Sin, Static & Creepy America

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5755 – KAIJ – Texas, USA – Radio Liberty

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

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

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

5810 – EWTN Alabama

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

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

5810 – WHRI – World Harvest Radio

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

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

By the way, World Harvest Radio originates in Indiana.

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

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6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

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

6005 – NHK Japan

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

6020 – Radio China International

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

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

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

6030 – Radio Marti

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

6040 – Radio China International

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

6060 – Radio Habana Cuba

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

6085 – Family Radio

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

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

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

 

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 13

Monday, March 27th, 2006

2010_1 This episode of this series continues from my evening of scanning the shortwave bands March 1, 2006. This time it’s the next hour and the next band. This is the 41 meter band (7100 to 7350 kHz), another popular chunk of the shortwave frequencies. Again, this recording is an unedited slow motion frolic through the signals using my BCL-2000, sitting at my kitchen table in Brooklyn.

And I want to again thank reader Ralph who contributed some edifying comments in last week’s post. Now I have a better grasp on tracking down “images” of stronger signals which pop up on nearby erroneous spots on the dial. This is perhaps the greatest fault of the BCL radios, and an inherent problem in single-conversion radios in general. Dual conversion sets effectively filter most images and are generally a bit more expensive.

A couple years ago, when I was shopping around for a higher end old portable I was scouting ebay and I had pretty much decided I was going to hunt down one of two classic receivers– the Panasonic RF-2200 or the Sony ICF-2010. Both are discontinued, and in good shape they generally go for about the same price on ebay– about two-hundred bucks (although a mint 2010 in its box could go for a hundred or two more). My analog instincts led to me to go after the RF-2200 and I don’t regret it. It’s a hell of a rig and it pulls the weak signals out of the ether, and is a great radio to DX the AM band. It’s also dual-conversion. However, after the 2010 was mentioned once or twice in the comments section here, it’s gotten me to take a second look at it. The 2010 is not as nearly as handsome the 2200 and doesn’t have that golden glow of frequencies, but I’ve come to realize that the 2010 is just one amazing device. And now my gadget lust has launched a little feedback loop in my radio heart. I want one. I really want one. However, I really don’t have the cash handy right now. But I’m looking at ‘em on ebay… Someday. You can read some reviews of this mighty little digital gadget here, here and here. It’s 1984 technology that Sony happened to really get right (It was manufactured for almost 20 years!). However, If you’ve got some cash on your hands and you want something new, many think the new Eton E1 improves on this radio’s legacy.

Clandestine_gear_1 Before I go on to the band scan for this week, I wanted to mention a few (free) podcasts that may interest readers of this blog series. Clandestine Radio.com offers “Global Crisis Watch” (XML feed here), a program reporting on (and promoting) democracy movements around the world. It’s a rather urgent show featuring interviews of journalists, broadcasters and activists involved in fighting oppression around the world. And of course, there’s some good information on shortwave and other radio broadcasts from time to time. It’s an interesting half hour delivered to your hard drive every week. The Global Crisis Watch is a cutting edge international news put together by a couple of guys instead of a government or corporation.

Although not many are aware of it, there’s quite a bit of pirate radio activity on shortwave and the podcast “Pirates Week” (XML feed here) offers a weekly overview of that scene. This podcast varies in length and is a much more loose and light affair than Global Crisis Watch. It’s an amalgam of many related diversions– discussions of assorted radio gear and computers, details of the realities of seat-of-the-pants broadcasting, as well as clips of shortwave pirates at play and tips on where and when to find ‘em on your radio. Also the Mediageek has a well-kept and extensive blog and podcast (RSS feed here) where he explores all sorts of media products, broadcasting trends, and the inherent toys that make it all possilbe. And his most recent podcast features an interview with Ragnar Daneskjold, the host of “Pirate’s Week." According to Ragnar, a nice warm illegal transmitter running 40 watts on shortwave can give you coverage of most of the U.S. on a good night. Hmmm…

Glenn_hauser Also, the ultimate source of all things shortwave is Glenn Hauser. The guy is dedicated. His “World of Radio” program, which broadcasts on quite a number of shortwave stations, is also a podcast (XML feed here). While not high in entertainment value, it’s a helluva dose of up-to-date shortwave news, views and frequency listings. On his World of Radio site, as well as his weekly “DX Listening Digest” Mr. Hauser puts out some great web resources which provide valuable information for mega-geeks and weak-kneed newbies alike. And it’s all listener and reader supported!

