The Towers of Microville

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Followed by the soothing announcer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1370kHz WSPD Toledo, OH – Cleveland Indian Baseball Game

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

And now part two.

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

1560kHz WTOD Toledo, HO – Dwight Schultz Goes Bananas

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

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

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

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

1520kHz WNWT Rossford, OH – K-Love

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

1230kHz WCWA – Toledo, OH – The Festival           

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

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

560kHz WRDT – Joey Was Eleven Feet Tall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be back soon. Thanks for listening.

The Country

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I wish I could travel more. Not a lot more, but a little more. But this year’s been tougher than most and even the quick excursions upstate haven’t been as common as in recent years. For any number of reasons I’m not so picky about traveling. Just about anywhere’s interesting for a day or two. And as is my nature, I’m always curious about what’s on the AM dial there. While moving through the FM Band can feel a little like strolling through the local mall, a journey though the AM dial can be more akin to viewing a town from railroad car window (if you’ve ever done that). You may actually get a feeling for how a town gets its work done. And perhaps a sense of how the other half lives. That kind of thing.

What I really like (and what I’d like do a lot more often if I had my way) is to get as close to nowhere as I can, within reason. To drive and drive until you can see the Milky Way clearly and distinctly after dark, and where local radio stations don’t really exist. Then when the sun sets on my picnic table or in the rented cottage I’m suddenly closer to the entire continent and the rest of the world when I turn on my radio. It’s such a powerful feeling to turn through the shortwave dial with no stray RF bumping and buzzing and whining through the frequencies. And then when I look up at night I can almost get a grip on my place in the galaxy. Or at least it feels that way, which is good enough for me.

That didn’t happen this year, so my almost annual trip to see the family in Michigan was even more anticipated. The dusty trail surrounding our galaxy is a little vague in the sky there. And the lights of sad old Flint have their corner of the sky. But the stars are much better. And so is the RF pollution. So, from my brother’s deck at night I still occasionally find my place in the broader circles of existence when the weather’s good. And I hear some radio too.

But that’s not what this post is about. Here I’m featuring the sound of small town radio in daylight. This particular station transmits just south of Flint, and it’s an earnest little heart-warmer. The call letters are WCXI, and this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this modest wonder. It’s a simple classic country outlet. No frills and only a thousand watts. But the music’s great.

WCXI – Fenton, MI August 2000 pt 1 of 4
(download)

Brian Barnum (who I believe is the DJ in all four of these airchecks) is rock solid. Great voice. Low key banter. He doesn’t sound all that old, but his approach is old-fashioned. No matter what happens during the breaks between the music, whether he’s doing a live ad or talking about the weather or a local event, he’s usually arranged some seamless way to introduce the next song within the subject matter at hand. He’s almost as good as Tony Oren that way.
                           
I didn’t go through these recordings in any detail, but I did listen to quite a bit of them as I prepared them to post. I heard some hits I knew, some singles I never heard before and a few neo-traditional things I liked quite a bit. My only complaint was that I don’t know that heard any western swing. I mean, you gotta play Bob Wills every once in a while.

As I mentioned, I already posted a few airchecks from WCXI. And I go more in depth into the history of the station in this post. I just happened to catch a few hours during this trip. Just for my own enjoyment, and I thought I should share. There’s some funny whirrish noise on these recordings, which is mostly noticeable during the mic breaks. Some problem with some stray RF combined with some an auto-gain issue with the radio, tape deck or the radio station. If you can get through Brian’s breaks the music will blossom through relatively clear once again. And don’tcha just love a mandolin?

WCXI – Fenton, MI August 2000 pt 2 of 4
(download)

A lot of people associate country music specifically with the American South. But once you get into the broad appeal of the genre you realize that country and western is as at home in the plains of Canada as it is in Kentucky or Texas or California. And in Michigan..well, that’s somewhere in between all that. And there’s lots of southern transplants around Detroit and Flint from the era when the automotive industry was still healthy and profitable.

