes the Gene Scott "immortality treatment, and Family Radio kept playing those awful and dim-witted "Open Forum" shows for all of eternity?

Or wait a minute. That can’t happen.

When you make it your career to predict the end of time over and over again, any show mentioning all those missed apocalypses wouldn’t be good candidates for future encore presentations, if you know what I mean. Meanwhile, Camping’s latest prediction is that it’s all over by 2011. Then again, most of us survived 1994. But perhaps, for Camping himself 2011 might really be the last dance. (But then again, there’s all that bad news…)

Of course the Lubavitchers have their own obsession with a coming apocalypse too. But they’re smart enough not to pick a date. When you’re predicting the end of human existence, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep your options open.

Shortwave Souvenir (part 1)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Admitting you listen to shortwave radio in modern-day America is rather unlikely to impress anyone. Most won’t know what you’re talking about. And those who do (and they won’t be youngsters) will probably assume you’re a nostalgic fart wasting time in some antique technology bubble (and perhaps you have too much time on your hands). Years ago, I mentioned some shortwave broadcast I’d heard to my neighbor George. I still remember how he scrunched up his forehead at the time. And in a voice an octave higher than usual he said: “Shortwave?”

I think it’s safe to say that George doesn’t really know much about shortwave broadcasting, but he knows enough to make some assumptions about his neighbor who still listens to it in the 21st Century. And while we get still get along fine, I think the "shortwave factor" might just have changed the way he looks me in the eye some days. And then just a week ago, I happened to hear from someone I’ve known since high school. In an email recounting my life of late, I happened to mention this blog. “I was wondering about the short-wave interest,” he wrote back. “What exactly is the appeal?”

Well, that’s a good question. And even after writing about shortwave radio for years, I don’t have a stock answer. It’s no secret that the accepted wisdom of most who remember shortwave radio’s heyday is that it’s a fossil technology. Whatever miracles it once offered, all the magic has been more than replaced by all the data pipelines that drown us in information and intellectual property. Not only all that, but the truth is quite a bit of the international radio programming that shortwave was known for, now can be heard in a more tidy and clean fashion though streaming audio on your computer.

But to simply write off the technology (and medium) as outdated and unpopular, is to miss what is fantastic and extraordinary about shortwave listening. For one, it’s as wireless as you can get. While some of us are having a hard time getting a good signal from the router to our home office upstairs, major shortwave radio transmitters blanket huge swaths of the planet (without cables or wires or touching base with something in orbit). And then there’s all those exotic and interesting and beautiful radios that were built to hear signals from around the world. These wonderful toys made it a real adventure to tune.

No doubt some shortwave DXers also enjoy the ease and convenience of clicking over to a satellite channel or the URL of an audio stream to get to some compelling content. But almost all of them will tell you that it is NOT as much fun as sitting down with a shortwave radio and finding what’s out there. There’s a sport to it.

Listening to shortwave radio in the developed world was already a waning pastime when the popularization of the internet made it seem even more irrelevant. At least this has become true where the web at home and work has become ubiquitous (in North America and most of the overdeveloped world. In some far-flung wilderness or out in the South Pacific, bringing a portable shortwave radio along would still be a smart good idea.) And what’s kinda funny is that during the last BIG boom and bust cycle eighty years ago, shortwave radio was an innovative disruptive technology, like the web and digital technology today, that shoved a few industries into the abyss, like the makers of mammoth "longwave" transmitters that had previously ruled the airwaves, and all the business surrounding all the huge cables strewn across the oceans to connect the world together. It was the first wireless era.

But for "shortwave enthusiasts" (you see those two words together a lot on the web when you read about people who refuse to give up on shortwave) here in America, the fix was in. By 2001, the mothership of English language programming on shortwave, the BBC World Service suddenly quit filling our sky with their HF band programming. You wanna hear the BBC? Look around on the internet, or try to find out which hours may (or may not) be simulcast on local public radio. Thanks.

And now we’re zooming toward 2010, and world broadcasters are still unplugging their English language services to America. The most recent loss was Radio Netherlands excellent English programming. Turning on a shortwave radio is a different experience these days. (And I won’t even mention all the RF pollution in our "always on" gadget-enabled homes.) Some nights the 25 and 49 meter bands are strangely quiet in sections, like decimated neighborhoods of New Orleans and Detroit. Instead of crack addicts filling the void, the frequencies still standing are now inhabited by spooky preachers and nasty crackpots (and occasional squatter pirates).

Okay, there is Spain, and Greece and Iran and Russia and Turkey and the Ukraine. And more when the propagation improves. And of course, there’s always Radio Habana Cuba (and everything else Cuba…). And round the clock happy talk from China. On a good day you might come across a ham operator talking about something besides their rig or the quality of someone’s carrier. If you’re lucky.

While the release of the Eton E1 blew some minds in the radio world just a few years ago, what’s one of the most complicated and fantastic portable shortwave ever made compared to an iPhone? And all these other globally networked gadgets people attach to themselves? When you get right down to it, it’s easy to see how that buzzy box full of demented preachers, lo-fi ethnic music and plenty of barely audible content (most not in English) might seem oddly primitive. Or even a bit precious– like you’re in some grandpa world– like the anachronistic hipsters I see in the neighborhood, decked out in suspenders and Brylcreem. ("Hey let’s see if we can find that Rocky Marciano fight on the radio!")

But instead of carrying on about paradigm shifts and Williamsburg fashion, let me tell you about my weekend in Pennsylvania with the family. Not relatives. Shortwave radio people.

After a few years of putting it off or forgetting about it, I finally managed to escape the big city and attend the “SWL Winterfest” in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania this year. Finally. It was the 22nd gathering of the faithful in this part of the world. And once I got there I began to wonder why I had stayed away so long. And if you’re wondering what such an off the wall gathering might be about, it was right there in the paperwork that was handed to me at the hotel. It said the mission of the Fest was “to provide a place to relax and just talk radio.” That’s it.

Sounded good to me. My kind of weekend.

In case the lingo’s new to you, SWL stands for “shortwave listening,” or “shortwave listeners.” And that’s become shorthand for the hobbyists and listeners, radio professionals, writers, and all the radio pirates and scanner people who make this annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia area for this conference. It’s an eclectic bunch to be sure. Yes, mostly guys. Not everyone wore glasses. And not everyone was balding or grey, or slightly padded around the middle. No, not everyone.

Actually, the youngest contingent there was the pirate radio folks. And they’re not kids any more either. There is no youth movement in this hobby. And the word “hobby” seems so quaint doesn’t it? If you’re life is navigated with a blackberry or an iPhone, isn’t that a hobby too? (Albeit, a much more intense and convenient one.) Or maybe you might call that a lifestyle.

Shortwave radio enthusiasts may be a little old-fashioned, but we’re not stupid. The reality that they keep getting together to celebrate (what many would consider) a doomed pastime doesn’t escape the attendees in Kulpsville. There’s a touch of gallows humor to the events, and every year everyone wants to know for sure if it’s going to happen next year. (And in case you’re curious. It certainly will, March 3-5, 2010.) However, nobody seems to make any long range plans for the Fest. At least, not that I heard about.

Not one to let a little futility get in the way of having a good time, I was happy to attend this yearly reunion of listeners and radio heads. And if you’ve gotten this far, I’d wager that you might like to have been there as well. (Or maybe you were there!) But either way, in this post and the next I’m going to share some audio and video highlights from my little vacation. And as you probably noticed, a few pictures too.

The first speaker on the first day seemed like a nice enough guy. Paul Ladd. Young professional. Dark hair. He’s the lead reporter (and a PR man) for a large religious radio operation broadcasting to the world from Alaska. And in their pursuit of world domination (which is, don’t forget, the whole purpose of Christianity), his company is in the process of setting up another huge transmitter on the opposite side of the world. In Madagascar. That’s what his presentation was about– the realities of making such a huge project happen. And from what I understand, this may be the last major shortwave construction project in the world.

On one level, it was quite inspiring– Highly motivated people, working hard to reach out to people in distant lands. And it was kind of fascinating seeing how they shipped every western amenity and tool they might need (including generators to power it all) over to the Indian Ocean, and over a hostile landscape. Just keeping adding fuel and parts and a little food and water (and most likely make regular payoffs to the proper authorities) and you’ve got yourself a high-power soap box at a prime spot in the Southern Hemisphere. Too bad they don’t have something less selfish in mind than turning more people into “us” (and probably away from native beliefs).

And that’s a funny thing. Despite the heavily evangelical nature of (domestic) American shortwave radio, there was very little representation of Christian broadcasting at the Fest. I did see a bumper sticker or two. Then again, I’m sure all the shortwave freaks and believers have their grand locations for their style of fellowship and enlightenment (like the annual meeting of the NASB). On the other end of the spectrum, the more entertaining event at the Fest was a presentation put on by a couple of English fellas who have a wonderful pirate radio operation on the AM band at the edge of London. And they’re not choir boys.