Okay, on to this recording of reception on the 41 meter band . Actually, this scan begins just before the that band and then traverses up the numbers. The frequencies are in kilohertz. It’s Wednesday night, March 1st and Bush is over in Asia eating Indian mangoes I think. It’s early evening here, one of the best times to catch foreign broadcasters offering up English language programming for the Americas (and Spanish ones too for that matter). And more importantly, at this hour the band isn’t a kooky Christian radio ghetto yet. Closer to midnight and beyond the shortwave bands are flooded with hallelujah bullshit and not much else, at least not in English. But at 0100 UTC (all shortwave schedules basically follow the time in London, and in a 24 hour manner), which is 8 pm Eastern Standard Time, the biblical blather is only part of the mix, not the dominant force.

Actually, this begins right before eight, a fine time to start a band scan. Let’s begin.

Segment 1-41 Meter Band (6875 to 7300 kHz) 03-01-06

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6875 EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network

It’s right before the top of the hour, 8 p.m. here, 0100 hours UTC. Most international shortwave stations play something called an “interval signal” in between programs, an identifying snippet of music that may include other sounds or the official ID of the station. Listening to shortwave you begin to get familiar with the these little ditties because they usually repeat for a couple minutes right before a new program ensues, and can help listeners ID a station as well as find a particular program on the dial before it begins. Interval signals almost always come at right before the top of the hour, and occasionally precede the 30 minute point as well.

Pope_internet_i_2 So, this clip begins with the EWTN’s official and soothing interval music and then their ID. This site has a huge archive of interval signals past and present. They all stream in real media. Pretty cool. I was slightly thrilled to find this one, the interval signal of Radio RSA from the 1970’s– a chirpy bird with folky guitar. This took me back to my where my interest in shortwave really began. Christmas 1971. Santa was kind enough to set me up with a cheesy eight-track tape player-AM/FM stereo. But the shoddy Hong Kong technology inside offered me a really surprising gift– stray images of shortwave stations on the AM dial! And the two stations I recall getting quite well on this little woodgrain wonder were Radio Habana Cuba and Radio RSA. I became quite familiar with that chirpy bird and the plucky guitar, and after sending them a letter I was embarrassed for years when a glossy program guide from a faraway racist regime would show up in my mailbox every few months. Then a Christmas or two later I scored a flip-cover multi-band box that introduced me to the wondrous world of cold war shortwave propaganda.

Anyway, after the interval and the ID, it’s non-stop excitement on EWTN– a Catholic with a computer. Sounds like he’s giving a presentation in front of a bunch of well dressed white folks. Anyway, the guy has a laptop, maybe running a PowerPoint presentation or something and it’s all about catechismclass.com, a web site about guess what? Yawn.

6890 – WWRB USA – The Overcomer Ministry

Bro_scare Last week I carried on about old Gene Scott, which was easy because he’s such a rich character. But in truth, there was hardly any Gene Scott to hear in that clip. I should have waited until I had some substantial Scott audio to play before I spent so much time talking about the guy. Same deal here. Brother Stair’s presence on shortwave trumps Scott’s around the clock radio preachin’, and there isn’t much of him on this scan. But if you’re new to shortwave, Brother Stair’s raspy staccato delivery may be the first voice you really become familiar with because he’s ALL over the bands. And he’s ALMOST as interesting as Gene Scott, but hardly as endearing. However, he is still alive.

Since there’s not much of the Brother Stair in this band scan, I’ll wait to say much more until I find a more representative clip. But in the world of radio evangelism, Stair is pretty unique– kind of a combination of Elmer Gantry, Rumpelstiltskin and Jim Jones. Otherwise known as “Brother Scare,” this old goat somehow manages to enslave babes with his wild-eyed shortwave harangues. I knew there must be some more earthly reasons why so many holy shysters spend all that time yammering on shortwave.

The signal’s weak and there’s some phasing going on, but Stair is in the middle of one of his usual unflagging rants. Some important information here about the Antichrist perhaps. Occasionally I find him mildly entertaining, but not this time. His “Overcomer Ministry” rents this international transmitter from WWRB 24/7, but he broadcasts on plenty of others too. Now you know why some people in other countries might think we’re strange. Read more about the sordid details regarding this twisted geezer here and here.

