Long Live Short-Wave!

Saturday, April 12th, 2008
Thirty years ago, listening to shortwave radio wasn’t such a eccentric thing to do. It was still the easiest way to keep up with the rest of the world. And more significantly, it was the primary way countries on each side of the cold war communicated their propaganda to the common folk on the other side of that “iron curtain.” For people out in the arctic, the desert, or in some African village or out on a mountainside, a shortwave was a necessity. And for us in the west it was a geeky guy’s delight– tuning in distant lands from the dark caves of our bedrooms.

Yes, shortwave was still a lot of fun in 1979 when the album I’m offering here was released. It’s called “Long Live Shortwave!,” and it’s a full LP by British pop music producer (and shortwave radio fan) Mitch Murray.

Long Live Shortwave! side A  28:20

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Obviously Mitch spent some time on this project, including composing a disco theme (with a morse code intro!) called “Toys For Big Boys,” which opens and closes the album. Side one features the voice of Mr. Murray himself tempting listeners with the power and possibilities of shortwave radio listening– not just tuning in news, music and dramas from around the world, but also eavesdropping on amateur radio enthusiasts and signals from outer space.

Then it gets a little technical for some, breaking down the science of radio a bit and explaining the shortwave broadcast bands. If you don’t already know some of this stuff, your eyes might glaze over. But don’t worry, the funky disco music returns now and then to keep you alert. And not only that, but Murray provided a little booklet if you care to follow along. Here’s a scan of that booklet for you here, and here. And I also have both sides of the J-card for you (which includes some liner notes) right here, and also here. (And dig the subtitle: "At last! A superb album devoted to DXing.")

There’s actually quite a bit of information on shortwave listening on side one and really not much is out of date. The science remains the same. Antenna information and propagation science are explained briefly, and you may learn something if you like. In fact, side one is really dedicated more toward the shortwave hobbyist rather than the casual listener. But that’s probably why a guy might have this at the time– to learn something. Side one ends with longtime BBC personality, Henry Hatch, who had been DXing since the hobby really began. He offers a charming DX pep talk and some good advice for the hobbyist. I like the way he emphasizes on how weak the signals are after traveling around the world and how they need the utmost care and attention upon arrival. Makes you wanna warm some milk for the poor things.

And as I would, Hatch advises you to record your DX sessions on cassette.

Long Live Shortwave! side B  25:25

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Side two is a twenty-five minute time capsule sampling the sound of shortwave radio at the dawn of the 1980’s. A bit of a nostalgia trip for old DXers. It’s a cavalcade of more than thirty ID’s and identifying (or interval) signals from shortwave broadcasters around the world. Thrill to the sound of the Radio Moscow once again and listen to plenty of baritone announcers and hokey period production music.

When I heard the sound of Deutsche Welle’s interval signal on this tape I thought, “Wow, it still sounds just the same”… and then I remembered that only within the last year the German shortwave service cut off their English broadcasts to North America. Probably won’t be hearing that again on the radio anytime soon. And then I just got pissed off all over again about all the western countries turning their backs on North American listeners. And that’s a big difference between shortwave listeners today and the polyester pants crowd who might have picked up a copy of this album a few decades ago. Their shortwave radios had a lot more voices speaking in English. And despite wearing more sensible trousers, we are not quite as happy today.

That’s it for this quick post. I hope you enjoy this DXing artifact from the 1970’s. I just got my hands on this thing, and my first thought was to share it here with you. And please don’t be alarmed by the lo-fi audio issues with the disco intro section of each side. I was only able to find this album as a cassette tape, and it appears to have been slightly munched in another player. The sound quality improves markedly after the first minute or so on each side.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ll be back soon with one of these posts I have in the pipeline right now. Of course, there’s more radio from the past coming your way with part two of that 1988 road trip, and I’m right in the middle of an extended exposition on the perplexing and tangled state of progressive talk radio in the middle of this big and brutal election year.

As always, it’s good to hear from you. Thanks for listening.

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 30

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Catskill_shack_1 Here’s the second half of the scan of the 25 meter shortwave band following my post from last week. And to be honest, I’m including it for completion rather than for compelling content. It’s international broadcasting, and almost none of it is intended for North American listeners.

And speaking of last week, I mentioned that a site I’ve depended on for identifying shortwave broadcasts, hfradio, has disappeared. Well, I’m happy to say it’s only temporary. If you try to pull up their site you get a (MS version of MySpace) page explaining that they took the server down for some maintenance and upgrades. Should be back up in a week or two. I’d personally like to thank the proprieter of the website, Tomas Hood, for all his fine work and service to the online radio geek community.

Almost all the radio reception I’ve been blogging has been recorded at night, when radio waves get the best bounce out of the atmosphere. But the 25 meter band has more life during daylight than most, and reader Ralph offered his own recorded adventure of these same frequencies a few weeks ago.

More than most radio recordings offer here, this is more for geeks and completists. No great music and very little English language content. However, if you were to tune in the world one afternoon you might hear voices like these, and radio noise like this.

This scan was captured around the five o’clock hour EDT on my Degen 1103 portable. The first segment of this radio adventure (in the last post) has some swell music and an interesting roundup of the weekly news from Cuba. This is mostly just foriegn language garble. But no less REAL. Most of these signals are being transmitted from overseas. However, I heard them in the Catskill Mountains. And so will you, if you download this file…

Segment 2 – 25 meter band 10-01-2006

(download)

11795 – Deutsche Welle (Germany)

English service for Africa. Not coming in well, and stepped on by an adjacent station.

11800 – Radio Habana Cuba

In Arabic, with a Cuban accent. Reception isn’t too bad. Wonder what they’re talking about?

11815 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain) & Radio France International?

