Archive for the 'talk radio' Category

The Towers of Microville

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Living in New York City for over a dozen years, it's been easy to forget just how much mass media has changed in that short time. In New York, newsstands are still stuffed with all sorts of fat newspapers and magazines. And there's still plenty of locally originating programming on our radio and TV stations. I suppose these are all benefits of living right in the hub of the the biggest media market in America. Even during these tough times advertisers still invest in our millions of eyes and ears. While it's true there's been some scaling down over the last few years, for now much of the twentieth century media landscape remains intacf. And we still have a lot of pay phones around here too, although not always in good repair,

But when I get out of town I'm quickly reminded that the world outside of my bubble is in an advanced stage of media transformation. Many city newspapers I come across are about the thickness I would associate with a college paper.I don't really see much local TV here or anywhere, but quick scans of the radio dial are dull forays though assorted syndicated content and prepackaged music introduced by voice tracking strangers from afar. And plenty of the public radio stations i  come across are just relay transmitters connected to one studio that provides content for a dozen or more stations at once.

Despite my city slicker ways, I have a love for visiting small towns. I always like the line in that Kid Creole song, "Going Places"– "Believe me, when you leave New York you go… nowhere." Which is a little snarky, but there's some truth there. And for me, it really is where I like to go from time to time. Nowhere. If just for a while. Some quiet. Some nature. Perhaps a dirt road. Dark skies filled with wondrous celestial objects by night. Stuff I can't find at home.

And as I’ve mentioned so many times here, I do love the RF quiet of the countryside– being a world away from all the human infrastructure and gadgetry, and an often ideal environment for DXing shortwave and AM radio by night. And perhaps surprisingly, daylight listening out in the boondocks can be rather interesting as well. In many isolated corners of this country, there's some unique local radio to be found on the AM dial, if you take the time to scan around. And I always hope to come across some of those stations that still make a point of serving their community somehow. (In a more profound way than relaying Limbaugh or the "Music of Your Life.")

A long long time ago, television and radio stations were required by smartly constructed regulations to be directly responsible to their local community– to provide credible news and information (and music and entertainment) in the interest of the area’s population. Broadcasting was supposed to be a call to service for those how transmitted on the public airwaves. And the “news” wasn’t expected to be profitable either. And there was something called the fairness doctrine…

By the late eighties stations were no longer expected to be responsible or fair, and the rise of right-wing radio began when the syndicators of the Rush Limbaugh Program began giving the show away to small stations across the country. And more and more of the music stations that clung to the AM dial were automated, many by satellite services.

And it’s been a long steep decline from there, and over the last couple decades deep deregulation and the evolution of media in general have all but stripped away most of the local talent and local concern from small town radio. Radio stations originally licensed to serve small regions and communities are often programmed from afar now. And one big corporation may own half the stations in one town. If you’ve ever sampled AM radio while driving across the country, I don’t have to tell you that the majority of these once strategic local media outlets have been reduced to relay transmitters for syndicated rightist talk, sports jabber, or just prepackaged music.

However, that’s not completely true. At least not yet. Contemporary hit radio formats moved the FM band decades ago, but there are still a few stations on the AM dial who program their own brew of oldies and/or nostalgia, or perhaps traditional music, and are able to commands enough of a local listenership and ad revenue to keep the bills paid, and keep a few people employed. I’ve written about some of these stations over the years, like WHVW in the Hudson Valley of New York, and WCXI outside Flint, Michigan. While both of these stations are locally programmed, neither comes close to staffing air talent around the clock. WHVW relies heavily on homemade music automation, and WCXI is strictly a daytime operation. And in the summer they sign off at six p.m., hours before sunset.   

In a more common scenario, small town radio stations will feature talk or music programming from afar for most of the day, but will showcase a local program or two during more popular listening hours (usually the drive-time hours, or late mornings).

Whenever I’ve gotten a chance to travel, I like to get some essence or flavor of the regions I’m traveling through. Which isn’t always easy in these over homogenized and globalized times, especially when you’re moving at interstate speed. But listening to regional AM radio, when I can find it, gives me some small sense of where I am. Like in western Pennsylvania for example.

I-80 in Pennsylvania is an unusual piece of highway. Unlike any other interstate I can think of, it cuts through a large American state (the long way!) and never approaches one major city. It serves a more national function– linking the east coast megalopolis with the great lakes region. That’s what I was doing, zooming from New York to see the folks in Michigan.

If you wanna go to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or even Allentown, there are I-80 exits all the way offering highways that will eventually get you there. But this hilly and green interstate highway is graced with only a handful of exits where you’ll find an actual city waiting at the end of the ramp. I found one of ‘em about two-thirds of the way across the state– DuBois, Pennsylvania, where I recorded this.

WCED-AM DuBois, PA – Gary Stormer 06-28-10
(Download)

“One more time I wanted to mention, we’re looking for a LARGE dog…”

It’s hard for me to think of one line that epitomizes small town radio more eloquently than a plea to help locate an escaped house pet.  And apparently this missing mastiff is one of the bigger news stories of the day in Du Bois, Pennsylvania. And it’s Gary Stormer on News Talk Radio WCED. And it seems like likely that Stormer is, in a sense, the voice of DuBois.

Sounding younger than his years, Stormer has been at WCED for a long time. When he was hired back in 1973, WCED was still a full service AM radio station in the mid-20th century tradition, with an array of local hosts offering news, information and comfort (and probably safe MOR music) for folks in Western Pennsylvania. That was a number of formats ago, and the only one left is Stormer– the lone local guy in the morning on a station that carries an all too typical roster of national right-wing propagandists like Limbaugh, Hannity and Mike Gallagher.

And while I don’t know Stormer’s politics, he sure sounds a lot nicer than Limbaugh and his ilk. And it seems like almost every advertiser is also friend of his. And if you have a local event or political campaign you're looking to promote in the DuBois area, you probably probably wanna find yourself sitting in the studio with Gary Stormer some morning.

I don’t know much about DuBois, other than reading online about its history as a lumber and coal town. And the yearly “Soap Box Derby” is kind of a big deal there. And the winning teenager usually lands a guest spot with Gary on the WCED Morning Show.

While data from this year’s census isn’t available yet, ten years ago the population DuBois was found to be 98.18% “white.” And I doubt that’s changed much. In that vein, I found the ad for “Bamboo Garden” in this clip in this clip kinda funny.

I love small town radio commercials in general. I don’t mean the Geico ads and all the usual national ad campaigns, but the spots produced in-house– where and the stations production team get to show off their talents, anybody who works at the station could become an actor in a short drama or comedy. Or both at once. Like this couple who personify some of the biggest fears white Americans may have when it comes to dining at an Asian restaurant.

Him: "It’s CHICKEN…aaaah, I think?”
Her: "HOT SPICESoh joy.

Followed by the soothing announcer:

“Never settle for what you don’t want to eat again…”

You see, at Bamboo Garden you can create your own custom stir fry. No surprises. No strange Asian ingredients sneaking into your digestive system. Kind of reminds of me of those pain-free dentistry commercials. And it seems somehow appropriate that this fear-free stir fry democracy would occur out at the Main Street Mall.

One other note. Gary plays “Fact or Crap,” a simple game where listeners are prompted to call in and guess if some historical factoid he offers up is a fact or just… crap. Yet, the whole concept seems so 1973, when a quick Google search will answer questions like this in a second or two. And the woman who calls in kinda sounds like she might have done just that.

Just seven years ago the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget made the role towns like DuBois play in their region official. Just as major cities are and their region of influence are known as “Metropolitan Statistical Areas,” expanses of America dominated by smaller cities are now classified as “Micropolitian Statistical Areas.”

The “micropolitan" designation comes from having a core city with less than 50,000 residents. Folks who live hours away from large cities still need the same services, supplies and media as people in major population areas, and the dominant town in the region often provides those people well beyond the city limits. Which near DuBois means radio stations like WCED and places like the Main Street Mall. And I’m sure there’s a Wal-Mart too. (I just looked it up, there’s TWO of those discount monstrosities there.)