One thing that’s always been associated with country music is the hardscrabble life, having to make a living with your hands. (Or trying to…) And that’s been part of the southeastern Michigan lifestyle since the settlers arrived. Through the 20th century a lot of farmers came to this part of the country to get the best jobs an unskilled laborer could hope for– building automobiles. Like my grandfathers. But they didn’t live long enough to see their beloved Pontiac and Oldsmobile brand names disappear into history. Like we are.

WCXI – Fenton, MI August 2000 pt 3 of 4
(download)

After you spend some years away from the area of the world that raised you, you start to get a better grip on the character traits of the culture where you learned to be a person. At least that’s been my experience. When I go back to Michigan I don’t so much feel at home as I feel almost reluctantly defined by the unassuming flatlands surrounding Detroit. The rust belt is full of reservation and restraint and a measured way of talking. WCXI always reminded of that introverted Michigan countryside. (Or at least the few miles you can see of it from US-23 out that way.) I hear it in some of the songs as well as their paced and simple approach to broadcasting. And I’m fond of the understated enthusiasm of Brian Barnum on the radio. It kinda reminds me of how I prefer to experience life in the face of adversity. Calm and Michigan. Nothing extra special.

WCXI – Fenton, MI August 2000 pt 4 of 4
(download)

The last aircheck here is from the end of their broadcast day. But at least they’re still there, every day until six. And I don’t know for sure, but I suspect WCXI is one of those stations where the DJ’s might still be choosing some, if not all, of the music you hear when they’re on the air. Is that radical or what? Can’t they afford some consultants?

And if you happen to find yourself within the range of their one thousand watt transmitter you might wanna can call in and make a request. But please only one per day. Give everybody a chance.

How I Love My Country

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

A couple weeks ago I went home. Not exactly, but close enough. I went to Michigan. We were subjected to the incredible hospitality of my brother and his family and had a great visit. I spent many hours in their suburban backyard listening to the radio with the recorder engaged, scanning the broadcast bands for my radio series on this blog. As I ford through those tapes and digest all the reception, I thought I’d share something special I found on the AM dial there– WCXI.

During past visits, I hadn’t paid much attention to WCXI. Years ago, a contemporary country station with those call letters at about the same place on the dial was a mainstay in the Detroit market, and when I came across it I just assumed it was the same station. It isn’t. The old WCXI ceased to exist in the early 1990′s, and their AM frequency (1130 kHz) is now the home of yet ANOTHER sports talk station. This WCXI, based out of Fenton, Michigan (just southwest of Flint) broadcasts at 1160 on the dial, and grabbed up the old call letters in 2000 to help brand their new “classic country” format in southeastern Michigan. And six years later, in an era where AM dial music stations across the country have been almost completely replaced by talk, news, sports and ethnic brokered programming, WCXI is bucking this trend and doing it the old fashioned way.

I don’t know exactly when classic country became a format, but I suspect it occurred in the early 1990′s, coinciding with either the rise of Garth Brooks or the runaway success of Billy Ray Cyrus and his “Achy Breaky Heart.” Country music was changing, and traditional artists and old classics were increasingly left behind on the newly popular “hot country” stations to make way for the new sound. While never a big player in the U.S. radio scene, the classic country format filled a niche out there for an (aging) audience who wanted to hear fiddles, pedal steel guitars, mandolins and rollicking Nashville rave-ups coming out of their radio. And who could blame them.

Well, a decade and a half has passed, and in the world of radio programming that’s a long time. A fringe format that appeals to middle-aged to older listeners doesn’t get a lot of oxygen these days, when advertisers have nearly abandoned trying to sell to anybody older than thirty assuming they are already “brand loyal” (and/or not as easily subject to marketing ploys). In fact, the most successful format for the older set, talk radio, is filled with ads for OLD people. Any talk radio listener quickly becomes familiar with a number of anti-aging supplements and local cancer and heart disease treatment facilities via advertising. Here in New York, I’ve always gotten a good laugh from the jingle for the “Hebrew Home For The Aged” with the lyrics– “This is the place you’ll remember…” I don’t think so.