Sounds right. Spain broadcasting (some sports type stuff) in Spanish to South America, as well as hint of what might be France speaking Portuguese to folks in Angola. Lots of buzzy off-frequency noise occurring as well. In short, a mess.

11820 – The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Saudiflag Either the Koran, or a discussion of it. Quite clear with some shortwave hissy effects.

11830 – (A Mess)

While I hear a male talking about a “health department” in this dense garble, I’m not sure there’s any actual English broadcasting going on here. That guy dominates this rather interesting reception train wreck, with at least one or more stations warbling in. Best guess is that Iran (in Albanian) and Egypt (in Hausa, an African language) might be part of the festivities here.

11875 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain)

The news in Spanish.

11895 – WYFR – Family Radio

Harold Camping’s quirky Christian crap in French.

11915 – The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

More Koran business. Some fading here and there.

11920 – (unknown Christian broadcast)

Can’t figure out what this is. Mediocre reception. Some white American woman all worked up on god.

11930 – Radio Marti (jammed)

Oh, the NOISE…. American propaganda waves stopped in mid-bounce by old Fidel.

Rdpi 11945 – RDP Internacional Portugal?

Some guy with a deep voice talking to Africa.

11955 – Adventist World Radio

Soothing biblical piano. So mellow…

11980 – The Voice of Russia

Interval chimes, getting ready for another hour of international radio, with some squiggly broadcast riding on top.

11985 – WYFR – Family Radio

Again, the Camping cult working their magic on French speaking Africans.

12000 – HCJB – Voice of the Andes

Spanish language fluffy Christian pop from Ecuador.

12015 – Radio Exterior de Espana (Spain)

In Arabic I believe, with a HEAVY whine. Is this a heterodyne caused by another nearby station? Or an ear piercing jamming transmission designed to make your brain bleed?

12025 – HCJB – Voice of the Andes?

Difficult for me to verify, but it sounds right. If so, it’s Christian radio in Arabic aimed at North Africa. Those Jesus-casters never stop trying to convert the world.

12050 – Radio Cairo

News of the Middle East, in Arabic. Female newsreader. Good signal.

12075 – (unknown)

Extremely lousy read of this broadcast. Male voice. Might be American clandestine “Radio Free Asia” broadcasting in Korean.

12085 – Radio Damascus?

Wdamascussyriaf Maybe. It might even be music. For me, this is the worst level of reception that I’ll vainly attempt to pull a listenable signal out of. No luck here.

12095 – BBC World Service.

Something about India. It’s difficult listening, and the UK international broadcasters could give a rat’s ass if we North Americans hear it anyway. It’s coming from the South Atlantic, and intended for African ears.

12133.5 – US Armed Forces Radio (Key West, FL)

A mutated Smokey Robinson number. They’re broadcasting on upper side band and I didn’t bother messing around with tuning it in correctly.

I’m always interested in corrections, suggestions and feedback on these entries. Either in the comments section or via email.

Thanks a bunch for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 22

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Michigan_backyard_1 As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a week around the July 4th holiday in Michigan. And many of those evenings were spent in my brother’s backyard scanning shortwave and the AM band. Although I’ve yet to dig into all the tapes, I really don’t recall any particular bandscan to be all that fascinating. To me, what makes a broadcast band tuning adventure memorable is ultimately a crap shoot. It’s a roll of the dice under the influence of atmospheric conditions and the happenstance of coming across interesting content. Better luck next time…

That’s not to say that in twenty or so hours of recording I didn’t capture some intriguing and revealing broadcasting along the way. But I was ultimately disappointed that most of scans didn’t stand out as being blogable or as significant audio artifacts. To me, there’s several factors that make a particular scan worth posting and discussing here. While it’s always exciting to come across viable signals from very far away (or from countries I’ve rarely if ever heard on shortwave), this is an English language blog and it seems imperative to present some radio English content in the mix (although foreign music programs often have a powerful charm all their own).

Of course, exotic non-English programming is part of what makes shortwave so interesting. But in the end radio is supposed to be a communication medium. When I turn on a shortwave set to explore I want to receive information and ideas from around the world, as well as log some far off programming I can’t understand. Actually my recent listening sessions upstate (for only two evenings) yielded more interesting scans, and I may return to those recordings in the next few weeks. Like I said, it’s always a crap shoot.

Michigan_scanning Most (but certainly not all) of what I did capture in English on shortwave during this were those damned US Christian shortwave broadcasters, as well as some decent AM DXing scans, which I have yet to revisit.

In this post I’m offering a late night scan of the 49 meter band (from June 30, 2006), which is primarily a ghetto of Jesus-casting in the US at that time. The 49 meter band (the frequencies directly surrounding 6000 kHz or so) is the most popular shortwave broadcast band overnight, but after midnight very few international broadcasters aim their mighty transmitters toward North America with English broadcasts (except Cuba and perhaps China, which never seems to stop broadcasting in English and dozens of other languages on shortwave). What you typically get in the wee hours are a few distant stations intended for other continents in between the stronger signals spewing English language Christian evangelism and propaganda, most originating from the US.

Although there have been rare instances where I’ve heard something actually inspirational or original from a Christian shortwave broadcast, I can’t think of any right now. In this scan, you get the usual– heaping helpings of righteous ignorance, lots of authoritarian blather, and some creepy xenophobia thrown in for good measure. At its worst, shortwave bible-banging is full of intolerance and disdain, if not hatred, for those who are the wrong color or don’t embrace the beliefs of the particular sect transmitting the propaganda at hand.

In this sampling you’ll hear a bit of that. So, let’s scrape the bottom of the 49 meter barrel, starting out just before 2:30 AM (0624 UTC) on Friday night (or Saturday morning) June 30, 2006 (or July 1 if you’re a stickler).