Like the industrial Midwest, which really begins at the edge of Pennsylvania and works around the Great Lakes basin, DuBois has seen better days, losing about a third of its population since World War 2. Which is still much better than the devastation that’s occurred to cities like Flint and Detroit in Michigan, and nearby Youngstown, Ohio. But a week or so later I found myself on the fringes of another “Micropolitan” area. This time in northern Michigan, which hasn’t been so savaged by the decades of declining industry.

According to the 2000 Census, the Northern Michigan tourist haven Traverse City, Michigan had a population of 14,532, just a little bigger than DuBois in its heyday. And unlike the old coal mining town and the big cities in Southern Michigan, the population of Traverse City is on the increase. 

For people who visit Traverse City in the summer, the city can seem a lot bigger than fourteen thousand or so. Which is probably because there’s so many people flock there in the summertime. Located on beautiful Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, Traverse City is the largest city in the northern upper peninsula of Michigan. And because of that, it’s influence really extends far beyond the micropolitan statistical area that surrounds it. At least in the summer. And fittingly, the glories of the tourism season is the topic at hand in this next clip.

WTCM-AM Traverse City, MI – Joel Franck 07-06-10
(Download)
 
Like WCED, WTCM also broadcasts Limbaugh and Hannity (and the vile Mark Levin) and an assortment of rightist monkeys through the day. However, they hold onto the last five hours of the morning with two local hosts– Ron Jolly and Norm Jones. But here you get neither. Instead you’ll hear Joel Franck, the station's News Director, sitting in for Jones. His producer Michelle is playing sidekick.

Although Traverse City isn’t quite in the U.P. (or The Upper Peninsula), Joel’s articulation bears a lot of the cadence and emphasis of the “Yooper” accent of that region. If's a little North Dakota, a little Ontario, with some Ohio in there. A little flat. A long "A" quite often. And some funny words and phrases.

As I tune into this program, the overwhelming sense is that Franck must be treading water between guests or something– prodding listeners to call in and share what they think summer means. He’s obviously fishing for feel-good responses, as festival season is underway and all the downstate money is pumping into the economy, but I do hope that the host who usually holds down this time slot is a little better at coming up with show filler on the fly. Franck may be a fine news guy, but as a talk host he doesn’t seem to bring much sizzle to the table.

And maybe I’d be gettin’ all chapter and verse as I preach to the choir on this one, but isn't it heavenly how Joel's patter is blessed with such a swell congregation of church metaphors.

“This is God’s country, there’s no doubt about that. And things like the lilac festival make that happen… spreading the gospel of summer here on News Talk 580.”

Of course, he wasn’t proselytizing or anything. But you can tell a lot about somebody by the well of metaphors they dip into. Like the way Rush Limbaugh is always using lingo from TV football. When you hear somebody keep going back to the same conceptual broom closet for language and comparisons, you can be sure that it’s the place where his brain likes to wallow, where his soul is most active. For Rush it’s ESPN. For Joel Franck, it’s church. Or something like that.

And then there’s an ad for Howard Walker, who since this time has become the Republican candidate for a state senate seat in Michigan. Sadly but not unexpectedly, he's pushing the simpleton "tea party" agenda– lower taxes, less government as “keys to turning this state around.” As if the ongoing tragedy that is the Michigan economy would get better if rich people could continue to pay even lower taxes. While that might seem a little misguided, I’m sure it would make the Koch brothers happy.

The next commercial took me by surprise. It’s promoting the “Epsilon Jass Band” and the dixieland service and concert they put on at a local church through the summer. While I don’t know anything about the provenance of these events, it is kind of interesting how for almost fifty years some southern Louisiana roots culture was successfully grafted onto the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula. I find it heartening to know that there’s actually a contingent of white folks doing the second line in Petoskey, Michigan every summer– sporting masks and umbrellas “made by the official umbrella lady of New Orleans.” Who knew?

Like I said, you can learn some interesting stuff by turning on your AM radio when you travel around the U.S. It ain’t like hobnobbing at the beer garden at some summer festival, but sometimes AM broadcasting can really bring you to the street level of a local community. The FM band and local television is often all about making money and national trends, but AM radio isn’t so profitable, or slick. As I’ve said before, amplitude modulated broadcasting doesn’t rake in the cash it once did, but it remains a good medium for transmissions of power and identity. And it's a way that broadcasting can enrich and strengthen a community.

Three years ago the FCC finally realized how so much deregulation has destroyed what was once and proposed new regulations to force stations to once again provide content in the interest of their community of license. The way it used to be. , when the radio spectrum was originally considered to be a "limited resource belonging to the public. But the mega-corporations are fighting the FCC' to stop ANY new regulations on the industry. They no longer consider themselves "trustees" of the public airwaves. Too often radio station is merely a money machine these days. And the few corporations that own most of them are not interested in localism or diversity or serving anyone or anything– other than their own profit margin.

In closing, I'd like to encourage you to check out your local AM dial some time, and see what's left. Sometimes I forget that here in New York City there’s some fascinating local programming on the AM band as well. You just need to know when to listen. We have some quirky homespun radio here too. If you take the time to sort through the schedules of the brokered stations. While this is a big big city, much of New York is a compression of small towns (we call them neighborhoods) with lots of individuality and personality, and characters.

Of course, this kind of AM radio is rarely as professional and polished as you might hear at higher profile stations. And I won't deny that part of the charm is getting a chuckle or two from the rough edges and amateur announcing you occasionally hear. But more often I listen for the passion and individuality of the presenters on these show. And you can feel the connection between the folks on the air and their listeners. And the sponsors. They know each other personally. Or they could. Or they will. Or they just feel like they know each other, because they having something important in common. They really live together.

Yes MP3 players are fun, and podcasting and streaming radio continue to pull people away from traditional radio all the time. And people carry around little pocket phones that do all that and SO much more. It's not hard to see why there's a prevailing school of thought that old-fashioned radio, especially AM (and shortwave), is becoming irrelevant. But I'm not so sure. At least in the long run. I do wonder if someday radio will rediscover the importance of  truly serving their community of listeners, and not just airing cheap canned content between commercials.

And some lost dogs might have a better chance of getting home.

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.

Tony, Tony, Tony (and more Tony Oren)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

From the email and comments I’ve received, it’s obvious that my two previous posts of  Tony Oren airchecks have struck a nerve with more than a few of you. One rooted in the brain’s pleasure center perhaps. The soft spot.

When the "middle of the road" and easy listening radio formats were ubiquitous it was easy to enough to ignore or laugh off this style of radio if you were a rock and roll kid. And nobody would have called these stations exciting. They were staid, mannered. And something else often not appealing to the younger set– informative. Even today, almost all the programming on KMOX (besides the omnipresent rightist moron Rush Limbaugh) is still local. It’s kind of a tradition.

The big regional MOR outlets like KMOX were known as "full-service" radio stations because they served an entire community in a very real way. Although the target audience for this format was mostly likely the middle-aged crowd, it was really way of creating radio for everybody. It was commerical broadcasting as a true public service that’s kind of hard to imagine today. A clear channel 50,000 watt radio station, KMOX served more than just the greater St. Louis area during the daylight hours. And then at nightfall when the AM radio waves bounce off the sky, KMOX was a giant regional station, providing news, information and entertainment to perhaps a third of the lower fourty-eight states.