Not so on WCXI. The advertising is almost embarrassingly intimate, and not cynically based on demographic studies and focus groups. Almost all the ads I heard on WCXI were live D.J.’s reading ad copy, not produced spots and nothing national. It’s advertising for adults, not just senior citizens, with ads for car repair outlets, shops, restaurants and assorted services. You can bet the ad time is CHEAP and the account executives have to work overtime to make a living. Instead of the usual national ad campaigns and overtly-ironic (i.e. Geiko Insurance, etc) jokey stuff, you get earnest appeals to patronize striving local businesses. For people who love this station, it’s easy to imagine they might be swayed by an ad on WCXI just as a way of supporting the music they bring into their lives everyday. It’s the way advertising was supposed to work.

And why or how in 2006 could a station playing grandad’s hillbilly favorites survive, and possibly thrive, north of the Mason-Dixon line? It probably has something to do with vehicles.

Much of the glory and tragedy of southeastern Michigan is based in the automotive industry. In the early to mid-20th century, the area thrived making cars and car parts for America and the world. Decades ago, when the U.S. was transforming from a rural economy to an industrial one, landing a job in the automotive industry was an unprecedented surefire ticket to a middle class life for unskilled workers. And not unlike today’s influx of immigrants across the Mexican border, many thousands of job hungry Americans from the south and southern midwest flooded into southeastern Michigan looking for profitable work they couldn’t find in their region of the country. I can trace my own origin to this migration as both my grandfathers came to Michigan from farming communities south of the state to build cars and trucks for the rest of their lives.

This migration brought a southern flavor to parts of lower Michigan. When I was younger, small towns like Ypsilanti and Walled Lake were jokingly referred to as Ypsi-tucky or Wall-tucky, in reference to the number of the twangy accents you might find there. I once met a teenage girl who was born and raised in Saline, Michigan who had a genuine Tennessee hills accent, despite spending her whole life an hour away from the Canadian border.

Of course, country and western music is now popular all over North America and around the world. But the older and more traditional stuff  is rarely heard on the radio these days (except for certain shows on non-commercial stations). While I don’t have the facts and figures to prove it, you can imagine that there are still some full-time classic country stations in places like Texas and across the south, and most are probably on AM. Then there’s WSM, the AM clear channel powerhouse in Nashville (which can be heard many nights across eastern North America). Still the home of the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night, WSM almost shifted to a talk radio format, but loud protestations from fans of WSM’s country music heritage prevailed, the station did not become a run of the mill propaganda outlet.

Now, those of you who have followed some of my extended musings on this blog know that I listen to a lot of talk radio. (And if you’re as sickened and/or bored by all the right wing talk garbage flooding the dial as I am, you know how difficult this can be.) However, I still I have a soft spot in my heart (or my head) for AM music radio, specifically stations that program music originally made to be played on AM (or jukeboxes). Call me strange, or old fashioned (you wouldn’t be the first), but I sort of PREFER to hear old pop music on AM instead of FM, or in any digitally rendered scenario. I often find it jarring to hear an old song I grew up with in hi-fi stereo on an FM oldies station. It just sounds wrong. I enjoy the old hits in mono, as well as limited, compressed and modulated in an amplitude fashion. But I don’t experience them that way very often these days.

As I noted in an earlier post, there is not one full-time English language music station on the AM dial in New York City. And not only is music leaving the AM dial in general, but commercial radio formats across the board have dropped almost any songs recorded before the 1960′s or 70′s. So, it doesn’t take a psychic to realize that classic country stations like WCXI aren’t going to be around forever. And while I was recording faraway AM and shortwave reception by night, I was having a blast cranking up WCXI around the house and in the car during the day. Toward the end of my trip, I realized I really needed to capture some WCXI to take home.

So, here’s all the WCXI I managed to tape while I was in Michigan, all available below for your downloading and listening pleasure.

This is "Sweet Sue" filling in on Friday for the regular host, Brian, who apparently had some car trouble that day.

WCXI – 07-07-06 pt 1  47:03

(download)

WCXI – 07-07-06 pt 2  47:02

(download)

WCXI – 07-07-06 pt 3  47:02

(download)

I’m not sure if the DJ in the recordings below ever mentioned his name on these recordings. In fact, he sounds like he’s been on the radio for all of a month. But that’s okay, he tries hard enough and seems to get all the song titles and product names right. (The little bit of buzzing and whining interference you hear on these recordings thankfully dissipates quickly.).