They went through quite a slide show taking the crowd through a brief pictorial history of pirate radio around the UK. However, when they started showing videos, showing off the “technical” (and occasionally hilarious) methods they’ve come up with to hide, protect and power their secret operation.

For many it was the high point of the fest. And I had actually posted a couple of videos of their presentation on You Tube, but after a request from the gentleman to take them down for “security” reasons, I complied. That said, I didn’t think there was anything particularly implicating in what I was going to show you here. Suffice to say that half the fun was Andy Walker’s contiguous mischievousness and his skills as a raconteur. But now you’ll just have to take my word for it. (However, I was kinda shocked when I heard an archive of a certain Canadian radio show that seemed to recount every secret the Brit’s revealed during their thrilling confessional. I guess if it’s not on You Tube, it’s not a security breach.

But what I can offer you hear is the sound of their station, WNKR. As an added bonus, a number of pirate radio operations set up shop at the fest every year. I think most of what I heard through the weekend was a mix of ‘”greatest hits” archives of pirate radio shows mixed with live programming. While it’s all very low power, it is like a big almost-secret cloud of radio that surrounds the fest itself. There’s nothing official about it. It is tolerated. I’m sure for a few it’s the only reason they come.

I recorded several of these temporary radio stations, filling up a few tapes over that weekend. And I’d have to say that, musically, this would have to be my favorite recording of the bunch. I guess I’m just partial to the sound of old 1960’s pop singles, especially some British rare gems. And it’s good radio.

WKNR (recorded in Kulpsville, PA) March 2009
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While there were more thrills and surprises in the pirate radio presentations at the Fest, the yearly “Listening Lounge” put on by David Goren is where the faithful come to commune in sound– to enjoy and honor and fool around with the sound of shortwave radio itself. To listen.

David has a nice website– "Shortwaveology," and a wonderful podcast that resides there. And actually there’s only one. The second one has been almost done for quite a while now. And while a number of us with there were more podcasts from David (and more of his intriguing archival recordings there to hear), the first couple podcasts (I’m heard the demo…) are great– low-key atmospheric overviews of shortwave and DXing and a (grown) boy’s fascination with far away signals in the night. And there’s some great exotic radio clips there for you too. Check it out when you get a chance.

David played (the pre-release version) of his podcast, as well as some of the favorite moments he’s unearthed in his archives, sounds he’s rediscovered in some recent excavations through his boxes. (A few nugget’s from David’s aircheck archives now reside on the playlist of my streaming radio station– Radio Kitchen Radio.”) And this very topic came up in discussion during the Listening lounge.

Many DXers have kept recordings of their listening habits over the years that usually reside on cassettes and reels in closets and attic and storage bins. And many of us feel an urgency to start getting these recordings digitized, so they can find entry into the public square one way or another. (Kinda like what happens on this site.) As shortwave radio broadcasting has changed so radically over the last few years (and is in some sense in its death throes here in the developed world) we want to have more than just memories when it’s all gone (or when it has turned into something completely different).

Makes sense, right? (And if you have intriguing radio recordings you’d like to digitize some recordings and/or share them with others, drop me an email.)
                       
Goren’s Friday night Listening Lounge is always a grab bag of radio related entertainment and conversation, and usually includes a performance or two. Here’s a topical number. A DX Blues. It’s Skip Arey on guitar and vocals accompanied Saul Brody on harp and CQ. It’s the “Cycle 23 Blues.” (Or perhaps “Where have all the sunspots gone? Long time passing…”)

And that’s another thing. Adding insult to injury for the DXer– right now the solar weather is BORING. And that’s not good. No sunspots. The least amount of solar activity in a hundred years they say. And it’s all the stormy details of those dark spots on our closest star that energizes our atmosphere to carry and bounce all those short radio waves around the globe. They make DXing really happen.

All the solar action occurs in regular intervals. It’s an eleven and half year cycle, and right now we are officially at a “solar minimum.” However, we can be relatively sure that in a couple years things are going to get a little wilder up there on the sun. Maybe too wild! But DX conditions will inevitably improve. However, there are other ongoing “minimums” that offer less hope for shortwave radio. Like the dearth of meaningful shortwave broadcasting in English from Europe, and the damn economy (which was still in a downward spiral last I checked.) Of course, this means that the recent spate of new shortwave radio gadgets (and associated improved technology) is over. And it’s even less likely that anyone (other than christians or crackpots) is likely to invest much cash into new shortwave transmissions to the world in the near future.

One of the idiosyncracies of international shortwave (that prevails to this day) is the interval signal. These are snippets of music or sounds or voices that are little audio logos for the station or shortwave service that play before (and in between) programs, usually right before the top (or bottom) of the hour. Like familiar lighthouses along the shore, these recognizable audio bits help the DXer navigate their receivers to the particular station or program they may be looking for. And it gives the listener a chance to adjust or move or tweak their receiver for the best reception of the coming program. Avid DXers memorize many dozens of these, or more, as sign posts for the distant signals they come across.

And they some interval signals come and go, they become part of the lore and culture of shortwave listening. And so for the Lounge this year, David had VOA’s Dan Robinson run the annual informal quiz of exotic interval signals, many a bit buried in the noise and artifacts of the aroused atmosphere that brought them here.        

While shortwave radio fans may enjoy this video for the challenge of the quiz itself, like most of you I had no idea what I was hearing or where it might have come from. While I’ve sampled shortwave radio off and on since the 1970’s, it’s really only been the in the last few years that I’ve been anything more than a casual listener. And well over ninety percent of the people at the Winterfest are far more knowledgeable about the history of shortwave than I am.

But even if you’re more clueless than I was, you may enjoy this video just to witness the aural realities of DXing. You might find it slightly amazing that such a mess of noise would inspire anyone to think of far away lands and how cool the technology was that made it possible to hear such racket broadcast wirelessly from such an incredible distance. And on top of that, these raspy old blurts of sound invoke more than a little nostalgia for the acclimated ears in attendance.

And it’s the same kind of noise that makes more than a few radio wives wonder how their husbands can spend so much time in THAT damn room with all those squawky radios. Of course, nowadays we have the internet. Not much static there (but there were no naughty pictures on shortwave either).

Toward the end I briefly came up to talk about this blog, and specifically about the late John Parker, and the Roadgang program that was on WWL in New Orleans for many years. There’s a couple posts here about Parker already, and probably more to come in the future. David and I were both big fans of the man, and from the number or hits and comments I’ve gotten here when I’ve posted some clips, there’s lots of folks out there who miss ol’ John on the radio.

Not surprisingly, it’s not unusual to see people carrying around shortwave radios at the Fest. It’s almost normal. And while I was at the Listening Lounge I saw Dan Robinson showing off (and kinda fondling) a portable radio a few rows behind me. And as I squinted at it, I was trying to figure out what it could be. Then I thought might know. And I had to go back and see if I was right.

It was indeed one of the holy grails of portable shortwave collectors– a Barlow Wadley. Like a few radios I saw at the Winterfest, before I’d only seen pictures of this South African receiver. They show up on ebay every once it a while. And they’re never cheap.

A 1970’s product from the former apartheid state, the Barlow Wadley is a quirky imperfect radio, but has been a highly prized portable for the shortwave DX crowd. Although Robinson has quite a collection of SW sets back home, you could tell that the recent addition of the Barlow really meant a lot to him. (If you’re interested, you can read plenty about this cool radio here.)

And lucky for me, Dan was nice enough to park his latest acquisition in the exposition area the next day for folks like me to come by and pay their respects. And I was able to sit down and get familiar his Barlow Wadley. It was really something.

I’ve tried to play with shortwave sets while deep inside buildings before (with all those florescent lights and multiple walls between the antenna and the great outdoors), and you never hear much. At least not until you get near a window. But this radio, with just the standard whip antenna was completely alive on 19 meters when I went through the dial. And while I didn’t look for any identifiers and didn’t keep a log, you can hear how rich the band was with signals (clearly audible over the crowd noise behind me). They say this radio is very sensitive and selective. I believe it. Simple and attractive too.

That’s it for now. I actually have more to share with you from my time the radio tribes, including a few more videos and airchecks. But this one has gone on long enough. I will follow up with a part two soon. But I do have to write it first…

Let me leave you with one other sample of pirate radio I recorded Thursday night in Kulpsville. They call the station WBZO. I suppose it might be the sound of a glowing laptop in the corner of a hotel room. Or maybe it was the magic of radio. Either way, lots of old punk rock and the like. Which is okay by me. And the period music also roughly fits the demographic of the pirate people I’d seen lurking at the Fest.