49 Meter Band (5765 to 6160 kHz) 07-01-06  49:05

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5765 – WWCR (Nashville, TN) – Scriptures For America

Peters_mag_cover It’s the “Scriptures For America” program, with Pastor Peter J. Peters of LaPorte, Colorado. Tonight he’s offering a replay of his Martin Luther King holiday special broadcast from January of this year. And what a tribute it is.

Okay, it’s not a tribute at all. This is a venomous indictment of MLK. Pastor Peters is a leading figure in the American “Christian Identity” movement, a racist theology based on the rather kooky theory that white folks, or “Aryans” (or just generally pale Americans) are descendants of the "lost tribes of Israel." That said, it doesn’t stop these bizarre Caucasoid practitioners from despising Jews (who one would assume they believe are actually their ancient cousins), and of course, loathing African-Americans (and basically all brown and black people). And that’s not all. Christian Identity types really HATE homosexuals, and many aren’t too fond of Catholics either. No surprise, a similar theology has been quite popular in South Africa as well.

Anyway, you get the idea. To make a long story short, Pastor Peters is a hateful little racist asshole who happens to have an international radio show. Funny how Peters barely mentions the civil rights movement (or any need for such a thing in America during MLK’s era) in this nasty diatribe. Nothing original here. It’s basically a restatement of the John Birch Society case against Martin Luther King that’s been passed around in racist circles for decades. Much of it is based on rumors based around the infamous FBI surveillance of King, under the pasty guiding hand of J. Edgar Hoover.

What made King such a bad guy to Peters and the Birchers? Well, apparently he was a naughty person first and foremost. But more importantly, they’re outraged that anyone would honor a communist sexual deviant, who was also a false prophet (whatever that means). Hoover_fez_shot And what really pisses off Peters? King’s “wild interracial sex orgies,” of course. (Of course, when Jeff Gannon, Karl Rove and George W all locked themselves up in the White House bathroom for an hour, that wouldn’t technically be "interracial.") To Peters the group sex thing is kinda bad, but it’s the skin color stuff that is almost too sinful for words. “Interracial marriage is a violation of god’s law,” Peters says. It’s “a ploy to weaken America’s strength!” No mention of bodily fluids.

What I felt was mildly amusing in all the hatred and spite, was that Peters actually decries the policies of torture and our loss of privacy rights under Bush, despite the fact that Bush seems as close to Peter’s beliefs as any US President in our lifetime. Perhaps he’s only concerned that government sponsored torture might not be used exclusively on black and brown people. Peters doesn’t seem to find any problem with the FBI snooping on King’s every move for years.

5850 – EWTN – Eternal Word Television Network (Vandiver, AL)

Schlafly From scary racist Protestant blather, to equally frightening crap from this huge Catholic shortwave station in Alabama. On the phone is nasty old Phyllis Schlafly, who made a name for herself by fighting equal rights for women and public school sex education for decades. She also once said the atomic bomb was a gift from god. And lately she’s been promoting the idea that an independent judiciary is just a plain bad idea. According to Schlafly, some judges have too much power (i.e. independence), especially on the Supreme Courts. According to her recent book, these judges are “supremacists,” which is her terminology for what other rabid right-wingers refer to as judicial activists. It’s shorthand for judges who make decisions Phyllis and her ilk find distasteful, or somehow not Christian enough, whatever. It’s a catchy term, right?– supreme court, supremacists, super-bad… Easy to remember. However, if you happen to look up the word “supremacist” you’ll notice that it a tern defining certain humans who believe that their race, religion, belief system or culture is superior, or are more deserving of certain rights, privileges and freedoms than people who are not like them. So, Rowe vs. Wade was a matter of supremacy? Of what, secularism? Please.

Make no mistake about it. Half-wit theocrats like Schlafly and Peters are TRUE supremacists, and these days like-minded people who want to scrap our secular representative republic for something more like Taliban rule are working overtime behind the scenes to make this country a religious state. It’s happening within the Catholic and Protestant church in this country, and it oughtta scare the hell out of you. That is, unless you’re a zombie too.

5920 – The Fundamental Broadcasting Network

Holy singin’ in a big room. How much joy can you handle?

5935 – WWCR – Gene Scott

Scott_cigar Hearing an old-fashioned money grubbing (dead) preacher is kind of a relief after all that hate and prudish garbage. Even if it is a bunch of tired gobbledygook about how HE us gave his son, and that makes us givers, or something "axiomatic" like that. Amen.

5950 – WYFR – Family Radio

Spreading Harold Camping’s warped Christian message around the world in Español.

5965 – Radio Exterior de Espana

The first secular broadcast here. Lots of weather noise. Some guitar action.

5985 – WYFR – Family Radio

More Jesus for all garbage, in a Chinese language I believe. With the contact information given in slow distinct English.

6005 – BBC World Service (from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic)

If there was one blip in the news cycle that seemed to eventually snowball into what has become a huge ongoing human disaster in Lebanon, it was the capture of the young Israeli soldier mentioned in this newscast. That already seems so long ago.

Bbc_big_wig_1 And what is really irritating, especially in a time of a major world crisis, is that the BBC World Service is now difficult, and at times impossible, to hear in North America on shortwave. The BBC has decided that American shortwave listeners just aren’t worth the time or money. Sure, it’s still a great news source (much better than NPR), but it’s really not the world service it once was. I wonder if the planet really starts to go up in a ball of flames if the BBC might butch up and offer North America the English service they need and deserve via shortwave again. After all, If things get really bad shortwave could again become the only way to hear what’s happening around the globe.

Gosh, am I pessimistic today or what?

6030 – Radio Marti

It’s freedom lovin’ America, spreading democracy to Cuba via radio instead of using good old fashioned warfare and torture. Broadcasting from North Carolina, I believe this signal is being jammed by Cuba with their infamoushavana gurgle” machine.

