Archive for the 'pirate radio' Category

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.

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 17

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Postage_1 Well, my Degen radio finally arrived from China this week. And I do like it. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a few samples of shortwave reception I snagged with it on Sunday, but first I’ll offer a few first impressions of the radio itself.

As I mentioned in my last DX post, I’ve long been eyeing this shortwave portable on the internet for over a year, and finally decided to go ahead and order one. A recent invention, the Degen 1103 is the same basic radio as the Kaito 1103 that’s marketed here in the states. After paying shipping and insurance from China via ebay, the Degen is still twenty bucks cheaper than the Kaito version. And I’m all for that.

After coming across so many fawning reviews online, I was already convinced that this radio was probably going to be a good performer. It is. That much I could tell from the moment I turned it on. Not only is it sensitive, but the digital tuning is as graceful as you’re going to find on a radio at this price. Of course, scanning the band isn’t quite as organic as using an analog tuner, but it’s damn close.

After pulling it out of the box in the early afternoon I tuned to medium wave and found a couple of fringe AM stations I hadn’t noticed before. And although I have picked up WPHT at 1210 in Philadelphia here in New York during the day before, the Degen also picked up WBZ in Boston at 1030 just past one in the afternoon. Impressive. Then later in the early evening, I found Kuwait and Ukraine coming in clean and strong on shortwave, along with plenty of other stations I didn’t bother to log.

De1103_display_1 Because propagation on AM and SW varies so much, if you’re going to dig into a section of the radio band to explore what’s out there, it’s good to be able to sample some bands first to find out where the action is. Unlike playing with an analog set, you can’t whip through the dial and pick out signals quite as quickly with the 1103. But even when I speed though the numbers at top speed I do get a sense that I’m hearing a viable sample of each 1 kHz stop along the way. Which is unlike my other digital portable (a Sangean ATS-505) where it takes a fraction of a second for each step to reveal itself. Zooming through a band at a rapid pace yields a bunch of useless silence. As reader Ralph noted on a earlier post, high end digital receivers have a much greater resolution (smaller “steps") and scanning is practically the same as using an analog rig. But for eighty (to a hundred) bucks this radio gets the job done.

The pseudo analog tuning display isn’t necessary, but it does give you a helpful visual roadmap of where you’re at. I do wish the numerical readout was a little larger. This is where the BCL-2000 is better in low-light or in the dark. The display is brighter and numbers are larger. Also the “jog dial” which you use to tune the DE1103 also serves a number of functions, most notably the volume control. It takes a minute to get used to, but I didn’t find it nearly as annoying as other reviewers did. As far as actual scanning, going through the dial can yield a mild chirp between steps if you’re passing a number of active frequencies. In general, scanning slowly solves this digital annoyance, but not completely.

E51103 I also should note that it seems the same basic radio with a big fat numerical readout instead of an extensive analog dial simulation is now available. It’s the Eton E5 (which was supposed to be released as the Degen 1106, but they sold the design to Eton). From what I’ve read, it’s the same basic receiver as the Degen 1103 with a more traditional shortwave radio layout and has more presets available. However, the E5 lists for around $150 and to me those features aren’t worth an extra seventy bucks.

Wqewdj_jazzyjenn As I’ve noted before, I live very close to a booming clear channel AM station, WQEW at 1560 kHz. On other radios I have here (especially the BCL-2000), nearby frequencies are wiped out by WQEW. With the 1103 I can now hear WWKB at 1520 in Buffalo and WCKY at 1530 in Cincinnati. Also the image of WQEW blasts in on 650 kHz on the BCL. With the Degen I haven’t been able to pull in WSM in Nashville there yet, but WQEW’s Radio Disney bullshit doesn’t haunt that frequency on the Degen. I also heard a listenable read of WLS at 890 in Chicago at night, which is a real feat considering the wide swath of bandwidth WCBS (at 880) grabs here in the city.

