Big Rig Tidings

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Ho ho and happy happy! It’s getting to be that time of year (if you know what I mean). While I don’t hate Christmas and all the accompanying festivities– the absurd shopping rituals, the ripe holiday cliches and all immature spirituality of the season have always been not just problematic, but almost tragic to me every year. Even after having a kid a few years ago it didn’t completely quell the queasy feelings of the season. The coming of the winter holidays still feels more like a saccharine onslaught every year rather than something… sublime (Okay, I kinda like the dead tree thing. And all the lights…) But what really gets my gut churning is ALL that old-fashioned Christmas music.

So, with this post I wrestle against my better judgment and go beyond my personal limits of good taste and present you– Christmas music. And before I say anything else– I am sorry. But I won’t apologize for great radio. And that’s what you always got when John Parker was bumping around in the dark.

One of the most popular posts here at the Radio Kitchen has been “Trucking Radio As It Used To Was,” which included a few hours of the great John Parker as the weekend host of the Road Gang on WWL. Just look at the comments on this post and feel the love. Not for me (of course), but for Mr. Parker. And that makes me happy. While getting a web obit on an obscure radio blog isn’t exactly a star on the walk of fame, it’s better than nothing. When I went to write the piece I was saddened (and almost shocked that) there was almost no web presence representing John Parker and his legacy of great overnight radio across America.

If you’re not familiar with John Parker or the Road Gang, let me briefly explain. From the 1970’s into the 1990’s or so, there were three or so all-night radio shows that ran on clear channel AM stations in the south, with programming that specifically catered to cross country truck drivers. And while advertising from obscure trucker gear and services made them exotic and fun for kooky night owls like me and others, what made these shows truly wonderful was the music– lots of classic country and western music. And plenty of songs about trucking life.

These days, what’s left of that trucking and country music radio legacy has been compressed into one XM (now Sirius-XM) satellite radio station, known as “Open Road.” But sadly, old John Parker didn’t make the move up to the new technology, and has since passed on. And if you want to read more, check out my original post on the man and his music (and especially the comments).

While I’ve planned to put together another post (or maybe more) of Parker’s airchecks, the other day I recalled that I probably still had these particular tapes at the bottom of a closet here at headquarters.– a couple of Road Gang programs hosted by Parker from the 1988 Christmas season. And now they’re yours too (If you want ‘em).

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-23-88 pt 1  47:14
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This first tape is actually not so painful, as far as holiday nausea potential. It’s still a couple days before Christmas, so the seasonal stuff is just part of the mix anyway. In fact there’s some deliciously weird stuff that I’d forgotten, like a Red Sovine holiday melodrama I haven’t heard in years. And lots of trucker-style corn (And I do mean corn).

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-23-88 pt 2  45:34
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However, tape number two is full pedal to the metal Christmas carol baby Jesus birthday from end to end. After all, it is Christmas Eve 1988. I think even I might have been a little less seasonally cynical way back then. Maybe.

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-25-88 pt 1  44:10
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So, if you like your holiday sounds maudlin and religious and soupy, you’re gonna have a good time with this hour and a half of the Road Gang. However, this Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday night, when Honest John offered his weekly music history lesson (AKA “Country Music The Way It Used To Was”) for the last two hours of the Road Gang. So the tunes may be hard for a Christmas curmudgeon such as myself to bear, but the second part of this aircheck does offer some the rarities, as well as Parker’s insights and historical perspective.

Unlike just about any other audio I might post here, when I encoded this deep Christmas aircheck I had to turn down the volume. Sorry. I couldn’t do it. But I hope you enjoy it, if you’ve got the stomach (or the spirit) for a big dose of xmas audio, you’ll probably have a good time.

WWL – The Road Gang w-John Parker 12-25-88 pt 2  46:49
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Meanwhile, I’m off to finish up some preparations. And to gather a little fortitude. I do wish you well, and hope you get and give all the jolly and joy and jingle that you can handle during these trying times. And thanks again to John Parker, for plenty of inspired overnight radio, and for sharing the love and lore of country music. Which reminds me, I have a New Years Eve tape of Parker on the Road Gang around here somewhere. When I get a chance, I’ll root though those boxes in the closet again soon and see if I can dig it up.

I do hope you have fun, however you interact with the solstice and the coming new year. And good luck to you (and yours)!

Trucking Radio, As It Used To Was

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Once you get the bug to DX the AM band, out of your expanded choice of stations you typically find yourself a regular listener to some far-flung station after the sun sets. When I was a kid in southeastern Michigan, I got hooked on WCFL in Chicago, specifically listening to Bob Dearborn night after night. He had this late-night feature “Long Gold" where he’d play the full album version of a song that would normally abbreviated on top 40 radio (or perhaps not played at all). Seems silly now, but hearing the full version of the Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun,” or “Sky Pilot” seemed pretty heavy back then. (Remember when “heavy” was a good thing?)

Anyway, my longest DX love affair with a far-off radio station came a few years later. While still in Michigan, I came across the “Road Gang” on WWL in New Orleans one night in the mid 70’s. And for the next twenty years or so, WWL was always a signal I’d seek out when I could get my nocturnal fingers on a tuning knob.

Booming up the Mississippi basin, WWL comes in like a local many nights in the Great Lakes region, around a thousand miles to the north of the transmitter. In my listening experience, WWL at 870kHz has been the most dependable long-distance DX on the AM band. Although the reception isn’t nearly as reliable or clear here in the northeast.