6070 – Radio Mundial Mahanaim (Santiago, Chile)?

Chile_qsl One thing for sure, this is NOT CFRX (a shortwave simulcasting relay of talk station CFRB in Toronto, which I did hear at other times at this frequency while in Michigan).

It’s a pop song, in Spanish with guitar (and perhaps flute) with hip hop overtones. Not that I’m crazy about this song, and the reception is piss poor, but in my opinion this one stop on the 49 meter band had more humanity and sanity than any other signal I came across that evening. However, the clip is short here.

6090 – Gene Scott

Beggin’ for money from the grave again. I wonder how many years it will go on?

6110 – RAI – Radio International Italy (Rome)?

Or maybe a Christian station in Chile. Not sure. Very poor signal.

6160 – Radio Habana Cuba

In English. AWFUL reception.

Thanks for listening!

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 11

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Kitchen_radios1In a real way, this post finally begins to realize the intention of this series. I come to you after a number of recent safaris of shortwave listening, and now if you’ve got a few minutes to listen a humble radio travelogue is about to begin.

In other words, a couple weeks ago I had a chance to finally spend some quality evenings at my Brooklyn apartment with a couple of radios and logged what I found. And as usual, I recorded the results. Over the course of the next few posts in this blog series you’ll be able to hear some of these dial scans.

While I’d rather do this kind of listening far from the big city, that hasn’t been possible for me lately. So instead, I set up a listening station on my kitchen table, which is about as far from my computers and household electronics as I can get here. Yes, there was some residual RF– a bit of buzzing, and whirring and crackling from time to time, but I was pleasantly surprised how most stations really overcame the noise once I got a hold of them. But I do love the rural glory of hearing SILENCE between shortwave frequencies.

What makes this different from all my previous shortwave listening, is that for the first time I’m getting a real idea of where many of the foreign language broadcasts I find are actually coming from. I’ve enjoyed shortwave since I was a kid, but I’ve never seriously logged what I’ve heard, or spent much time trying to ID non-English broadcasts. Doing this blog series has given me a good reason to research the overall potential of shortwave listening. And it’s been interesting.

Again, I’d like to emphasize that I’m not a shortwave or DX expert, and I’m using relatively inexpensive equipment. Many of the stations I’ve logged here from faraway countries could have been heard by anybody with a radio that might cost as little as twenty or thirty bucks. The only real tricks to this is having a slow and steady grip on the tuning dial, listening carefully, and occasionally adjusting the whip antenna. And then all it takes is a little patience and curiosity to make it all happen.Kitchen_radios3_1

I doubt there’s anything I heard during these sessions will impress any serious DXer’s out there. And while the experience and resources of a true enthusiast would make most of the discoveries I made during my dial scanning seem pretty commonplace, I still find receiving mainstream shortwave broadcasts from Europe, Asia and the Middle East pretty fascinating.  And while I only speak English, I still find the formatics and technical aspects of the radio production worth a listen, and music itself transcends language anyway.

As I said in my first couple posts in these series, one of the things I that keeps me listening to shortwave is that compared to almost every other kind of broadcasting, it isn’t just about money. In fact, there’s almost no profit motive in most international shortwave broadcasting. Almost all the international stations you hear on shortwave are subsidized by governments, international organizations or (especially in the U.S.) religious groups. Unlike TV and the AM & FM bands, for the most part shortwave is not about providing content that will keep you listening between the commercials. It’s a raw lo-fi medium for spreading information, ideas and opinions.

British_empire Without the need to titillate and stimulate that is inherent in more capitalistic media, shortwave (and to a much lesser degree AM) radio gets right to the heart of spreading memes without all the hullabaloo and sideshow action. That said, whoever is paying for all that electricity, air talent and overhead to reach radio listeners around the world probably has an agenda. Even the BBC World Service, the gold standard in disseminating unbiased news to the world via shortwave, still caries the worldview of the western powers and Europe, and could be interpreted as a relic of the global caretaker mentality of the former British Empire and the subsequent British Commonwealth

While the BBC of late has had it’s share of disputes with the government that funds it, there’s still an element of the centuries western grip on the dissemination of information around the world. And when you hear the news from Israel or Turkey or China you know you’re hearing facts and stories that are coming through the filter of the culture and government of that area of the world. But if you know a little bit about geopolitics that isn’t such a bit deal. You can decode the information with your own knowledge or understanding. To me, it beats the hell out of the news for profit model that has model that has poisoned mainstream American media.

Jesuslordwhatever Then there’s the religious broadcasters, mainly of the Christian persuasion. In this series I’ve bemoaned the fact that the U.S. shortwave scene is totally dominated by followers of Jesus and Mr. Almighty (and I’m never quite sure if they’re the same guy). And in the American tradition, some of these holy morons actually profit from their broadcasts by begging in the name of the cloud being. The sad fact is that most Americans don’t even know what shortwave broadcasting is, let alone listen to it. And like once thriving cities gone to decay and ghettoization the American shortwave bands are overrun with thugs and gangsters who have taken over. And Jesus is the godfather. Luckily, the rest of the world is different.

This post begins an excursion into the 49 meter band. This little section of the shortwave expanse includes the frequencies between 5950 and 6200 kHz. While shortwave covers almost 30 megahertz of space on the band, standard broadcasts are generally only found on a dozen or so little parcels within that range. And in the evening, the 49 meter band is the most crowded band out there. And this scan begins just before seven in the evening Eastern Time, prime time for international broadcasting to the U.S. After midnight, it would be overrun with bible bangers, but at hour they are only part of the mix. Thank god.