What stands out today is how this radio fomat was mature and professional through and through. Broadcasting you’d be hard pressed to hear in the youth-fixated culture that has taken control of most media these days. And whether the announcers were chatting or playing music, the general vibe was comfort. And familiariity in a broader sense than just playing the hits or repeating cliches. When you turned on the radio you were immediately in the hands of a pro with excellent manners and perfect diction. Like Tony Oren.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren – 03-16-86 pt 1
(download)

What I have for you here are three whole hours of Tony Oren’s "Music & Musings" from March of 1986. And these particular tapes were recorded locally in the St. Louis area, so you’ll hear none of the fading and Cuban interludes that were baked into the last Oren aircheck I posted (although I kinda liked those anomalies…) And it’s recorded with remarkable clarity. A big thanks to Cliff Saxton for sharing these airchecks with all of us.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren – 03-16-86 pt 2
(download)

To be honest, I haven’t had time to listen to all three hours yet. As these airchecks are “unscoped,” all the news and ads are intact. Which has an appeal as time goes by. Funny to hear about Reagan haranguing congress for more “rebel aid” when we would soon find out that Oliver North was busy selling weaponry to Iran to fund the administration’s pet ragtag army in Nicaragua.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren – 03-16-86 pt 3
(download)

As far as Tony himself, it’s fun to hear him talk about old Howard Cosell getting into trouble with the boxing bigwigs. And speaking of long gone colorful characters, after Oren plays some Sinatra he mentions that the crotchety old crooner was coming to sing in St. Louis soon. Nice.

And two other things I found kind of odd. Tony gets a good laugh about Ted Nugent’s offer at the time to buy the elevator music company Muzak so he could destroy it, without seeming to comprehend that the nasty Nuge would probably ask a guy like Tony to “suck on" his machine gun as well. And the other funny thing was Oren’s “summary of weather conditions” that starts out with temperatures and conditions around Missouri, and then he moves onto Atlanta and Boston, then the rest of America and almost all the major cities around the globe. Then, when you’re starting to imagine that this will never end, it does and you’re in the middle of a routine forecast for St. Louis. As much as I love Tony, I was kind of afraid he was going to jump back on the hamster wheel and lay out a slew of weather forecasts for half the planet. Instead, we get the mellow wisdom of Rod McKuen. Perfect. Certainly better than more weather.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren – 03-16-86 pt 4
(download)

The fourth aircheck starts with the end of a hokey Joni James number and then Tony offers a brief commentary on the pre-dawn sky of St. Louis and then bows out to get another cup of coffee during the last newscast of his program. And then later he announces that the sun has risen– “a great big hot fiery ball.” Not the kind of thing you’d get with your traffic and weather together on the ones these days.

Again, a big thanks to Cliff Saxon for this contribution. He also says he has at least one tape of John McCormick ("The man who walks and talks at midnight"), a more famous KMOX overnight personality a few of you have expressed an interest in, which I might be able to post here some time in the future.

Meanwhile, I’m off for a week or so. Into the countryside. And as usual, I’ll be recording some radio. Actually I just got my hands on one of C Crane’s CC Witness devices and I’m looking forward to spending some time with that as well. So far, it’s pretty impressive– an MP3 recording radio with AM & FM. And not only can you program radio recordings in a VCR/TiVo fashion, but it also has a line-in/microphone record function. While cassette tape recording has proved to be a reliable way to capture radio over the years, I’m interested in finding out if something like this will save a lot time in turning these recordings digital.

And I do appreciate some of the positive feedback I’ve been getting in my inbox. And not only that, but a few of you actually ponied up to the PayPal box for me after I asked nice for a little spare change a couple weeks ago. I really appreciate that. It wasn’t a lot, but it made me happy. If you can and you’re in the mood, the tip jar is open all night.

I do hope you enjoy this big piece of the wee hours from 1986. I know I will. Perhaps from the MP3 clock radio on the bed table…

If you found this post without seeing my first two articles about Tony, you can find them here and here. Both have airchecks attached as well.

The Ship That Came In (On Four Radio Bands)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

If you wanted to pick a date when music radio in America began to really suck, it would probably be the mid-1980’s. Popular music was getting worse. All those god awful keyboards (think..Lionel Richie), with music was all sequencer riffs, boomy emulated drums and shiny boring guitar solos. At least that’s how I heard it. And if the music wasn’t bad enough, almost all of the personality and unpredictability that made commercial radio so much fun had been quashed.

Back in the sixties, the corporate consultants turbo-charged the top 40 format by amping up the energy and trimming the fat. But after a couple decades a lot had changed, and with the audience moving to FM it brought a different mentality to radio formatics and programming in general. The seventies brought in the "less talk" school of radio, and as that philosophy gained ground you heard much less persona and patter between songs, and more perky robot announcers reading positioning statements and liner cards. And instead of "breaking hits" radio stations were broken by the tired and worn-out "hits" their corporate masters made them play incessantly.

By the mid-80’s, the model of radio as a music delivery system was finally broken. And in the wake of its failure listeners adapted. It was the golden age of the "mix tape," where put down chunks of their own programming on cassette tapes. And at the same time "talk radio" was where you could still find some spontaneity on the dial, and it became a viable and popular radio format for the first time (and filled the void on medium wave as top 40 format had moved to the FM band).

And it was around this time that I became the radio freak of nature I am today. This is when I started scanning the AM band looking for fossil music stations playing big band, old country or r&b and blues. And it’s when I started actually paying attention to talk radio. And shortwave. And so, my adventures in amplitude modulation really began…

As a relatively young curmudgeon at that time, I still had some enthusiasm for changing the world. Or at least try to change radio, from the inside. And in the summer of 1987 I enrolled in a broadcasting school, where I learned how to splice tape, how to read news copy, and how to browse an Arbitron book. And while I’ve had my ups and downs in the radio business, I have had a lotta fun over the years. The trouble is, at heart I’m a programmer, not a tech guy or a salesman or an incredibly talented announcer (I’m not bad, but…). My original dream was to program a real R&B radio station. And I did that at a little AM outlet in Alabama for a couple years. I had a blast, but it didn’t pan out into the earth-shaking career I had imagined. Somehow or other I ended up volunteering on a freeform station presenting answering machine tapes and audio letters. But that’s another story…

However, I have another story for you. A better one. A tale of brave young souls on the high seas who took on the FCC and corporate radio in a big and beautiful way. That same summer, while I was sitting in classrooms learning the technical ramifications of commercial stop sets and how to say the letter “W” correctly, a cadre of real radio activists were skipping all the technicalities. They’d pooled together thousands of dollars to build a radio station and transmitter on an old fishing vessel, and parked the thing off the coast of Long Island. Yes, it was exactly twenty-two years ago this week that Radio New York International briefly made rock and roll history. And although they were only in business for a few days, the legend of RNI lives on. And rightly so.

Here’s a choppy and murky video tour of the docked “Radio Ship Sarah,” ready for its maiden voyage as America’s most infamous offshore radio station. It’s still worth watching, just to get a feel of the excitement and anticipation onboard.

They dropped anchor just four and a half miles from Jones Beach on Long Island and started broadcasting July 23, 1987 on FM (103.1MHz), AM (1620kHz), shortwave (6250kHz), and even longwave! (150kHz). Amazing. And what did they play? Free-form rock and roll. Which from what I gather was kind of a mix of college radio, album rock radio, oldies and lots of banter. Kind of like what FM rock stations might have sounded like around 1987 if DJ’s still had a hand in selecting the music (mixed with some “pirate” shenanigans). The reaction in the New York City market was immediate, and RNI made headlines around the world. And by the next day the local TV news operations  were sending reporters out on boats to get the story. Here’s a big fat montage of the coverage…

They Sarah crew even made an appearance on that 80’s tabloid TV mess, “A Current Affair, starring the craggy-faced 80’s icon, Maury Povich.

But, you know how this story ends. After three days of broadcasting (and lots and lots of exposure on local and national news) the FCC paid the ship a visit. They weren’t friendly and they had a cease and desist order in their hands.

For a day, RNI was silent. Then the next day the leader of the operation, Allan Weiner gave the go-ahead to crank the transmitters up again, and New York City’s newest radio station was back on the air.

Busted. With Alan Weiner, his partner Ivan Jeffries, and Village Voice reporter sitting in the summer sun in handcuffs as the Coast Guard ransacked all the equipment. Or most of it. And Jeffries and Weiner were charged with conspiring to impede the Federal Communications Commission. A felony. 