Certainly, the original appeal of picking up the Road Gang back then was just how exotic it was to a Midwestern kid in the suburbs. The host back then was a guy named Charlie Douglas, and the music was old shit-kickin’ country music. Better yet, I discovered a whole country sub-genretrucker music. Songs like “Girl on the Billboard” and “A Kiss and the Keys,” are still favorites here at the house.

Then there were national weather reports, given by state and interstate highway. And commercials for every aspect of the trucker lifestyle. There was a time travel appeal as well. The whole approach to radio was from an era before I was born. Each time check was tagged as “King Edward Cigar Time.”

Actually, The Road Gang kind of started a radio format– the all-night trucking show. Today there’s a number of them, and none nearly as good. Douglas hosted the program for 13 years, until moving into some big national gig in Nashville. And weekend host of the Road Gang, Dave Nemo, moved into Charlie’s weeknight spot. And despite the rambling chatter that got me this far into the post, I’ve finally gotten around to the subject at hand– The man who moved into Nemo’s weekend slot on the Road Gang: John Parker.

Now considered radio legends, Charlie Douglas and Mr. Nemo were fun to listen to at the helm of the Road Gang– homespun showmen for the working class. But for a bundle of reasons John Parker was absolutely my favorite host on the show. With a big rugged baritone and a grab-bag of cornball slang and 18-wheel idioms, Parker was a humble charismatic voice in the night. A true radio companion for truckers, night owls and country music lovers.

So, let’s get to the meat of the matter. Here’s a full ninety minutes or so of Parker on WWL (in two parts) from January of 1988. As I said, WWL in New Orleans has a heck of a signal into the Great Lakes Region. Hear for yourself. Radio waves traveling roughly 920 miles arrive amazingly intact upon arrival. One thing you get used to when spend much time listening to distant AM stations, is "fading." You find that even loud and clear signals sometimes slip away into near nothingness (or reveal other faint stations on the same frequency). But the gaps are usually brief, and like so many things with AM & SW listening, often unpredictable. But the fading in this reception is pretty forgiving, and and doesn’t happen all that often. I think I made this recording because the signal was just so damn strong that night.

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This aircheck is unscoped, meaning nothing was edited out, including the news and commercials. As you can hear from the “Interscan” weather reports, it was a cold snow flurry kind of night across America. And John himself was nursing a cold, but it hardly dampened his spirits. It’s Dave Nemo’s voice you hear on the truck stop commercials. I remember when I first set foot in the Slidell Union 76 trucks stop after hearing those ads from afar for so many years, I felt like I was on hollowed ground or something.

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Yes, all the the trucker trappings of the show were a lot of fun, both for the real working class authenticity, as well as the corny mythos of American Trucker. But it was all the the great music that kept me coming back to the Road Gang over the years. This one program is responsible for making me a lifelong country music fan. The music format of the Road Gang was deep into the history of C&W– pin-balling all night from honky-tonk to old-timey to western swing, bluegrass, Nashville, Outlaw… The whole 40 acres. Each night a unique rich patch of tunes.

Then late each Saturday night, Parker held court for two hours on the AM dial with one of the finest music programs I’ve ever heard on the AM dial– "Country Music The Way It Used To Was." No slouch in music history, Parker was assisted by a musicologist or two in putting the show together. And each week he conducted a freewheeling country and western seminar, featuring hits and rarities from the first 40 years of country recordings. What a great program this was. So often, a deep musicology driven radio show like is presented by some excitable geek host, or a dispassionate or unprofessional one. And they’re like shiny museum exhibits on FM. With Parker you get history, music and great radio, and his program is on the historic AM band, where the music was first heard.

So let me offer you a couple of 47 minute chunks of "Country Music The Way It Used To Was." This first aircheck comes over a year after the first two in this post. And in that time I had actually moved from Michigan to New Orleans. So instead of having to put a special radio in a special place at a special time to pick up WWL, it was now a loud and clear local. So these two episodes of "Country Music The Way It Used To Was" are crystal clear AM broadcasts. However these airchecks are slightly edited. When I made these recordings I edited out most of the commercials, as well as the weather and news.

The first selection comes from February 26, 1989. (You may note that Parker makes note of their new satellite connection/syndication with KRVN in Lexington, Nebraska. It was a way of opening up the west to the Road Gang (foreshadowing the show’s eventual national syndication).  Nice eclectic mix in this hour– some tasty Texas Playboys, wacky Lew Chlldre and a bit of very early Johnny Cash (Little Woolly Booger?).

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The next offering is from "Country Music The Way It Used To Was" broadcast August 13, 1989. Some solid from Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, who were also passengers on the fatal plane crash that snuffed out Patsy Cline’s life as well. But what always gets my attention when I hear this archive are the songs by Hank William’s wife, Audrey. Wow. I never knew she was talented that way.

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In ended up in Florida for the first half of the 1990’s, and despite the fact that WWL’s transmitter is a few hundred miles closer to Tampa, the signal doesn’t have nearly the oomph it does beaming toward the north of New Orleans. I rarely picked it up while I was there. When I moved to New York City in ’97 I totally lost track of the Road Gang until I got home internet a year or two later. Then when looking online I discovered the program itself had relocated to Nashville. And although it was still syndicated on WWL, Parker had fallen off the schedule

In the summer of 1999, I sent a few emails to some folks at WWL trying to find out what happened to Parker and whether he was still on the air somehow. When I finally did get a response, it wasn’t good news. “John Parker still works for us,” the woman wrote. “He’s the overnight board operator… on from 11pm to 5am.” Board operator? One of my favorite radio voices was reduced to pushing buttons and adjusting levels? Don’t get me wrong, I think radio engineering is a noble profession. But it was distressing to hear that a great radio talent was reduced to technical duties.