Red_bcl2000_front_2 This dial scan was recorded Wednesday March 1 on my BCL-2000 (a radio I discussed in detail in this post). What I really like about his radio is that it has analog tuning which allows you to tweak the tuning by microscopic increments AND displays a digital readout of the frequency so you can truly track where you are on the dial. And while years ago I would have had to subscribe to newsletters and buy books to track my way through the shortwave savannah, these days the resources of the mighty internet are enough to guide anyone through the roving packs of shortwave broadcasts out there. By the way, if anyone reading this discovers that I have mistaken one station for another in this post, please do send me an email and I’ll check it out. And if you like, I’ll credit you for correcting me as well.

So, this is part one of this foray into the 49 meter band that I’m offering you. I’m dividing the audio segments that accompany this post into 10 frequency captures. In general, I stay on each station as long as it happened to be interesting to me at the time. These particular scans are in real time, no edits. It will give you an idea of how crowded the 49 meter band actually is each evening.

I welcome questions and comments at my email address here. But if your input might benefit other readers I’d appreciate if you left them as comments on this post. If topics here interest you, but you’ve not come across this blog series before, I invite you to check out the other posts in this series here. All posts have accompanying audio.

Lastly, let me say none of this is easy listening. There’s static, funny noises and foreign languages. But what you will get, that you might not discern if you’re not an experienced shortwave listener, is a feel for what can actually be heard if you take the time to figure out what you’re receiving on a shortwave radio. The difference here is that I’ve done the work for you. You know, these radio waves are all around you every day. All you have to do is tune in…

Segment 1-49 Meter Band (5920 to 6215 kHz) 03-01-06  16:05

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And it starts with the inherent RF noise of listening from a home in Brooklyn. And you hear different aspects of that intermittently during these recordings. All frequencies listed are in kilohertz.

Big_hat_jesuscaster_2 5920 – Either the “The Grace Missionary Baptist Inc” or the “The Fundamental Broadcasting Network” (Does it matter?)

It’s some churchy singing either way. Besides broadcasting on a number of frequencies, the Fundamental Broadcasting Network have a couple of stations of their own, including WTJC (Working Till Jesus Comes) at 9370 kHz and WBOH (Worldwide Beacon Of Hope) at 5920 kHz. How about starting a station called KJTY? (Keep Jesus To Yourself) Take a look at the some of the handsome Caucasians who host programs on the FBN network here.

5930 – Radio Prague (probably)

Faint. Not English.

5950 – Radio Taiwan International

It’s the on the hour fanfare for Radio Taiwan. Dramatic and clear, and not in English. Radio Canada International runs a relay complex in Sackville, New Brunswick. International Broadcasters who have a real jones to get their signal to North America rent time on their huge 250 thousand watt transmitters. Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and China and others all pony up the dough to relay their international broadcasts to America via this facility.

Bbc_mic_3 5975 BBC World Service

The news in English. Bush in India, working out nuke deal with India and messing up the world in general. I believe this broadcast originates from a relay on the island of Antigua in the Carribean.

5990 – China Radio International

Spanish language programming to America, probably relayed from Canada. China broadcasting in Spanish to the Americas makes a lot of sense on many levels.

6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

In Spanish. Some lively conversation and laughter.

6005 – China Radio International (probably)

In a Chinese language, I believe.

6020 – Chinese Radio International

Cri_guy_3 CRI again this time in English, again coming from the Canadian relay. The news, rather dryly read. Listen to the positioning statement after the news headlines– “Working to bridge the cultural gap. Narrowing the differences day by day. From China for the world, this is CRI.” You wouldn’t imagine that this broadcast is froom an oppressive regime that squelches internal dissent and has no real democratic infrastructure. Doesn’t it seem like the deeper the U.S. and China get into this hopelessly entangled financial synergy that our governments are becoming more and more alike in their behavior? Just a thought.

When “News And Reports” resumes after the headlines, you immediately begin to notice that the U.S. government under the Bush regime doesn’t escape criticism on Chinese international radio. There’s a pointed reference here to the futile search for Bin Laden, and a snarky comment about Bush only spending four hours on the ground in his unannounced visit to Afghanistan. While the rhetoric isn’t nearly as contentious as the cold war era, the Chinese government continues to challenge and question American policy and supremacy with their official news services. If you really want to get the flavor of how dozens of commie shortwave outlets used to slam ol’ Uncle Sam, you can still hear the same old-fashioned hostility (in English) on Radio Habana Cuba every night.

6040 – China Radio International.

In Chinese, from the Sackville relay again. Do you notice a trend here?

Radio_espana_towers_3 6055 – Radio Espana

In English, it’s the international radio service of Spain. News. Maoist upheaval in Nepal. Cats spreading Bird Flu. And it seems that concerns of “homeland” terrorism and illegal immigration are endemic to Spain as well. Then we go on to a cultural program for a moment– “Spain-Day By Day.” Let’s hear some music…

More next week. Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 2

Monday, December 12th, 2005

It was heartening and reassuring to get so many favorable comments (and emails) after my last post. The topic at hand is the avocation of DXing– taking advantage of the extended range of AM & shortwave broadcasts at night and listening to discover what can be heard over the radio  from your location. For better or worse, it’s one of those habits most people dabble in when they’re alone at night. And most of us who participate in this habit have close friends and/or partners who would probably be bored to tears or just openly annoyed if subjected to the challenging listen of trying to read a far off radio signal.

Once in my room I was sitting with a friend having a beer and just for the hell of it I switched on my old Trans-Oceanic and quickly zoomed into a faint English broadcast from Albania. For some reason I thought he would be half as curious about the discovery as I was, and for a couple of minutes I was hanging on to every word trying to hear the news from the Balkans over the noise floor in my apartment. Then I saw the pain in his face, and shut it down and put the music back on. He thanked me.