WCXI – 07-08-06 pt 1  55:38

(download)

WCXI – 07-08-06 pt 2  56:27

(download)

As you can hear, WCXI is obviously a low budget operation. While the jocks are endearing, a lot of the air talent I heard on the station had a bit of a “minimum wage” quality– lots of goofs, repetition and cornball sentiment. But I gotta tell you, when I travel around the U.S. I kinda like to hear the sound of earnest amateur announcers on local radio. It can help flush some of the accumulated irony out of your media intake valves.

If you love old country music, or the sound of REALLY local smalltown radio, you may find a lot to love about WCXI. To get the full effect, take your MP3 player out in the car and hook it up to your stereo and take a drive down a lonely two lane road somewhere on a sunny day. It doesn’t have to be a flat tree-lined Michigan highway to have the same effect.

I also have another post about WCXI which includes almost four more hours of airchecks. You can find it right here.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 8

Monday, February 6th, 2006

Wcub_am_ln Since I started blogging about DXing, I’ve gotten quite a few emails and comments that all say basically the same thing– that after running across these posts he or she has been inspired to pull on old radio out of the closet or off the shelf and start twiddling the dial to seek out some distant signals once again. Well, it’s had the same effect on me.

And when I do get a break from everything else I pick up one of my radios to hear what’s out there. Just recently I discovered I can listen to the first hour of Lionel’s show on WCKY in Cincinnati, and I picked up Kuwait on shortwave for the first time in ages.  But I haven’t had time to reserve a few hours to actively listen and record the results. And adding to my desire is the fact that I recently a replaced a radio I’d previously had a lot of fun with and I’m trying to figure out how to reserve a future evening or two just to play with the damned thing. But the truth is I haven’t had enough meaningful spare playtime lately.

Meanwhile, to write this I’m listening to more of the medium wave dial scan recording from August 2001 that I’ve featured in the last couple posts. Two weeks ago, the audio kicked off at top of the AM dial, at 530 KHz or so. By this week I’m up to the middle of the band, nudging the knob from 910 KHz up to 1060.

Remote_1Not having any idea I’d ever showcase this recording, I now hear instances where I wish I would have fought harder to pull in a station or other notches on the dial I seem to have passed over in  haste. But that’s the thing, when you’re DXing with a decent radio it’s easy to get frustrated with the ghostly echo of an almost impossible to read signal when a broadcast less distant, but more entertaining and intelligible, is probably just a slight turn of the knob.

At this point, I’m tempted to reach for some grand metaphor comparing the DX experience to something more meaningful, but I’ll resist. In some sense, scanning the medium and shortwave bands is no more of a significant cultural act than sitting on the sofa with a remote and flipping through the cable TV channels. It’s another type of self-appointed journey through contemporary media content. However, it is more of a challenge and a far less popular form of leisure.

Unlike cable TV or the internet, a radio receives its input out of the air. And getting a viable audio from hundreds or thousands of miles away without going through a satellite or hard wired connection is still a difficult miracle. I guess the magic of that is still a bit of a thrill to me. And the things about radio itself that used to be so important– an approach of reaching out to individual listeners, and a sense of service to their broadcast target area, are still ingrained in much of what occurs on AM & shortwave.

Waugoshance_pointSo, here’s chapter three from this AM radio listening session from August 23, 2001, recorded near the top of the lower peninsula of Michigan on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The audio from the last post left off at CHML at 900 KHz in Hamilton, Ontario. So the section of the recording featured here begins at 910 KHz.

Segment 3 – Northern Michigan Radio 08-23-01 (910 to 1060 AM)  12:41

(dowknload)

910 – WSBA York, PA (probably)

It’s CBS News. Ohio is getting electric chair warmed up for the first time in decades.

920 – (Nothing Intelligible)

Might have been able to find something here if I would have been patient.

930 – WBEN Buffalo, NY

Ugly situation in the news. Angry suicidal vet, Samuel Bobo waged a homicidal attack on a Buffalo Veterans Hospital. Said if he was going to die, “he was going to take somebody with him.” While there were no fatal injuries, you gotta wonder why people like this guy don’t go ahead and commit suicide first and then see how they feel before causing more trouble.

If you’re in the mood, pinch your nose and sing along with the lame Willie Nelson impersonator on the Isuzu SUV commercial included here.

940 – (Passed Over)

950 – WNTD Chicago, IL (probably) and WWJ Detroit, MI

It’s simultaneous reception, with the big Detroit news station right underneath a louder Spanish language call-in show. While both broadcasts are directional at night, WWJ is broadcasting at ten times the power of WNTD. The expected coverage map of WNTD favors my location, and the monstrous inland body of water offers an ideal reception path.

960 WSBT South Bend, IN

Rick_1 As I said before, I don’t really keep logs, so it can take a bit of detective work to figure out some of the stations received in these old listening sessions. Even more frustrating here is that the call letters are there, but almost unintelligible. After repeated listening I heard mention of meteorologist "Rick Mecklenberg" who I discovered via Google that he predicts the rain down in South Bend. Then when I heard a mention of South Bend buried in the radio noise and I knew I’d figured it out. This station is also not far from the southern lobe of Lake Michigan.

970 (Several Stations At Once)

980 WCUB Two Rivers, WI (probably)

Just across the big lake. A souped up version of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”

990 (Unknown)

Two women talking, one on the phone. A hard-core DXer would have stuck around to figure this one out. I didn’t. I guess I was weak.

1000 – WMVP Chicago, IL (probably)

It’s sports again. Can’t get away from sports. The topic for an upcoming call-in segment? What now-famous person did you play against in little league? That’s a TOPIC? Maybe I didn’t spend enough time in little league, but I don’t remember name of any of those kids, let alone whether any became celebrities.

In the early 70′s when I was a Detroit area teenager, this same outlet (as WCFL) was a favorite rock and roll station after dark. Bob Dearborn was in charge.

1010 – (Nothing Intelligible)

1020 KDKA Pittsburgh, PA

Call in show, didn’t stick around long. I believe the hamster dance is played in some way. Not coming in as well as usual. This station claims to be the world’s first radio station, and it just might be true. Either way, they’ve been broadcasting since 1920.

Wbzlogo 1030 WBZ Boston, MA

I really like WBZ, at least what I know of it from overnight listening. It’s a conversational talk station with a local and eclectic focus. I wish more clear channel AM stations put out programing as unique and professional as WBZ overnight.

That said, this isn’t an amazing clip, just what I happened across that evening. It’s the Steve Leveille Show. Apparently his show has united listeners Ellen and Rosie. Nice. And there’s some more legal guesswork on the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy situation from listener Floyd.

1040 – WHO Des Moines, IA

It’s a Trucker show. Although WHO plays “Coast To Coast” overnight these days, I seem to remember that they ran a trucker show in that slot not that long ago. And in my experience, WHO has been the westernmost reliable AM clear channel catch from Michigan.

From the sound of it, some guy named Keith Bissell caused a lot of grief for truckers passing through Tennessee. And the host here also bemoans a plan to save some Salmon in Washington state. It’s typical righteous talk radio fare, along with a low-grade piercing whine for your enjoyment.

1050 – (Nothing Intelligible)

1060 – KYW Philadelphia, PA

KYW was one of the first all-news radio stations. The tradition continues here, with a another flavorful slice from Chung’s TV news spectacular featuring Gary Condit under fire.

Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 6

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

Milky_way If you think you’ve got a decent AM or shortwave portable, but you’re not receiving much beyond local stations and static at night, there’s one easy way to give it a chance to perform. Take it outside. Most houses are full of RF (radio noise) generating devices and signal blocking material. Big buildings are often worse.