7125 – Voice of Russia

In Russian. Sounds like the news. Nice sounders. Something about Bosnia…

7160 – WRMI Radio Miami International (Radio Republica)

Wrmi Wow, it’s almost unbelievable, another U.S. shortwave station NOT run by Christian crazies. It seems incredible, but I looked around their website and saw absolutely nothing about lambs, blood or that horrible lake of fire. Maybe they’re just coy Christians. Either way, they do allow the Bible people to rent time on their transmitters. There’s just not a long line of normal people out there willing to put up the dough to broadcast on shortwave. So like WBCQ, WRMI needs to take the cash where they can find it.

This particular broadcast is put on by an organization known as “Radio Republica.” They’re for non-violent change in Cuba, human rights, that kind of stuff. As far as I can tell they’re not related to Radio Marti and any propaganda arm of the U.S. government.  But they’re not making Fidel happy either.

Of course, this broadcast is in Spanish. This short clip features a smokey voiced woman who might be talking about a “political prisoner.” They’re signal is often jammed by Cuba, and I’ve read that Radio Republica just started using this frequency.

7180 – Voice of Russia

In Spanish. I believe this is news.

7250 – (Unknown in Spanish)

It’s strange, but this one’s out of order. I might have backed up to find Radio Slovakia after this OR I wrote down the wrong frequency. Nonetheless, it’s VERY clear and most likely originating from North America. Could be Christians doing their dirty work, but I have no idea. If anybody can translate this (or knows of a Spanish broadcast on 7250 at this hour) and can make sense of this reception, I’d appreciate it. There is some urgency in this program.

Slovakia_qsl_2 7230 – Radio Slovakia International

This is a typical English international broadcast from overseas that you might stumble across on shortwave. It’s around ten after the hour and we probably just missed some headlines. And now it’s time for some features on local doings in Slovakia. And at 150 Kilowatts of power from well over 4000 miles away, it’s coming in quite nicely.

Apparently there’s a bunch of illegal weapons stockpiled in closets and attics across the Slovak Republic, and the government’s trying to get people to voluntarily hand them over. Previously loose gun laws have tightened up quite a bit since the end of the cold war. While thousands of Czechs gave up their guns in a similar program, the Slovaks are a bit more wary about letting go of their weaponry so far.

The next story– all about a Slovak high school course on how to prepare a business plan. (And please, when producing radio and the subject of money comes up, don’t even THINK about playing that damn Pink Floyd song again.) Jeez. Enough already.

However, this is still one of the small joys of shortwave radio– hearing small regional stories from thousands of miles away that would never garner coverage in American media.

Egypt_qsl 7270 – Radio Cairo

Spanish talk, female speakers, Middle-Eastern pop bumper music. Plenty of countries beaming Spanish language programming to the Americas. After all, probably a higher percentage of Spanish speakers on this side of the world know how to operate a shortwave radio.

7285 – Hrvatska Radio (Croatia)

Unknown language, broadcast from a relay in Germany.

7300 – Voice of Turkey

As far as music on shortwave radio, this is one of my favorite stops lately. It’s a program of haunting, beautiful and catchy Turkish music. One of these songs has lodged itself in my brain, and it keeps playing there– a comforting exotic loop in the background when I’m lost in thought, and that’s fine with me for now. A couple weeks ago I was haunted by “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago. WHY I ask? What did I do to deserve this?

Votsticker I have an old Zenith Transoceanic in my room, and throbbing modulated music like this from afar played through that warm old tube radio could make you cry. Or, at least it could make me cry. You might laugh. The music plays on in this clip for almost 15 minutes. A female announcer talks between tracks.

That’s it for this week. And as if there’s any enlightenment you can offer– mistakes I’ve made in this post, or translate any of the foreign languages in this band scan– either may assist me in amending or correcting this post in the future. Please post a comment or send me an email here. Other articles in this blog series can be found here.

Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 10

Monday, February 20th, 2006

Bcl2000wbcq As promised, this post is a continuation from last week’s shortwave listening sessions from September 2004. These radio recordings offered here were received on a Tecsun BCL-2000, and the location of reception was a small town on the Hudson River not too far from Albany, New York.