Albanian_qsl_card While there’s no shame in it, scanning the AM and shortwave dial for sport and recreation is an acquired taste. You have to be willing to put up lots of static, whistles, buzzes and some really stupid and boring radio. But it’s an offbeat way to sample some free (and sometimes fringe) media from around the country and around the world. And when you power up that receiver you never really know exactly who, what or WHERE you’re going to hear.

Winter is better in general for DXing the broadcast bands, and lately I’ve been getting better than usual reception. Since I recorded this scan of the NY upstate AM dial in late November, I’ve gotten strong readable broadcasts in New York City from several stations that eluded me that evening. But the reality is that every night is different That’s part of what makes it interesting.

Radio_locator_clock_1By the way, if you’re interested in playing along at home, let me pass along a few links. Years ago, you would have to invest in a few books or magazines to have the information to track down unknown and identified radio stations. Nowadays the internet offers up plenty of handy data.

Probably the most important site for tracking down AM & FM stations is the “Radio Locator.” You can search stations by city, frequency or call letters. The advanced search gives you more options. It’s damn thorough. Through this site you can access links to the station, webstreams and even look at coverage maps. Another good site for mediium wave is A.M. Logbook.com. While it’s a bit counter-intuitive. and the Canadian and American stations have separate sections on the site, it is helpful to get a quick look at the wattage of each station when you’re trying to figure out where a signal might be coming from.

Don’t forget that computers give off plenty of RF that interferes with radio reception. If you’re looking for information in real time you might be better off taping your reception and looking it up later, or at least keeping your radio across the room when you’re browsing on the net for information.

As I did last week, I’m going to go through the dial in text and offer an MP3 of the recording. Last week covered the beginning of the AM dial at 530 and ended at 750 KHz. It was recorded in the November 26, in the Hudson Valley just after midnight. I was using a 1980’s Sony analog portable, the ICF-7600A. This week I’ll start where I left off and work my way to 950 KHz.

Speaking of that, I should emphasize that I am not an expert or authority as far as DXing or the science of radio. I just fool around with a few relatively inexpensive radios now and then (and occasionally archive the results). Some of you who commented on the previous post are obviously a bit more serious about this stuff, and I really appreciate your feedback. And more importantly I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read these posts.

TransoceanicThings like picking up AM stations in Europe and Africa from North America has so far eluded me, but it sounds like fun. And I should add that like any hobby, having the right tools can make all the difference. There are many more advanced receivers (and antennas) that I fantasize about playing with one day (from big old “boat anchor” tube equiped table top receivers to contemporary  computer based radios). But what I’d like to emphasize is that listening to the radio as an explorer doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment, money or expertise. All it takes is an interest, some curiosity and a sensitive receiver.

As I said last week, I recommend an analog receiver for deeply sampling the AM and shortwave bands, at least for those on an entry level. Ebay is a great place to look for used radios, just because there aren’t many powerful radios with analog tuning being made these days. Well, actually I know of one pretty good one that has a digital display AND analog tuning, but in general all but the cheapest shortwave radios are all digital these days.

Why analog? Physically turning a knob ever so slightly allows you to precisely tune in on a station with your fingers and doing so quickly tells you whether an area of a band is active by listening as you zip through it. The “scan” function on digital tuners is typically unreliable for digging out hard to grab broadcasts and physically turning a knob and getting immediate results is more intuitive than waiting at every “step” to hear each digitally rendered spot on the dial.

Bad_cc_radio_displayThat said, there are plenty of high-tech digital receivers that offer features unimaginable on analog radios. They’re just generally more expensive and aimed toward more experienced listeners. Speaking of that, there’s a digital radio out there that is constantly marketed on AM radio specifically for serious AM listeners. It’s the CC Radio from C. Crane, and goes for over a hundred and fifty bucks. I have one. While it’s a sensitive radio, it is a bit overpriced. And then there was an issue with the LED display eventually crapping out. For people who owned this radio for a couple years or more this was a very common problem. It happened to mine, and eventually I couldn’t tell what station I was listening to. However, they’ve since remedied the problem, and they even fixed mine for next to nothin’.

In going through the dial scan I’m posting this week, it’s made me think about what really makes good radio happen. And I think the most important element is “service.” When radio faithfully serves a region, a group, or even perhaps an ideology, it’s about MORE than just money. AndBbc_logo unlike television, a calling to service has always been an integral element of the medium. Maybe that’s why they the BBC doesn’t call their shortwave arm the BBC World “Network.”

And although DXing is fun, its not the best way to hear many of the stations out there that still carry on a tradition of service. While driving around in the great fly-over spans of North America, don’t forget to turn on your radio now and then. There are hundreds of low-power (and often low-profit) radio stations that continue to carry on a useful relationship with their listenership. Really local media is hard to find these days, and now and then you’ll find radio stations that are still dedicated to working with and for the communities within reach of their broadcasts.

I’d like to add that feedback and email is welcome. If you’ve been (or will be) scanning the medium or shortwave bands and have MP3 archives I might be interested in hearing and/or posting your audio adventures. Drop me an email.

Meanwhile, here is the continuation of my casual scan of the AM dial starting at 760 KHz, going up to 950. It’s not spectacular, but it did happen.

Segment 2 – Hudson Valley AM Radio 11-25-05 (760 to 950 AM)  17:45

(download)

760 – WJR Detroit, MI

This station has a helluva signal. Even though it’s snug up against WABC here in New York at 770, it’s still quite readable in the city. Growing up near Detroit decades ago, WJR seemed like Michigan’s official station in a very local and sophisticated way that’s hard to imagine today. It’s the station every grownup seemed to listen to. As a kid (with a rock and roll infected mind at the time) WJR seemed a little stodgy back then. But in retrospect it was really quite a radio station.