The email from WWL gave me the number to reach Parker at the controls and assured that if I called in the middle of the night “John might be inclined to pick up.” As much as John Parker was an inspiration, I wasn’t inclined to reach out as a fan on the phone. I mean, what would I say?: “I thought you were really great on the radio. What happened?”

One thing I did learn from my time in New Orleans is how hard it is to leave the Crescent City. Especially if it’s always been your home. If you’ve never been there you might not understand, but suffice to say New Orleans has a sustaining quailty for those who love its humid maternal grace. (Which made the Katrina fiasco all the more tragic.) So it’s only a guess, but tend to think Parker didn’t follow the show to Nashville because he wasn’t willing to run away from home.

Then again, the music-heavy trucking radio format on continent-covering AM stations (as created by Charlie Douglas and others in the 1970’s) is long gone anyway.  Beside’s the Road Gang on WWL, there were also semi-national overnight shows out of 50,000 watt AM giants WLW in Cincinatti and WBAP in Fort Worth. Now trucking radio on AM is like most of what you hear on the dial– syndicated talk radio, only instead of discussing politics or sports, its trucker talk. Which can be kinda fun, but it’s not like hearing rare Bill Monroe tracks at three in the morning.

But the funny thing about that triumvirate of trucking radio shows that used to rule the night, is that like some rock supergroup the big named hosts from each program joined forces a few years ago to invest their decades of radio into an truckin’ all the time national satelittle station. The "Truckin’ Bozo" from WLW and the "Midnight Cowboy" from WBAP have teamed up with Dave Nemo to host their own programs on the "Open Road" channel on XM Radio. Since I’ve never been near an XM radio, I’ve never heard "Open Road." And while I realize that time marches on, I still have an aversion to paying a fee to listen to radio.

A year or two ago I ran across a fellow traveler in the radio business, and in the course of our introductory conversation we discovered we had both worked in New Orleans, which somehow led to the topic of John Parker. I found out this man I just met had been a fellow board-op with John. Apparently, Parker never let on that he used to be one of the hosts of the Road Gang for many years. As I write this I don’t recall all the details of our conversation, what stuck with me is that although this guy really liked John Parker, in real life he wasn’t exactly the easy-going gentleman I heard on the radio. He noted that Parker could be moody and odd. Even an introvert. Or maybe he was just pissed off that since he couldn’t or wouldn’t move to Nashville with the Road Gang that he was reduced to babysitting knobs instead of talking to half of America? And the most significant fact gleaned from that conversation was that John Parker had actually stopped living not that long ago.

So, my little anecdote of radio glory ends on a sad note. Both John Parker and thoughtful overnight music programs like his on U.S. clear channel AM stations are really part of history now (OK, there’s still WSM…) DXing medium wave just isn’t as much fun. And personally, I guess I blew my chance to pick up the phone and thank him for all those nights of great music and radio fellowship.

So, if you never heard Parker on the Road Gang years ago, I humbly implore you to have a listen. And get a taste of what it was like to have Honest John Parker bumpin’ around in the dark, makin’ all that noise.

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 7

Monday, January 30th, 2006

Radio_shack_power_2 This post resumes where the last one left off, scanning the AM broadcast band in northern Michigan late at night August 23, 2001. I  recorded this at a campsite located on a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. Far from urban and residential radio interference and situated in the midst of a giant body of uninhabited water, it was a promising location for receiving distant stations.

For those who are interested in such things, my equipment was an adequate workman-like setup, using a Radio Shack ripoff of the GE SuperRadio and the Terk AM loop antenna. I’m not a fan of Radio Shack by the way. However, for many years their stores WERE practical dealers of relatively inexpensive radio gear– especially if you had the patience to wait until certain items went on sale. But as I mentioned in the last post, this has changed.

Located just 740 miles shy of the exact center of the continent, my picnic table was a good location geographically to scan AM broadcasts at night. And the time placement was significant too. This session of radio monitoring occurred at the late end of the summer news lull preceding the onslaught of the endless media storm of fear and terror that we still can’t get enough of.

On the hot seat that evening– Gary Condit. The spooky centrist Democrat from California suspected of murder had just faced the television scrutiny of Connie Chung that evening on ABC. You may recall, there was no issue more worthy of our attention at that time. You heard some of the talk radio discussion of that TV incident in the audio presented with the last post.

But before I get into this radio reception of that evening, I wanted to say something about the practice and appeal of DXing itself, and perhaps about the art of it as well.

Ge_superadio In writing about a relatively obscure hobby, like DXing, I guess I’m hoping these will primarily be read by people who would never do such a thing, but are still interested in lo-fi old fashioned mass media. But I’m trying to make sure I have an idea of what I’m talking about because these will also be read by folks who also search out distant radio stations (Many who probably know about DXing than I do). As I stated in my first post, I’m a casual DXer at best and it’s my amateur enthusiasm for the avocation that I hope to pass on to readers here, more than any claim of expertise or knowledge. And in writing about a little known and possibly dying craft, I’d hope that a few readers might expand their radio diet, and that others might renew their interest in fooling around this way.

A_happy_dxer Although I hinted about in an earlier post, I might as well be straight-out honest– DXing is an intimate act. It’s you and the radio. While it’s hard to imagine there aren’t people who DX “together,” I have yet to experience a significant journey through the frequencies with another engaged human being.