WBZO (recorded in Kulpsville, PA) March 2009  61:13
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I really do like a lot of the music in this aircheck. Reminds me of the kind of radio I was listening to back around 1980. And then in the middle of all the rock and roll you get a little dose of adolescent dick humor out of the blue. More about that in the next installment. I’ll catch up with you there.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Leave ‘em below. Thanks.

(If you missed it and you don’t see it above, part two of this post can be found here.)

Radio for Superpowers and the Super Stupid

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Here’s some more transmissions out of my grab bag of Hudson Valley reception that I started going through in the last post. Reception was solid and the ambient RF noise was quite low. I wish I had more time to receive when I was there. As I mentioned a couple posts ago, the growing political friction between the US and Russia was sure to bring back some flavor of the cold war to shortwave listening. And as you can hear in this first extended clip, that’s already happening.

Voice of Russia – 9480kHz 0206 UTC 08-28-08  62:38

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It’s the Voice of Russia, otherwise known as “Radio Moscow” back in the Soviet Era. For thirty years, they’ve maintained a 24-hour English language radio service, with an emphasis on reaching North Americans. And in this hour or so of the Voice of Russia from late August, you hear news and opinion presented Radio Moscow style– with the leading headlines and featured commentaries focused on ongoing political and military differences with the US and NATO. Of course, the main points of contention are the recent conflicts in Georgia and the two provinces Russia has since sucked away.

And despite all the changes in Russia and the new mob glamor of Moscow, their international English language radio service almost sounds like it’s popped out of a time capsule buried decades ago. The news sounders are ancient, and the announcers all sound so disciplined, clipped and old fashioned. Listen to the political “analyst” who skewers the west in the “News and Views” segment. He has that cigarette-roasted-larynx sound I kind of miss on the radio. You just don’t hear that warm Pall Mall “voice of authority” in amplitude modulation much these days. The AM dial used to be full of that sound. Too bad those smokers don’t live a little longer.

I don’t know enough about hardware or physics to know why, but it seems to me that Radio Moscow (and now the Voice of Russia) has always had a particular “sound” to their signal– a particular texture to the radio waves as they come ashore here. And it seemed to be kind of a closed shop, without much more than a handful of announcers who seemed to stay on the air for decades. I think I recognize a couple from my Radio Moscow listening back in the 1980’s.

And lets face it, any government putting up the dough for an external broadcasting service has a direct hand in the news and information it presents. Typically the slant is subtle, and the news and editorial content is a mixed bag. However the vibe of the broadcasting here is much more like you would have heard in the Soviet era, with unmistakable defiance toward America. I suppose you could get so swallowed up in Putin’s soulful stare that you might just miss that breakaway province-size chip on his shoulder. 

Then in the middle of this hour is one of their many sprawling mythic Russian history/heritage features, of which the Voice of Russia seems to have an endless supply (Who knows how old they are? And I wonder if they’re still producing new ones?) As usual the classical music is thick the voices are rich. When the orchestra is really flying and the boomy baritone guy jumps in, it’s as high fidelity as you’re going to get from five thousand miles away. And when the music is dense on the signal like this, you can really hear the ghostly pulsing of the skywaves rushing in and falling back. This is shortwave radio, done in a traditional style. The way mom used to make it. If they didn’t mention websites and email addresses, you might think it was 1979.

However, right before this side of the tape ends, the ever-chipper Estelle Winters chimes in with an update on all the happenings in fun and fab Moscow (or something like that). Alas, it’s actually 2008 and she just doesn’t have that grumpy Soviet sound.

Voice of America – 7340kHz 0312UTC 08-28-08  18:10

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Officially, the Voice of America is our country’s official propaganda channel on the shortwave dial. VOA fact, it started out as a division of the “Office of War Information” during World War II. Their original mission was to counter the worldwide presence of Nazi propaganda on shortwave (and later as a radio bulwark against the old “Iron Curtain” states). But these days the U.S. Government focuses specific foreign radio (and TV) services to states we don’t like so much (in their native language), like Radio Marti (for Cuba) and Radio Farda (for Iran). From what I’ve heard in recent years, the English language service of the Voice of America sounds rather dowdy and seems fairly apolitical these days (I wonder if their Russian service is more strident?). The presentation is a little dry and sparse, which is fine with me. But it does sound like there’s been some budget cuts over the last few years.

Of course the signal isn’t aimed our way, and the reception is somewhat hollow and fady considering the distance. The scratchy sound you hear in the beginning is me, adjusting the active antenna. It goes away… and comes back briefly as I try to clarify the signal a bit later. A better antenna or radio could have nulled out the other station bleeding in.

This is “Daybreak Africa,” a daily news-magazine program which typically is pretty heavy with news and issues on the African continent, but as the Democratic convention is coming to a close there’s a big focus here on what’s happening in Denver.

The U.S. Presidential election is big news around the world this time around, especially in Africa where many in the Sub-Saharan region feel a literal kinship with Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya. There’s a short feature from Senegal about how locals there view the U.S. election. The guy says he’s doubtful Americans would accept a President with African ancestry. Another man watches Obama speak a couple times a week on TV, and he thinks he’s both an eloquent speaker and a gentlemen. (Personally, I think the fact that our President for the last seven years is neither has everything to do with all the international interest in the election. Even more than Obama’s racial profile.) But of course, beyond the worldwide antipathy toward Bush and Cheney there’s a real excitement around the world that a member of an oppressed minority in America possibly getting the high office.

While VOA is official U.S. external radio service to the world, the unofficial (and much more prevalent) American radio services to the world comes from the vast number of Christian broadcasters, on both American soil and stationed around the world.

And while I’m there are a number of shortwave broadcasts from every continent featuring religious content, Christians far outnumber any belief system on American radio stations– local, national or international. And while it’s hard to begrudge “evangelists” (or whatever they are) from communicating or communing with their radio “flock,” there is an element of “fleecing” the weak and ignorant for money that’s distasteful (but hell, it works for public radio…). The really extra-creepy business about Christianity on the radio is the “missionary” factor. They’re out to convert everyone. Which is not only crass (if not gauche) in practice, but also a divisive mindset that is both anti-culture and anti-intellectual. And their mythology and anti-enlightenment rides atop the vast majority of short radio waves bouncing away from our continent into homes around the globe.

One of those afternoons upstate, I made a cup of coffee and turned on the shortwave radio and heard the following conversations. And maybe I’m more sensitive these days, but instead of chuckling off these two clowns, I found who the discussion both strange and depressing. So I started a tape, to share with you.

WWCR Nashville, TN – Warning with Jonathan Hansen 12160kHz 08-29-08  2028 UTC  7:34

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This clip features a couple of these defacto ambassadors of U.S. intolerance. Although the host and his guest bemoan the loss of “Judeo-Christian values” in America, make no mistake about it, these guys are authoritarian WASP trash. Period. The use of the word “Judeo” may be a polite nod to the Jewish roots of Christianity, but they don’t like the Jews any more than they like Catholics or Buddhists or thinkers. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in their minds the best elements of Judaism just gradually begat the Bible Belt-style Protestant movement of the U.S. of A, thanks to Jesus and the Pilgrims (and that swell bible King James wrote…)

What you’re actually hearing here is a radio/TV show called “Warning.” The host– Jonathan Hansen, a bush league doomsday evangelist. Of course, he’d rather you just call him a prophet. And if Protestant prophesy is your game, you gotta get out there and call for the painful and messy end to humanity.

A strong cult of apocalypticism that runs through Protestant America. It’s bad enough that they can’t quit talking about blood and fear and martyrdom, but the fact that guys like this gets a constant hard on by talking and thinking about suffering all the time should tell you everything you need to know. Although it’s an old game (or fetish?), there’s something particularly American about this strange and viral brand of Christianity. It all dovetails with the isolated xenophobia of pale-Americans and their old-fashioned heartland jingoism. Ultimately is that special American spirit, that we’re just better than everybody else, especially if you’re a Christian. And you get extra points if you become a follower of a doomsday nutbag, like Hansen. (If you’re a glutton for punishment, you might wanna check out his website. However, he doesn’t call it "Warning" for nothing. Watch out. Hansen is out to "shake you with a shake that has never shaken you before!" Sounds a little shakey…)

And finally, notice that same paranoia about the coming New World Order I discussed in the last post. While it’s equally as dark as the new high-tech paranoia of Alex Jones disciples or the UFO/alien obsessed, the Christian fear of the New World Order is even more bizarre in that they actually looking forward to more wars and famines and natural disasters. Things just never quite bad enough for these folks, the want more DEATH until sweet Jesus steps out of the sky to save the day. Or is it that they float up in the sky to meet him? I can’t remember how that all works.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I think that the more you think about that garbage, the more you encourage them. Or perhaps get a little infected by the stupidity yourself. But the main thing, is that these people want to tribalize the world. The USA Jesus tribe versus everyone else: The foreigners. And the apostates and heathens and demons. And the Muslims. And especially all the brown people, everywhere.

