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.