While there was a time when people sat around together transfixed to the radio listening to news, dramas and variety shows, but for decades radio has been reduced to a background application in social situations. If you want to accomplish some significant DXing you’re probably going to need to reserve some personal time to do any significant listening. Maybe you have friends who are very patient or are intrigued by a session of tuner adjustment and antenna manipulation AND all the strange noises that goes along with testing the limits of a receiver. But I don’t. And unless I happen to sign up for an outing with a DX club sometime soon, I don’t envision sharing this hobby in the future other than writing about it. That’s just the way it is. You may have noticed that the listening experiences I’ve posted here all generally begin after 11 p.m. In practice, I generally don’t get a chance to get to huddle around a receiver until after my better half and the little one hit the hay.

Super_909_1 In the end, what I’m saying that even if you have an interest in DXing, or have gone out and purchased yourself a respectable AM radio or shortwave set, unless you’re able to reserve some time to yourself in the evening to play with the radio (hopefully somewhat isolated from RF racket) you’re probably not going to have much luck with searching out distant radio stations. If you happen to be a loner without a TV, DXing might be a viable alternative to more traditional activities, like reading.

Also, like most geeky avocations, DXing is a decidedly male habit. Sure there’s exceptions. Some women read sci-fi and design software too. But you know what I mean. I saw a good illustration of this the other day. I was looking at radios on ebay, and saw an auction for a particular digital shortwave receiver I covet from time to time. According to the text, the guy had purchased this rather fancy portable for his wife, but she wasn’t crazy about having to "tune around" for the Shortwave stations. So now the radio is for sale, and the wife is much happier with her new subscription to satellite radio.  Me? I prefer to tune around. There’s no real adventure in punching up satellite stations.

Super_dxer_guy That said, there are many ways to DX. On shortwave, you can look at a schedule of broadcasts and specifically tune to the frequencies (many stations have multiple simultaneous transmissions), which is better suited to digital tuners. Or with AM you can hunt out distant stations you think you might be able to hear. Although I’ve had a some success DXing this way, unless you have a hot receiver and/or a great location you’re probably going to run into a lot of disappointment.

Or you can "tune around," and search out busy sections of the dial. I find analog tuning best for radio exploration of this kind. And obviously I like to record what happens. I consider every dial scan I glean this way to be a unique media archive, and strange as it may seem I listen to most of them a number of times. Like the slave of any bad habit, I’ve grown to appreciate the side-effects, the musicality of distant radio reception and the poetics of capturing swatches of broadcasting. Each recording is unique and an artifact of its time and place.

And speaking of the glory of DXing, I was honored to see that these posts referred by some DXers to Glenn Hauser (of World of Radio) and mentioned in his “DX Listening Digest.” Nice to know that a few serious DXer’s are actually reading these. However, Mr. Hauser bemoans that I made a couple mistakes on the log of my first AM DX post. Of course, he was right, and I made the corrections. However, there is quite a bit of outdated information on radio stations on the web, and it’s not hard to make a mistake when coming across an Dx_outpostunfamiliar station. Although Radio Locator is easier to use, I believe that this site has more accurate listings. In that spirit, I’m always open to corrections, tips, comments and suggestions via email. And comments are good too.

I’ll get back to shortwave listening (or SWL as practitioners like to say) in future posts, but for now I’m going to reconvene where I left off– back to the Michigan picnic table somewhere around midnight in August 2001. It was pre-Patriot Act America, and the headlines were full of Gary Condit. The last station heard in the previous post was clear channel WSB at 750 KHz in Atlanta.

Segment 2 – Northern Michigan Radio 08-23-01 (760 to 900 AM)  29:04

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This dial scan begins at the tail end of my reception of WSB, but quickly segues into…

760 – WJR Detroit, MI

Trucker show, country music. No ID, but I’m pretty sure about this one. Then things get more difficult…

770 to 830 – (Hmmmm…)

Like I said, I’m fairly loose about DXing and rarely log my listening. And trying to ID the next few frequencies that I received at an unfamiliar locale is baffling to me four years later. I never thought I’d be writing about these tapes.

Young_art_bell It’s just after one o’ clock in the morning, and Coast to Coast with Art Bell is just kicking in after the news. Coast to Coast is an overnight staple on hundreds of stations, so between one and five a.m. eastern time it pops up on the AM dial all over the place.

Just turning the dial slightly from WJR, there’s a weak signal bearing Art Bell, and I believe this is WABC in New York. But then another nudge of the dial (or rotation of the loop antenna) brings in a loud clear copy of a replay of an ancient “Fibber McGee & Molly” radio show. And no amount of internet detective work has provided an obvious candidate for this signal. There is a station at 770 in Calgary (CHQR) running 50,000 watts which does run Fibber McGee and Molly at that time, but because of the two American clear channel stations at that frequency they have a directional pattern at night, and it’s AWFUL far away (like 1400 miles) and it seems unlikely that it would come in this well.

Art_bell_studio_shot_1998_1 Anyway, this is where things get a little loose, because I’m moving back and forth on the dial for a minute, instead of moving in one direction. (Probably trying to get my bearings and testing out my loop antenna for the first time in a promising DX location). What you hear is some country music mixed with a LOT of Art Bell on different stations. In this section of the dial, his Coast to Coast program runs a few 50,000 watt stations in this part of the world– 770 (WABC), 800 (CKLW), 810 (WGY) and also at 840 (WHAS). I believe that I hit all of those here and eventually end up at WHAS coming in nicely. The country station is clear too, and seems to be at 830 KHz. This IS a country station at that frequency in Alberta, but…

Going either unfound or unidentified in this part of the dial, two other clear channel stations I would think would be quite readable– 780 (WBBM) in Chicago and 83 (WCCO) in Minneapolis.