They called it "The Great Voice of The Great Lakes," and WJR really had an impressive air roster years ago– articulate gentlemen like J.P McCarthy and Karl Haas, sophisticated music and legendary announcer Ernie Harwell announcing the Tigers play by play. It was friendly, informative and adult radio on a commercial AM station. I guess people go to public radio (which is usually on FM) for this kind of Wjr_at_the_fisher_buildingformat now, but it’s not quite the same. The combination of professionalism, authority, warmth and entertainment that the great full-service AM stations of the past offered their listeners is rare enough anywhere on the dial these days, but a station offering almost all locally produced content and serving an entire region (instead of just promoting that it is) is almost completely a thing of the past. (A vintage video promoting WJR in its heyday is available for download here.)

(If you happen to have any interesting old recordings of WJR, especially Jay Robert’s “Night Flight 760,” I’d might like to swap airchecks with you. Drop me an email.)

Drlaura_2Today, WJR is just another Disney owned right wing news/talk station, like WABC or WLS (Once great stations as well.) And on this night I’ve run across Dr. Laura on WJR. Either she’s your “stay at home doctor,” or the most humorless bitch on the radio, either way Dr. Laura Schlessinger is ultimately a sadistic egomaniac who has no business offering help to strangers on the radio. Notice that even when she’s offering good advice for a change (telling a mother to ease up on disciplining her toddler into a swimming career) she still needs to berate the mother for bad parenting.

770 – WABC NYC

I’m not sure what this is, but they’re talking about George Best, an incredible soccer player who was done in by some bad habits. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what they were selling. Commercials are offensive enough, infomericials are the ultimate in media prostitution. In a sense, it’s even worse than the Republican propaganda they broadcast all day long. Especially when you’re talking about a legacy station and frequency like WABC. But that’s exactly how WABC squanders their Friday overnight hours, with useless PAID programming. It’s bad enough when a low profit and desperate radio outlet plays informercials to survive, but when a Disney/ABC’s flagship station that covers eastern North America yields to this kind of whoredom is irresponsible and sad.

780 – Should be WBBM in Chicago, but not tonight

790 – Nothing Intelligible

Thebig8cklw800 – CKLW Windsor, ON

Although it’s in Canada, CKLW is the other major clear channel AM station in the Detroit market. Once a legendary North American rock/top 40 station, CKLW is now a talk station, specializing in advice, health and local issues. It’s soft around the edges, but refreshing compared to a conservative Disney propaganda outlet.The topic in this clip: Gall Bladders. Hey, they’re important!

810 – WGY Schenectady, NY

it’s the Albany area’s only clear channel AM station (also owned by Clear Channel Communications). And this is a bit from “The Phil Hendrie Show.” Although Hendrie isn’t on the air in New York City, he’s a national host with a unique approach to talk radio (WFMU featured his work on “Aircheck,” which you can hear with this link). Actually he has one real trick, and he does it well. Hendrie regularly has obnoxious guests who say outrageous things, and then he gets people to call up and argue with the guests. What makes it unique, is that Hendrie is the host and also pretends to be guest at the same time (deftly switching between the big radio microphone as himself and then to telephone and affecting a voice as he assumes the role of the “guest.”) Pretty funny, right?

I thought so too. Over the years it’s been a routine that’s provided lots of laughs to his many listeners “in the know.” And he admits his ploy on a regular basis on this show, but continues to generate callers who haven’t caught on to his puppet show yet. It’s a con game that almost gets some people to make fools of themselves arguing with a fictional character. However, it might be funnier if he wasn’t such an ass.

Hendrie_coulterHendrie’s concept of a radio show as a non-stop prank is a routine all his own, but lately he’s turning into a one trick pony. Like Lassiter, without his inherent humanity, Hendrie offers little or no good will on his program. What’s worse, Hendrie’s not a political talk host, but he just LOVES the Iraq War. I guess it all fits in with his radio M.O.– the big guy deceives and bullies the little guys, and everybody gets a good laugh.

While there’s always been a crude, misogynistic and even racist edge to many of Hendrie’s characters who serve as mock guests on this show, it was easy to assume it was all satire meant to make light of his “character’s” ignorance. However, these days it seems clear that his corral of fake guests are just permutations on Hendrie’s id. He gets to play the balanced and mediating host AND the rude and monstrous guest on the phone. Sometimes you wonder which one is really Hendrie.

Flood_street_1Like in this small edit caught in this dial scan. The “guest” Hendrie pretends to be alleges that his home has suffered some natural disaster and he making a big stink about how he’s not eligible for the same level of benefits as a Katrina victim. He even gets a joke in about people having to defecate in public in the Superdome. Funny stuff. And notice how his “guest” keeps referring to the New Orleans levees as dikes. I doubt Hendrie even knows the difference. His program is a showcase for ignorance masquerading as satire.

820 – (Not sure)

Don’t think it’s WBAP in Ft. Worth, but that’s a common catch in the Midwest. It’s the Police I think, some pop song. Sounds like it might be bumper music for a talk show, maybe a pre-show repeat of “Coast To Coast.” It ain’t WNYC.

830 – (A muddle of stations)

Might be WCCO in Minneapolis in this mess, but nothing ineligible.

840 – WHAS Louisville, KY

Another clear channel station readable across a huge chunk of North America. A news broadcast – An Iraqi cleric is upset about civilian casualties from a suicide bombing, ninety million girls around the world are excluded from primary school, and Japan is in the outer space business.

850 – WEEI Boston, MA

Sports talk. Maybe you like sports talk. I don’t get it. I think I’d rather hear a little more about Gall Bladders.

860 – (Nothing intelligible)

Another standard catch alludes me. CJBC, a French CBC station has been at this frequency as long as I remember. While I don’t speak French, I’ve heard a lot of intriguing and good music here over the years, and lots of French talkin’. But tonight, CJBC isn’t bouncin’ in like usual.