However, the FCC didn’t have much of a case and they dropped all charges on the crew. They got what they wanted. The station was off the air and all the investment of time and money on all that equipment lay in runs. But Weiner swore that RNI would return.

The legacy of those few days rebellious days ran strong for a year or two. And the radio pirates who challenged the FCC in front of the nation continued to attract national attention. They had a little stint on MTV, and were offered free air time on a little AM station out on Long Island on a weekly basis, which they fooled around with for a short time. There was even a short-lived rebirth of RNI in 1988, but only on shortwave. And again the heavy hand of the FCC put a stop to it.

However, the “Radio New York International” brand wouldn’t die, and Weiner and his sundry radio cohorts continued to dream the dream in more practical ways. They rented out a weekly chunk on shortwave’s WWCR, and Weiner himself began to pursue a legitimate shortwave station license for himself. And as many of you know, in the late 1990’s that license was granted and WBCQ was born in Monticello, Maine.

Since that time, John P. Lightning (formerly of pirate station WJPL and one of the RNI gang) began a program on WBCQ bearing the name– “Radio New York International.” (Which I wrote about a while back.) A broadcast originating from right here in Brooklyn, for years Lightning (as well as Big Steve and others) have held court with a rowdy few hours of talk, noises, music and silliness. However, last week Lightning and Weiner parted ways. And Lightning, who has threatened to give up show recently anyway, is currently doing a show he still calls “Radio New York International” on the internet. But WBCQ also has a show with the same name at the same time. Kinda strange.

It was all a surprise to me, but I don’t listen to WBCQ enough to know the details. Someone archived Weiner’s open letter to Lightning, and the response, here. Allen took his "open letter" down after a week or so, but Lightning’s responses remain on his site.  Lightning’s modus operandi is slash and burn clowning, which is occasionally monstrous in the mode of Neil Rogers (who also just retired by the way…). It’s all about verbal abuse, especially of the BOSS. Apparently what was once considered good fun became something else, at least as far as Weiner was concerned. And if you read Lightning’s response, he sounds almost sorry. Even recalcitrant. However, he thinks Weiner was being thin-skinned and says in his blog that you can listen to the archives of his show and judge for yourself.

The approach the 22 year anniversary of RNI coinciding with this rift between Weiner and Lightning that struck a chord with me. Not that I know either of them beyond the on-air persona and what I read in the blogophere. But I identify with these guys because we’re members of the same tribe. And although I was never really a radio pirate, we’re fellow travelers who have been cutting our own paths around the fringes of the radio business for the last few decades. And some of my best friends have been creative and dedicated radio disciples who inspired me, and lent me a helping hand when I needed help on a project. Or needed a job. And I don’t know if it’s something about the radio business, or something about the kind of people who fall into it, but I’ve lost more than my far share of radio friends over the last few years as well.

Of course, Allan Weiner’s illustrious pirate radio career started long before RNI. He was just a kid back in 1970 when with the help of another wunderkind named J.P. Ferraro  (a.k.a. "Pirate Joe") they established their own radio "network" in suburban New York City. After being shut down by the FCC a few times, Allan and J.P submitted a rather articulate and impassioned letter to the FCC explaining and defending their criminal acts of broadcasting. You can read the whole thing here, but here’s the last paragraph:

We started this whole thing because we love radio as an artistic and creative medium, and to bring freedom to the airwaves. Not because we want fat bank accounts and chaffeur-driven cars. We have chosen our operating frequencies especially so as not to cause interference with any other stations. However, as human beings and citizens of the United States and the world, we have a right to use the airwaves put there by whoever or whatever created the universe, and use them as we will. This is our freedom, this is our right.

Amen to that.

And over many years Weiner’s friendship with Ferraro was also a partnership, and involved many radio collaborations. Some legal, some not. And while he wasn’t onboard the Radio Ship Sarah for the maiden voyage, I believe he was involved in some of the fun. I do know that he participated in later incarnations of “Radio New York International,” and was involved in another offshore radio project with Allan (which the FCC stomped out before the station set sail). And you can actually hear some of the radio these guys created together over the years. Weiner has run a program on WBCQ called “The Pirate’s Cove” where he plays old airchecks from his pirate days, and you can find some archives of the Pirate’s Cove here.) Worth checking out.

Then in 1992, Pirate Joe came upon a radio station for sale in upstate that was selling for so cheap that he could actually muster the funds to buy the whole thing. And that station was WHVW in Poughkeepsie (which I’ve written about a few times here), a little class D AM station that Joe turned into a wonder of the world by programming a unique blend of American roots music around the clock. And just like so many times before, Allan and Joe worked together on getting the station off the ground, technically. And I certainly don’t know enough to tell you what happened, or why it happened, but somewhere in the process of setting up the new incarnation of WHVW these longtime collaborators experienced something the Stylistics used to call a "heavy falling out."

I only know this because Allan’s mentioned it a few times on his WBCQ program, and he also alluded to the fact that he didn’t just lose a friendship at the time but also lost a bunch of money. And although I finally met Pirate Joe a while back, but I wasn’t prepared to ask him his side of the story. I do have a feeling they probably have differing accounts of how their friendship ended. That’s usually how those things work.

As a fan of both WBCQ and WHVW, I can see how these two stations compliment each other. And in my mind’s eye it’s not hard for me to squint at these two unique radio operations and combine them into one fantastic station, with Ferraro’s musical automation and his D.J.s taking the place of all the preachers and daily dead air you hear on BCQ’s frequency. But that surely will never happen. And in a way it already did. Years ago.

Again, I don’t know the nitty-gritty details of the relationships between these guys. It’s almost not important, and not the type of gossip I like to deal in. Yet, even though I have cleaved away from a few of my closest creative co-conspirators myself, I still find it sad when I hear it about it happening to others. Especially between people I admire, like Allan, and John and J.P. But middle-age is an odd phase I’m still coming to grips with. You don’t have that same wild desire to change the world, but you still do have the drive to do something meaningful or profitable, and you’re so much more aware of the limited time you really do have left. And hopefully you’ve accumulated enough wisdom to guide you in making those important decisions you may not be able to reverse or make again.

But most of all, in the youth of old age you begin to find that you really are yourself now– all the warts, all the habits and a unique collection of memories. And you have a story you tell. It’s you. And you come to a point you have to stand up for that story. And represent it, right or wrong. And then some event or series of events makes your story and your old friend’s story irreconcilable. Mutually exclusive. And it’s been getting that way for a long time, but something happens that makes it impossible for either of you to pretend you accept the other’s narrative any longer.

At least that’s how it’s happened with me. Or how I’ve crafted my drafts of these recent sad chapters. And perhaps that’s how it was with some middle-aged former pirates I almost know. And I guess it’s just not easy to be a person. Even if you’re a white guy…

I guess in the pop psychology books they’d call it “growing apart.” And after all, you can only have so many operational friendships at one time. If you try to keep too many friends close, the relationships themselves can’t be all that meaningful. And even though I occasionally grieve for that handful of lost friendships, like a couple of intimate relationships I never wanted to end, maybe me and some of my middle-aged male cohorts tried to stay close too long instead of drifting apart in a more natural fashion. I don’t know. But I do know that once the smoke clears, the grieving is often eclipsed by the relief of never having to pretend one more time.

And I wouldn’t feel too sorry for Allan Weiner. He seems to have plenty of friends. And while WBCQ is a much more low-profile operation that RNI, it seems to stumble along and somehow prove every day that shortwave is not dead in America. And I shouldn’t forget to again mention the Area 51 programming on WBCQ’s 5110kHz transmitter every night. Cosmik Debris is in charge of that operation, and it’s really where a lot of WBCQ’s creative energy is focused lately. Mr. Cosmic incorporates pirate radio shows, old and new, with other new WBCQ shows, and WBCQ airchecks and probably any other compelling audio morsels that land in his lap. The website for this commendable circus is here.