So, I look forward to taking this little unit away from the city and hearing what I can DX under better conditions. My apartment is an RF nightmare. I tried plugging in an external antenna (the radio comes with a LONG one) and was totally frustrated by how the just pulled in MORE noise. That night I also found out that the little battery charger for my digital camera blasts a nasty pulse on the 41 meter band.

De1103_1 Bottom line, I’m already recommending the Degen (or Kaito) 1103 to readers who might be thinking about purchasing a relatively inexpensive shortwave radio. From what I can tell, before now you couldn’t purchase a new radio with this kind of overall performance for near this price. The BCL radios are nice, and I do recommend them as well, but I have to admit that while I like some features (notably analog tuning with an easy to see digital display and an RF gain control) A LOT, I’m more enchanted by what the BCL radios could or should do rather than the actual experience of how it performs in real conditions. Let’s hope later models are an improvement.

While I picked up a some interesting stuff playing around with the Degen this weekend, I wasn’t able to record a dial scan I’d want to present here. Reception wasn’t what it was a day or two before and the weather here in the northeast has been really lousy. There was plenty of lightning out over the horizon playing havoc with the AM and shortwave bands. On Sunday night (Mother’s Day) there was no rain here, so a little after eight in the evening I sat on my front stoop flipping through the 41 meter band and caught a few broadcasts I thought I’d share. For the first time I picked up a couple of shortwave pirate broadcasters, which was almost exciting. At least for me.

Hopefully over the next couple weeks I’ll be able to offer a dial scan or two more representative of what the 1103 can really do. But for now, this post offers four radio samples which represent the DIY side of shortwave. Some (or all) of this programming probably originates from the homes of the broadcasters themselves. While much of the shortwave you’ll pick up in the states is major international stations and Christian U.S. goofballs, there is more to be heard.

Here’s the audio…

6925 – The Voice of Mike Gaukin  3:17

(download)

Ssb_book This is an SSB (or sideband, broadcast). Again, I don’t want to get into too much technical radio talk, but sideband is different than typical amplitude modulation, or AM broadcasting. From what I understand, the signal lacks a “carrier” and is more “efficient in its use of electrical power and bandwidth” than AM. In other words, you get more bang for your buck on the transmitter end, with the signal having a greater reach with less power. It’s a favorite method of broadcasting for hams and radio pirates. And this is most certainly pirate programming.

While any shortwave can receive an SSB signal, but to be able to make any sense of it you need to have a radio with an SSB or BFO feature. When you tune one of those muffled and/or buzzy voices, switch on the SSB capability and “clarify” the station with a tuning knob until the voice starts to sound human. The Degen 1103 and my Panasonic RF-2200 both have this feature, the BCL radios do not. Without it you do miss some of what’s available on the dial.

Although I’ve heard a number of recordings of shortwave pirates this is the first one I’ve come across that I recognized was one (Of course, often I wasn’t able to access an SSB signal). Every shortwave pirate recording I’ve heard always sounds like crap as far as signal quality, and this one was no exception. It starts out with that “bound and gagged” sound of untreated SSB, then when I push the SSB button and tweak the wheel it quickly clears up.

It starts out with a juvenile Opie and Anthony phone prank, which I gather involves calls to (auto parts?) stores and repeating the word “buttplug” over and over again with a variety of intonations. This confuses and frustrates the store clerks on other end of the line, and well.. hilarity ensues. Oh, your sides will ache…

Fag_hater Anyway, then a male voices announces that he is “The Voice of Mike Gaukin” as well as “a gay faggot.” (Which is I gather must be the opposite of a straight faggot.) The there are references to “Kracker Radio” and another pirate group (I guess?) “The Bowling League.” And to add to the fun, the announcer has electronically mutated his voice, and this could fool you into thinking you haven’t correctly tuned into the sideband. I guess there’s all sorts of ways to have fun.