Correction from 02-10-06: I think I figured out some of what was going on here. Although WBBM is an all news radio station, they do feature an hour of old time radio exactly at this time on weeknights. They call it "When Radio Was." That explains the Fibber McGee & Molly. Also, the country music in the middle of all the Art Bell is likely from CIGM in Sudbury, Ontario at 790 KHz.

840 – WHAS Louisville, KY

It’s Coast to Coast AM, with the creator of the program, Art Bell. You heard Bell’s hearty reading of his commercial load in the jumble before this. Now it’s on to the matter at hand– a new crop circle.

Crop_circle_081901 If you’re not familiar with Art Bell, though the nineties his overnight talk show went from being carried by a small network in the southwest to become the biggest program in its time slot in North America. At some point on, Bell went from being a maverick right wing talk host to creating a program specializing in topics supernatural, conspiratorial and unusual. And did I mention the aliens? It’s all there.

From his compound in the Nevada desert, Bell was doing a five hour show five nights a week and a three hour weekend program by the late 90’s. And then when you consider that he spends some of his off time chatting on his ham radio, the guy’s truly a compulsive broadcaster. And he’s had a erratic career in the meantime. Bell has “retired” from radio three times since 1998, and has been through a series of bad luck and tragedies over the years. The worst was the untimely death of his wife just a few weeks ago. Bell’s show is now owned by Clear Channel Communications and as the Coast to Coast franchise there’s been a number of other hosts. These days Bell just does the show on the weekends and George Noory is in charge during the week.

Here’s an extended clip that’s typical Art Bell. There’s breaking news in the paranormal world. A crop circle has appeared in England that looks like the “Face on Mars.” And the message? “Soon.” The guest is non-stop chatterbox and fringe science guru, Richard Hoagland.

850 – KOA Denver, CO

Talk radio giant in the west. I believe this still the furthest west AM band catch I’ve received in Michigan. It’s not a strong signal and there are few stations pulsing underneath, but it is 1100 miles away. I remember once I was in Alabama talking on the phone to a friend in California one night. We were both able to pick up KOA at the same time. That’s coverage.

It’s a small dramatic talk radio moment going into an ID and spot break. The topic? Mr. Condit and Ms. Levy. Talk radio was overloaded with Condit outrage that night. Unless you were following the crop circle situation.

Cjbc_tower 860 – CJBC Toronto, ON

Sounds it’s being broadcast from a tower down the road, but it’s coming from almost 300 miles away. I’ve heard a wide variety of music over the years on this French language CBC outlet– jazz, rock, classical, and some great ethnic stuff. Tonight it’s some lovely French pop.

870 – WWL New Orleans, LA

“The wind chill factor was probably about ninety below zero. The fuel in the fuel tank …looked like Vaseline.”

It’s the Road Gang trucker show with Dave Nemo, which I believe was the first all night trucking radio program. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Nemo has moved on to XM satellite radio and he’s sorely missed on the AM radio dial. When Nemo was playing non-stop classic country through the night and talkin’ truckdrivin’ this was the one of the best listens when driving in the dark across the eastern half of the U.S.

On this night Nemo is taking calls from aging truckers as they share harrowing tales of sub-zero trucking. I could listen to old geezers tell tales like this all night. And not a word about Condit.

870 or 880 – (Art Bell again)

This station is another mystery to me. I believe it’s at 870 KHz in a null from WWL (picked up by turning the antenna.) Again, it’s the ubiquitous Coast to Coast program here with Bell and Hoagland continuing the update on the mysterious crop circle.

Bell mentions his website, which was an extremely popular and huge site filled with information on strange topics. Lots of pictures. However, artbell.com is long gone now. Bell took it down when Clear Channel/Premiere officially took over the show. Now they have their own site. For a while, the original webmaster was selling CD-ROM’s of Art’s website online, and I’ve even seen the whole thing posted on Usenet.

880 – WCBS New York, NY

Traffic and weather on the 8’s. Construction on the LIE, Lincoln and Holland look great. 58 degrees. Top stores coming up. Something about a congressman and an intern. Tell your friends!

890 – WLS Chicago, IL

Condit_levy “Chandra and I never had a cross word.”

It’s ABC News, and a little Canadian news as I dip into CHML a couple of times. ABC features their sound bites from Connie Chung’s TV inquiry. And even the ABC news anchor seems angry at Condit. It’s bad enough that Bin Laden has gone missing all this time, but why hasn’t this man been brought to justice by now? Oh yeah, the other big story– A crazy Ukranian killer on the loose.

900 – CHML Hamilton, ON

Hah! The lead headline in Hamilton? The Ontario Teachers’ Federation elected Hamilton teacher Pearse Shannon as its 58th President. Gary Condit is four or five stories into this Canadian newscast. And then there’s Bubba O’Neal, with sports.

More of this next week.

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

(download)

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

(download)

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.)

 

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 1

Monday, December 5th, 2005

This is the first bandscanning post , inspired by my personal radio listening habits. However, you can relax. I won’t be offering up a “connoisseur’s” list of my favorite radio stations or bragging about my personal taste in music. At least, not exactly. Often I listen to radio as an explorer of sorts. and occasionally I record some of these aural ventures. In this post (and others that may follow) I’ll offer a taste of where I go and what I hear on these radio hikes, such as they are.