Speaking of that, Cosmik has helped set up a couple of online webcams, so he can do his show from Maryland as live web TV, and Allan can stream WBCQ programming in main as internet video. And so far there’s some archives which you can find here or here.

And lastly, I should mention that the offshore radio fever dreams of Allan Weiner didn’t just go away when he switched the power on over at WBCQ. He’s currently getting another ship together to do it all again. I’m not sure where he’s gonna park this boat, but I don’t think it’s going to be four miles off the American coast this time. He has a website for it here (not much there yet as of this writing…).

And I’d like to thank Hank, and Pete and this guy, for archiving these historic videos of RNI, which I borrowed for this post. And I’m really glad we can all see these strapping young radio pirates in action on the high seas. Thanks.

And when you’re not doing something solitary like reading a blog or scanning the bands for some exotic DX, remember to take advantage of the friends you still do have, and hang out. Do something interesting, or daring. Why the hell not? A good friendship is a good thing. As luck would have it, some you do get to keep for a long time.

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.

A Brooklyn Radio Triptych

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(download)

9665 – Romania? Russia?

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

9715 – RDP Portugal

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

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

9820 – Hmmm

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

9870 – All India Radio

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

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

(download)

9535 Radio Exterior Espana

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

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

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

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

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

9580 – Radio Romania International

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

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

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

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

(download)

9665 – The Voice of Russia

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

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

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

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

9675 – Radio Canção Nova?

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

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

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

Thanks for listening.

Remember The Fifth of November?

Monday, March 9th, 2009

It was kind of hard to be in a bad mood that Wednesday morning. At least for many of us. Barack Obama had won the big election. Fair and square. It almost felt like optimism. Then I wondered about all those right wing propagandists who have taken over the AM dial across America… What the hell would they have to say on a day like the fifth of November?

This led to an online scavenger hunt for conservative talk radio from that fateful day. And I found plenty. It was like putting buckets out in a heavy thunderstorm. When it was all over I had captured close to a hundred hours of right wing radio broadcasting from November 5, 2008 (as MP3 files). I’ve gone on archiving binges like this before. And typically what I do is sample some of what I collected (just to get a flavor of the stuff) and then store it away in a digital attic for historical purposes. And you never know. Archival collections like this can come in handy for some future project.

Then I got to thinking… Hey I have a radio blog. And gosh, the future is now!. And wouldn’t it be so much fun to post a bunch of clips of all these deflated propagandists having a bad day. Just to make it simple, I came up with a plan. I’d post the opening monologue of each show. Nothing more. What would come out of their mouths on day one of this new reality? Of course, this meant that I would have to listen to each one and write a litter teaser/synopsis to lure you into listening. Right? I mean I guess that’s what I do here. It didn’t seem like an insurmountable task.

Anyway, the only problem was that I had to really listen. I wasn’t going to put up vile propaganda without providing some context. Then again, perhaps I hadn’t thought the process through very carefully. And in a sense, I was defeated by the very material I had assumed I would enjoy (in a schadenfreude fashion).

Okay, I wasn’t defeated (It didn’t turn me into a Republican or anything). But ingesting hours of right wing radio propaganda is probably not a very good idea (unless your a dittohead or a masochist). In fact, there was something rather toxic in the strange amalgam of boredom, nausea and repulsion that swept over me in all that listening. I began to feel like I was trapped in a Room 101 of my own creation.

As it happened, the great media buffoon, Glenn Beck, just brought this whole blogging experience to a halt for me. It was just the final straw after listening to awful radio for days. I became increasingly averse to putting myself through one more minute of Beck’s thoughts. After all, I did have other things to do. And for a while I did them, intending to eventually finish this post… soon.

Of course, this is why Media Matters for America was founded. For a long time, the smears, lies and distortions aired on right-wing talk radio were barely noted and rarely challenged– because unless you subscribe to the consensus reality of the media right (Fox News, Murdoch papers, talk radio, etc.), you will find getting immersed in it for any length of time to be an unnerving and uncomfortable experience. Now we have intelligent and thoughtful people to monitor these broadcasts for outrageous and false content. But just like the people who take care of your trash at the curb (or what you flush down the toilet), they need to be paid. It’s thankless work.

The truth is I spent way too much time attempting to get a grip on the slippery Mr. Beck. I’d listen to the same few minutes repeatedly trying to ascertain his point, or viewpoint, or something. But each time my brain would naturally tune out. I’m human. I have limits. In retrospect, it felt rather like getting trapped on a barstool next to a loud mouth drunk. Which kinda makes sense. Not only is Glenn Beck a recovering alcoholic, but a key element of his persona is flaunting that fact.

Just recently I came across a news story where Beck admitted that during his last spree of championship drinking (the late 1990’s) he had become quite an asshole. Now if you ask me, I doubt Glenn Beck has changed all that much. Except he’s apparently quit drinking. Which I guess is a good thing, but it all kind of reminds me of a certain president we used to know.

Glenn Beck Intro Monologue – 11-05-08 8:36

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Then it all started to make sense. For me, lending an ear to a meandering egoist like Glenn Beck is a constant struggle against a visceral urge, not just to ignore him, but to physically move away from the radio (or just shut off it off). Then again, I guess some people are really inspired by Glenn Beck. His radio show has proven to be quite popular. And he’s traded in his gig as a right-wing CNN gadfly for a shiny sideshow booth over at Fox News. (Check out Steven Colbert’s humorous parody of Beck’s new show here.) Although I must admit that I am heartened to hear that Glenn. Beck (and other conservative media types) aren’t giving up on Sarah Palin anytime soon. (There’s a balloon to pin your hopes on.)

And how grandiose Beck sounds, making the Obama election a national "self-help" event and invoking the founding fathers. Beck is the master of cocky half-wit profundity. And all discussions on Becks’ show seem to lead back to his throbbing self-importance and sense of drama.

If you’re not familiar with Glenn Beck’s radio antics or the huge rightist talk radio industry in general, I can’t blame you. If I hadn’t developed a taste for talk radio a long time ago, I would never wallow into that mess either. But if you’re wondering what it’s all about, the machinations of right-wing talk radio are pretty simple. It’s a massive and effective propaganda machine that masquerades as informative entertainment. It’s become a massive media movement employed by the moneyed interests of the US and their corporate associates to convince people of lesser means to happily support laws and lawmakers who favor the privileged and the upper class (and to habitually vote against their own economic interests). While Rush Limbaugh kind of invented this method of political warfare on a national scale, in the last twenty years it’s proven to be a very effective method for electing Republicans for local and national office. Of course, over this last election cycle rightist talk radio just didn’t provide the kind of political support it generated in previous years. Which in a sense, led me to put together this post.

While there’s always been political opinion in talk radio, since the Fairness Doctrine was scrapped at the end of the Reagan Administration, there’s been something else– Political radio warfare. It has gotten so bad after Bush took over, that there was a grassroots movement to develop a left-wing talk industry to counter the many-headed media monster the right had developed (which I talked about here).

And since there’s so many varieties of independent and moderate Americans, there’s all sorts of right-wing talk hosts (each with their own approach and style) working day and night to make them angry and blind– to inspire people who should know better to hate Democrats and fight the "evils" of liberal policy and progressive politicians. After some consideration, I’ve decided against offering all of the thirty-five propagandists I’ve archived. Instead, what you’ll find here is a reasonable and representative sampler of conservative bile and blather collected during the first full day of "President-Elect Obama."

And one thing to keep in mind that the far-right propaganda performers hate political moderates. That’s why they didn’t really have their heart in supporting McCain. While they loved Sarah, they suspected old John might not be the far-right ideologue he portrayed himself to be during the campaign. And remember Bill Clinton? Very moderate. Almost a Republican. The talk radio mob really hated him. Pounded on him daily. They still do.

So, let’s take the temperature of the golden goose of the 1994 Republican revolution at the dawn of a new era, and see if he’s cooked yet.