870 – WWL New Orleans, LA

Not coming in strong, but readable. The news– the Audubon Zoo opened that day, and apparently the animals missed the human visitors. The whole city must be missing human visitors. One of the most important cities in Americas will never be the same, and the human tragedy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrna is still a huge wound. Somebody might wanna tell Phil Hendrie that it’s still not very funny.

WwlFor over two months after the hurricane, WWL was the flagship station of "The United Broaders of New Orleans." It was a cobbled together disaster network– a joint effort of Clear Channel Communications and Entercom Communications that offered an on-air sounding board for the community and up to the minute information on how to survive and deal with the tragedy. In all the horror it was encouraging to briefly hear radio stations super-serving thier community in a time of need. It’s something AM radio can still do very well.

Before settling in New York, I lived in Michigan and the deep south and WWL was a dependable stop on the AM dial. And as I mentioned in the last post, I was a big fan of the overnight trucker’s show, the “Road Gang,” Originally hosted by Charlie Douglas, in the early 80’s the Dave Nemo took over the Road Gang. Never a provocative host, Nemo just provided a nightly radio home for trucker’s on the highway, and a bunch of great old country and western for everybody. Overnight, the Road Gang covered the whole route of I-75, from the Ontario border all the way down to Miami, and a huge portion of the country’s mid-section.

KenworthThis station blasts up into the midwest, and was the perfect home for a national radio show. Eventually the Road Gang was syndicated to other stations, and then Nemo moved his new network to Nashville.  That’s all over. Nemo has left the broadcast band for XM, but his WWL program really turned me on to a lot of old country music over the years.

880 – WCBS, NYC

Shopping on “Black Friday” is apparently an addiction, or so says a Connecticut shopper. It has nothing to do with the products. It’s the “process.” Has there ever been a more cynically devised pseudo-event than Black Friday?

890 – WLS Chicago, IL

Once a huge Midwestern rock station, clear channel WLS is just another conservative talk station on the AM dial. It’s just more powerful than most. As it of its time as one of the last big AM top 40 stations and before it became a right wing talk outlet, there was a period of seat-of-pants tomfoolery that made for entertaining listening. In the mid-80’s John “Records” Landecker would open up the phones at night in between rock and roll records and you never know what would happen. These days, those same hours on WLS are a bit more predictable and a lot less funny. You get time-delayed Sean Hannity and another local Chicago program which also follows the day’s Republican talking points to the letter.

Wls_1That local show is “The Deborah Rowe Program.” And on this night Teri O’Brien is sitting in. She’s lined up “incriminating” clips from a C-Span of interview of author Bill Press for the hour’s entertainment. His crime? He’s a LIBERAL! And what’s worse, she says he brags about being rich AND he doesn’t like the Bush tax cuts. I’m surprised he’s not in prison.

It’s third tier Republican smear radio, and during the day the AM dial is jammed with these clowns in between superstar propagandists like Limbaugh and Hannity. However, there is usually some relief from the Republican blather on late night radio. Usually after midnight, the only neocon blabbermouths you hear are a few stations that rerun some from the day schedule. I suppose most Republicans are in bed. But it’s not yet midnight in Chicago, and the Disney’s 50,000 watt propaganda machine is still getting a few kicks in before the national paranormal chatterfest called “Coast to Coast AM” gets underway at 12.

Notice the signal is being chewed around the edges by a Spanish station. I believe Galaxyrocketit’s “Radio Progresso” from Cuba.

900 – CHML Hamilton, ON

Like CKLW, CHML is a lifestyle talk station, focusing on health, finances, relationships and local issues. But every night for a few hours around midnight they use their huge clear channel signal to rebroadcast old time radio shows. It’s a great idea that takes you back to the days when people used to sit around and watch the radio. As you hear, I’ve caught the very beginning of an episode of the 50’s sci-fi series “X-Minus One.”

In case you’re into this sort of thing, or you just want to find out what a “Moklin” is and what it means to be one, have a listen to this whole and intact episode of the show.

X Minus One – If You Was A Moklin (originally broadcast 06-12-56)  23:22

(download)

Meanwhile, back to the bandscan…

910 – (Nothing Intelligible)

930 – CKNS Espanola, ON

It’s 10,000 watts on the north shore of Lake Huron broadcasting into the great white north, but there doesn’t seem to be much information available about this station on the web. Sounds like contemporary country of some kind.

930 – (Sports)

No idea what or where this is.

940 – CINW Montreal, QC

It’s the pre-feed rerun of Coast to Coast AM. The show starts at one a.m. but some stations can’t get enough so they repeat some of a previous show until the fun begins. The topic: The Hollow Earth theory. They say there’s a sun inside the Earth and people and all sorts of stuff.
Although Art Bell is the original host and creator of Coast to Coast, lately he’s only been on once a week, and many of those are reruns too.

950 – WHVW Hyde Park, NY

Pirate_joe_1It’s an old rockabilly rave up broadcast just down the river from where I was making this recording. WHVW’s slogan boasts that they’re “The last independent, locally owned radio station in the Hudson Valley.” And they are. They’re also a complete anomaly. Run by former radio pirate and record collector “Pirate Joe,” WHVW reflects his musical vision– a format of old fashioned American roots: blues, jazz, country and all the stuff that would eventually evolved into rock and roll. It’s all run on a shoestring, but WHVW serves a bunch of upstate music fans with tunes they won’t hear anywhere else on the dial. I don’t know how they pay the electric bill for the transmitter with the scarcity of commercials on the station, but it’s been up and running this way for a few years now. It’s rare enough to hear AM stations feature music, but it’s extra special to hear such a spirited mix of raucous jukebox joy on one frequency. It’s a bit of blessing if you ask me.

Next week, I’ll either keep going on this dial scan, or I’ll dip into some samples of shortwave broadcasts. I haven’t decided yet.

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog)