The Ship That Came In (On Four Radio Bands)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen to that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortwave Souvenir (part 2)

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

It was Friday night at the SWL Winterfest in Kulpsville, PA, where I was at a suburban hotel as part of the biggest annual gathering of shortwave listeners in North America (perhaps the world). At the Listening Lounge I scanned the room and noticed there were more empty seats than I’d seen at the afternoon presentations. Then again, it was an evening event and some of the older guys might have hit the hay. Then again, I didn’t see any of the pirate radio folks either. And I don’t think any of them were sleeping (although I’m sure there was some recreational sedation in the mix).

This was my first time at the Fest, and by nightfall I began to get the feeling that the Fest had fractured into a number of gatherings around the hotel. And I eventually noticed that a lot of the pirate people (and their friends at WBCQ) were missing for long stretches of time during the whole weekend. While it wasn’t what I expected, it made sense all things considered. They come to the Fest not just to talk about radio, but to broadcast. And I suppose at least a few guys were doing what they always do– sitting alone with a warm receiver and scanning the bands. (Hey, it’s the kinda thing I do in a hotel away from home…).

Meanwhile at the Listening Lounge, those who came were having a good time. David Goren was playing the hits– shortwave radio interval signals actually. When the acoustic guitar and chirpy bird from Radio RSA came on it hit home with me. When I started listening to shortwave back in the early 1970′s, this was a very familiar sound in my teenage bedroom.

And even better, Marty Peck came up to play a few of the interval signals on his flute. He’s quite good at it, and he was taking requests. And since it had worked so well last year, David decided to have the audience recreate the interval signal of Radio Botswana. One side of the room would be the chickens. The other side would be the mooing cows. “Ready!” It was silly and the cows were really lame. Kim Andrew Elliot was sitting two rows back. “It’s the sound of a hobby dying,” he jeered. It was sort of a joke. But if you’re a regular visitor to his site you know that shortwave radio is no joke to Kim Elliot.

It was a familiar theme. Earlier that day I met Sheldon Harvey, another Winterfest veteran like Elliot. Harvey had a large table at the exhibition area at the fest, selling all manner of cool and beautiful radio books as well as some radio gear and odds and ends. “These tables all used to be filled up,” he told me. “There used to be a lot more people.”

And then I looked around and I could imagine how it was, or how it could be– with table after table of people pushing radios, and splashy pamphlets promoting new programming, and the public relations crews from dozens of foreign nations wanting to meet and greet and woo all these “listeners” who have taken the time to come here and learn more about what they love. Radio.

But in March of 2009, it wasn’t like that at all. There were just a smattering of vendors around the perimeter of the room, and a raffle table in the corner. That was it. It was kind of odd. Here was a hardcore group of enlightened consumers of eclectic radio gadgetry, and not one major seller or manufacturer of radios or radio related gear thought it was worth making the effort to push their products here. Sure the economy’s bad. But most people who DX or listen to shortwave are always fantasizing about the next receiver they’d like to own. They never really stop buying radios. Outside of a few catalogs out on tables, there was no effort to seduce all the easy targets wandering around. There was however, Tracy Wood showing off some satellite television related stuff. But no Eton. No Kaito. No Ten-Tec. No C. Crane. Nothing like that.

While that seemed like a real oversight to me, I was even more surprised that not one shortwave broadcasting service or station or program host saw fit to come out to the Fest this year. Well, there was a few folks from WBCQ. But they didn’t have a vendor table or any official presence, just the live radio shows Timtron and company were sending out upstairs. But of all the countries who still broadcast to us every day in English (China, Russia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Vietnam, Cuba, Bulgaria, etc), they sent no one to commune with all of us North Americans. The hundreds of religious broadcasters on shortwave didn’t have much of presence at the Fest either. Except a table for WMLK and the friendly Mr. Ladd and his Madagascar Mission slide show that I had mentioned in the last post.

In theory, a bunch of shortwave listeners in one place would be a prime target for some commercial interest or broadcasting entity to solicit and exploit. But in a sense, we no longer exist and this conference wasn’t really happening. I found statistics online that state that less than one percent of American households have a shortwave radio. And it might be less than that these days. And then when you break it down further, into which families might listen to shortwave radio (or even consider it), then you can see how the Winterfest attendees are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of one percent. It’s the kind of math the BBC was doing a few years ago…

Long before the newspaper industry started taking a real hit from the rise of the web, what was left of America’s shortwave audience was already devastated by the new technology. But even before the ribbon was cut on the information superhighway, shortwave radio was already on the ropes in America. The international bands had disappeared from consumer radios. The end of the cold war tamed a lot of the fun and fireworks out of overseas broadcasting. And the rise of the 24 hour cable news stations might have played a part as well. But shortwave radio has never recovered from the proliferation of worldwide multimedia networking the internet provides.

It’s a little depressing to see how something so fascinating is losing its cultural cachet so quickly. You would think that all the shortwave stations have stopped transmitting. Or that the receivers don’t work any longer. But neither is true. While the content available here in North America isn’t nearly as lively or thoughtful as it once was, the new radios have actually improved (or at least you can get a far better radio for less).

If the broadcasting of audio content over the shortwave bands were to completely disappear, the dissemination of news and information around the world will lose an element of privacy for the end user. Unlike surfing the web, there’s inherent anonymity to the old technology. When you listen to a shortwave station, it’s just you, your radio and whatever the transmitter on the other end is sending into the atmosphere. There’s nothing in between– no logs, no middle man, and no connective technology. Your tuning cannot be tracked. And it’s always free. There’s no provider to pay. I’m sure these are some of the reasons paranoids and kooky patriot types still love shortwave radio. But why should they have all the fun. Especially when there might not be much fun left.
           
Like the internet, shortwave radio has always been worldwide. In fact, it was the first real-time global technology available to ordinary end users. And once you get out of developed world, and farther away from cities and (what we like to call) civilization, shortwave radio remains a practical and common household technology. In many African countries, over ninety percent of homes have shortwave radios and over thirty percent of people regularly listen to international broadcasts on shortwave. And as long as broadcasters continue to serve these communities around the world, there will still be people here in America DXing those far-off signals.

As far as shortwave listenership, America and a place like Somalia are the two extremes. In other countries, shortwave listening is much more common than the states, but not ubiquitous as it might be in the desert or a tropical rain forest. In Sri Lanka for example, where over 85% of households still have a shortwave radio at hand. And I’ll bet Victor Goonetilleke has dozens of them around the house.

While none of the broadcasters from the other side of the world made it out to the Fest this year, a listener did. A DXer of some renown, Victor Goonetilleke had traveled from his native Sri Lanka to Kulpsville before, but I sensed that his long journey made him more of a special guest this time around (as none of the overseas broadcasters were willing to make the trip this year). And then his importance at this gathering made more sense when he gave a short inspirational talk at the banquet, recounting the joy of realizing his childhood dream– owning a “communications receiver.” It was something a lot of guys in that banquet hall could understand. (And gosh, I’d like one too…)

And it’s a safe bet that most of the attendees (and the many thousands they represent) agreed with Victor’s sentiments– that shortwave radio is “being killed by people who should know better.” And while he may have been preaching to a choir of American “hobbyists” on a weekend lark, where Goonetilleke lives, shortwave radio itself is still a visceral and vital thing. For one thing, shortwave is the best way for most people to find news and opinion from around the world. A battery powered portable shortwave would make a lot of sense in rural Sri Lanka, where over a third of homes don’t have electricity. And those that have power aren’t using it to browse the web much, as less than three percent of households in the entire country have internet access (as of 2008). Ad to that the fact that Sri Lanka has an ongoing civil war that’s raged on and off for decades, and then just four years ago was hit hard by one of the worst natural disasters in human history (the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami), and you can see why keeping informed at home with a world radio makes a hell of a lot of sense on that island nation.

Sri Lanka also holds a special spot in the history of shortwave radio as the home one of the oldest radio stations in the world– “Radio Ceylon.” A radio service that blanketed the largest continent on the globe and could be heard worldwide, Radio Ceylon was a dominant international radio voice in the middle of “the rest of the world” for decades. In 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to scale Everest, he picked up his radio and tuned in Radio Ceylon, transmitting in English from over a thousand miles away. (Meanwhile in 2009, the world’s a little smaller. It’s no big deal to utilize the internet via satellite from the highest peak on Earth. And you probably have a home office setup down at your base camp too.)

And it should be noted that although shortwave listening (and shortwave programming for that matter) is most certainly in decline, I never sensed the gathering in Kulpsville to be an overtly nostalgic or quixotic affair. To the contrary, serious radio hobbyists are generally quite a technologically ambitious bunch. Most are pretty savvy about today’s gadgets and the evolving technologies, and that was reflected in a number of the presentations I sat in on at the Fest.

What I didn’t hear during the panel discussions was a lot of sour grapes over the demise of shortwave radio. Instead I learned a lot about the current state of radio and radio listening, and heard some insightful overviews of new radio (and radio-like) technology. Digital radio, satellite radio, internet radio, and podcasting were all discussed at the Fest. Each in its own way is an intriguing vehicle for the delivery of audio programming, but none of these systems have garnered any real dominance. And no one is sure if any of these platforms are going to last long either, at least not in their present incarnation.

We live in strange times, where all the old media is in a real fix– broadcast radio, broadcast tv, newspapers and magazines are all losing market share to a myriad of digital alternatives (many of them free, or potentially free). However, in North America shortwave radio is not “in trouble." It’s mortally wounded. And not likely to ever mount a comeback. But it ain’t dead yet.

So what keeps the shortwave faithful faithful? I suppose the sport of it, and all the magical gadgetry.

Perhaps you saw this article in the New York Times a few days ago. Apparently there’s a movement afoot among a few obsessive Star Trek fans to build their own “Captain’s chair,” as in Williams Shatner’s roost on the set of the original “Star Trek” series. Kooky, right? I think so too. But then again, I do get the concept. And I’d wager that almost everyone at the Fest isn’t unfamiliar with the captain’s chair concept. However, the chair itself isn’t usually so important. It’s all those “control panels.” It’s a technological nest, otherwise known as a “shack” (AKA a “radio shack), and every radio-style human being has one around the house, even if it’s only a glowing bedside kind of thing. These days it’s usually a radio workbench merged with the home office. My better half has always called my spot my “command center.” Whatever…

But in truth, I’ve always been fascinated by nesting behavior. And this year at the Fest they had a new feature where people contributed photos of their home radio situation. You know, their command center. While the tech forums were informative and the pirate radio presentations were entertaining, the review of home shacks was a lot of fun– personal and occasionally inspiring. There’s something about setting up a personal communications outpost that evokes a spirit of empowerment and a curiosity about the world. And not only did people share pictures of their radio nests, but they also offered some detailed explanations of some technological problem solving that improved their shack. Like Mario, explaining how he managed to neatly connect forty radios to his big backyard antenna.

 

 

For the scanner people and the ham crowd, equipment almost seems to be everything, and neither habit/hobby offers the wonderful radio content you can still find on shortwave radio on a good day– like news, music, cultural features and religious brainwashing.

But for all forms of radio monitoring, DXing is the sporting side of the avocation. Bagging the elusive quarry. The science of turning sound into powerful electromagnetic radiation and receiving those particular radio waves from a distant point on Earth and converting it back into audible content is still quite a trick, and once you get the hang of it you get the bug to better your last conquest.

And the receiver and antenna can make all the difference, a personal acumen with the radio and a trained ear and good tuning fingers can sometimes make pulling in a distant station feel like playing a musical instrument. And it grows even more personal when you manipulate and tweak an antenna, or with a portable set when your body becomes an antenna annex. It can feel like a real human event when you are able to log some obscure signal from a seemingly impossible distance.

And it’s nothing like waiting for data packets to fill a buffer. Okay?

And while shortwave DXing isn’t going away anytime soon, DXing readable radio programming in English gets less common all the time. Finding an obscure little transmitter from Africa or Asia on your radio dial is certainly invigorating, but hearing the world and local news in English from a distant nation you know very little about can be a hell of an interesting listen. It’s what first hooked me to tuning in the world bands when I was a youngster. And that is what is going away.

So what does a U.S. DXer get these days? Well this ongoing solar minimum is making it difficult to pull in anything exotic. But in general, most of the frequencies you hear are not in English and you generally hear less radio than you once could in North America. There was a time, not long ago, when a North American shortwave listener could find a wealth of intelligent programing (news magazines, documentaries, variety shows…) in English from the countries like the UK, Canada, Germany, Israel, and The Netherlands. Most of that is gone. Except for the non-stop kooks and religious nuts who pollute the radio skies in this part of the world, most of the English language programming you hear on shortwave is from our old cold war adversaries– China, Cuba, Russia and a bunch of the former Soviet republics and satellite nations. Although the propaganda isn’t as quite as entertaining as it used to be.        

What’s kinda cool (and a little bittersweet) is the frozen-in-time feeling to shortwave that lingers in the production and formatics of the programming. It’s like how they keep putting 1950′s automobiles back on the road in Cuba. It’s hard to tell where production honoring the legacy sound of shortwave broadcasting ends and blindly carrying on the same way due to lack of funds begins. To my ears, some of the radio production I hear out of our own Voice of America sounds like vintage 1970′s radio news stuff. And not necessarily in a good way. And the old Soviet block countries sound antiquated as well, but have more depth and minor key elements in their presentation. There’s an abundance of C.R.I. (China Radio International) radio (which is often frighteningly happy when I tune in), it’s not sparkling or passionate radio. And like VOA, it all sounds like it’s done on the cheap.

While you’re just not going to hear a lot of money spent on talent, production or program development on shortwave in the states much any more, there is some intriguing creativity on a shoestring going on from time to time. And a few of the perpetrators are typically in attendance at the yearly gatherings in Kulspville. They kind of have their own parallel fest going on at the same time.

Of course, I’m talking about WBCQ and the pirate radio clan. Because if you’re looking for something actually new (or at least novel) on the shortwave dial in North America, that’s probably where you’ll end up. Although WBCQ is a legit operation, it’s easy to throw them in together because they’re the closest thing shortwave radio has to a “youth movement, and not surprisingly many of them are associates and friends. Of course, the owner and operators over there started out in radio as youthful pirate radio operatives. And lately, WBCQ has (via their 5100kHz transmitter) been offering a nightly programming block they call “Area 51," which mixes in original airchecks from some domestic pirate broadcasters.

If there’s a vibe to the post-radio pirate scene on shortwave, it’s a postmodern pastiche version of what was once called on “underground” radio on FM. You could call it freeform, but has more attitude than that. I actually find the term “freeform” to be kind of overused and useless these days. Think about it. It’s meaningless. There’s actually always some form or format at play, and denying it seems disingenuous. Vague.

Typically the pirate radio attitude is prankish and a little dark (with some occasional subgenius stylings, if you know what I mean) And the laughs? Ah… usually sophomoric and rather geeky. Lots of sarcasm. And it almost seems like the music in the mix could be almost anything, the programming doesn’t often seem to be steeped in music choice. And more than anything the pirate radio I’ve come across lately is incredibly self-referential, with plenty of mentions of partners in crime and the whole pirate radio scene in general. And not only do they have their own proprietary slang, but many of the programs are so filled with in jokes and insider humor that the newcomer is bound to do a little head scratching when first coming across these illicit shortwave broadcasts.

There’s actually quite a lively pirate scene. And I haven’t come close to sampling everything that’s going on. However I came across this clip at the Area 51 site the other day that’s kind of a nice little overview. It’s the infamous pirate Kracker on WBCQ, where he’s been expanding his reach by being a part of the new Area 51 programming block on 5100kHz. His guest is George Zeller, who writes a pirate radio column for Monitoring Times. And George is also a mainstay and presenter at the yearly SWL fest, and hosted his pirate radio forum this year in Kulpsville. (This clip is slightly edited.)

WBCQ (Radio Jamba International) – Kracker talks to George Zeller 6:25
(download)

I’ve run across Kracker’s creative hijinks on shortwave before, and actually got to meet him at the Fest this year (He kind of ran away when I was taking a couple random snapshots. I guess he’s shy.) Kracker’s on-air persona is often brassy and even abrasive, but here the beer was flowing and the mood is lubricated. (You can get all of the whole wild two hours of Kracker’s show here. Be careful, you could catch a hangover…)

Zeller applauds the creativity and spirit of both the pirates and WBCQ. I did notice that he says he’s been “a big supporter of what WBCQ’s been trying to do.” And that’s the thing about WBCQ, is that it’s a great idea that is occasionally realized. Despite the fact that they offer incredible rates for slots of air time and actively invite and encourage creative broadcasting on their transmitters, many hours are still taken by the typical religious garbage and conspiracy kooks. And there’s still plenty of unfilled hours if you’ve got an idea.

And speaking of that, I thought this was kinda funny.

Kracker Remix – Allan Weiner vs. The Pirates

(download)

This little edited clip comes from the beginning of Kracker’s show. It’s something Kracker (or someone) cut up from Allan Weiner’s radio show on WBCQ, where Allan (who was once one of the most well known radio pirates in the states) making fun of the shortwave “pirate slugs” who use “piece of garbage ham transmitters” to play “weird distorted crappy music” and think they’re god’s gift to free speech broadcasting.

It’s kinda funny. And kinda true. But Allan is also doing what he always does at some point on “Allan Weiner Worldwide.” Looking for another angle to lure people to buy time on WBCQ. And the truth is he wants people like the pirates to get on board, instead of adding more demonic preachers and new world order paranoia. And like George, I’m one of those supporters of what WBCQ is trying to do. No one else in this part of the world seems to be doing anything worthy of notice or merit these days on the shortwave dial (at least not legally).

Obviously, setting up your own shortwave radio station isn’t likely to make you rich. Especially if you’re trying to keep the programming a couple notches up from the LCD programming on most U.S. shortwave operations. And on his show, Weiner treads a fine line between optimism about the future of the station and letting you know that they’re often just one unpaid bill or major malfunction away from disaster. But what I hear every time Allan comes on the air is how much he really loves what he’s doing– running his own (legal) international radio station, WBCQ  (AKA “The Planet.") So far, Weiner’s radio experiment at the northeast corner of America has survived over a decade and has been the brightest glimmer of hope on the North American shortwave in a period where so much intelligent content has vanished.

And then the lack of weather on the sun has been rough on WBCQ’s propagation. I’ve found difficult to hear either of the two frequencies I check (5110 and 7415kHz). A few years ago I could often get 7415 through the night. For the last couple years it slips after dark. And I’ve been especially interested in the new Area 51 programming on 5110, but the times I’ve checked I’ve found a whole lot of nothing at that frequency for the last couple weeks. And from what I understand, the programming on that frequency is all being handled by Cosmik Debris of the Lumpy Gravy radio show on WBCQ. And as I mentioned, he’s got a great site for “Area 51" you can find here or anytime in my sidebar (and thanks for the clips!). And his blog there has become quite an archive of pirate radio lately, and I advise anybody interested in what the hellions with garbage transmitters across the countryside might wanna pay that site a visit. Tons of downloads available, and more eclectic radio audio added all the time.

And if you want to delve deeper into the pirate radio panorama, I’d advise you check out Ragnar Daneskjold’s Pirate Week website and podcast. His weekly show is an easy listen and you get all the latest news from this oddball incestuous radio universe, including audio clips and gossip. There really is a “hall of mirrors” feel to the shortwave pirate radio scene and Daneskjold can be your guide to help you sort out who’s who, and how you might hear whoever at frequencies like 6925 or 6955kHz next weekend. You can subscribe to his podcast at his site, or you can go for the jumbo fun pack podcast at Ragnar’s "HF Programs" site where you can not only get his program delivered to your hard drive, but other fine SW related shows like Allan Weiner Worldwide, The Shortwave Report, a couple of DX programs and more! Nice package.

Speaking of pirates, I did bring some recordings home from Kulpsville.

Here’s “Radio Azteca.” From the stale nature of some of the humor in this aircheck, I’d say this is an archive or two from the 1990′s. Your host is “Bram Stoker,” and his style is non-stop puns and goofy jokes with a sardonic delivery. It’s silly. It’s deep geek comedy. Very cassette as well.

Radio Azteca  44:52
(download)

From what I understand, Commander Bunny is one of the more prolific pirates out there these days. And this aircheck certainly speaks to his industrious nature. To my ear, the aesthetic of the Commander is somewhere between Ren & Stimpy and Doctor Demento. Lots of goofy comedy and plenty of original collage elements. It’s frenetic and ridiculous radio.

Like the Azteca aircheck, this seems to be at least a couple separate shows, all played back to back, probably unattended, on one of the handful of transmitters running all during the Fest.

And I do wonder if anybody’s told the Commander that rabbits are not rodents

WBNY – Commander Bunny 61:48
(download)

As I already mentioned, pirate radio is very self-referential. And each show seems to send shout outs to other pirates and all the radio heads they know who listen, and the folks like Ragnar and George who cover them in the radio press (such as it is). And in all the mentions of friends and associates, there’s plenty of jibes and jokes and making fun. And it can get kinda harsh. And I don’t mean just calling people “monkeys.”

A few of the people who are regular attendees at the Fest (who aren’t part of the pirate radio “crowd”) have found themselves as targets for the shortwave pirate joke machine, and the resulting attacks and satire starts to turn into some mean spirited weirdness that surprised me when I first heard some of it. There’s almost a “Lord of the Flies” element– where some of these folks seem to almost get a little feral as they circle around and gang up on people like wolves or something. Especially when it comes to “Bozo.”

And I’m not talking about Larry Harmon, or the TV kiddie show franchise he created, but a fellah I’ve never met. All I really know about Jay comes from the constant torrent of insults and gags and jokes that I run into when I hear some pirate radio shows, or come across some of the stuff they’ve posted on the web.

Although he didn’t attend this year (he’s was in the hospital with congestive heart failure), Jay usually always shows up in Kulpsville. From the photos, it’s not hard to see that he’s overweight and has funny hair. And I’ve heard he’s gay as well. Maybe he has an offbeat walk too. I don’t know and I suppose I don’t care. But he loves radio and shortwave radio, and the pirates love to make fun of him. They seem to live for it. It’s strange.

If you remember the pirate radio clip from last week, of WBZO? There was a bit in the middle of it with some Jay jokes. Of course, the name WBZO is another poke at n Jay. I think I read that WBZO (and KBZO and CBZO) are all Kracker creations. (But as I’m on the outside of the pirate scene, I’m not sure who’s secretly who, and all that jazz.)

But even if Jay is as annoying or peculiar as the pirates make him out to be, when I hear some of the heavy-handed Bozo parody stuff it seems kind of sad. I mean, these pirate transmissions on the HF bands potentially cover a wide swath of this hemisphere, and the touchstone of their content and the very handshake they offer from their culture, is a bunch of less than empathetic parodies revolving around a harmless chubby geek from upstate New York? Is that the “message” of pirate radio in 2009? Really?

Okay, not all the pirates are having taking potshots at Jay, but within a certain subset of these illicit broadcasters creating mean-spirited mayhem with Jay’s voice (and image) is incredibly pervasive. And I don’t get it. At one point during the Fest I stepped out to run out to a store, and tuned to one of the temporary Fest pirate stations, WBZO in fact. And there was Kracker, calling up Jay "on the air"– in the hospital I assume. It sounded live. And Kracker took the conversation to male masturbation within a minute or two.

I didn’t have a recorder with me to catch that particular magic moment, but here’s an acidic spell of Jay bashing from WBZO that I happened to record during the Fest.

WBZO – A Hot Bozo Blast 15:33
(download)

You know when it comes to satire and making fun of people’s flaws, I think that celebrities and the rich and famous and political figures are all fair game. And you get extra points if you play off of some meaningful hypocrisy. But riffing off the imperfections of some oddball dude ad infinitum seems like overkill to me. I do admire the ambition and anarchic creativity I hear on shortwave pirate radio. And some vulgarity and twisted humor seems par for the course. But why so mean?

Another reason it’s easy for me to lump the pirates and WBCQ together, is that they are actively broadcasting some English language content on shortwave that doesn’t try to convince you into worshiping a supernatural being or buy into a conspiracy theory. Which is nice. In the end, I suppose all of it beats Family Radio for pure entertainment hands down. Even the dick jokes.

Like many people who delve deep into niche behavior, the shortwave pirate scene seems to be quite networked through the internet– with a number of sites, message boards, as well as Usenet and a bit of IRC action. When ever I’ve heard any pirates on shortwave I’ve usually been able to find more than I needed to know just though a Google excursion or two. It’s all out there if you’re interested. However, if you want to know all you really need to know about the shortwave pirate scene, you can always check out the Pirates Cove, the Area 51 site (or Zeller’s column in the Monitoring Times).

Speaking of Zeller. On Saturday night, after everyone’s had their chosen chicken, beef, or vegetarian meal at the banquet, the yearly Grande Raffle began with Mr. Zeller presiding. Now I’d never been to the Fest before, and started out feeling pretty good about the twenty bucks or I decided to invest (okay… gamble) in the raffle. However, the raffle table was getting a lot of traffic on the banquet night, and the hopper was really packed with tickets. I decided to up it another ten bucks. What the heck.

After the Fest I heard that some of those guys were into that raffle for over a hundred bucks. I wouldn’t be surprised if some were into the raffle much deeper than that. Hell, it was a lot better deal than all those damn lottery tickets folks piss their incomes away on. The odds are infinitely better AND the money goes to charity. And there were SO many cool shortwave radios that you might actually get to take home. A few real dream receivers, as well as some damn nice radios, as well as some wi-fi gadgets and a few fancy PC receivers. For a radio guy like me, approaching the Grande Raffle prize table was enough to up the heart rate just a little.

And it was fun to get to see the little bit of pomp and ceremony that Mr. Zeller adds to the proceedings, including some unique headgear. Avuncular and silly, George is a non-stop cut up, and a perfect MC for all the excitement. And just to give you a flavor fo the proceedings, here he is. Giving away a CC Radio SW and a wi-fi clock radio.

Zeller’s two “lovely assistants” are none other than the guys who have kept the SWL Fest up and running the last decade or so– Richard Cuff and John Figolizzi (Richard is the one with more hair…). A couple of really nice guys. And over the course of the weekend I began to notice that the whole Fest is not only a smooth operation, but the whole event was a relaxed affair, with almost no drama and not a lotta attitude either. That kind of vibe is set from the top down, and Richard and John obviously realize how important it is that everyone have a good time. I know I did.

And no, I did not win. At least nothing from the raffle. Not this year. But it sure was fun hoping.

After the dinner and the drawing, they closed up the Fest officially and lots of people went their separate ways. But some of us convened to the Hospitality Room to await the actual final event of the Fest, when Pancho Villa comes on the air at twelve o’clock sharp. (Eh? I’ll explain in a minute…)

The hospitality room is a little meeting space that the Fest keeps stocked with beer, soda and snack food from Thursday night until late on Saturday. It ain’t fancy, and there’s not even close to enough room for everyone to hang out in there, but there was more than enough room on Saturday night for those who weren’t ready to go bed or didn’t have a pirate radio station to operate. I guess you could have called it a party. I actually got to meet some interesting guys that night, swapping radio stories and talking about our lives, changes in technology and the demise of shortwave radio .

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Marty Peck can pick up a melody by ear and can play plenty of shortwave interval signals (from memory) on his flute. And Saturday night in the hospitality room he was talked into a repeat performance.

Now about the Pancho Villa thing. From what I understand, the very first SWL Fest was held in the pink and purple Pancho Villa Room of the Fiesta Motor Inn in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. The motor inn is gone, but Pancho remains in spirit in the form of a yearly midnight broadcast at the SWL Fest, called the Voice of Pancho Villa. It’s a kooky pre-recorded bit of “contemporary” satire, that I believe was broadcast by just about every pirate radio station at the hotel.

You can download the whole glorious “Voice of Pancho Villa” from this post on the Area 51 blog. And if you want more, you can go here and collect up almost all the Pancho Villa broadcasts. And who puts this thing together every year? Good question. I think I might recognize a voice or two, but in the pirate universe everything and everybody is sorta secret.

In closing my two part epic on the Winterfest, I feel the urge to say something meaningful about what I learned there or to ruminate on the meaning of shortwave radio or something. But I suppose I’ve been trying to do that for a few thousand words now. I guess the overwhelming impression I was left with by the end of the Fest, was how incredibly normal it was to be there.

Part of the reason I started blogging about DXing was that I was going through a resurgence with a hobby I’d fooled around with off and on for decades. But more importantly, it was because I was kind of sick of being so damn interested in something all by myself. I mean, it only makes sense to spend quality time tuning on your own, but not being able to talk about what I heard or what I was doing in any intelligent way just seemed weird. And then there’s the way the in-laws and the neighbors may be baffled or alarmed at how you park yourself at a table or out on the porch for hours on end intently listening to the radio (possibly with headphones or strange antennas connected to your receiver).

But in Kulpsville, for one weekend a year you’re just another person who knows how to work a receiver– someone with a passion for sorting far off signals out of the wild atmosphere, and what you can learn about the world by doing so. And perhaps we are a dying breed, or perhaps shortwave listeners are evolving with the culture and the technology and turning into something else. I don’t know. And this is a topic of interest at the Fest. It’s strange to contemplate the impending extinction of something you love.

Yet, the Fest is a positive affair. A celebration. And if you have an abiding interest in shortwave or pirate radio or scanning or amateur radio you might just have a lot of fun at the Winterfest. Hot thrills and wild chicks, not so much. But if some radio fellowship sounds like it might be fun, then you’d probably feel right at home.

Brenda Ueland, a writer born just a few years before the dawn of radio has an oft noted quote that I’d apply to the HF band explorers I met in Pennsylvania. She said– "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force." And I believe that’s what separates those of us who DX and listen to these (now) obscure radio bands from most people who usually tune to a local station and leave it there. We go on radio excursions, seeking out the exotic broadcast, the novel station, the distant signal, the foreign voice. Radio as craft. A technological expression of self. And if I had to describe the people I met at the Fest, I’d day most were working class intellectuals. Smart people. A breed of bandscanning autodidacts who have made themselves more worldly by anticipating the bounce of distant radio waves. 

What else is there to say? Just thanks I guess. It was an honor to attend NASWA’s annual SWL Winterfest. And as long as it remains such a class act, it oughtta continue, and thrive in its own way. It’s there once a year for all of us who still listen to our shortwave radios.

And I do hope to see you next year.

(If you missed it and you don’t see it below, part one of this post can be found here.)

Extravaganzo On The Hudson

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Almost exactly a year ago, I put together a post (The Hip Spot On Your Dial) about anachronistic wonders of WHVW in New York’s Hudson Valley. We have family up that way, so it’s always on mind (and on my radio) when we come to visit. And I always record a little.

Just a little AM station with a little signal, WHVW is the vision of Joe Ferraro (AKA Pirate Joe), a guy who likes his music musty– old, funky, swingin’, stompin, and rockin’. Music that makes you wanna beat on something. In a good way.

WHVW – 11-28-08 part one  58:24
(download)
You can certainly read more about who, what and where of WHVW in my earlier post, but suffice to say that other than weekday drive time and certain hours over the weekend, WHVW is an automated affair. Which doesn’t bother me. In fact, it’s just about the best radio automation I’ve ever heard. And that’s what you get in these two files from last week– “Murray the Machine.”

Last year after I wrote about WHVW, I stopped by the studio for a short visit. I met Pirate Joe, who was very gracious. And every bit the unique character I expected to meet. Boring people don’t create magical radio stations that shouldn’t exist.

One thing that puzzles me. I recall taking a few pictures while I was there, and I haven’t been able to locate them on any of my stray hard drives here at headquarters. It’s too bad. Because I got a look at Murray, the “machine” that fills most of the hours of programming on WHVW. It’s a set up that would make a lot of sense, if it was 1992 (when Pirate Joe bought the station). In a small hot little closet at WHVW there are three 100 CD changers all hard-wired into a vintage late 1980′s computer running some DOS based radio automation program. And I asked Joe about it, wondering in particular about the hard drive in that thing. And you guessed it, the tiny old thing is just about as old as the computer itself. Of course it could blow any day and as I recall I think he said he doesn’t have a back up. Ouch.

WHVW – 11-28-08 part two  62:01
(download)

I remember a friend of mine had a pirate radio station for a while in the mid-90′s and he filled all the hours without DJ’s with a 100 CD machine, and I thought it was quite an amazing device. Then again, nowadays you could fit over 100 albums on a micro memory card as big as a fingernail. That is, if you compressed them as MP3′s. I happened to mention to Pirate Joe that he might wanna get that library converted to MP3′s and run it all off of a more contemporary machine (with back-ups of course). But he would have none of it. He said MP3′s just sounded horrible.

Now I know a thing or two about MP3′s and I’ve done quite a bit of encoding and listening, as well as reading a thing or two about MP3 compression. I’m no scientist, but I can tell you that if WHVW switched to MP3 music tomorrow, as long as they were encoded at appropriate bitrate (I’d say at least 96K mono, w-high quality set) that no one could ever tell the difference (even Joe). Specifically after going through the WHVW audio chain and the AM transmitter, nothing would ever be missed. In fact, I’m sure you probably encode much lower and most ears would never notice. However, as an opinionated curmudgeon myself, I knew better than to question Pirate Joe’s ears or expertise. Not a chance in hell I could change his mind, and that’s okay. He runs a wonderful radio station– creaky old DOS box and all.

The studios are in a small office in the center of Poughkeepsie. While downtown Poughkeepsie isn’t all that appealing, the WHVW studio and office were quite fine. I guess they’re in newer digs since the New York Time’s article a few years back. Although small, it was quite a modern little two or three room affair Pirate Joe has for his radio nest.

And I asked him about his great show (AKA: “Pirate Joe’s Country Music Show and Blues and R&B Extravaganzo”), which has been on hiatus for a few years. A damn good show. Heavy on the 78RPM. Anyway, he had some convoluted technical reason he couldn’t do the show. Problem with playing the 78′s he said. Something about the needles or cartridges or something. Seems to me that it wouldn’t be all that hard to fix or figure out. But who am I to question Pirate Joe…

In my intermittent recording of WHVW I did catch most of one particular Extravanzo broadcast, which I offer you here. And it’s one long piece of radio, over an hour and a half in one file.

WHVW – Pirate Joe Show 12-03-03  102:48
(download)

What a great meandering prosaic style Joe has on the mic. And the music is top notch. Rhythmic and raw. And as it comes from almost exactly five years ago, the seasonal topics are appropriate to the time this post is planted atop the blog. And as far as Joe’s Christmas music phobia… Can I hear an amen? It’s already driving me insane. Nothing chases me out a store faster than some holly and jolly shit spewing from the speakers.

It’s funny. Joe’s patter reminds me more than a little bit of WBCQ’s Allan Weiner. Which makes sense, because they were friends at one time– fellow radio pirates in fact. Sadly, they had a falling out, which I once heard Allan mention in passion on his show. Apparently money was a problem and maybe some broken promises too. I don’t know the details. But it occurred to me as I was listening to Joe’s show, that if you could somehow combine WBCQ and WHVW into one radio station, it could be a killer combination. Then again, they already kinda did that, as two kids sharing an illegal frequency back in the 1970′s.

Maybe someday Pirate Joe will once again air his 78′s in the afternoon. Meanwhile he continues to host a classical music show each weeknight, which doesn’t do much for me. But I’m sure it makes someone happy.

But other than Curt Roberts excellent morning drive rock and roll show, most of the great human (as opposed to automated) programming happens on the weekends. Like Dungeon’s Serenade. A Sunday afternoon offering, and I think it’s a relatively new arrival on the WHVW roster. This recording is from March of last year.

WHVW – Dungeon Serenade 03-25-07  66:47
(download)

I’m a sucker for a good doo-wop show, and this is the real thing. Tony O has this old school nasal edge to his voice, a warm kinda crooked sound. It’s a quirky announcer vibe that goes perfect with all the boom-boom-pa-boom shoo-wah stuff.

Then right when I getting into that 1959 Buick feeling Tony kinda blew it by talking about his new friends on his MySpace page. But that’s okay. He’s on a real radio station in the 21st century playing some awesome aching harmonies from someone else’s youth. And not only is that all right with me, it’s also not WCBS-FM. If you know what I mean.

What you get with Tony O is lots of passion for the records. His playlists are well-crafted, and it’s not the standard oldies fare to be sure. I haven’t listened to the whole thing again, but I do remember an amazing old Miracles song in there somewhere. And this clip is over an hour as well. And if you’re like me, you might find that these airchecks stand up to repeated listening. Which (if you happen to like WXHD) is a good thing. Especially considering that won’t be streaming the station online anytime soon.

I recall Pirate Joe had all sorts of reasons why he was holding off on putting WHVW on the web. And you know, even though the cost to do so would be infinitesimal compared to running that megawatt sucking AM transmitter, and there’s probably quite a few people who don’t happen to within a tight radius of Poughkeepsie, New York who might wanna tune in to the hip spot now and then…

But hey, I’m not gonna argue with Pirate Joe. It can’t be easy keeping an eccentric little radio station on the air these days. And he’s doing a pretty damn good job. I do wish we could all hear it at home, live. But I have my recordings, and when I cruise up the Taconic Parkway, it’s always there waiting. And you have over four hours of WHVW. Right here. And don’t forget, there’s more WHVW archives back here.

Have fun. And thanks Joe! Keep up the good work.

Sin, Static & Creepy America

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

(download)

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

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

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

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

(download)

5755 – KAIJ – Texas, USA – Radio Liberty

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

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

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

5810 – EWTN Alabama

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

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

5810 – WHRI – World Harvest Radio

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

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

By the way, World Harvest Radio originates in Indiana.

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

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6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

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

6005 – NHK Japan

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

6020 – Radio China International

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

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

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

6030 – Radio Marti

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

6040 – Radio China International

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

6060 – Radio Habana Cuba

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

6085 – Family Radio

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

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

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

 

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 17

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Postage_1 Well, my Degen radio finally arrived from China this week. And I do like it. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a few samples of shortwave reception I snagged with it on Sunday, but first I’ll offer a few first impressions of the radio itself.

As I mentioned in my last DX post, I’ve long been eyeing this shortwave portable on the internet for over a year, and finally decided to go ahead and order one. A recent invention, the Degen 1103 is the same basic radio as the Kaito 1103 that’s marketed here in the states. After paying shipping and insurance from China via ebay, the Degen is still twenty bucks cheaper than the Kaito version. And I’m all for that.

After coming across so many fawning reviews online, I was already convinced that this radio was probably going to be a good performer. It is. That much I could tell from the moment I turned it on. Not only is it sensitive, but the digital tuning is as graceful as you’re going to find on a radio at this price. Of course, scanning the band isn’t quite as organic as using an analog tuner, but it’s damn close.

After pulling it out of the box in the early afternoon I tuned to medium wave and found a couple of fringe AM stations I hadn’t noticed before. And although I have picked up WPHT at 1210 in Philadelphia here in New York during the day before, the Degen also picked up WBZ in Boston at 1030 just past one in the afternoon. Impressive. Then later in the early evening, I found Kuwait and Ukraine coming in clean and strong on shortwave, along with plenty of other stations I didn’t bother to log.

De1103_display_1 Because propagation on AM and SW varies so much, if you’re going to dig into a section of the radio band to explore what’s out there, it’s good to be able to sample some bands first to find out where the action is. Unlike playing with an analog set, you can’t whip through the dial and pick out signals quite as quickly with the 1103. But even when I speed though the numbers at top speed I do get a sense that I’m hearing a viable sample of each 1 kHz stop along the way. Which is unlike my other digital portable (a Sangean ATS-505) where it takes a fraction of a second for each step to reveal itself. Zooming through a band at a rapid pace yields a bunch of useless silence. As reader Ralph noted on a earlier post, high end digital receivers have a much greater resolution (smaller “steps") and scanning is practically the same as using an analog rig. But for eighty (to a hundred) bucks this radio gets the job done.

The pseudo analog tuning display isn’t necessary, but it does give you a helpful visual roadmap of where you’re at. I do wish the numerical readout was a little larger. This is where the BCL-2000 is better in low-light or in the dark. The display is brighter and numbers are larger. Also the “jog dial” which you use to tune the DE1103 also serves a number of functions, most notably the volume control. It takes a minute to get used to, but I didn’t find it nearly as annoying as other reviewers did. As far as actual scanning, going through the dial can yield a mild chirp between steps if you’re passing a number of active frequencies. In general, scanning slowly solves this digital annoyance, but not completely.

E51103 I also should note that it seems the same basic radio with a big fat numerical readout instead of an extensive analog dial simulation is now available. It’s the Eton E5 (which was supposed to be released as the Degen 1106, but they sold the design to Eton). From what I’ve read, it’s the same basic receiver as the Degen 1103 with a more traditional shortwave radio layout and has more presets available. However, the E5 lists for around $150 and to me those features aren’t worth an extra seventy bucks.

Wqewdj_jazzyjenn As I’ve noted before, I live very close to a booming clear channel AM station, WQEW at 1560 kHz. On other radios I have here (especially the BCL-2000), nearby frequencies are wiped out by WQEW. With the 1103 I can now hear WWKB at 1520 in Buffalo and WCKY at 1530 in Cincinnati. Also the image of WQEW blasts in on 650 kHz on the BCL. With the Degen I haven’t been able to pull in WSM in Nashville there yet, but WQEW’s Radio Disney bullshit doesn’t haunt that frequency on the Degen. I also heard a listenable read of WLS at 890 in Chicago at night, which is a real feat considering the wide swath of bandwidth WCBS (at 880) grabs here in the city.

So, I look forward to taking this little unit away from the city and hearing what I can DX under better conditions. My apartment is an RF nightmare. I tried plugging in an external antenna (the radio comes with a LONG one) and was totally frustrated by how the just pulled in MORE noise. That night I also found out that the little battery charger for my digital camera blasts a nasty pulse on the 41 meter band.

De1103_1 Bottom line, I’m already recommending the Degen (or Kaito) 1103 to readers who might be thinking about purchasing a relatively inexpensive shortwave radio. From what I can tell, before now you couldn’t purchase a new radio with this kind of overall performance for near this price. The BCL radios are nice, and I do recommend them as well, but I have to admit that while I like some features (notably analog tuning with an easy to see digital display and an RF gain control) A LOT, I’m more enchanted by what the BCL radios could or should do rather than the actual experience of how it performs in real conditions. Let’s hope later models are an improvement.

While I picked up a some interesting stuff playing around with the Degen this weekend, I wasn’t able to record a dial scan I’d want to present here. Reception wasn’t what it was a day or two before and the weather here in the northeast has been really lousy. There was plenty of lightning out over the horizon playing havoc with the AM and shortwave bands. On Sunday night (Mother’s Day) there was no rain here, so a little after eight in the evening I sat on my front stoop flipping through the 41 meter band and caught a few broadcasts I thought I’d share. For the first time I picked up a couple of shortwave pirate broadcasters, which was almost exciting. At least for me.

Hopefully over the next couple weeks I’ll be able to offer a dial scan or two more representative of what the 1103 can really do. But for now, this post offers four radio samples which represent the DIY side of shortwave. Some (or all) of this programming probably originates from the homes of the broadcasters themselves. While much of the shortwave you’ll pick up in the states is major international stations and Christian U.S. goofballs, there is more to be heard.

Here’s the audio…

6925 – The Voice of Mike Gaukin  3:17

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Ssb_book This is an SSB (or sideband, broadcast). Again, I don’t want to get into too much technical radio talk, but sideband is different than typical amplitude modulation, or AM broadcasting. From what I understand, the signal lacks a “carrier” and is more “efficient in its use of electrical power and bandwidth” than AM. In other words, you get more bang for your buck on the transmitter end, with the signal having a greater reach with less power. It’s a favorite method of broadcasting for hams and radio pirates. And this is most certainly pirate programming.

While any shortwave can receive an SSB signal, but to be able to make any sense of it you need to have a radio with an SSB or BFO feature. When you tune one of those muffled and/or buzzy voices, switch on the SSB capability and “clarify” the station with a tuning knob until the voice starts to sound human. The Degen 1103 and my Panasonic RF-2200 both have this feature, the BCL radios do not. Without it you do miss some of what’s available on the dial.

Although I’ve heard a number of recordings of shortwave pirates this is the first one I’ve come across that I recognized was one (Of course, often I wasn’t able to access an SSB signal). Every shortwave pirate recording I’ve heard always sounds like crap as far as signal quality, and this one was no exception. It starts out with that “bound and gagged” sound of untreated SSB, then when I push the SSB button and tweak the wheel it quickly clears up.

It starts out with a juvenile Opie and Anthony phone prank, which I gather involves calls to (auto parts?) stores and repeating the word “buttplug” over and over again with a variety of intonations. This confuses and frustrates the store clerks on other end of the line, and well.. hilarity ensues. Oh, your sides will ache…

Fag_hater Anyway, then a male voices announces that he is “The Voice of Mike Gaukin” as well as “a gay faggot.” (Which is I gather must be the opposite of a straight faggot.) The there are references to “Kracker Radio” and another pirate group (I guess?) “The Bowling League.” And to add to the fun, the announcer has electronically mutated his voice, and this could fool you into thinking you haven’t correctly tuned into the sideband. I guess there’s all sorts of ways to have fun.

I don’t get capture much of this “program.” Just over a minute here. At 8:23 EDT (0023 UTC) it’s all over and the static takes over. So, who is Mike Gaukin and why is he investing his time and electricity to tell the world about his gay faggotry? Well, some internet searches bring up a number of references to the “Voice of Mike Gaukin” pirate broadcast. And from the time I’ve spent browsing around, it seems that Michael Gaukin is a real guy and “Kracker” of Kracker Radio doesn’t like him very much, and has an ongoing slander campaign going online and on the radio. Here’s an alleged rap sheet on Gaukin from Kracker’s site.

Or maybe there’s something totally different going on. I have no idea. It’s all a bit too teenage boy for my taste. But if you want to dig deeper into the Mike Gaukin mystery, you can start here or here.

6950 – Kracker Radio  4:01

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Pigbanner_2 Then a few quick nudges of the knob and I’ve found Mr. Kracker himself. This pirate broadcast is straight ahead AM and not sideband. Electric guitar with an effects pedal. Then an electronically tweaked voice which sounds suspiciously identical to the Voice of Mike Gaukin. Although it’s not easy to sort out the collage-ish interlude between songs, references to penises and marijuana are evident. Then it’s King Missile and “Detachable Penis,” which I cut off here when the storm static was eating up the signal.

I’ve read that this little piece of property on the 41 meter band is quite popular with shortwave pirates. Weekends (and perhaps holidays) are supposedly good times to look for them. I’m not totally sure if these two broadcasts are from the same person, or just related persons, but the content is the same junior-high wiener wagging fun.

But, isn’t it something? Young guys with some radio equipment more or less have access to the world airwaves and it’s all about their little dangling dachshunds and their favorite sphincter muscle. Sheesh. I thought the Christians were like broken records.

I’d guess both of these pirate broadcasts originate from somewhere in Ohio.

7240 – Southern Ham Operator  1:07

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Ham_radio_operator Again, this is SSB and you can clearly hear the process of tuning in a sideband signal. Ham (or amateur) radio is a great broadcasting tradition– usually guys in their gadget rooms filled with legal radio equipment (and licenses) who chat among themselves on specific frequencies, sometimes talking to fellow hams around the globe. Not all use sideband, but most do. The conversations are often a bit boring and from what I’ve heard there’s a lot of discussion about the trivial details and functions of their radio equipment, or just small talk about what’s going on around the house that day.

That said, hams also provide an important free-standing network of communication around the country and the world. It’s not all fooling around.

This clip is awful short. Just a good-bye really. And the accent? I think either Tennessee or the Carolinas. Of course, he could be broadcasting from anywhere, probably in the eastern U.S.

7415 – WBCQRadio NewYork International  19:31

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It’s WBCQ again, the most creatively programmed shortwave station in America. Yes, there are some scary jesusmongers and right-wing freaks on WBCQ too, but there’s also some entertaining talk and music programming for a change, especially on their 7415 kHz signal.

Johnny_1 This is Johnny Lightning’s “Radio NewYork International,” a Sunday Night talk and comedy show originating live from Brooklyn. I don’t know how he gets the audio up to the transmitter in Maine, but I imagine it’s via a phone line. Johnny takes calls and chats and rants and generally seems to have a great time every Sunday night.

The name of the show comes from the original Radio NewYork International, an offshore pirate station in the late 80′s (run by WBCQ head honcho Allan Weiner, Mr. Lightning and others) located on a ship off Long Island which the FCC shut down in 1988.

RNI is a solid four hours of homegrown radio, with lots of bits and jingles and some serious issues occasionally broached amid all the silliness. It’s a New York City radio broadcast to the world and it’s too bad more people in the city don’t even know it exists. It’s a freewheeling (and frequently manic) onslaught of opinion, stories and bad jokes, and like some of the best shows on WBCQ it’s as human and entertaining as American shortwave radio gets these days. In this sample you get almost twenty minutes.

Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 10

Monday, February 20th, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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01 – Sweden TodaySweden_2  4:09

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

02 – Voice Of Turkey  18:08

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

03 – Deutsche Welle-Inside Europe  25:06

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

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

 04 – Catholics & Protestants  2:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

 07 – WBCQ-More Timtron  14:28

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

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

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

 Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 9

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Bcl2000_1 My original intention was to get to the end of that medium wave band scan I’ve been featuring the last three bandscan posts, but I’ve changed my mind. I want to get back to talking about shortwave again. While AM DXing is fun, the shortwave bands are inherently more exotic. However, navigating these frequencies something does require something not everyone has these days– a shortwave radio. And just so you know, it’s not nearly as difficult or expensive as you might think. I just received a new tiny shortwave radio the other day that I had purchased on ebay for twenty six bucks. The next afternoon it was sitting on the table next to my computer offering a readable signal of All India Radio out of its little speaker. Here in Brooklyn, with the sun shining through the front windows– I was impressed. The subcontinent really is on the other side of the world.

As with other posts in this series featuring shortwave, I’ll be offering highlights of particular broadcasts, rather than contiguous band scans as I have with the AM posts. The main reason is that while I’ve recorded these listening sessions as band scans the same way, but there are so many foreign language stations, tedious Christians, unreadable signals and a wide variety of static and noise in between the English language programs that I can easily identify (and that you might find interesting). And besides all that, how much Christian propaganda can you handle?

Bcl200_guts So, I’ve been combing through the shortwave radio I recorded while on a weekend trip to upstate New York in September of 2004. And in the process I’ve excised a number of lo-fi radio nuggets for your listening pleasure. As I’ve mentioned before in these posts, late at night is not the best time to DX shortwave. While China, Russia, Cuba and a few other stations offer English broadcasts after midnight, most shortwave transmissions to the US in our native tongue can be heard from late afternoon until 10 or so Eastern Time. And during this trip I was able to squirrel away some hours during that part of the day to listen. Of course, if you wanna hear about the opinions of mythical Jesus and all his miracles, there’s a couple dozen stations here in the U.S. who offer that kind of programming on shortwave every hour of every day, in English and some other languages as well. They want your soul. (What were you going to do with it anyway?)

Tecsun_factory The radio I used to make these recordings was a Tecsun BCL-2000, otherwise know as the Grundig S350. While not perfect, it’s a great tool for scanning the bands. It’s sensitive, cute and offers something hard to find– analog tuning with a digital display. This is great for shortwave, because analog operation gives you a much better feel for what’s out there while the digital display gives you an accurate readout of where you actually are on the dial. I’d recommend it as a starter radio for anybody willing to spend 80 to 100 dollars to invest in a decent AM/shortwave receiver that’s easy to use.

Okay, and now to my friend’s front porch twenty miles outside of Albany back in 2004. It was the weekend of the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The porch was well furnished, and the batteries were fresh. Most of the reception I was digging into was from the broadcast bands that are the most lively at night– the 49 meter band (5.9-6.2 MHz), the 41 meter band (7.1-7.35 MHz) and possibly the 31 meter band (9.4-9.9 kHz).

Next week I’ll continue this radio excursion, but I hope to do some DXing in the near future and offer you some current shortwave reception again. I’ve recently purchased a couple of radios that I’m anxious to take for a ride, and perhaps I’ll post some SW unedited band explorations here too, just to offer up some flavor of what a jaunt across a shortwave broadcast band really sounds like– including static, foreign tongues, non-stop loony bible-beaters and everything else in between.

01 – The Voice of Russia – Moscow Mailbag  08:43

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Joe_adamov_1 As long as I’ve been alive, Joe Adamov has been the host of “Moscow Mailbag” on the English service of Radio Moscow, which is now called “The Voice of Russia.” Anybody who listened to the Soviet Union via shortwave from the U.S. over the years has heard Joe answer all sorts of listener’s questions about the goings on in the U.S.S.R. And although it seems a bit quaint these days to hear old Joe respond in detail to a listener’s question about the most popular breeds of dogs in Russia, you have to remember the realities of the cold war era that gave birth to this program. To Americans, much of everyday life behind the “iron curtain” was a big mystery, especially in the grey and repressive Soviet Union. In those days, the jovial Mr. Adamov offered curious listeners a peek behind the curtain that both informed and ultimately served as a propaganda tool of the Soviet government as well.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Adamov spoke openly on his program about what he could and couldn’t say during the Communist era, and his role as a friendly propagandist during that time. Before and after glasnost, Moscow Mailbag was always an entertaining listen, both for Adamov’s breezy warm style and the questions from listeners around the world– from the most mundane topics, to some serious political subject matter. While Moscow Mailbag continues on the Voice of Russia, Adamov is no longer around to give us his insights on Russian life. He passed away in 2005. However, archives of some of his broadcasts can be found on this webpage.

02 – WHRI (World Harvest Radio) – Radio Liberty  14:11

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Dr_stanley_monteith Stanley Monteith does a lot of radio– like five hours a day, five days a week. He’s retired physician, and his show covers some serious topics and some arguably kooky ones as well. With a good-natured yet righteous style, Monteith is more or less a right-wing Christian talk host. However, in the shortwave realm that can mean something much different than the lock-step Republican AM talk radio hosts who pollute the airwaves across America. Listen to Monteith talk some serious common sense with this caller about the idiocy and futility of the Iraq War.

While you’ve heard me speak in disgust regarding the mundane and dogmatic nature of Christian programming all over shortwave, that’s not to say that an avid Christian can’t be an enlightened and spiritually mature broadcaster. In this clip you’ll hear Monteith explain how he was a member of some Christian group who anointed Bush as the official Jesus candidate for the 2000 Presidential election. It’s heartening to hear that he and one other member of that group didn’t buy into Bush then, or his supposed Christianity. In general, it’s refreshing to discover a Christian talk host who doesn’t blindly accept authority and one who talks openly about the horror of war and our current government’s policies of death, destruction and despair. And I have to say I’ve never heard any proselytizing or threats of the lake of fire on Radio Liberty, Instead, in this clip you’lI hear plenty of insight and some important facts about this insane Iraq war.

03  – WWCR – Karen Mortimer  01:45

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Now, here’s some more typical Christian shortwave radio. The manic and rabid Ms. Mortimer is ready to convert the world. And martyrdom? Bring it on baby!

04 – (Unknown Station) Flag Worship  03:11

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Flag_2 Grab a Hostess apple pie, put your hand over your heart. This jingoistic rant on the American flag. Kind of makes you wanna wrap yourself in the red, white and blue and kill some foreigners somewhere. And what’s interesting about this broadcast, and other “patriotic” programming that emanates from Christian shortwave stations in this country is that the FCC considers all shortwave outlets here to be “international radio stations” and the FCC is very specific about the rules for programming on such a station. To be exact– “It should be noted that an international broadcasting station is intended for broadcasting to a foreign country and is not intended for broadcasting solely to the United States.” Look it up.

Kind of a strange rule, I know. But if some moron is going to be SO blatant about breaking the law, maybe somebody should turn him in.

05 – Radio Prague  03:40

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A Czech doctor had bet a bunch of money that George Bush was going to win the upcoming 2004 election. Maybe he has some friends at Diebold. This little clip features the end of the Radio Prague news and the beginning of a news magazine program. Nothing amazing, but fairly representative of the standard European shortwave broadcast you might hear in English– chatty, upbeat, and focused on regional issues and people.

06 – WBCQ – Radio Timtron Worldwide  08:49

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A while back, there was a comment left on one of these posts asking why doesn’t a station like WFMU start a shortwave service. Well, there’s about 245 reasons, but if there is any equivalent to WFMU on shortwave it would have to be WBCQ, every once in a while..and just a little bit.

I’ve talked about WBCQ here because it is (at least potentially) the most interesting shortwave radio station in America. They feature a wacky live talk show from Brooklyn, a program that features old Edison cylinders, reruns of old Jean Shepherd shows and a number of other strange and eccentric radio shows. They also feature a lot of crap. Why? Money.

While WBCQ has a few self-produced shows, just like the Christian shortwave stations they sell their broadcast time to pay their bills and perhaps make a small profit. For better or worse, most of the people who are interested in broadcasting on American shortwave are crazy Jesus people, or just plain crazy.

Timtron_2003_1 Radio Timtron Worldwide comes the closest to freeform radio than anything else I’ve heard on WBCQ. It’s nice to know that his program is reaching the jungles of Africa and South America and the frozen shores of Greenland, as well as other exotic locales like Florida and San Marino. I wish there was more programming like this on WBCQ. Go ahead and check the current schedule for all four of WBCQ’s transmitters here.

More of this collection of shortwave reception from September 2004 will be featured here in the next installment.

Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 5

Monday, January 16th, 2006

Rf2200_guts_1 This post features a few highlights from a few listening sessions from the second weekend in October of last year. I was holed up in an efficiency cottage south of Albany, and it was the last time I really had a few days to scan the bands. As I said before, when I get out of the city is when I try to listen to radio in a more meaningful fashion. For one, there’s more time without the interruptions and diversions of being home. But more importantly there’s less radio noise in lower population density areas which makes picking up distant stations more likely.

I’ve made a couple trips upstate since October, but each time I’ve stayed at a chain motel that seems to be impervious to radio waves. I assume under the concrete the damn thing was a steel building. I have actually featured radio I heard on those trips in this blog series, but if you must know the truth I recorded those listening sessions in a car sitting in the motel parking lot.

I know, I AM a geek. I kept envisioning a cop rolling up and wondering what I’m doing with a slightly exotic radio and a tape recorder out in a parking lot on a winter night. Probably receiving instructions from Al Qaeda…

Anyway, I didn’t really tune into anything especially amazing or unprecedented on that trip. Listening/recording sessions in years past have been more fruitful (and I hope to go through some of those tapes for future posts). But that weekend the noise level wasn’t so bad, and the dial was full of voices. And I heard some interesting and disgusting radio, a little bit of which I will share with you here.

Soundtronic Recently a reader left a comment that he had been given a shortwave for Christmas, and was “kind of disappointed,” remarking that even late at night most of what he was able to pick up was “Christian stuff or Spanish language stations.” And that kind of thing can be a real problem for somebody who is curious about shortwave radio and tries listening to it for the first time.

For one thing, a majority of what you’ll hear moving across the dial (besides static from gadgets and wiring) is either not in English, or is some Christian garbage you wish was in an unfamiliar language. That’s because shortwave in America is mostly Christian propaganda, AND most of the rest of the world uses shortwave for information and entertainment, and most of the world’s listeners aren’t native English speakers.

Shortwave_mystery Let’s face it, if you know another langauge, or several of them, you’re at real advantage listening to shortwave. But If you’re a pathetic unilingual American like myself, you’re probably going to search out broadcasts in English. Although now and then I stop twisting the turing knob for a bit when I hear some Asian, Latin or African music I like. When the music’s good, I’m not so concerned that I don’t know what hell they’re talking about. And while some of the major languages aren’t so hard to identify (or at least I think I have a good idea of the region of origin). Here in New York, you hear a lot of languages and a lot of accents. But sometimes when I’m listening to shortwave I’ll stop at and listen and realize I don’t have A CLUE of what language it is or where it might be spoken. The BBC itself broadcasts in over thirty languages.

But the other thing about shortwave is that LATE at night is not necessarily the best time to DX shortwave, or listen to English Broadcasts. AM can be great for DXing late at night, but shortwave is better in the early evening for a number of reasons. Generally, that’s when a lot of international broadcasters “beam” their English broadcasts toward North America. By then it’s getting dark in Europe and Africa, and it’s when they assume people would be home and listening– from the dinner hour to the “prime-time” television part of the evening. While not as many countries spend time and money catering to American audiences as in the past (They know most Americans DON’T listen), there are still a number of (typically state-run) stations around the world who do broadcast in English for a few minutes to a few hours everyday. And most aren’t going to go all the effort and have the show run here in the middle of the night.

If you’re new to shortwave radio, or are thinking about messing around with one, the best thing to do is to spend some time on the internet doing some research. Read the experiences of other listeners, read reviews of the radios, and possible check out some stations that stream their programing. Not only that, but you might want to check out a number of sites that feature lists of English broadcasts from around the world. You probably won’t be able to receive most of them, but you’ll have an idea when and where to look on the dial.

Rf2200 Or you can just scan the dial, like I often do. While a digital reciever is good for finding specific frequencies, it’s much easier to find busy sections of the bands with by wheeling through with an analog tuner. Many digital radios do have automated scanning, but don’t depend on that dig out far away signals, and they stop on RF noise just as much in the city.

So, here’s a few clips from that weekend in October. I was listening with one of my favorite radios, my Panasonic RF-2200. It’s from the late 70′s and it’s one of the best analog portables around. They regularly go for $200 or more on ebay. There’s a lot of ‘em out there, and it’s a workhorse that has amazing AM reception and great shortwave reception too.

Here’s a few clips that I found kind of sad. Sometimes a listening session ends up being more of an overview of what’s going on in the world, rather than a fishing trip you’ll brag about. And during this weekend, there were two disasters– an earthquake in Pakistan, and horrific mudslides in Guatamala. And it was just over a month since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. As Ken had mentioned in a recent post, if you throw in the Indian Ocean Tsunami from the end of the 2004, there was just a horror of natural disasters around the world within one year. And when things are bad around the world, the shortwave radio is still an important source for news, and perspectives on the news from countries and cultures around the world.

And speaking of disasters, shortwave is also a good way to hear a lot of good old fashioned American ignorance. Like in this first clip.

WBCQCreation Nation 10-09-05  13:09

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Intelligent_design This is a fairly new show on WBCQ, one of the few stations (I think there’s one other one) that ISN’T a Christian outfit. However, they have to pay the bills one way or another. While there’s some cool programs on WBCQ, sadly there’s also been plenty of ignorance, hate and stupidity broadcast from their Maine transmitter over the last few years. Sometimes American shortwave is like the worst open-mic night on Earth.

I didn’t make out the name of the host of “Creation Nation,” but it doesn’t seem that important. But you have to wonder what inspires this character do a whole show about how much he and the good lord really hate homos. And what is that accent? Philly? Sounds to me like a guy who might have made a wreck of his life and then "found" Jesus. Or maybe he’s just an extremely closeted self-hating kind of person. It wouldn’t be the first time.

God_hates_1 “Creation Nation” is where “intelligent minds meets intelligent design.” And how does that happen? Well, it’s simple. He tells you “what immorality is like, and how not to follow it.” In fact everything he says is simple. He’s a simple man. And hey if this guys nasal recitation of passages from Leviticus does inspire any homosexuals to turn away from their abominable misdirected lifestyle, all they have to do is say out loud: “Jesus I’m a sinner.. Forgive me, make me new again,” and crap like that and POOF that queer desire is gone forever. Christianity is SO easy.

And then, in a compassionate moment he asks his listeners to pray for the non-listeners, you know, the whole world. But he wants us to especially pray for the hurricane victims and the “old people who are going to freeze this winter” because they can’t afford heating oil. He doesn’t mention if the prayers will warm them up any, but maybe a few more will get into heaven or something.

And remember, this station is heard around the world. It’s SO sad that there are the types of Americans who’s words reach thousands of miles beyond our borders. Why? Well, time on WBCQ is quite affordable (cheap!) from what I’ve heard. Hey, if YOU want to put together some worldwide radio yourself, call up Allan Weiner! What the hell. Think about it. You could even make money. Change the world! The possibilities are endless. (I have no financial interest in WBCQ)

WHRI (WWL) United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans 10-08-05  39:01

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The reception here is a little noisy, but it’s the best I could get at the time. There was a bit of antenna adjusting going on.

Super_dome After Katrina, 18 Louisiana stations, and one shortwave station in South Carolina formed a temporary network to serve the region during a time of trouble and inform the region and the world what was going on after the disaster. (Based at WWL the big news/talk station in New Orleans, The United Broadcasters Of New Orleans ceased to exist November 4.) It was a unique response to a crisis, and highlights what real radio (as compared to satellite services and internet streaming) can still do better than any other form of broadcasting– provide real service to a region of the world.

I heard quite a bit of that weekend over shortwave, and here’s one segment of that. A lot of what I heard was talk hosts fielding calls from hurricane victims with questions about what to do, and callers telling their stories of personal loss. For example, a woman in this clip complains about how she doesn’t know what to do with the 2 cars, an SUV and a boat that washed up in her yard.

And there’s plenty of disaster public service announcments warning people about the dangers of mold and poisonous flood waters, and information about how they can be reunited with their house pets.

The hosts are in good cheer here for the most part, and their New Orleans accents are authentic and somehow reassuring. While New Orleans culture and spirit won’t be killed by all this, the city is crippled for many years and will NEVER be the same.

Af the very end I turn to an adjacent Catholic broadcast talking about some Catholic energy bubbling over at an Louisiana evacuation center after Katrina. Amen.

WPHT – Glenn Beck 10-08-05  10:17

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Beck_2 How I dislike Mr. Beck. I almost don’t even want to write about the guy because I don’t want to think about him that much.

Smarmy. That’s the best word I can think of. Smug, glib, and just in general somebody who thinks he’s far more intelligent than he really is. Not that he’s not good at what he does, up to a point. I just find him consistantly repulsive, and not a deep thinker. Thankfully, no stations in the NYC market carry his spew lately.

Glenn Beck is a national host these days, but ironically he launched his syndication gig after a tenure at WFLA in Tampa where he had replaced a much more thoughtful guy, Bob Lassiter.

This is creepy radio. Apparently, Beck had asked on the air for somebody who tortures for a living to call in and talk about it. I believe this clip starts pretty early in a call from “Mitch” (which he eventually says is a pseudonym) who claims to be an “intelligence officer” who has tortured people on behalf of the U.S. government for three decades.

Is he for real? I’m not sure. Could be an act, or worse. Might be telling the truth. But the matter of fact manner in which he discusses blowing out eardrums with a high pressure hose and drilling on live teeth is enough to make you depressed, if not ill. Whether it’s a put-on or not, "Mitch" is a convincing immoral asshole. A perfect fit for the Glenn Beck program.

Abu_cheerleaders_1Obviously titillated by the gruesome topic at hand, Beck tries not to giggle too much while making jokes and lobbing softball questions at Mitch to assist him in justifying his theoretically sickening career. Beck says he was put off by the miscreant behavior of U.S. soldiers and contractors at Abu Gharib. Not that all the torture was so bad, but he was offended by all that “kid stuff.” (Perhaps those pyramids of naked prisoners reminded him of his high school days or something.) According to Beck, if we’re going submit people to cruel and unusual punishment, we should get “pros” to do it. You don’t want some amateur blasting out eardrums incorrectly. Somebody might get hurt.

By the way, this was a Saturday late night re-broadcast of a Friday morning show (which was discussed on this page at Media Matters For America) broadcast on WPHT-AM in Philadelphia. Late at night there are actually very few right-wing shows on the air. Which is a relief. (And the world IS a better place since whiney and miserable Steve Malzberg lost his overnight gig on WABC.) However, a few stations replay daytime Republican propaganda talk shows overnight– because they’re too damn cheap to hire a real person to fill that slot.

That’s all for now. And hey, think about putting on your own shortwave radio show. The world needs you!

 Thanks for listening.

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