Rush Limbaugh Opening Monologue – 11-05-08

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The top dog of right wing talk, Rush Limbaugh set the tone for the genre over twenty years ago. And although there’s all sorts of shapes and sizes of rightist talk these days, the basic mold created by Limbaugh has proven effective– putting forward a host who is provocative, haughty and unwavering– in your face. Provide an over-confident rightist asshole with a microphone, and don’t apologize for the indignities that arise from the all the entertainment that ensues.

With so much joy and relief sweeping around the world after Obama’s win, it was only natural that the news industry would start seeking out the disgruntled right-wing pundits who didn’t get their way. Just to keep everything fair and balanced. And you would think that with McCain getting thrashed in the polls for weeks that Limbaugh would be better prepared for what was bound to be the most scrutinized intro monologue since his drug addictions became public knowledge.

It would appear that Limbaugh didn’t put much thought into this big moment. The material he brings to the table is scattershot at best. He starts out congratulating Obama for defeating Hillary Clinton (which of course happened months ago), and then he gets lost in an extended train wreck of football metaphors. (With only a high school education, football is where Limbaugh usually goes for analogies and comparisons in most of his oratory).

Toward the end of this clip you ll hear Limbaugh somehow re-imagine that the crowd at Grant Park on election night started to turn on Obama when he mentioned they might have to sacrifice and work harder to bring a better world. Notice the cute way Limbaugh embodies "black thought" by ending each exclamation with the familiar black to black slang noun "bro."  (as in "That wasn’t the deal here bro!" ) This is a constant Limbaugh theme, to create fictitious scenarios where where blacks openly lack the ambition and initiative of white folks.

Considering the bad news, Rush comes off as rather carefree and chipper on November 5th. As a somewhat moderate Republican, John McCain has been a topic of derision on Limbaugh’s program for years, and his approach here is that there wasn’t a real conservative in the race anyway, so no big deal. "This wasn’t any big landslide," Limbaugh mocks the portly Limbaugh.  “And how many of those votes were stolen?”

Yeah, right. No hard feelings I guess, eh? It sounds to me that Limbaugh is the one who’s going to have to work harder to make things happen over the next four years. It’s bad enough when your job is to publically denigrate and mock an inspirational figure who has so many important qualitites you lack (like class, intelligence and grace), but it’s gotta be even worse when the inspirational figure is black and you obviously have a big problem with that fact. Barack Obama makes life a little harder for Rush Limbaugh. He forces him to edit himself.

When the big man gets to talking, now and then something rather racist falls out of his mouth. Whether he’s telling black callers to take the bone out of their nose or contending that all newspaper composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson.  Another dumbass comment he made about a black quarterback cost Limbaugh his coveted gig on ESPN a few years ago.

Angry and white radio rightists like Limbaugh and Michael the Savage Weiner energize racist factions within their core audience by saying racially insensitive stuff that doesn’t quite go over the line. And it seems that Obama and his media operation is more than aware of Limbaugh’s vulnerabilities, and the way he magically repels moderates, women, Latinos and younger people away from the Republican party. Maybe you noticed how the administration has been teasing and taunting the opiated blowhard into more public foolishness than usual. And Limbaugh’s swollen ego makes it impossible for him to avoid taking the bait.

While getting pushed into the top arc of the news cycle has to be driving up his listenership in the short term, it also makes Limbaugh much more vulnerable. When he says something fatally stupid, or some new Limbaugh scandal breaks, it’s going to happen right square in the public spotlight. Of course, when Humpty Rush takes his fall there is a prince in waiting…

Sean Hannity Intro Monologue – 11-05-08

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Like Rush, Sean is rather sloppy out of the gate on day one of the new era. And I just have to wonder if all these righty talkers just never considered the most likely scenario would really come true. And then a shocker– Hannity theorizes that "the left" has been fighting dirty, spending years orchestrating a failure of President Bush just for their own political benefit! (I tend to think that the thousands of lives that might have been saved was a little more of an incentive, but okay) I guess that means that all of Bush’s failures have been caused by those evil genius liberals. Who knew?

Compared to the portentous Mr. Limbaugh, Hannity is able to at least feign some measure of momentary grace in defeat. Only to note that the Obama win wasn’t quite the election landslides of Hannity’s heroes– Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. You see, Hannity walked a fine line that Wednesday, trying not to sound too much like a bitter partisan hack while never missing a chance to demean or denounce Obama. Yet, although Hannity is pretty repulsive, there are more vile and ridiculous voices on the radio.

Michael Savage Intro Monologue – 11-05-08

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It would be easy to write off Michael Savage as a hateful xenophobic little prick, but he’s really so much more. If you listen carefully, what you’ll hear is a really boring self-absorbed old fart, who seems to drop in something outrageous, vicious or crazy every once in a while– just to make sure you’re still paying attention. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve heard a man on the radio who seems to need so much attention (Remember, Randi Rhodes is actually a woman…).

Not surprisingly, Savage has no allegiance toward McCain or the Republicans. Actually, there’s not quite enough hatred toward gays and brown people in either major political party for Michael Savage. He says in this clip that he spits in McCain’s face. Nice. However, most of what you’ll actually hear is a just pathetic homely man who needs listeners so bad. It’s odd. A couple of people I actually respect actually find Savage’s act entertaining (or at least compelling). It just reminds me of early onset dementia.

Speaking of dementia…

Bill O’Reilly Intro Monologue – 11-05-08

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Okay, O’Reilly isn’t really so much demented as depraved. But that’s beside the point. Mr. O’Reilly imagines himself a bigger and better version of the average American, and a righteous media advocate for religious and fact-deprived Americans. And when he tries to explain complex and profound issues and current events on the radio or TV there’s something poetic in his inarticulate and ignorant analysis and insight that might either help you understand why the U.S. has been the laughing stock of the world or make you feel even more enlightened by your own lack of knowledge and curiosity.

With a relatively successful TV show underway, I ve always wondered why O’Reilly wanted a daily radio show too. Perhaps just because Sean had one. And any hotshot talk host has a staff at hand, some hosts are more involved in the process in their own preparation than others. But here, O’Reilly sounds like he might have rolled into the studio fifteen minutes before air time with a hot coffee and a roll of Tums.

In fact, not long after the election O’Reilly announced that he was getting out of radio. Perhaps the looming election kept old Bill at the microphone another year or so, but not long after this broadcast he called it quits. Supposedly this will give Bill more time to make his TV show even better. How exciting.

Okay, I’ve had enough of the highly paid hacks and hucksters. Bring on the freak show! Ladies and gentlemen, the mostly highly decorative officer in Phoenix, Arizona history. (Or maybe she said “decorated”…)

Jack McLamb Intro Monologue – 11-05-08 8:36

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For me, full-bore kookiness is a lot more fun than hardcore RNC talk radio. Officer Jack has retired from the force, and today he conducts his conspiratorial talk radio program from America’s survivalist playground, the high Rocky Mountains of Idaho, USA. Like many fringe and freaky rightist radio shows, McLamb’s daily program is carried by the Genesis Communications Network. Many of their shows can be found on a few little AM stations scattered across the countryside (mostly in the south and out west). But the main outlet for McLamb’s (and most GCN content) is WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio), the shortwave multi-frequency international powerhouse in Tennessee (and on the web).

A retired cop (who can’t seem to give up the uniform), McLamb also founded an organization called "Police Against the New World Order," which should give you an idea where he’s coming from. And Jack doesn’t like Obama much. But the far right wackies never liked Bush much either. I don’t think the conspiracy fetishists ever like any elected president, or any leader for that matter. Government is always the enemy, run by monsters in cahoots with the infamous elites and the secret societies. “Well, you see who the international criminal elite chose to be our President,” McLamb tells us. “We now have an Obama-nation as President of the United States.”

McLamb is concerned that this election may bring on the great American “race war” that so many survivalist/patriot extremists have been predicting for so long. And how might that happen?. According to McLamb, the satanic international criminal elites don’t like brown people, and they might have Obama killed, and then blame all the white supremacists. Thus starting a “race war.” All of which might make you wonder if McLamb might be a bit of a bigot himself.