Sony_icf7600a_2 Other than the Internet and my occasional purchases of the New York Times, my main source of information & entertainment comes from radio. However, what makes my media intake more esoteric than most is that I exclusively listen to AM radio and shortwave broadcasts. I don’t watch television and almost never listen to the FM band. Generally, the TV content I do take in, I now gather from the Internet.

I suppose if I didn’t have all these albums, CD’s and cassettes laying around I might listen to FM more often, or even subscribe to (god forbid) satellite radio. For now, when I want music I listen to my own. When I turn on a radio I want something else. I want novelty, mystery, and most importantly something human. Every commercial music station on FM feels like it’s programmed by a committee of consultants. And even NPR sounds safe and tested these days. On AM and shortwave you're more likely to hear ad libs, idiosyncrasies, mistakes and raw conspiracy & rumor that isn’t always processed for pure potential profit. Oh sure, there ARE agendas and ulterior motives everywhere, probably just like where you work. Bottom line, most of U.S. FM radio is all about mindless listening and shameless profiteering, (Oh, and there's usually a few interesting non-profit stations at the end of the dial.) But AM and shortwave is about power, language, and cultural & ethnic identity. The “word,” whatever that’s worth these days still holds power on the traditional static-ridden bands that carry signals far distances. I like that.

Wlw_antenna_2That said, a large plurality, if not a majority, of AM radio and shortwave programming in America is pure propaganda– mostly Christian and/or pro-Republican. But like I said, it’s not just about commercials and "prayer offerings." It’s about the power of broadcasting “the word.” And even if the result is repulsive, at times it’s also fascinating. In the end, FM is “background” radio, and AM and shortwave is typically “foreground.” Either you listen, or you don’t hear it. You’re not just being entertained, you’re being engaged.

For the most part, I interact with the radio like normal people. At least when the sun is up. I tune in to specific stations and programs I like, listen, and go about my day. However, some evenings I turn on a radio to go exploring. Unlike FM (and TV for that matter), transmissions on the AM band (also known as “medium wave”) and the shortwave radio bands bounce off the upper layers of the atmosphere, and stations can be received from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. And as far as reception, the night time really is the right time.

Ionospherereflection_2While I’m not going to get into a lot of technobabble about things I barely understand myself (you can follow links I’m providing to learn more), I can explain the basic experience of listening to distant signals on medium and shortwave bands. For one thing, the ionosphere (the layers of the atmosphere the radio signals bounce off of) is a big strange and constantly changing thing. But it’s during the hours of darkness that the ionosphere has maximum reflectivity, and it’s the very best time to hear broadcasts from afar.

While there are a number of influences on what increases or decreases the reflectivity of radio waves on the ionosphere, the most significant factor is space weather. And the main force behind that is what’s happening on the sun, most specifically sunspots (and the 11-year sunspot cycle). Like I said, read up if you like, but the main affect a casual listener to these bands will notice is that the propagation of the broadcast stations varies quite a bit. In other words, on any given night you may find a station you’ve never heard before at that frequency, or you may not be able to find one you’ve found there before. It’s kind of a sport that way.

In fact, this “sport” has a name. It’s called DXing– the art of seeking and receiving far off broadcasts. While it’s not as popular as it once was, those who DX seriously spend A LOT of time and money on equipment to bag those distant transmissions. I’m way out of their league. I just play with a few portables when I get a chance and see what comes my way. If you want to get an idea of how serious DXing can really get, check out this guy’s log of AM stations he’s picked up over the years from San Diego.

The DXing hobby can get as exotic or quixotic as you can imagine. However anybody with a fairly sensitive AM radio can hear a fair number of “clear channel” AM stations broadcasting across the country. Traditionally, the FCC let these stations broadcast their full 50,000 (the maximum in the U.S. & Canada) of medium wave carrier on one frequency all to themselves. In the 80's, the FCC opened the rules up a bit and most clear channel stations now share their allotted frequency. Other stations at their point on the dial either use directional (and often lower power) broadcasting at night, or they're just far enough away to not interfere with the the multi-state coverage of the original clear channel outlet. There’s a list of these clear channel AM stations here and here. New York City, the nation’s largest radio market, also has more of these high power AM stations than any other city in the country (WFAN, WOR, WABC, WCBS, WBBR and WQEW).

Radio_disney_talentWhile you can hear a lot of stations on the AM dial on any given night in New York City, it is NOT an ideal locale for DXing. For one, there’s too many locals, especially those six clear channel stations which splatter into adjoining frequencies. For example, WCBS blasting at 880 Khtz makes it nearly impossible to hear WLS at 890 (another clear channel station in Chicago), or to be able to pull in another powerful station on the other side of the frequency (WWL New Orleans, LA at 870 AM).

I live so close to clear channel WQEW (now “Radio Disney”) that their inane programming occasionally comes in over the phone line. And if I have a bad cord coming out of my mixer goddamn Radio Disney weasels its garbage programming right into my sound system. Tuning across the AM & shortwave dial, “images” of mouse-eared WQEW show up all over the place. In general, it's torture.