I don’t get capture much of this “program.” Just over a minute here. At 8:23 EDT (0023 UTC) it’s all over and the static takes over. So, who is Mike Gaukin and why is he investing his time and electricity to tell the world about his gay faggotry? Well, some internet searches bring up a number of references to the “Voice of Mike Gaukin” pirate broadcast. And from the time I’ve spent browsing around, it seems that Michael Gaukin is a real guy and “Kracker” of Kracker Radio doesn’t like him very much, and has an ongoing slander campaign going online and on the radio. Here’s an alleged rap sheet on Gaukin from Kracker’s site.

Or maybe there’s something totally different going on. I have no idea. It’s all a bit too teenage boy for my taste. But if you want to dig deeper into the Mike Gaukin mystery, you can start here or here.

6950 – Kracker Radio  4:01

(download)

Pigbanner_2 Then a few quick nudges of the knob and I’ve found Mr. Kracker himself. This pirate broadcast is straight ahead AM and not sideband. Electric guitar with an effects pedal. Then an electronically tweaked voice which sounds suspiciously identical to the Voice of Mike Gaukin. Although it’s not easy to sort out the collage-ish interlude between songs, references to penises and marijuana are evident. Then it’s King Missile and “Detachable Penis,” which I cut off here when the storm static was eating up the signal.

I’ve read that this little piece of property on the 41 meter band is quite popular with shortwave pirates. Weekends (and perhaps holidays) are supposedly good times to look for them. I’m not totally sure if these two broadcasts are from the same person, or just related persons, but the content is the same junior-high wiener wagging fun.

But, isn’t it something? Young guys with some radio equipment more or less have access to the world airwaves and it’s all about their little dangling dachshunds and their favorite sphincter muscle. Sheesh. I thought the Christians were like broken records.

I’d guess both of these pirate broadcasts originate from somewhere in Ohio.

7240 – Southern Ham Operator  1:07

(download)

Ham_radio_operator Again, this is SSB and you can clearly hear the process of tuning in a sideband signal. Ham (or amateur) radio is a great broadcasting tradition– usually guys in their gadget rooms filled with legal radio equipment (and licenses) who chat among themselves on specific frequencies, sometimes talking to fellow hams around the globe. Not all use sideband, but most do. The conversations are often a bit boring and from what I’ve heard there’s a lot of discussion about the trivial details and functions of their radio equipment, or just small talk about what’s going on around the house that day.

That said, hams also provide an important free-standing network of communication around the country and the world. It’s not all fooling around.

This clip is awful short. Just a good-bye really. And the accent? I think either Tennessee or the Carolinas. Of course, he could be broadcasting from anywhere, probably in the eastern U.S.

7415 – WBCQRadio NewYork International  19:31

(download)

It’s WBCQ again, the most creatively programmed shortwave station in America. Yes, there are some scary jesusmongers and right-wing freaks on WBCQ too, but there’s also some entertaining talk and music programming for a change, especially on their 7415 kHz signal.

Johnny_1 This is Johnny Lightning’s “Radio NewYork International,” a Sunday Night talk and comedy show originating live from Brooklyn. I don’t know how he gets the audio up to the transmitter in Maine, but I imagine it’s via a phone line. Johnny takes calls and chats and rants and generally seems to have a great time every Sunday night.

The name of the show comes from the original Radio NewYork International, an offshore pirate station in the late 80′s (run by WBCQ head honcho Allan Weiner, Mr. Lightning and others) located on a ship off Long Island which the FCC shut down in 1988.

RNI is a solid four hours of homegrown radio, with lots of bits and jingles and some serious issues occasionally broached amid all the silliness. It’s a New York City radio broadcast to the world and it’s too bad more people in the city don’t even know it exists. It’s a freewheeling (and frequently manic) onslaught of opinion, stories and bad jokes, and like some of the best shows on WBCQ it’s as human and entertaining as American shortwave radio gets these days. In this sample you get almost twenty minutes.

Thanks for listening.

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