I don’t want to go so far as to say religion is a disease. I understand it’s often a comfort and traditions are important to people. But I am convinced that evangelical Christianity is most certainly a personality disorder, if not an outright mental illness. There’s an old adage that used to get a lot more play a few decades ago– "God is Love." Which makes me think of John Lennon, and that idea kind of made sense to me. A god who might be something like "love" seems a lot more reasonable than a higher power who’s just an ill-tempered sky geezer on a power trip. Or maybe I’ve been looking at all this wrong way– taking the phrase literally somehow instead of enjoying it’s full Orwellian flavor– War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength: God is Love. Got it. Maybe that’s what the pope was talking about.

So, let’s end this post on a high note, with some music.

7190 Tunisia RTV 0615 UTC 08–29-08

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Here’s some Arabic music from the north coast of Africa, including a version of Happy Birthday in there somewhere. There’s some fading at one point and I try to adjust the antenna again, adding noise. Then the station comes back. It’s a half-million watts. Hard to stop this signal.

The reception is poor, and then OK again. The music is fine. And the best part? Mr. Hansen and his globetrotting missionary friend would surely dislike this show and this music.  And they’d rather you and I are perpetually unhappy– looking forward to death. So, I say– enjoy the music. Enjoy the noise. Enjoy life until death, for god’s sake. Get a clue.

And did you hear? Bill Maher has a new movie coming out.

Some August Tuning

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

In late August I went away. Not far, but I did get out of the city for a few days. Upstate– an inexpensive rental in the Hudson Valley between the Berkshires and the Catskills. Nothing special, but one of those little free-standing cottage deals that kind of makes you feel like you briefly have another “home” in the country. And as usual, I set up a listening shack in the corner.

While I almost never even touch the ubiquitous television while I’m lodging, the Democratic Convention was in full swing. And big election cycle events like the DNC can actually suck me head first into a cable-enabled television. It’s as close as I get to watching sports crap. And speaking of that, I was really pissed to learn that out of the three channels offered by C-SPAN, I couldn’t find one of them on the cable service where we were staying. I found that troubling. As I kept going through the hundred or so channels they did offer, I did notice one that seemed to be dedicated to replaying tennis games all night long.

rah rah rahSo, I was kind of stuck watching the convention padded with punditry and diversions. Nonetheless, it was somewhat inspiring, and there were good speeches. However, I really do miss Barbara Jordan. She was awesome.

Between the convention, having company come by, and tending the wants and needs of a resident four year old, my quality time with the receivers wasn’t all I hoped. Yet, the reception in general was very good and the hours (mostly late night) I was able to squirrel away were well spent monitoring the world. Armed with my Degen 1103 and it’s nearly identical cousin the Grundig G5, two tape decks and a Degen DE31 active loop antenna attached to the window (which I could switch between radios) I went to work archiving the most compelling amplitude modulation I could sort out of the sky on the fly.

Once I found a frequency (or band) that seemed to have some promise on one receiver I’d start recording that, and search for something else to grab out of the sky on the other radio. I tended to plug the antenna into whichever signal seemed to need the biggest boost. But when I had Australia coming in on the Grundig and found India on the Degen, I had a hard time trying to figure out what to do with the antenna.

As usual when I come back from some time out of the city, I now have a pile of DX recordings to consider. Typically after some thinking and listening I pluck out a few things under some thematic heading and work up a blog post in some logical or topical fashion. However, these things take time, and these days the national and world events that drive information broadcasting are transforming and mutating by the day. So this time, instead of spending so much ruminating and researching some focused reception into a post, I thought I’d just start posting some of the broadcasting I happened to find. Without thinking about it too much.

Recent conversations with David Goren (of the excellent “Shortwaveology” site) have persuaded me to pay a little more attention to the traditional “tropical” bands at the low end on the shortwave spectrum. Largely the domain of third world radio for local consummation, the three bands between three and five thousand kilohertz are reserved for the equatorial zones where routine electrical storms make medium wave broadcasting problematic. Traditionally, most of the stations you find on these bands are located in the third world offering programming for local and national audiences. I suppose that I haven’t spent as much time wandering through these frequencies because there’s not a lot of English language programming to be found down there (except for freaky christians of course, who are everywhere…) As you might guess, there’s not a lot of strong signals on the tropical bands. And like the rest of the SW bandspace, the tropical bands aren’t as crowded or interesting as they once were. But they are still there.

On my first night away (Wednesday after Joe Biden’s speech), I went through the 60 meter band, and didn’t hear all that much. Here’s a couple snippets of some far off exotic broadcasting. Some singing first.

Radio Rossii (Kyrgyzstan) 4050kHz 0339 UTC 08-28-08

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It’s only a minute, but the operatic singing is stellar and poignant over the static. And it sounds so ancient, like it’s preserved or fermented or something. Dried flowers perhaps. Or just the acquired taste of an ear nurtured by antique technology. Either way, I think it’s still an attractive moment of sound.

And I admit it’s a guess. This Russian service from Kyrgyzstan seems to be the most likely culprit. And from the downtempo vibe of this music it’s not hard to believe that Russia is somehow behind it. However, if you have a better guess or actually know what this is at 0340 UTC, please leave a comment informing us all below.

Togo… or Tanzania (or some other tropical "T" kinda place) 5050kHz 0350 UTC 08-28-08

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Okay, I don’t know what this actually is. But I believe it’s French with some type of African accent. The reception’s not bad but the signal is kinda crappy. Usually when I’m scanning I narrow the bandwidth, but here I think it was wide so I’m absolutely sure of the frequency. I thought a likely suspect might be Radio Lome at 5047kHz, but David told me he hadn’t heard them for a while, and I find no recent reception reports on them. Another possibility is Radio Tanzania is possible too, but it’s even further with a fraction of the power that Togo is supposed be transmitting.

And it would be swell if a couple of French speaking readers could translate some of this clip. And further information on this broadcast in general would be nice, if anyone has a better clue. 

Not everything on the tropical bands is faraway or sublime. There’s also the bizarre wasteland of American shortwave broadcasting spilling over on the lower frequencies. Like this…

WWCR Nashville, TN – The Alex Jones Show – 0500UTC 08-28-08 (a rebroadcast from the previous afternoon)

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WWCR. Lovingly known as "World Wide Crackpot Radio," but the big "C" is really shorthand for "Christian" (I.e., worldwide Jesus). Last I looked, they had four big transmitters covering the planet from North America. Their time is brokered and almost all the content is intended for believers, of one kind or another.

In all my radio blogging, I’ve resisted writing in any great detail about Alex Jones. Not that there isn’t plenty to say, but for me just initiating a discussion about Mr. Jones and what he does is kind of like stepping in a steaming pile of cultural excrement. But his show is occasionally fascinating. Kind of like looking at gangrene under a microscope.

While there have always been conspiracy nuts, doomsayers and righteous fanatics with microphones ever since broadcasting began, the meteoric rise of Alex Jones and his one-man paranoia factory could only happen in a dystopian political and media environment like the one that is rotting all around us right now. I like to think of it as necromodernism. Our culture, society, and the stories we tell, are overripe– with flavors that are often rich and complex. And tart with rot.

For all his boomy bluster, Alex Jones fancies himself an info-warrior, and is in fact the driving force behind a fear-based cottage industry gone worldwide. He’s not just the host of a daily national radio show and a weekly local TV show, but he also runs a few very popular paranoia websites and continues to pile up an arsenal of dark and denunciative documentaries and assorted viral presentations proliferating across the net.

But all his high-tech machinations, Jones is more of a reboot of the old John Bircher archetype. With a broad appeal toward "patriot" types, gun freaks, and the web savvy Ron Paul set (as well as the kind of folks who follow fringe media for specific new information about UFO’s or Jesus). But instead of calling out commies and the international Jewish conspiracy like back in the good old days, Jones and his followers are at war against "global elites." And from what I understand, the victory sought by Jones and his "infowar" is to defeat the elites from actually putting their evil "New World Order" into effect. Which would be bad. Apparently, worse than the way things are now.

And While I’m not an expert on this New World Order thing, I do know that it would trigger some kind of oppressive "one world" government (which may or may not originate from the UN), and then other bad stuff would happen. If these topics interest you, I’d advise you get a hold of shortwave radio and tune into all the American broadcasts you can find. If you can suffer through all the mind numbing Christian dreck you’ll eventually find out everything that’s known or prognosticated for this coming NWO problem.

Without getting into a mire by offering my opinion on the validity of all the sundry conspiracy theories that are under attack daily by the info-warfare of Alex Jones, not everything you hear on the show is completely ridiculous (except perhaps the windbag in charge). We live in dark times, and that’s the theme of his program. But fact and fantasy and fiction are all interchangeable once you start to accept the conspiracy canon of the Alex Jones, and there’s plenty of bad news out there ripe for assigning blame and calling out scapegoats.