Of course, what’s better is to get away from all the buildings and electrical devices altogether. That’s why I like to DX on summer camping trips, and that’s where the dial scan I’m featuring on this post was recorded. I was in northern Michigan at a state park located on small peninsula extending out into Lake Michigan. Call me a fool, but give me a nice campsite, a few radios, a picnic table, and a few beers on ice and I’m gonna have a good time. That evening the nearby roaring fire was a bonus, as well as the black sky full of stars overhead. The sliver of a moon didn’t rise in the sky until several hours after sunset and the Milky Way was a magnificent white smudge across the sky. I haven’t seen it that distinctly since that night.

 I was listening to my Optimus 12-603A, also known as a "Tuned RF AM-FM Extended Range Receiver." What it really is a Radio Shack ripoff of the excellent GE SuperRadio. It’s a good receiver, not quite as super as the original GE model, which can Campfirebe found easily online for around forty bucks. Both have great sound and reception, but only AM & FM. No shortwave bands.

I also had an external Radio Shack’s loop antenna (15-1853) hooked up to the radio as well. Like usual, this was a Radio Shack ripoff of another (probably better) product, but it’s a powerful device for thirty bucks. Requires no batteries. You adjust its knob to the frequency you’re tuning in, and then you rotate the antenna to get the best copy of the signal. In a good DX situation like I had that night, it’s quite possible to find two or possibly three separate readable stations at one frequency by just rotating the antenna. And remember, if you’re going to try this yourself the AM antenna is a typically ferrite bar INSIDE the radio (usually mounted lengthwise across the top), so you need to turn the radio itself to improve the reception, not the extended aerial which is for FM and shortwave.

All that said, don’t walk into a Radio Shack looking for the equipment I’m talking about here. They’ve discontinued both the antenna and the radio. While I don’t remember any public announcement, over the last decade Radio Shack stores has become a different kind of franchise. Where you could once find a plethora of shortwave radios and all the clips, cables and connectors you’d ever need, Radio Shack is now a swell place to get accessories for your cell phone and some nice video equipment. I think they keep a few radios around just in case somebody happens to notice that the word "radio" is in their logo.

Bush_2001_vacation_2 And what makes this session of radio listening more interesting than some others is the point in time of its occurrence. It was Thursday, August 23, 2001. George Bush Jr. was on the longest vacation of any sitting President, and the attacks of September 11 were just two and half weeks away. So, the radio recordings I made on that trip are audio specimen slides of our culture on the brink of a cataclysmic event, and right before the dawn of a national obsession. It was a lot like the world we live in now, except totally different.

The bandscan here features me slowly turning the knob on an analog receiver starting at 530 KHz and working my way up. Usually stopping at each point where a signal should be (in 10 KHz steps in the U.S.), and then adjusting the dial and antenna to find the best reception (if there’s something there). And the text below will be an attempt to briefly identify and perhaps describe what was received.

I believe this scan begins sometime just before 11 p.m., but I haven’t verified that yet. With a decent setup and a good location, every notch on the dial at night is filled with something, even it’s just 2 or three stations faintly throbbing on top of each other. And in a situation like this a majority of the allotted frequencies will have some station you can discern if you work at tuning it in. However some stations will come in much weaker than others, and others will have some tough Camp_table_2_2competition with a station sharing the frequency in another part of the country. But at some stops, there really is nothing there to hear but distant tiny noises.

Like usual, I didn’t keep a log   but there are so many familar stations across the dial here that it’s usually not difficult to know what frequency I’m near at most points in this recording. And it sure helps having the internet to quickly research stations as you review a listening session like this.

On now on to the show.

Segment 1 – Northern Michigan Radio 08-23-01 (530 to 750 AM)  25:28

(download)

530 – (Nothing Intelligible)

540 – (Nothing Intelligible)

550  – WKRC Cincinnati, OH 

12603a_1 It’s THE TALK STATION. Starts off with a promo for the 55KRC Morning show. Sounds kinda like a manic loud mouth talk host sounding unconvincingly outraged. This is followed by one of their pre-recorded slogans: “We have an opinion, and we give it everyday.” Just think, in less than three weeks slogans like this would be replaced by “United We Stand,” and “God Bless America.”

This is actually a pretty good catch considering that WKRC is only broadcasting with 1000 watts from 450 miles away.