Also, there's RF everywhere. What does that mean? Anywhere human beings setup camp, especially a city, there’s all sorts of infrastructure and gadgets broadcasting noise at various frequences, all the time. Ever notice that “FCC” sticker on your electronic toys? It's because on some level the thing broadcasts. Even wiring in general can make noise on your radio. And dimmer switches blast crackles and pops every which way. And your monitor, computer, printer and power supplies all emit static, buzzes and whines into the airwaves. You get the idea. And your neighbors have the same kind of stuff running too. It's radio spectrum pollution.

So if you’re going to try your luck with AM reception in the city, get away from your gadgets. Near a window is a good idea, and outside is even better. Often car radios have very good AM reception. Boomboxes often have sensitive radios, and most receivers with shortwave bands have decent AM reception too. In general (but not always), the older and bigger the radio the better. An don't forget that old tube radios can sound MUCH much better on the AM band. And unless you have a fancy digital radio, stay away from digital tuning. They're often less sensitive, and not nearly as much fun to tune. But a lot of radios can surprise you with their reception. Just try spinning slowly through the AM dial in the mid to late evening, and if you hear a number of faint stations in between the clear ones, and if you find spots where you hear 2 or 3 stations fading in on top of each other, you’ve got a sensitive receiver in your hands.

Oh, and one other important factor in tuning in distant AM and shortwave stations is the antenna itself. Just like tuning in FM, focusing in on problematic shortwave signals requires adjusting the antenna by pulling up the attached aerial and moving it around until the signal comes in the best. But AM is different. The antenna for that band is actually a ferrite bar inside the radio itself, usually right underneath the top of the unit. Adjusting the antenna for AM reception is accomplished by physically turning the radio around. Some DXing geeks actually utilize a lazy susan for this purpose. Now and then you can get a readable signal on two or even three stations at one frequency by moving the radio gradually around in a circle.

Soviet_radio_2As far as serious listening, it’s when I’m able to get out of the city that I really spend some time sampling the medium and short wave spectrum. I’ve specifically taken some camping vacations in the north woods under dark skies where the radio reception is clear and I get a sky full of stars as a bonus. It’s really a big change when I tune to a shortwave band and there’s near dead silence between stations. In the city, I usually have to hope the signal will overcome the inherent noise floor. Many of the weaker stations don’t make it over that hump.

During the Thanksgiving holiday I spent a couple of days in the Hudson Valley with relatives, and on Friday night I turned on the radio and noticed the reception on AM seemed pretty good. I picked up WWL in New Orleans more easily than usual. So later, after everyone was in bed I plugged in my headphones, hooked up a cassette deck and slowly scanned the AM dial to hear what was out there.

More suburban than rural, the area I was in is about halfway between Albany and New York City. The RF noise was tolerable. I brought one of my favorite radios, a small early 80's Sony 9 band analog portable (ICF-7600A). By the end of the 80's most of the better portable receivers went to digital tuning, which has many advantages, but when it comes to scanning the dial nothing beats the ability to finely tune signals with an analog knob. They don’t make analog portables like this anymore. This radio is a little heavy and feels like a finely tuned instrument in your hands, and can be found with some regularity on ebay for 25 to 70 bucks, depending on condition.

I started listening around midnight. But this recording is not completely in real time, as I stopped the tape a couple of times, and made a few edits. But the MP3 segment I’m posting here is a recording of the beginning of a journey through the AM dial that night, starting at the bottom at 530 kilohertz and working my way to 750 kilohertz. If I stay longer on a station I’m either trying to tune it in better or just identify it. Or maybe I found the broadcast interesting, or was grabbing a cold beer.

So, I’m not going to link the audio to every frequency, but if you stream this MP3 and follow along, it should all be pretty self-explanatory. You can also download it with the link provided.

Segment 1 – Hudson Valley AM Radio 11-25-05 (530 to 750 AM)  15:15

(download)

530 – Radio Vision Cristiana, Turks & Caicos (W.Indies)

I hear this all the time in the city, and I didn’t think it was from so far away until I looked it up. The signal itself may be coming from the Carribean, but the content is from the Bronx. It’s Jesus-type broadcasting, in Spanish. Sometimes the preaching on this station gets a bit hysterical and interesting. I suppose I might find it less intriguing if I actually understood Spanish.

540 – The News… from somewhere

I’m not sure what station this is, but some more distant sounding Spanish station is eating at it. I’d guess it might be WLIE out on Long Island, but they run directionally toward the ocean at very low power at night. A better guess might be KNOE in Monroe, Louisiana. I think I heard some reference to the Louisiana capitol, Baton Rouge, right before I turned the station.

550 – (Nothing Intelligible)

560 – (Nothing Intelligible)

570 – WMCA, NYC

A Christian call-in show, probably a rerun from daytime programming. It’s coming in poorly with a bad whine with some operatic singing from another station bleeding in. This used to be one of the biggest top 40 stations in the city years ago. Now it’s the home of Jesus and brokered programming. It’s now owned by the super conservative "family" style corporation,  Salem Communications, who also bought up WWDJ 970 AM in Hackensack, NJ.

580 – (Nothing Intelligible)

590 – WARM Scranton, PA

CBS News– A fatal ice skating accident in Wisconsin. Faint, but readable. Nice call-letters.

600 – (Probably) CICQ Montreal, QC

Some inspired classical music. Usually when you hear jazz, classical or something out of the pop music mainstream on AM radio at night, it’s probably coming from Canada.

(This is a correction. An outdated listing at Radio Locator said this station was CFCF, which hasn't been true since 1991.)

610 – Spanish Music

Sounds like 60's Spanish music, possibly Cuban. Don’t know where this is coming from. It could be WEXS in Puerto Rico, but I have no idea.