Okay, the Alex Jones show does have a certain entertainment value, if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing. And while the program is devoid of wit or whimsey, it’s hard not to laugh now and then at the super-serious vibe of the show and the monster truck persona of the host.

However this sample is less harsh, with DIY filmmaker Jason Bermas (of the Loose Change documentaries) filling in for Jones as he lumbers around outside the convention in Denver with his infowar squad causing trouble (which I gather was also being streamed live on this website at the time). At the onset of this aircheck, Jones calls in to inform the audience that Ralph Nader was coming on the show (a relatively big name and normal guest for Jones). But more significantly there’s discussion at the beginning of the clip of a street altercation between Alex and right-wing media hack Michelle Malkin, which drives home my point.

Michele Malkin (and if you don’t know who she is, that’s good) is a vile right-wing media bitch, in the mode of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. Yet as loathsome as she might be, when confronted on the streets of Denver by the info-warrior you almost feel sorry for the little monster. Take a look at this shining example of Jones confrontational activism here or here and see what I mean. Does that sad ruckus make you feel any more informed? Maybe some folks enjoy watching a big rude oaf annoying a nasty scrap of humanity like Malkin, but I don’t. And since Jones’ activist assault of Malkin, he’s been wearing the whole event as some badge of courage. Please

Alex Jones is a clown, an entertainer/activist/journalist/crackpot who seems at first impression an interesting character until you start to feel that just by paying attention to him you might be encouraging him to be even more of an asshole. And while it’s never been more important to take in a wide variety of sources for your media diet, be careful. Pigging out on the dark stream of junk doom churned out by Alex Jones could literally make you stupid.

Arising from the aromatic rot of necromodern culture is a family of conspiracy religions, most loosely based in Christian fear of demons or heretics. And Alex Jones is the self-appointed pope of his "Prison Planet" faction. Jones practice in particular is obsessed with the alleged occult practices of the global elite. Others are more concerned with space aliens or biblical prophesy. Yet I’m sure that the followers and acolytes of Alex Jones would consider the conspiracies that dominate his activism to be of a secular nature, or even a reasoned study of current affairs. That’s when you get into trouble.

Just like personality and gossip "news" that makes a mockery of the whole idea of being aware of the events of the world, looking at every event and issue in the news as a chess move by clandestine evil forces in their efforts to take over the world makes you truly foolish. Somewhere along the line you joined a cult.

I’m not saying that conspiracies don’t exist, or that ugly decisions by powerful people aren’t made in secret. What I am saying is that it’s stupid to believe in things you don’t as a fact. Perhaps comedian Marc Maron (a recovering conspiracy nut and unemployed talk show host) said it best:

"You act the same as a religious fanatic if you are a conspiracy theorist. You pick a series of unprovable "facts" that become dogmatic tenets and you commit your life to it. If anyone argues with it you say, "Well, I guess you just don’t want to open your eyes to the truth. You want to live in darkness. You don’t want to see the light." So, how are they any different?"

Exactly. And once you start dividing the world into people who are for or against the New World Order, it may just be a matter of time before you become convinced that the bad guys are actually shape shifting giant lizards masquerading as human beings.

And if it was just a shortwave radio phenomenon it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But Jones is on a few dozen AM and FM stations, and more importantly he has a huge web presence with daily podcasts and 24/7 streaming. And the sad truth is, people who get on the internet to become more informed about some of the serious issues of our times could easily google their open minds right up to a prime feeding spot at Jones’ sloppy trough of murky fantasies and half-truths.

Just listen to the calls through the hour archived here. A lot of half a brain types proposing half-baked theories proposing all manner of sketchy and shady scenarios. A dose of "chemtrails" from overhead air flights has made a town sick. A cluster of old cold war movies on cable tv is trying to get us to hate Russians all over again. And then there’s Bruce in Connecticut and his "four minute shock treatment." You kind of have to hear it to believe it. Then as a bonus you get some of the quirky advertising of patriot style radio–mostly survivalist and apocalyptic fare.

I know, I started out this piece by saying I was going to post some shortwave broadcasting, without thinking about it too much. And then I went on an extended diatribe about conspiracy talk radio. And maybe you wonder why I find Alex Jones and his followers so alarming. Well, there is a personal side to the story. There was a friend I used to have. A good friend.  A journalist of sorts, and a smart and funny guy. Or so I thought.

And we had many things in common, including a somewhat voracious intake of alternative news and opinion on the web. And for years we both shared the guilty pleasure of sampling some conspiracy-style talk radio, like Coast to Coast back Art Bell was still the host and occasionally the more wacky shows on shortwave like Alex Jones or Bill Cooper’s "Hour of the Time. Eventually I began to realize that we might be taking the paranoia radio shows a little more seriously than I was.

And over time, when we would get in discussions about current affairs, he would shift the conversational focus to demons and "global elites" and the Illuminati and Skull and Bones and the Bilderberg Group. Pretty soon we couldn’t discuss politics or the war or almost anything in the news without my friend slopping up the whole discussion with theories and half-facts and rumors and bullshit. And I guess I really must have liked this guy, or I wouldn’t have spent so many hours in sad fruitless arguments trying to counter his non-logic and Alex Jones-style worldview. And when I wouldn’t buy into whatever conspiracy narrative he was pushing on me, he called me "a truth hater." That’s when I actually started to dislike this person, and not just feel sorry for him.

And it just got worse. Every time there was a natural disaster, he say it was part of an international plot (For example, Katrina striking the Gulf Coast was Japan’s revenge for the atomic bombs we dropped). And he’s also rather worked up about how the government spraying us with nano-bots that crawl into our bodies and cause trouble. And on any given day you might find him up on his roof with a video camera, looking for incoming craft. I’m not kidding.

It really does pain me that my charming old friend has become a morbid shell of himself, warning anyone that will listen about the coming New World Order. Perhaps right now he’s holed up in his dark one bedroom, watching Alex Jones doomsday videos. Or just staring up at the sky in anticipation of his own demise. And I don’t even think he’s mentally ill. He’s just really religious. Kind of like Tom Cruise. Just a little more necromodern.

And we don’t talk these days, so I don’t know which global elites are behind the hurricane that about to hit Texas. But that’s okay by me. I’m a radio guy. When I don’t like the show I turn the station. And my life is better for it.

Ear To The Enemy

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Lately as I’ve been roaming the web looking for a news and punditry, a quote made famous in the old Godfather movies (and actually a translation from an ancient Chinese warrior) shows up again and again: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

While the more complex wisdom behind this adage is really beyond the argument of this post, the main point is accurate enough. You should keep an eye and an ear on your enemies (Or on those who are chosen to be your enemies.) And if you live in America, there’s no doubt which government our rogue executive branch has targeted as our nemesis– The Islamic Republic of Iran.

You’d think the U.S. would have its hands full occupying Iraq and Afghanistan under more than hostile circumstances. And the fact that a few thousand Americans lives (and exponentially more local innocents) have been lost in our savage efforts to maintain order in those countries might put the brakes on pending plans to destroy another nation. And if the whole idea sounds absolutely insane, it should. But that hasn’t stopped Cheney & Bush before. According to the most recent article (in a series) written by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, another onslaught of shock and awe (on Iran this time) is shockingly likely in the next few months. According to Hersh, there’s already plenty of super-secret undercover cross border mischief to get the mess in Iran warmed up and ready for our fireworks. The potential of literally setting the world on fire before or just after the next election here is quite real.

Sounding the alarm, Seymour Hersh has been making the rounds on the talk show circuit lately, and appeared on Air America’s Ring of Fire last week in an interview with Robert Kennedy Jr. Have a listen.

Seymour Hersh on Ring of Fire 07-05-08  18:14

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The United States has a big propaganda presence on both medium and short wave frequencies in Iran, with "Radio Farda" where American-made "information" is stuffed between hits for the kids (for a country where 70% of the population is under 30) for seven and a half hours each day– programming described in a staff memo at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty regarding the launch of the service: "a combination of popular Persian and Western songs aimed at attracting young Iranians to Farda’s news products." There’s also some semblance of a Persian service of Voice of America that’s still broadcasting for the Iranian grownups as well as VOA satellite TV service that’s attracted an audience (despite the fact that receiving satellite television is illegal there).

On the other hand, Iran has a much more difficult time attracting young Americans (or any Americans) to their official "news products." Last year, they started their own satelitte TV service in English for the U.S., it seems doubtful that its getting much viewership stateside. If you don’t have a dish (or can’t get it on yours), your not going to see much of "Sahar English TV." I’ve yet to see any videos show up on the web or Usenet, and their website is pretty minimal. The fact is, right now for most of us (outside of text gleaned from the web) the only viable media outreach from Iran that we can experience in English and unfiltered by U.S. media and the government is via shortwave. It’s a daily hour they call "The Voice of Justice."