560 – WEBC Duluth, MN (probably)

Some sports conversation. Apparently there was some bitterness between the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears. I hope they’ve worked it out since then.

570 or 560 – (Unidentified Spanish station)

Might be something in Cuba. Sounds like there might have been some kind of ID in there. Any Spanish speakers out there able to help me ID this station?

570 – WKBN Youngstown, OH

Hendrie_phone_fakery “You’ve got a voice. Use it! Call the comment line…” It must be a talk station. Then some techno bumper music leads us into the Phil Hendrie program. Phil is calling his own show on the phone again, pretending to be “guest”– one of his stock characters, "Ted Bell." It’s another screwball Hendrie monologue where he pretends to be outrageous goofball and suck in angry callers who think he and his guest are actually two different people.

580 – (Nothing Intelligible)

Sounds like at least three different stations somwhere…

590 – WTCM Traverse City, MI

The topic of the night begins.

“I think everybody will agree that this guy is immoral…”

Chungcondit_abc Earlier that evening, Connie Chung interviewed Congressman Gary Condit on national television. The Chandra Levy missing person story (now a murder mystery no one talks about much) was the number one issue in America the month before 9-11. And as you’ll hear repeatedly through this dial scan, it was all over talk radio and the news. While I’m as likely as any of the callers you’ll hear on these recordings to suspect Condit might have had some role in Levy’s offing. But I don’t KNOW, and I really leave it to the police and courts to figure that out that sort of thing. And I don’t spend a lot of time dreaming up scenarios and motives, and invest any of my valuable anger toward a creepy California politician.

It’s funny how foul play against one attractive American white girl combined with a politician’s adultery scandal can capture an entire country’s imagination and make so many people angry, yet the death and torture of thousands of people overseas barely registers any national outrage. Gary Condit had nothing to worry about. In less than a month everybody forgot about Mr. Condit or that body that would eventually be found in Rock Creek Park.

This is “The Jim Bohannon Show.” Bohannon inherited Larry King’s late night radio gig when King gave it up in 1993. Maybe it takes somebody as uncharismatic on the radio as Bohannon to make you really miss Larry King. But he’s real pissed off about Gary Condit at this time. Call in the Ethics Committee! It has already been over two years since the Clinton impeachment and the possibility of another Democrat in a sex scandal was getting a lot people in the media all worked up. As the caller keenly points out, these politicians need to “keep their morality up in their off-time.”

590 – (Unidentified lousy rock music)

I don’t know. Could be CKRS 590 in Jonquiere, Quebec, or WJMS, 590 in AM, Ironwood, Michigan.

600 – CFCH North Bay, ON (probably)

It’s faint country pop song– “Yooooo never FOOLED around…” Kinda hokey, but I think I like it.

610 WTVN Columbus, OH

Gary_condit_1 More Condit fever. This caller’s got it all figured out, and the talk host is interviewing him as if he were an invited pundit with years of research under his belt. And he asking pointed questions about an interview the caller hadn’t even seen yet. But look at the facts. Condit has been “ducking the media on the questions,” and “lying to the authorities that were investigating it…What else CAN you assume?” Assuming is even more fun when you do it together, isn’t it?

Ducking the media? Lying to authorities? You could get into trouble… if you’re a Democrat.

620 – WTMJ Milwaukee, WI

This is coming in pretty good across Lake Michigan. Nothing blocking a radio wave flying across all that water. While the trolley to the Mexican Fiesta commercial is nothing special, the two that follow are entertaining local ads. The first is for a company that calls itself the “guardians of data,” and presupposes that customers might be “frolicking naked through candyland” when a monster storm knocks out their “service.” The next is an ad for a music warehouse joint encouraging parents to rent the musical instruments when kids take up music lessons. After all, parents need to protect themselves. It’s nice little manic collage. (Kind of reminds me of someone I know…)

630 – CFCO Chatham, ON

It’s a Canadian oldies station between Detroit and Toronto, "Classic Gold." Nothing special, except the fact that you’re hearing a music format on AM radio, which isn’t so common these days. It’s Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay.” I didn’t edit it, and just included the whole song on this archive. If you can enjoy this song for what it is, from a somewhat distant station with Art Bell’s talk show eating the edges of the signal, maybe you have what it takes to DX AM radio. As far as copying a distant music station, this ain’t bad.