As before, after the jump you’ll find more MP3 samples of shortwave reception to sample, but first I want to talk specifically about the radio that I used to make these recordings. It’s a practical gadget that’s not too expensive.

The BCL-2000 itself can only be purchased in the U.S. via ebay. However, a couple of almost identical radios under the Grundig (or Eton) name are available in North America at a somewhat higher price and are only slightly different . Just to avoid confusion, from here on in I’ll describe these receivers as the BCL series of radios, and point out differences when appropriate.

The BCL series is a recent invention, developed and built in China and first released in 2002 (the American version, the Grundig S350 went on sale in 2003). Just like almost every other new electronic gadget, most shortwave radios are now made in China. While purists loudly bemoan the loss of new European and American receivers in the marketplace, the Chinese are making some damn good radios these days and often at an affordable price. Although the trend in shortwave has been toward digital tuning for years, the BCL radios buck this trend and have proven a popular alternative to the abundance of digital shortwave sets for sale.

While they don’t really have any features that haven’t been seen before, the BCL radios offer a unique combination of options that make it a lotta fun to scan the bands. The main difference between these radios and any other affordable receivers available today is that they offer analog tuning WITH a digital display. And the LED display is also relatively large and there’s a switch to lock the display light in the on position on these radios, which makes it great tool for searching out distant frequencies in the dark.De1103

And some will ask, if the display is digital why not just get a digital radio? Well, when I bought my first digital shortwave receiver a few years ago I quickly began to realize how much I appreciated analog tuning. Going through each 5 KHz step with a digital tuner gets tedious very quickly. And then if you want to zip across the band and get a feel for the reception available, forget it. Each step requires a fraction of a second to be heard, with a “phhht” sound as the radio renders each frequency up, and I believe it adds a bit of background noise as well. The alternative you get is a scan function, which silently automates the scanning process and the turner will stop when the radio’s software decides there might be a broadcast at that frequency. It ain’t the same. And as you might imagine, weak signals can be easily skipped and stray RF can be mistaken for a radio station.

Okay, I know that with better digital tuners some of these problems aren’t as bad, and miserable Sangean ATS-505 isn’t the best example. However, I’d still rather do the scanning very manually sometimes.

Ats505 That’s not to say that digital radios aren’t amazing in other ways. Many have hundreds of presets, and if you know the frequency you’re looking for you can usually punch it up immediately. And for the most part, the best shortwave receivers made have been all-digital for quite a while now. While BCL radios are NOT the very best receivers in any technical sense, they are very easy to use and reasonably priced.

Besides not having presets, the BCL radios also don’t have another feature dedicated listeners desire– SSB. While I’m not going to get into a technical discussion I’m not qualified to offer, I’ll just say that SSB (Single-sideband modulation) is another way of broadcasting other than amplitude modulation which is more efficient in long-distance transmission and is popular with ham operators and some international broadcast services. Some listeners love to eavesdrop on the hams (if you don’t know what "ham" is, look here), and others just like to have all the options.

Tecsun_factory_1_1 The truth is, the BCL radio design borrows a lot of its layout and operation from a popular analog receiver from the 1970’s, the Panasonic RF-2200. While the RF-2200 did not offer a digital display, the template for the radio’s controls is very similar. And both are very good medium and shortwave receivers. Ideally, I would hope that future versions of the BCL radios would incorporate more of what made the RF-2200 great– like SSB, as well as the pop-up rotating antenna for AM, and dual conversion circuitry that would reduce the one other big complaint about the BCL radios, “images” from strong broadcasts popping up on other locations on the band.

The original BCL-2000 was released in China in two colors, black and a bright and cheery red shade. The U.S. version, the Grundig S350 was only offered in a utilitarian gadget silver. The initial release was plagued with “drifting” issues, as the tuning is a string and pulley affair where physics are at play on the variable capacitors and once you’ve settled on a frequency the radio would tend to drift off signal eventually. The Chinese Tecsun versions addressed this issue early on, and that fact combined with the more appealing casing colors made the Chinese version a popular item on ebay in the U.S., despite the fact they aren’t available in the stores here.