It’s not uncommon to hear aging shortwave listeners bemoan the "old days" when the cold war made the hobby more exciting (I plead guilty…). Part of the reason is that back then we still lived a relatively bigger world (unlike today’s tightly networked reality) and intercepting communiques from overseas was a more exotic experience. And although there was no law against it, there was always a little thrill of the taboo– tuning in voices from behind the "iron curtain." And unless you sent away for a program guide or something, nobody in our government would be any the wiser of your listening habits.

Now in the age of Bush, instead of the iron curtain we have the hyperbole of the "axis of evil" (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) and John Bolton‘s "beyond the axis of evil" trio (Syria, Libya and Cuba). And I almost forgot Condi Rice and her "outposts of tyranny" and Dick Cheney‘s "Funky Four + 1"… (actually I made that last one up), but you get the idea. Since 2000, we’ve been governed by an administration that needs enemies, just like the in the good old days. And when it comes to making enemies, it’s one of the few ways the Bush regime is unquestionably proficient.

While almost any American with a shortwave radio ought to be able to pick up the English service of nearby Radio Habana Cuba at night, the broadcasts from the other "enemy" countries aren’t so easy to hear. In fact, the only official enemy nation I’ve been able to hear in English on shortwave in recent years has been Iran. And often the reception has been problematic at best. However, when I’ve been away from my Brooklyn RF noise nest I’ve been able to pick up their hour of English language programming on the 31 meter band at 9495kHz. When I recently spent a weekend at the Jersey shore I heard some dramatic old-fashioned propaganda that sounded remarkably like the old school cold war histrionics that we’ve all missed. However, a small error on my part (forgetting to release the pause button on the recorder) voided my chance to capture that little bit of theater to share with you.

Then I was passing along my tale of woe to fellow shortwave enthusiast David Goren (who happens to have better equipment and a better listening location than I), and he offered to record one of Iran’s next broadcasts to the U.S.A. and sent over a recording. And now, I can share the hour he recorded with you, here.

Iran’s Voice of Justice 9595kHz  0130 UTC  58:33

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I know the audio is shady at the beginning of this clip, but it drastically improves if you’re patient. And for starters, you can tell Iran isn’t any ordinary country. Kind of like Baptist dry counties in the American south, the whole country of Iran is a theocracy with democratic elements. After the comforting intro music the a few verses of the Qur’an are sung, and then spoken in English:

In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate. Therefore declare openly what you are bidden and turn aside from the polytheists. Surely we will suffice you against the scoffers. Those who set up another god with Allah; so they shall soon know. And surely We know that your breast straightens at what they say; Therefore celebrate the praise of your Lord, and be of those who make obeisance. And serve your Lord until there comes to you that which is certain.

I can’t tell you what that I actually means, but as a nonbeliever almost any quote from scripture read aloud with conviction can easily give me pause and make me a little uneasy. With sacred text, you may be free to take what you want from it, but you always have a sense there’s some political message intended when a particular passage is passed along by a group of believers. It always feels kind of personal. (Hmmm, I don’t think I’m a polytheist, but I have been a scoffer…)

But in the end this bit of sober Islamic text is less threatening than most Christian mumbo-jumbo I come across. The point is, although a number of Mideast states call themselves "Islamic Republics," but Iran is more serious about it than most. More than any other major state on Earth today, Iran is a theocracy– a state under the rule of (the alleged earthly representatives of) a supreme being. You don’t see much of that kind of governance today, but in ancient times it wasn’t out of the ordinary. And there’s plenty of strange people in far right Christian circles who are friends of the Bush regime would like to turn the U.S.A. into a theocracy.

And while I think that’s a really bad idea for this country, just because a nation happens to run their affairs that way it doesn’t inspire me to advocate killing people or overthrowing governments. But others disagree (like this spoiled little objectivist boy-man, just look at his picture on the right). But it’s not kooky American theorists driving the issue, It’s the spiteful U.S. neocons worked into a lather by Israel and their super-bully American lobby (AIPAC) who are practically demanding that the U.S. attack Iran. And who’s surprised that the executive cyborg Dick Cheney has a big hard on to roar through Zarathustra’s old stomping grounds with American bodies, weaponry and hardware.

So, combine all this war talk with a couple of messy U.S. occupations next door and American’s previous misbehavior on the Persian Peninsula, you’ve got all the makings of a paranoid nation. And their shortwave broadcast to America, "The Voice of Justice," is where you can hear all about it.

When I’m able to listen to shortwave in a favorable location in the early evening, the nightly English hour from Iran is high on my list of broadcasts to seek out. Since 2003 (the year the U.S. invaded Iraq), Iran has produced two English language programs a day, one for America and one for the rest of the world. The "Voice of Justice" is for our ears. When there was only one English language broadcast, I recall more features on Islam and Iranian culture. I assume the other IRIB English broadcast is similar. But the VOJ is all business, hard core political business. The cultural and religious stuff has been pushed aside to make way for opinion and news regarding Iran’s relationship with the "Big Satan" and the "Little Satan," as well as the warfare that may engender. And as always, reports on American military and foreign policy blunders throughout the Middle East.

Here the news leads with an old story. Twenty years ago to the day (July 3, 1988) US forces blew a civilian airliner (Iran Air Flight 655) out of the sky, taking the lives of almost three hundred people (including 66 children). It happened in the middle of a melee near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and the U.S. government has always maintained that it was an accident (although we ended up paying out over sixty million in compensation for the tragedy), but they’ve never bought that idea in Iran. Ahmadinejad says it testifies to America’s "inhuman actions."

Most of the content of the first half of this broadcast is news and official Iranian government views on world issues, ending with their usual interview of a western expert/pundit who offers opinions with which Iran agrees. This evening it’s Dean Baker, a lefty economist trying to make sense of McCain’s confusing tax policies. The second half is a carefully coordinated cavalcade of western opinion represented and rehashed for dramatic political effect. If you care to follow along at home, you can find some of the op-ed pieces discussed and amply quoted by clicking here, here, here or here.

The last time I wrote about Iran’s English broadcast they had a live audio stream up and running. But from what I can tell, that’s no longer the case. On the IRIB English language home page they actually have a podcast link, but I fed it into my aggregator a week ago and it seems to be a dead feed. I don’t know why. Despite the sundry glories of the world wide web the only way you can actually hear from the governments of our country’s arch-enemies (like Iran and Cuba) is to use a shortwave radio.

It seems ridiculous that I feel like I should say this (but we live in stupid times), but I’m not a fan of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Castro brothers. And I’d rather live here in America, and think in general we have a far better system of government, but… I’m far more concerned about an American government that is ready and willing to attack and occupy other nations and the freaky minority of people in the media and out on the public highways who are willing to encourage and support the mass murder, hatred, mayhem and despair that wars bring upon the world. Even after almost seven years of this kind of bloodthirst on display, I still find it shocking and depressing that it seems to have no end. International conflict has always made the shortwave hobby more interesting, but in this era where you would think people would finally know better. And then you realize that you inhabit and support the nation (or one of the nations) who are making the world so much worse, so quickly and so often.

It makes you want to snatch up the pasty-faced objectivist boy-man and all the haunted and owlish neocon chickenhawks and drop the whole bunch of them into a horrific and hopeless skirmish full of IED‘s and human bombs and let them all try to swim out of the gore, to try to crawl their way back up the pearled shores of Barbara Bush’s saggy breast up onto those craggy Republican cheeks. And then to find hero’s welcome in the cool marble confines of her beautiful mind. Or something like that. (Imagine the smell in there– at first a strong floral covering odor, and then…).

I wish Bill Hicks was still around. While The Voice of Justice is almost as critical of the Bush dynasty, it sure ain’t funny.

New Orleans Road Trip 1988 pt 2 (Into The South)

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

This is the second installment of an edited collection of radio recorded on a 1988 roadtrip from Detroit to New Orleans and back. It was initially made (and edited) for my own entertainment and there was no log, and many stations are unidentified. However, twenty years later I think there’s enough radio history to make it worth sharing with you. The first post (and further explanation) can be found here.

In the 1980’s, I became infatuated with black radio. Not only was the music better than the commercial pop and rock stations at the time, but the overall approach was more sincere and spontaneous. And in Detroit we had the genius of Electrifying Mojo on WGPR, mixing Prince and the Gap Band with the B-52’s and all the George Clinton you could handle. But by the mid-80’s I was rediscovering AM radio, and when the funk and groove on the FM “urban” stations was overrun by sequencers, beatbox rhythms and banal production the AM dial was still a refuge for many of the heritage R&B where an oldies heavy contemporary soul/blues format had emerged. Through the 80’s around Detroit there were two retro-black choices on the AM dial– WCHB and WQBH, and they were the most popular presets in my car for a few years. (I have recordings I plan to post.)