And maybe his is, but doesn’t want you to think so. In fact, this monologue kicks off with one of the more extravagant “some of my best friends are black” expositions I’ve heard in quite a long time. To hear McLamb tell it, he has a real passion for people “of color.” The problem with Obama however, is that he’s a communist. And MAYBE a Muslim. And McLamb hates Communists (He might not like Muslims much either.) And on the day after the election there’s just something very creepy about getting on the radio and talking about Obama getting shot in the head.

And then the more you hear McLamb ramble, the more you begin to see how the conspiracy paranoia and religious mental illness all dovetails into a colorful worldview that’s very popular on U.S. shortwave radio (and in the dark corners and back roads of the internet). It’s a general fear of the “new world order,” which often translates to worries about elites in general, the pro-Satan forces, and space aliens. And then there’s the concerns about immigrants (at least they exist). As you might imagine, there’s more than a little bit of racial hatred at the heart of all this conspiracy thought as well, but the true nature of the bigotry is often masked or coded into the public presentations of all the kooks and preachers spreading their messages of fear and intolerance. Actually, if you take away the religious apocalypticism and the science fiction, and it’s really not that all that different than the worldview of Limbaugh or Michael Savage.

In closing, Jack brings up what has become the lynchpin topic for most of the Obama hating paranoids on the air and on the web. Out of all the rumors and smears spread during the campaign, the meme that Obama is not a natural born citizen is the one that continues to fire up the hoards of fringe fraidy-cats out there. Despite substantial proof debunking the rumor, the idea that Obama is some foreign agent (or just not quite American enough) is very appealing to people who already feel ill at ease about Obama’s skin color, or that he has Muslim relatives.

Perhaps we can take McLamb at his word and assume he really does “love people of color.” I guess that would make Obama one of McLamb’s “black brothers and sisters.” It’s the people who employ Obama (and Bush as well) who concern him– the international criminal elite. And of course, you know what Jesus called them: “The Anti-Christ Communist Synagogue of Satan.” (Hmmm.)

So, let me wind up with post with another talk host on the outskirts of radio. This one’s kooky, but not quite a kook. And while I don’t think he’s a racist, I’ll bet I wouldn’t be the first to say he’s  either. And back in the 1980’s, he seemed to be on the verge of hitting the big time.

David Paul Intro Monologue – 11-05-08 8:36

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It’s David Paul, a guy who used to have one of the sleaziest overnight talk shows in radio history on WSB in Atlanta (which could be heard probably a couple dozen states on their 50,000 watt signal) during the 1980’s and 90’s. It was called “Off The Wall with David Paul,” and that’s just what it was. It was stupid and entertaining and often irritating, and it was hard not to listen when you came across Paul’s oily voice and goofy persona in the middle of the night. His show was his own blend of soft-core shock jock fare, with lots of slutty girls calling in keeping David interested in the proceedings and keeping a lot of dirty old men up all night long.

I’ve intended to write about David Paul in more detail for a little while now, so I won’t say so much here. But the short story is after his gig at WSB ended he ended up in Florida (WIOD) I think, and maybe another station or two. And then he disappeared. Occasional internet searches to check if Paul had popped back up somewhere never panned out. Until a year or two ago, when I found out he’s doing a morning drive show at a teeny tiny little radio station down in Georgia.

I’m not totally convinced that David Paul is a right-winger. Although he may be. It’s just that Cartersville, Georgia is such a Republican zone in an already Republican state that it’s probably a good idea for his radio persona to be Republican, whether he is or not. After all, he did need a job. Who doesn’t these days?

As Paul comes on the air he has good news for his listeners. Except for Obama, just about every local and state candidate down there went for the GOP. Although Chambliss would have to call in Sarah Palin some other big Republican stars to help him finally re-secure his Senate seat in a run off election.

Did you know the Democrats want to control everything you see, hear and read? Right. For chrissake, only a hard core Republican (or a dumb ass) would believe that. I know this has been a big talking point bandied about by a lot of right-wing nutballs and crazy Christians out there, the idea that the power hungry Democrats are going to legislate the end of the dominion of right-wing talk radio. It’ll never happen. But I suppose it could be interesting if somehow the voters could became more educated on the corruption and collusion between the far-right in this country and a number of corporations that has led to the vast majority of American talk radio hosts doing shows that are both political and very right wing. It didn’t used to be that way. And America has always been home to a whole range of political beliefs, and has never been a rightist (or leftist) nation.

According to David Paul, without having a radio dial full of right-wing voices people (let’s assume he means Georgians) wouldn’t know what to think and how to vote. And he gives an impassioned reason why his listeners should fear the Democrats: “People can be led.” Exactly. People can be led. “You have a choice!,” Paul says, raising his voice. And his listeners do have a choice, probably between two or three right wing talk show hosts at a time. While progressive talk radio has a foothold in the business these days, there’s plenty of towns and counties where it’s almost impossible to find anything resembling progressive talk radio or any talk radio that isn’t obnoxiously espousing hard right Republican talking points. While Paul is kind of a hoot some days, when it comes to politics he really is a maroon.

Since Obama’s election I’ve heard many in rightist media scream like monkeys about how the Democrats are going to bring “fairness” back to talk radio (and shut down the far right wing dominance of talk radio). While I don’t believe anything quite like the “fairness doctrine” of old will return, I do believe that all the conservative talk radio hosts on the air don’t want their monopoly of talk radio to become a topic of discussion in the media, and especially in the halls of congress. It just wouldn’t be fair.

I have a hunch that right wing talk radio may take a big hit in this new post-bust era, as more and more Americans find they’ve lost their savings and/or their job (and their health insurance), the rightist media figures who have championed illegal and very expensive wars and all of the toxic corporate and financial deregulation that took our economy into this ditch. And all the while smearing unions, environmentalists, anti-war activists, and promulgating specious arguments against the minimum wage, universal health care or anything else that might benefit the middle-class, the working poor or the unemployed. And just like folks who turned over their millions to Bernie Madoff, millions of listeners turned over their common sense, compassion and cultural outlook to contrarian ideologues like Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and Beck. And one day they’ll realize they have nothing to show for it, besides a seasoned ignorance on how government policies and economic principles play out in the real world. And a lifetime supply of mega-dittos.

In four-hundred ways, we’re in uncharted territory these days. Especially when it comes to media, information and politics. And the political talk radio industry that rapidly grew during the Clinton administration, and became more diverse during the eight years of Bush and Cheney, now finds us in an era that still doesn’t have a name– where the rules keep changing and nobody knows where we’re heading. And when Obama quoted from the King James Version at his inauguration, saying– “The time has come to set aside foolish things,’ I think he was really onto something.

And so let me put aside these foolish voices, and move on. Occasional casual monitoring of conservative talk radio just to get a flavor of the RNC media machine is one thing, but sitting down and getting personally acquainted with dozens of hours of this garbage is something else all together. I’m not saying I was damaged, exactly. But from the beginning, this blog has been a labor of love. Although I occasionally do find right wing talk fascinating, I find nothing to love while I’m immersed in the dogmatic swill of it all.

There are changes afoot in the talk radio scene. To what end? I don’t know. But you wanna hear something really weird. I think it’s weird. It’s Rush Limbaugh– all spastic and sullen and bitter. It’s quite a change from the cocky pill-head strut of Clinton impressions and chuckle-packed regular features demeaning activists and thinkers and the poor. Listen to his petulant whine as he complains that those awful Democrats are “mean-spirited…heartless….horrible winners.” Is he serious? When I first heard this clip I really thought he was going to fucking cry (as some Republicans do, at the strangest times). But he never really does.

Actually, instead of the audio, here’s the video! I’m sorry. I know it’s not easy to watch. And the man does not look healthy or happy. And one wonders what might be taking the place of his beloved painkillers. I imagine it’s hard to be Rush Limbaugh… without a little numbing now and then. And if you’re wondering why you should waste bandwidth on a chubby Republican emoting, let me tell you that the arm flapping is worth the ticket to the show.

Is that just sad, or what? And while I think right wing talk radio may be in for a world of hurt, the progressive talk radio format that organically rose to challenge the chorus of scary repug voices on the AM dial has always been a problematic commercial undertaking. It doesn’t help that many of the hosts espouse political positions quite different from the official positions of corporate interests who sponsor, syndicate and promote radio shows and radio stations. And the simplistic solutions and god and country mumbo-jumbo of the rightist talkers has a broad easy appeal that trumps any real discussion of the issues or accidently bumping into the true complexity of human affairs. Then again, maybe the Democrats are just lousy businessmen, and hard-selling a harsh reactionary political agenda on behalf of big money just makes people feel good. I sure don’t have all the answers.

While I’m not going to drag this post on any further, I should mention that there has been a lot of news in the progressive talk radio business. Let’s see if can get all I’ve heard and read lately into a few quick coda paragraphs here…

Amid lots of drama and a little mystery, liberal talk syndicator “Nova M” is gone. Their home station in Phoenix has switched back to Spanish programming. And of their two big stars, Mike Malloy is scrambling to syndicate himself without missing a week, and Randi Rhodes will probably show up back on WNJO sometime soon. And I’m sure she’s land some type of syndication deal somehow. While Malloy was live on the web last Friday night, I have no idea if he’s going to be on the air this week. And as of this writing Rhodes is still sulking in her Florida bungalow, or condo, or whatever she calls home down there.

And Air America? You gotta wonder. They finally lost their biggest star, Rachel Maddow. All that’s left is a vestigial morning hour where they broadcast the audio from her previous night’s TV show on MSNBC. And Thom Hartmann (who just cracked the top ten of Talker’s Magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” talk show hosts) has abandoned Air America as well. One time CEO Mark Green is pulling out as well, to get back into NYC politics. And in the vacuum created by Rachel pulling out of AAR’s evening lineup has come Ron Reagan, son of the oft-heralded Republican hero. And I must admit, he’s not bad.

Perhaps the most interesting thing going on over at Air America is what former hosts Sam Seder and Marc Maron are up to. They’ve created a daily web-only videocast (which is also a free audio podcast) where they can freely be ridiculous and creative and even utter dirty words now and then. It’s called “Break Room Live,” and it takes place at 3pm every weekday in a real break room at the Air America headquarters. While it’s rather unprofessional, it is produced. Actually, it’s a Brendan McDonald production, and fans of McDonald and Maron’s efforts on Morning Sedition will probably enjoy this somewhat primitive progressive news sitcom. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I Iike this show. And occasionally it is hilarious. 

I don’t know how long Air America is going to spend money on this offbeat experiment, but there’s worse ways to waste an hour or two sitting at your computer. Like listening to Michael Savage or Glenn Beck or Dennis Miller (oooh, that’s really bad). But I am starting to think that Rush Limbaugh may just go down in a ball of flames. And it might happen sooner than you think. Until something wonderful like that happens, I think I’ll take a vacation from conservative talk radio for a while.

Let me get back to something more whimsical and heartwarming? Like shortwave radio perhaps. And maybe I’ll see you at the SWL fest!

Talk Radio From The Brink Of The Verge

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

How much right-wing talk radio can you take? I have limits. And there’s been plenty of times I couldn’t stomach any of it. But I will admit that I have a multifaceted fascination with it from time to time. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy much, but I do learn a few things. More precisely I feel like it fills in some background knowledge for me, and provides a laugh or two now and then. While it does provide insight on how the right-wing noise machine is addressing the flock, often the more interesting side of these propaganda operations are the participating callers.

Let’s be honest. An integral element of all political talk radio is a support group scenario, where the audience and the host do a little dance of reassurance, where they repeat the days talking points with varying levels of indignation and ask enciteful rhetorical questions they all answer the same way. All that said, my point is that if right-wing talk radio makes you angry and disgusted, or outraged and indignant, or maybe just really sad and gloomy– if you can get past a lot of discomfort I’ve discovered there are occasional brief moments on these conservative talk shows that are almost beautiful– either n the raw purity of the ignorance (and/or misunderstanding) on display, or just the way some people so poetically reveal their abject nature, or their messy religious (or racial) problems.

Okay, my fingers are crossed, but I’m going to say it anyway– With the Republican party about to get trounced on Tuesday, and the old crapshooter they nominated for President about to suffer a well-deserved defeat, it’s an understandably interesting time to sample the glut of conservative talk that poisons the AM dial across our great nation.

Let’s listen. All these snippets are from the other day. Halloween, last Friday. Instead of the big names in conservative talk, we’ll wade into the lower ranks of the genre. Starting with the biggest doofus in talk radio, ever– Mike Gallagher, the happy conservative warrior (or worrier in this clip…) And I apologize for the lo-fi digital sound on these files. They’re web grabs, not actual radio recordings (like usual).

WNYM – Mike Gallagher – Fight The Fight  8:32

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This is more than sad. It’s exploitive and fascist and desperate. Apparently there’s a popular YouTube video out there, where an Iraq War veteran spouts off against Obama and endorses John McCain. The dramatic moment Gallagher can’t get enough of comes at the end of the video as the vet walks away from the camera and it becomes evident he has a prosthetic leg. Which of course, is tragic. Losing a limb is sad. But what this young guy has to say is scary. That something he calls “freedom” is worth any price, and that any lives lost or destroyed (or country plundered) is worth the cost to promote “freedom.” The concept is simple enough, the tragedy of this soldier trumps not only the charisma and historic nature of Obama and his campaign, but the fact that this guy lost a body part means the war was a good idea. Or something like that.

“It’s a video that could make a real difference,” Gallagher insists. As I’m typing this my better half is sitting across the room listening to Gallagher’s jingoistic slobber. “They don’t have anything else,” she said matter-of-factly. “How stupid could these people get.”

Hmm. Good question.

WNYM – Dennis Prager – Obama is Too Smart  6:02

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Self-righteous blowhard Dennis Prager makes the case against intelligence. Did you know that America is intoxicated by brilliance? (Me neither.). Best to stay away from the universities, which could increase your intelligence, but acually make you dumber (or less Republican).But Sarah Palin? Prager likes her a lot. She’s so genuine. Don’t look for smarts in a candidate, Prager says. It’s more important that our poliicians have “values,” “courage,” and “stability.” (Like John McCain, I guess…)

Okay, the point here is that Obama is really smart, but you know… so what? And he speaks well, which is even worse. And then the female caller at the end of this clip drives home my point about support group radio. It was like a big gooey hug between host and caller. Expect more of this behavior on Wednesday’s show.

WABC – Bob Grant – Caller Theories  3:44

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On the other hand, Meredith from D.C. is quite intelligent. Even smarter than Bob. Not only does she know that Obama’s a Muslim, but she knows that the Muslims know that he’s a Muslim. And more importantly, Obama is a Shia Muslim (his middle name gives it away…), which is going to really piss off Al Qaeda and just screw up everything. Like I said, you can learn a lot…

Old Bob sounds like he’s actually in a good mood and notes that there some great insight on the program that evening, like from Fred from Tarrytown. Fred offers a brief but insightful lecture on Black theology, and then wonders aloud what it’s going to be like when Obama wins and the Black militants take over.

In the Dennis Prager spirit, these two are smart cookies who obviously didn’t go to college. If they had they might have learned things that could have smothered that special innate wisdom inside that drives them to do things like endorse John McCain and cook up unlikely conspiracy theories.

So, I don’t know about you but I’m going to listen to more than my fair share of right wing talk radio this week. (After all there’s a new crappy rightist talk station in town.) I’m wondering what else they got? And how much I can take…

And I’m voting tomorrow. And for the first time in a long time I’m voting FOR a President, not just against one. I hope you might be doing the same thing.

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.