What’s interesting is how this radio was marketed in the U.S. BCL stands for “Broadcast Listening,” and that’s what the radio was meant to do, provide easy access to the old broadcast bands. In fact, the Tecsun version says “Enjoy Broadcasting” right on the face. The Grundig however, was called a “field radio” and was promoted for it’s “military” and “retro” look. Which makes you wonder why it didn’t come out in “camouflage” pattern, or at least in army green. Could the military marketing approach had anything to do with the current obsession with warfare and patriotism in the states? Makes you wonder.

Tecsun_factory_2_1 However, things have changed. While the original radios are still for sale, there are new versions available which have addressed the “drifting” problems in a more direct way. In America, the new radio is called the Eton (not Grundig, but it’s just a nameplate anyway) S350DL. Instead of adding all the technical features real radio fans might desire, (SSB, dual conversion) they’ve again gone for a more superficial approach. The radio is slightly bigger, with a larger speaker AND it comes with a set of headphones. And guess what? The S350DLs aren’t silver at all, but are RED or BLACK, just like the Tecsun versions. However, the knobs are silver now, instead of black. Not exactly an improvement.

The new Chinese version is no bigger and has no headphones. It’s called the BCL-3000, and now only comes in black. From everything I’ve read, these radios are no more sensitive than the previous model. There is a technical solution to the drifting problem which I’ve heard is problematic. When you stop on a station, the frequency locks. However, the locking is buggy and can be a pain in the ass when you’re trying to tune something in incremental knob nudges and the tuning locks up or jerks at inopportune moments. I’d rather deal with the slight bit of drifting myself.

While the BCL-3000 is still roughly the same price, around fifty bucks plus shipping from China (roughly 80 some dollars total). The S350DL however, is now $150 dollars, a jump or fifty bucks from the list price for the S350. And just to keep your radio buyin’ eyes off of China, there’s been some arm twisting over at Tecsun headquarters and all newly manufactured BCL-2000 and BCL-3000 radios are no longer labeled in English. They’re covered with Chinese text, and you may need to refer to the translated manual to figure out the knobs and switches. The controls aren’t that complicated, but it is an annoyance for the non-Chinese radio consumer.

IS350dl_2 ’ve not only gone in detail about these radios because I happen to like them, but I also think they are very good entry level DX radios. The AM performance is actually a little better than shortwave and FM reception is very good. But what they do offer the shortwave listener is an intuitive analog interface to the tuning, while providing an accurate digital readout of the frequency in real time, which can be strategic in trying to identify a station in the shortwave jumble of frequencies. No presets, it’s true. But a little knob twisting will get you anywhere you want to go. One other plus– these radios run forever on 4 D cell batteries. The digital portables suck power at a much higher rate.

Okay, on to the audio clips. These stations were received in the evening in upstate New York on the weekend of September 11, 2004. And although I was using my BCL-2000 I did not make notes of the actual frequencies received. I’ve never been one to keep logs, or collect QSL cards. But all my respect to those who do. Suffice to say most of the signals received were probably in the 49, 41 01 – Sweden Todaand 31 meter band. Possibly the 25 meter band as well.

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01 – Sweden TodaySweden_2  4:09

It’s Radio Sweden International broadcasting in English for North America at 6010 KHz in the 49 meter band. (Thanks Mr. Announcer) It’s a news magazine program and the lead story is about one of the unexpected side-effects of the European Union– more intoxicated Swedes.

02 – Voice Of Turkey  18:08

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While Radio Sweden notes a unplanned downside to being a part of the European Union, on the Voice Of Turkey broadcast you hear repeated references to how strong the desire is for the Turks to merge their country into the EU. Over and over again in this extended segment you can hear how Turkey has been bending over backwards to satisfy their European’s neighbors that they are worthy of Turkey_logo_2membership in the Union. It’s not only mentioned in every element of this extended clip, but there’s even a regular segment here specifically focusing on the latest news regarding Turkey’s application to join the EU. It is so odd in this era to hear such yearning on  behalf of a Muslim nation to join into such an intimate relationship with western powers.Turkey’s shortwave service runs a strong transmission to North America, and I’ve heard some great music there more than once. The reception on this recording requires a little patience, but it’s all there. And it’s traveling over 5000 miles.