My infatuation at the time with the last vestiges of soul broadcasting on the AM dial actually influenced the routing of the initial trip south, adding just a few more miles to trip by strategically driving through a few large southern cities. And this section of this aircheck montage contains the fruits of that plan, as my Buick wagon rolls by Nashville, Memphis and Jackson. 

While the old Mason-Dixon line never stretched this far west, the defacto border of where the American south begins in the Midwest would have to be the Ohio River. That’s where this segment of the trip begins, either right before or right after crossing the river at Cincinnati. It’s hard to say exactly where we were. The signals don’t stop at the river. And once you get within an hour of the river (which is also the Kentucky border) the locals may have a drawl and you’re more likely to find grits or hush puppies on a diner menu. As rust-belt kid, the gradual changes in culture and inclinations once you rolled deeper into the old confederacy was always kind of invigorating. Even exotic.

With no written records of the trip or the stations I recorded, I’m left to depend on memory and the re-edited recorded record. What I do know is that we entered Kentucky sometime in the mid to late afternoon and that by the time we got to Tennessee it was dark outside. The sun didn’t rise until sometime in Southern Mississippi or Louisiana. As I mentioned in the last post, my radio recording along the way was impulsive and intermittent. What you hear in this post is what I edited together from the rest of the nonstop drive to Louisiana.

1988 Trip to New Orleans (part 1) – Into the South  14:29

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If was going to pick a logo or a mascot for a radio station, I wouldn’t be thinkin’ of semi-aquatic rodents. But then again I’m not from Kentucky. This clip kicks off with a full promotional dispatch from “The Beaver” (WBVE) a country FM not far downriver from Cincinnati in Hamilton, KY. If you didn’t have anything to do that weekend you could have gone out to Campbell County Equipment to hang out with one of their DJ’s for day and taken home some Beaver bumper stickers or keychains. Perhaps a coffee mug! And if you got really lucky, you might have loaded up a new lawn mower in your trunk before the end of the afternoon.

I always find it kind of sad when a radio station never really captures the imagination of a community and keeps changing its call letters (and usually the format) to reboot its fate in the marketplace. This north Kentucky outlet at 96.5 MHz had already been through several sets of call letters and format changes by 1986 when it scabbed over into the incarnation you hear on this recording– “The Beaver” (“The Real Country Giant”) in September of 1986. A couple years later the station would switch to format again, and then call letters, and then format, and then call letters once more. Then, I think it may have even changed call letters one more time.  But right now the station is back to a country format as “The Wolf,” which seems to offer a little more animal charisma than a rodent. However, the beaver concept itself lives on. Another FM station in Kentucky grabbed up the catchy WBVE call letters, and is proudly “The Beaver.” And there’s a sister Beaver– WVVE, also in Kentucky. And you can hear country music on either one.

Then the next signal comes from Dayton– WING. And as you might guess, there’s a legacy that goes along with memorable call letters like that. From the mid-50’s until the 1970’s WING was the hottest radio station in that expanse of Ohio– a community media hub with hit music, regional and national news and DJ’s who were local stars. By 1988, the radio group had spun off the top-40 format to wacky Z-93 on the FM band (which I came across in the first post in this series) and WING was a hybrid oldies/talk station at the time. And in this brief clip you hear a promo that sounds kind of strange today:“news doesn’t happen in newsrooms, it happens out there"… (ya think?)

By the late 1980’s, the AM band had become desperate territory. Many stations left out in the cold by the massive listener migration to the FM band were desperately seeking a profitable programming niche that would keep luring listeners to their AM frequencies. And the point of this promo is to point out that WING still had a news department (with real reporters and everything). Which certainly counts for some bragging rights, compared to getting by with a canned oldies music format. This was the era when music radio stations were jettisoning their news divisions, leaving all news and news/talk stations in the market to continue to offer the headlines and the local stories. In fact, a few years later WING switched to a CNN-based news format, which sadly didn’t work out either.

Today WING and its 5000 watts at 1410kHz has met the pitiful fate of many forgotten frequencies– it’s another ESPN sports drone (with another two or three sports stations already on the dial). For many years, people loved this station and depended on it, now it’s an anonymous portal for gossip about spectator sports. I’ll never understand the appeal of that. This is the last verifiable station from Ohio in this trip south. The next few stations may also be from the Dayton/Cincinnati area, or they may have been recorded near Nashville, where I seem to have started recording again.

Want something good in your hair? This wacky ad for B.B. hair products was probably grabbed from a black AM radio station between Dayton and Nashville. I love the relaxed reverb baritone and cheap audience response bits straight out of a sound effects package. I believe B.B. stands for “Bronner Bros. Enterprise,” one of the large African American hair and skin care corporation based in Georgia. (However, the company’s website has recently disappeared.) This is followed by some canned feature about women in the workplace. Are you more likely to get that promotion if you’re hot and flashy? Or kinda fat? Apparently, both have their drawbacks.

Then you get some rural voices of the Caucasian persuasion. Like the Beaver people coming to the Equipment depot, this seems to be a radio remote already underway. These traditional pseudo-events are promotional orgies where a business sponsors a live radio broadcast at a retail site, and the radio station and the business both seduce listeners in for free crap and alleged bargains, while they sell their brand-name into the broadcast zone. It’s a radio tradition. Hard to say what service or goods these good old boys were selling, but it was a family operation. They helped each other. They had their problems, but they work good. That’s the way it should be.

The next ad confirms it, we were in Tennessee. John Watson, the owner of Jay’s Wilderness Outfitters wanted us to “come on in and browse around.” Makes sense. From the address (465 Bell Road) it appears that we were somewhere near Nashville. John is no longer luring browsers. There’s a cleaners there now. This is followed by an ID for Nashville’s WNAH and a short discussion regarding Smitty’s Restaurant, “now with two Nashville locations!” Today an ad like this would be pushin’ a grilled chicken salad or some other vaguely healthy foodstuff. But back in 1988, offering a big cheese burger, batter-dipped fries and jumbo soft drink for a buck fifty was a point of pride. The intro jingle and music under the announcer is a canned and corny “donut” production  where the announcer reads the Smitty’s commercial over the the instrumental break with finger snaps (the “hole” of the donut) of a generic pre-produced restaurant-style advertisement, that will end with more jingle or an announcer. It’s like "just add voice talent" instant spot production. And Smitty’s? I believe there are no longer any Nashville locations.

Then something more substantial, a "classic soul sweep" on WVOL. The song intro under the sultry female announcer sounds like typical 80’s style soul-blues from a label like Malaco. Then a barrage of wacky electro radio sounders, that are still part of radio production today. Then cut to a drop-in. The big baritone R&B voice of god intones– “W-V-O-L – Here yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Damn straight. This black music outlet is indeed still alive and well at 1470 AM. Not every heritage frequency has surrendered to sports, or right wing talk, or the Jesus problem. And you can hear their "Urban Oldies" format by going here. As I was writing this I tuned into "The Mighty 147" online and I heard the Dramatics, which still warms the heart of a middle-aged kid who grew up in the shadow of the Motor City.

This clip is followed by a low-pitched pitch man doing some serious promotional push for the Y-107 Visa Card from the radio station on "the cutting edge of innovation." This bit of bragging set off my internal radio sniffer, and thought I might have gotten a whiff of… Jacor! And a little research bears me out. This station was one of Jacor’s big success stories in the 1980’s, turning a bumbling-along ordinary adult contemporary station into an aggressive CHR (top 40) monster. And by 1987 it had become the number one station in Nashville. A pretty big deal. And the radio station Visa card? Long gone, just like Y-107. And I don’t know that radio station credit cards ever meant much in the scheme of things, but what it does tell me when I hear this brief promotional bit from the past is that it probably came from a sales and promotional staff on overdrive. And Jacor was always on overdrive.

And here’s where digging around in the past led me to the future, or at least today. The programmer that made Y-107 a smash in Nashville, Marc Chase, moved on to Tampa to create "The Power Pig," an even more aggressive and raunchy CHR powerhouse that also took the number one spot in Tampa and killed Q105, the previous CHR champion there. It was quite a time. I don’t know if Jacor had a bigger success story with a station make-over before they merged with Clear Channel, but it’s the one I know. And two of the men (Randy Michaels and Marc Chase) who made the Pig so big have both defected from Clear Channel (and so have others) to rejoin their old Jacor boss brash billionaire Sam Zell over at his Tribune Corporation (the 2nd biggest newspaper publisher in the U.S. and a major media operation which Zell recently purchased). Chase just came over recently (and brought a couple associates along), and Clear Channel is pissed off enough to file a suit against Tribune for stealing company secrets. And if you know anything about how Jacor used to operate, and then take a look at a recent flippant press release announcing bringing Chase on board and you get a feeling that Zell might be looking for a way to get in as a major radio player once again. So far, he only has one station.

Meanwhile, back to the radio. After the "outrageous FM" we have Marcia Griffiths chugging along with the "Electric Boogie.’ As a northern record collector, to me this song was just some side project from that odd funky disco album Bunny Wailer did in the early 80’s, "Hook, Line and Sinker," which I happened to like but went nowhere on the charts. However, the night I heard this on my way to New Orleans I discovered that this Marcia Griffiths dance number (produced by Bunny) had become a huge hit down south. And specifically the dance it created– "The Electric Slide," which was the hit. But no identification on this one. Certainly a black station, probably in Nashville. The DJ is buried pretty deep into the boogie as he signs off. And what an impressive bleepy electronic waterfall flowing around that WXXS, Memphis station ID. I’m not sure if WXSS was still R&B at the time, or had switched to gospel. But these days at 1030kHz in Memphis you’ll hear Español on WGSF.

After that, a happy bland mic break from a young lady on what I believe was the Satellite Music Network‘s "Heart & Soul" service back then. It was a syndicated oldies-based black hits format that had some success in the 1980’s. "Well you all tightened up now? Got some George Benson for ya right now…"

And now, Bill Mack, "The Midnight Cowboy" doing his long-running trucker show from 50 thousand watt WBAP in Dallas. One of the legendary big trucking radio DJ’s since the 70’s, Mack now has his own spot on the XM trucker’s channel, "The Open Road." But here’s he’s lusting after his producer’s feet. It’s well past midnight at this point, and we were probably tooling down 1-55 in northern Mississippi. Unfortunately, Memphis radio (still an interesting and vital scene) is barely sampled in this collage. I guess I was at the wheel by that time. Something I haven’t mentioned about this trip– by the midpoint of this nonstop drive from Michigan to New Orleans I had tired of repeatedly asking my friend to stop gradually veering the Buick toward the shoulder of the highway. I don’t know if it was white line fever or what, but it was driving me insane. The lesson I learned was to never go a roadtrip with someone until you’re familiar with their driving skills. I ended up doing most of the driving for the rest of the trip, and didn’t record nearly as much radio on the road as I had intended.

After the Midnight Cowboy you hear a WBAP Metrocel Cellular Phone promo (Those were big clunky "car phones" back then. Nothing like that shiny sliver of wonders you carry around these days…) and a couple bites of cracklin’ holy roller oratory, which is ubiquitous on the AM dial in the deep south. Then there’s a little harbinger of good things to come, a static-ridden station ID for 13-Kixie, WKXI– "Your power music station." Then there’s something about Martha Reeves and Ben E. King singin’ in Little Rock for a tour of historic houses. Then it’s "67 beautiful degrees with the Chi-Lites on Little Rock’s Favorite, K-Lite" (which I’m sure was on the FM band where there was a lot of "lite" radio back then). And ever so briefly, you hear a station ID for the great WDIA in Memphis.

This is followed by a little talk radio interlude. My best guess is that this is Ray Briem, an overnight talk host based in L.A. (KABC) who was doing a syndicated show around this time for the ABC Talk Network. (I’m not familiar with Briem and could find no clips online. Leave a comment if you can verify if this is him, or some other talk host.) And I believe the conversation is regarding the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was getting its finishing touches in the legislature around this time, and in a few months would pass with broad bipartisan support and the signature of President Reagan. The bill served as a giant apology to the thousands of Japanese Families living in America (a majority who were U.S. citizens) who were forcibly relocated into internment camps during World War Two, as well as providing them with over a billion dollars in reparations.

However, Betty doesn’t like the idea. Full of rum and rancor and barely able to complete a sentence, Betty’s angry half-thoughts have stumbled onto Ray’s late night radio show, and it’s not pretty. Instead of taking Betty to task or having fun with her ignorance, Ray just milks the call for all the outrage he can squeeze out of it– "We didn’t start that war Ray." And while Betty didn’t advocate dropping a few more A-bombs on Japan, and never referred to them as "nips" or "japs," but you know she probably has. And Ray (who’s apparently rather conservative and not in favor of allotting much cash to the cause) seems taken aback that Betty wouldn’t even sanction an apology to the victims. And if old Betty’s still up and around (which seems in doubt) she probably feels right at home in today’s era of terror-racism, border xenophobia, and the new growing fear of "they." After all, they attacked us.

Then, late late into the night, the whole kooky idea of recording radio in transit with a boombox really paid off.  Even if I wasn’t making these recordings I think the moment I turned in loud clear and clear Lightnin’ Hopkins while crossing the country in the middle of the night might have been etched in my memory anyway. But it’s nice to have the memory archived. Either way, it’s home cooked amplitude modulation of southern music and culture. It was the "Mid-South Power Connection, 13-Kixie."  This was the station I’d hoped to find. At the coolest darkest time of the night and after sixteen hours on the road, the Blues was all right.

The DJ, Paul Anthony Hickey, has a great night vibe and voice– clipped and warm, with a little urgency to keep you awake. Perfect. I find no reference to him on the web, but i like to think he’s still doing radio somewhere, possibly under another name. Following the talking blues of Lightning Hopkins, the funky Bar-Keys fueled blues of Detroit harp man Little Sonny kicks in hot and thick and the drums hit like a round of gun fire. And if you want to hear an example of why I still love the sound of music mutated through AM broadcasting, just listen to the intro to Sonny‘s "A Woman Named Trouble." And then if you compare it to the CD or vinyl and the keyboards, harp and drums will certainly sound more correct or real, but the compression and limiting of AM brings the funky sound up front and center– meaty, the way I like it. So clear, that we must have been pretty close to that 1K transmitter when this was recorded. And then there’s the beginning of a Jimmy Reed track. Jimmy Reed was made to be heard on an AM radio.

Anyway the recording is scoped, so you don’t get the full song. If I had made this collage today (instead of twenty years ago) I probably would have let Little Sonny play on. However, I did keep a lot of the flavor. I kept a couple commercials from the stop set that followed the music, and they’re both representative of a radio station that’s more connected to its community and culture than most are today. And speaking of meaty? If you like delicious home-cooked food (and who doesn’t) you might enjoy the ad for "Jobe’s Family Restaurant." Unless you’re a vegetarian, you may have a little Pavlovian response as you listen to this savory list of soul food fare. And yes, you could get your chitlins fried or boiled.

However twenty years after the fact, Jobe’s Family Restaurant is ancient history. Not only is there no references to it on the web, but the photo snapping vans of Google Maps’ "Street View" division archived the visual information from that strip of Jackson, Mississippi not long ago, and as you can see from the image at right, the lot at 1940 J R Lynch Street in Jackson has been stripped of its building. Looking at this blank sad piece of land reminded me of so many similar empty lots where the good times used to roll in Michigan cities like Detroit, Pontiac and Flint. That said, I’m sure you can still find plenty of home grown diners where you can order a hot greasy plate of ribs or fried chicken in Jackson, Mississippi. Just not at that piece of land on J R Lynch Street.

What can I say about the ad promoting the "Big Kickapoo Blues Festival." I lived in the deep south for a spell and was fortunate enough to attend a few of these big blues festivals in the summertime. The line-up at this one was typical– Little Milton, Artie "Blues Boy" White and Gary B.B. Coleman. Other regulars on a bill like this would be legendary artists like Denise LaSalle, Bobby Bland, Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor, Betty Wright or Marvin Sease. It’s hard for me to tell you how much fun I had at these events, and the memories of total strangers sharing fried chicken, ribs, hard liquor and good times lives on somewhere at a cherished picnic table in my memory. Yes, there really is something about the south…

And WKXI is still broadcasting blues and soul in Jackson, although a few years ago a frequency swap with sister station WOAD moved them a hundred kilohertz down the dial to 1400 AM (which I guess would make them 14-Kixie these days). They used to have a website, and you can’t listen to them online either. But if you’re driving down I-55 that way you might consider turning on your AM radio.

As my friend and I approached New Orleans in the predawn hours, I had no idea that I’d actually be moving there in a few months and would end up spending the next ten years bouncing around the Gulf Coast. How that all happened is a rather convoluted tale that probably doesn’t really belong in a blog post. But beyond the personal journey, all my time in the south was also a radio journey for me. And thankfully, it came at a time when I was mindful of capturing some of that radio from the yawning jaws of time. And all those cassettes have provided a hell of a lot more pleasure than those old baseball cards I used to covet. And they’ve provided me the with options, like sharing them here with you. And it all began with this brief vacation.

The next few installments in this series will be recordings made within the city limits of New Orleans. And then eventually, some aircheck bits from the trip back north. So, if you’re in the neighborhood come back again to 1988 again and we’ll browse around the dial.

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.