620 – WSNR, Jersey City, NJ

Yankees information. Barely coming in. Whatever.

630 – (Nothing Clear)

There’s something in English with old Spanish music on top of it. It might be the same song as on 610. Some Cuban stations broadcast the same network at nearby frequency intervals.

640 – WHLO Akron, OH

It’s CBS News and a story about a Cleveland area Sunni cleric who’s being deported because he’s suspected of terrorist ties. Broadcasting at only 500 watts from Ohio, as far as DXing goes this is a decent catch. The Kinks song is probably a bumper music lead-in to a talk show.

650 – WSM Nashville, TN

It’s heartening to hear George Jones on an AM station these days. Classic country used to be a mainstay of the band. Not anymore. WSM still broadcasts the Grand Old Opry every Saturday night, and it’s one of the last (if not the last) clear channel AM station that plays real country music. Four years ago they ALMOST switched to an all-sports format. It’s a legendary station that has so far kept their music heritage and bucked the trend turn over their 50,000 watts to knuckleheads talking about running backs or cheerleading Republican talking points. It’s a minor miracle.

660 – WFAN, NYC

Sounds like a Nets game.

670 – Radio Rebelde, Cuba

Cuban music coming in loud and clear from the Carribean. Unlike the states, Cuba doesn’t restrict their AM stations to 50,000 watts of power. Most likely there’s a lot more oomph blasting the salsa here. I remember when I worked at a small station in Louisiana and there was a Cuban station killing our signal when we went to low power at night. One day the FCC had us briefly shut down our transmitter so they could attempt to measure the power of the Cuban station. They estimated there were booming a half-million watts our way.

680 – (Probably) CFTR Toronto, ON

Weak signal with other stations bleeding in. An American is talking to somebody (w-British accent) about how the U.S. needs to establish a leadership role in stopping worldwide epidemics and poverty. Jeez. Freedom is on the march. You’d think that would be enough.

690 – CINF Montreal, QC

French language talk radio. And is “okay” the only word that is the same in every language?

This is a correction as well. Online, a number of online sources still list this station as CBF. When it was a CBC outlet, those call letters stood for "Canadian Broadcasting French."

700 – WLW Cincinnati, OH

It’s “America’s Trucking Network, with Steve Sommers.” Trucker shows have been a staple of late night AM radio since the 70's, but they used to play old country music, and give lots of traffic and trucker info. Now you have something like this, a HACK talk host in the tradition of Matt Drudge– chattering about hot-button non-issues which typically make fun of the underprivileged and underpowered. Here ol’ Steve is on his “soapbox” ridiculing “black Friday” shoppers who get up early to snag a sale item on the biggest shopping day of the year, and then ultimately stampede over kids and grannies to get thier booty. In his wisdom, he postulates that these shopping-crazed masses go through this absurd dance simply because they're just too lazy to get up early and get a real job. Oh. Now I understand.

While the "Black Friday" shoppers are kinda stupid, it’s a bit presuming to think they went shopping that morning BECAUSE they didn't have a good job. I had turned in to him before this and he was pointing out the (ever popular) evils of liberalism. Not only is this guy a wimp, but he’s obviously a radio amateur with a thin grating voice. This time slot on WLW used to be occupied by a guy who called himself the “Truckin’ Bozo.’ I think he was a bit of redneck too, but at least he was a professional who had more to say about truck driving than reading talking points about the evils of liberalism. He’s gone to XM, one of those satellite networks. Speaking of that, apparently Dave Nemo’s gone to XM as well. He did a wonderful trucking show for years that you could hear across the country on the AM band, featuring old country music and homespun humor. It's kinda sad. Now truckers without a satellite hookup are subject to blabbering hacks, like Steve Sommers.

710 – WOR, NYC

It’s Lionel, again taking on the bumper-sticker-playbook right wing morons, as he does so well. Notice the old Spanish music heavily intruding on this relatively nearby clear channel station. It’s probably the same “Radio Rebelde” I picked up at 670, with PLENTY of power. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get WOR to come in clearly.

720 – (Probably WGN Chicago, IL)

This usually comes in pretty good out this way. But tonight it was a muddle, with what seemed to be WGN easily overcome by at least two other stations.

730 – CKAC Montreal, QC

It’s a French talk show. Faint reception. I know. Where are my language skills?

740 – CHWO Toronto, ON

Also known as “AM 740.” It’s Dusty Springfield I believe, coming in HORRIBLY. I try valiantly to pull the signal together, but no go. I listen to this station a lot in the city, and it usually comes in quite strong. Since CHWO took over this legacy frequency from the CBC a few years ago, their format has been slowly morphing from a general big band/standards sound to more of a “music of your life”-middle-of-the-road oldies format. In the car, it’s a good stop on the dial, reminds me of what music on AM used to sound like, especially from the back seat of my parents car. They’ve got a fat strong signal that covers a huge swath of the U.S. & Canada. However, the propagation of AM varies quite a bit. And as you hear, sometimes the ionosphere doesn’t do the job and the trying to listen from a few hundred miles away just yields a static-ridden mess.

750 – WSB Atlanta, GA

Apparently snuffed out this night by a far off Spanish station. Like CHWO, WSB usually comes in easily after dark in New York City. In fact, WSB usually comes in strong up in the Hudson Valley too. But not every night…

Okay, that’s about a quarter of the AM dial. I’ll offer you up another chunk of this episode of broadcast listening next week, starting with WJR in Detroit.

Thanks for listening.

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