640 – (Nothing Intelligible)

A few stations battling it out here, at least three of them. There’s a man and woman speaking English with foreign accents and a sports station. I do wonder what all this is.

650 – WSM Nashville, TN

Wsmlogo The big clear channel station in Nashville and the home of The Grand Ole Opry. Over 650 miles away and coming in with clarity. Still playing the old country music after all these years. I wish there were more stations like this across the dial. And it’s another catchy song.

660 – WFAN New York, NY

Some deep pop psychology regarding the New York Mets. Some people spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the emotions and motivations of a few rich athletes.

It’s a whopping clear channel signal however, and used to be a big NYC top 40 station (WNBC) once. It’s almost 650 miles away

670 – WSCR Chicago, IL

More sports. Nice awkward live read (at least I HOPE it’s live) of a restaurant spot. Actually this is the best moment I’ve heard on a sports talk station in quite a while.

680 -  (Nothing Intelligible)

A muddle of signals. One of them is probably CFTR, a talk station in Toronto.

690 – CINF Montreal, QC

Info690_1 This is the same station I picked up in upstate New York heard on this post. I had said it was CBF at that time (That’s still how the Radio Locator site identifies it.) But Canadian reader David Bachner in his comment corrected me. And he’s right. Apparently official CBC stations have call letters that begin in with “CB,” and this station was sold to other interests in a national campaign that had the network giving up their AM outlets for high fidelity FM stations. Now it’s "Info690," a French language talk station.

700 – WLW Cincinnati, OH

Sports. After a year the Bengals are getting used to their new stadium. I’ve heard it takes a while to get adjusted to a stadium.

710 – (Nothing Intelligible)

Seems like I should have stuck around a little longer and worked that antenna to see if I could dig WOR in New York out of the noise.

720 – WGN Chicago, IL

Gas prices were rising in the Chicago area. I guess there was a refinery fire.

730 – (Nothing Intelligible)

740 – CHWO Toronto, ON

Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”

Am740logo_4 Otherwise known as AM 740, this is one of my favorite stations on the AM dial here in the city at night. Although they don’t have a live DJ in the wee hours, their “jukebox” format overnight has plenty of old pop tunes to satisfy and entertain almost anybody who remembers when the AM dial was full of this stuff. It’s a shame that since clear channel WQEW has been reduced to running canned "Radio Disney" that not one station has taken up a format anything like this in New York City. And there’s not a country station here either.

750 – WWKK Petoskey, MI

The Rolling Stones – “Get Off Of My Cloud”

Code_orange_smog_1This is now “Progressive Talk KOOL-750,” but this is when it used to be an oldies station, still called KOOL-750. (Why avoid those intriguing call letters– WWKK?) The transmitter itself is very close, less than twenty miles away, but the signal is dodgy at best. Why? They’re only allowed to run 330 watts at night.

 750 – WSB Atlanta, GA

Just turn the loop antenna, and there’s another radio station. And this one is a better read, AND it’s coming from over 800 miles away. That’s the power of a 50,000 watt clear channel station.

First the weather. It’s August, it’s horrible hot in Atlanta. And there’s a “code orange” alert. However, it’s not a terrorism problem. Just smog. And some radio smog as well, in the form of a rerun of the Neal Boortz program. He’s another second tier national right wing blabbermouth host based out of Atlanta. Like O’Reilly, he occasionally disagrees with the Republican party line and acts like he’s a radical maverick. But he’s just another monkey, and not an appealing one.

Transsexual_1 Actually, he has a male/female duo filling in this evening. And tonight’s scintillating topic? Should teachers who go through a sex change come back to work at the same school or district after they’ve “crossed over?” Man, that’s got a lot of potential for a burning debate. Thanks to talk radio a lot of important issues are thoughtfully reasoned out in public forums like this.

Next week I’ll get back to this dial scan, again starting at WJR in Detroit.

Thanks for listening.

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