03 – Deutsche Welle-Inside Europe  25:06

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Deutschewelle1 More on EU issues in this clip as well. Not the kind of news you’re likely to hear much about in American media. Deutsche Welle offers an excellent English service, and sadly they recently made the same decision as the BBC World Service made a few years ago– to dramatically curtail their broadcasts to North America. The statistics of U.S. shortwave radio listenership aren’t exactly a motivating influence for international broadcasters. And cutbacks in funding toward broadcasting to North America from overseas has made the Christian-crazy packed U.S. shortwave scene a little less interesting lately. It’s a goddamn shame.

The big story here is about halfway into this file. While Turkey is jumping through flaming hoops to entice the EU to let them in, while the Prime Minister, a devout Muslim, was trying to pass a law at the time making adultery a crime. See the conflict? If you just heard the Turkish broadcast before this you might guess what happened next. There’s a couple small drifting/tuning issues in this recording. The off-frequency moments are brief. The reception is fair.

 04 – Catholics & Protestants  2:20

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Ewtn_sisterMost of the Christian prescience on shortwave is decidedly Protestant. A lot of King James Version faithful who offer you the choice between the fluffy clouds of heaven and the fiery pits of hell. However, EWTN’s Global Catholic Network is a little more chatty than their Protestant counterparts. Instead of preaching, they talk about stuff on EWTN. On this clip you hear the spiritual wisdom of “Dan.” He sounds like he’s at least 17 years-old. And then two more Protestant type stations. A hymn and little pulpit thunder.

05 – Parking Lot Miracle – Ukraine Signs Off  4:33

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Jesus_cracks_up Here’s little slice of band-scanning, going through some Jesus-casters and ending up overseas. It starts off with a mind-blowing miracle involving God expanding a church parking lot just in the nick of time. Also some gospel passion and World Harvest Radio’s offer to ship you a free Bible so you can play along at home.

And then there’s Radio Ukraine International signing off at the end of their broadcast to North America. While I can’t speak authoritatively about Ukraine’s English shortwave service, I always love hearing it. There’s something home-baked about it, lots of Ukrainian culture, history and music, and it sounds like radio from decades ago. For some reason, it’s like radio comfort food for me, and hearing it on the internet just wouldn’t be the same.

06 – (Unknown Station) Christian Election Advice  2:28

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Bush_kerry_2 This saddened me at the time. It’s some type of Christian talk show, slightly paranoid in the shortwave tradition. Talking about the upcoming Presidential election, one co-host remarks to the other that voting for the “lesser of two evils” is wrong for Christians.  And while I could have been pleased with concept of Christians boycotting an election en masse, the idea of telling people not to vote because each candidate is imperfect just plays into the hands of political smear tactics in general. Like so many ideas brought up every day on Christian radio it’s the product of immature thinking and lacks moral clarity.

 07 – WBCQ-More Timtron  14:28

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Last week I featured a bit of Radio Timtron Worldwide, arguably one of the best shows on shortwave radio, broadcast on WBCQ in Maine. This is part of another show (The Real Amateur Radio Show/Piss & Moan ) he hosts which is always some discussion of his life in radio, and a few tips and tricks for listeners as well. And it’s like nothing you’ll hear anywhere else.

Another show on WBCQ that offers colloquial details on the outlaw-fringe side of radio broadcasting is “Allan Weiner Worldwide,” hosted by WBCQ founder Allan Weiner. Allan’s program is an informal “around the house” kind of talk show, with Allan talking about the station, the state of radio, or whatever’s going on in his life. And he does take calls, but it sounds like it’s really just a small group of chronic middle-aged geeks who haunt the phones. But when you listen to these shows you become privy to the realities of seat-of-the-pants broadcasting that is both  infectious and inspiring. They both have GREAT stories of both their pirate radio days as well as anecdotes about the everyday goings on with maintaining WBCQ. Just the offbeat techno-slang and vernacular they use when they talk about their years of pirate radio shenanigans, or relate the behind the scenes details of maintaining a bunch of high-power transmitters. Just listening makes you feel like your part of things up there in Maine, and in the process you learn a few things about the business and science of radio.

And that’s what you get here with Timtron, technical talk with attitude and a bent sense of humor. Maybe only on shortwave would the esoteric musings of radio engineer be so appropriate and so entertaining. He makes advanced radio engineering sound as easy as putting together a high school science project. Just another reason to check out WBCQ. By the way, online archives of WBCQ programs can be found here.

 Thanks for listening.

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