Star Wars sound designer is, indeed, a radio enthusiast

StarWars-LogoSWLing Post readers may remember a post I recently published in which I believed I’d identified a familiar shortwave time signal station in the Battle of Hoth scene from The Empire Strikes Back. If you haven’t read this post, feel free to do so and listen to the embedded video/audio clips.

Upon hearing this, I went so far as to muse that the Star Wars sound designer might be a radio listener. I asked our readers if anyone could confirm this–?

Well, we’ve got our answer!  I’m truly indebted to an SWLing Post reader who passed my post along to his friend, Ben, who could provide this definitive response:

“This is Ben Burtt, sound designer of the Star Wars films. A friend sent me a link to this blog thinking I would like to comment.

Ben and old recorders

Ben Burtt with his recording gear, circa 1980. The mike on the stand at Ben’s feet is one from his grandfather’s ham radio station in the 1950s, or possibly earlier.

“The answer is yes, I have always been a ham radio enthusiast.”

 

“My grandfather, Harold Burtt, operated W8CD out of his home in Columbus, Ohio 1930s-1960s. I was enthralled as a kid listening to the sounds on his receiver. I heard alien worlds and cosmic ‘voices.’

Harold Burtt, (Chairman of the Psychology Dept Ohio State) with his attic gear approximately 1935

Harold Burtt, W8CD. (Chairman of the Psychology Dept Ohio State) with his attic gear,  approximately 1935

“So not only did I record his radio, but continued to do so on the Star Wars series and Star Trek as well.

My memory of the Hoth transmission was that it was WWV but it could have been CHU since I was recording all that interested me on the dial.”

Terrific! Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to respond. As I said, you’ve certainly started off this radio enthusiast’s year on the right wavelength…no doubt some of our readers will agree.

Indeed, the powerful sonic experience of the Star Wars and Star Trek films has, in my estimation, helped shape many of us into the radio/sound enthusiasts we’ve become–myself certainly included. Thank you, Ben, for this!  You’ve sharpened my ear to a greater appreciation of sound, especially filmic sound, and your work in particular.    

For readers who are less familiar with Ben Burtt’s work, check out his Wikipedia page and IMDB profile–you’ll find he’s been the sound designer on numerous influential films including the recently released Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

A special thanks to Ben Burtt for sharing these wonderful photos and kindly giving me permission to use them here on the SWLing Post.  I must say, considering my love of radio in the thirties, I especially like that photo of Harold Burtt (W8CD) in his shack.

Time station CHU in The Empire Strikes Back

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Earlier today, I published a post noting that I thought I heard the time station WWV in a scene of The Empire Strikes Back.

SWLing Post reader, RadioGeek, quickly corrected me: that’s Canadian time station CHU‘s data pips I’m hearing, not circa-1980s WWV.  Cool!

Listen for yourself

Here’s the clip from The Empire Strikes Back, Battle of Hoth: listen at 25 seconds and at 40 seconds (the clip starts at 23 seconds):

Now listen to the recording of CHU I made only moments ago–note the tone and duration of the data pips:

No wonder I mixed up CHU and WWV; I’ve listened to both for propagation since I was a kid.

I wonder which of the Lucas Film sound engineer(s)/artist(s) chose CHU for this scene? Anyone know, by chance? Or can anyone find out?

No doubt, that sound designer is an SWL or ham radio operator. Perhaps this may also explain the SSB-esque radio dialog between fighter pilots throughout the Star Wars films:

Please comment!

The Empire Strikes Back: Is that WWV I hear?

Fullscreen capture 12202015 40448 AMWith all of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype going on, I remembered that, as a kid, I thought I heard WWV in a scene from The Empire Strikes Back.

I looked through some video clips of the movie online and discovered it again this morning: I heard the WWV-like sound in the Battle Of Hoth scene. [Update: RadioGeek suggests this may actually be CHU’s date pips.]

This video clip will start around the :23 second mark; start listening for the metronomic tick in the background around :25 seconds and then again at :40 seconds:

I may be mistaken, but I believe that sounds like 1980s era WWV. Has anyone else noticed this?

WWV History: Richard’s QSL cards

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Sign from the original WWV tranmitter site in Maryland, currently posted outside of the Fort Collins, Colorado transmitter building. (Photo: Thomas Witherspoon)

Commenting on our post about Myke’s new release of At The Tone, SWLing Post contributor Richard Langley writes:

I must have first heard WWV shortly after putting together the Knight-Kit Span Master I received for Christmas 1963. I still have my log books from my high school days, which include an entry for Radio Habana on 29 December 1963 for which I subsequently received a QSL card. But I guess I didn’t log all my receptions. The first entry for WWV is dated 3 June 1966 in the last year of WWV’s operation from Greenbelt, Maryland (on government land that subsequently became the site of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center).

WWV_QSL_frontWWV_QSL_back

I have a QSL card for the reception of the 5 MHz signal featuring a drawing (in pink) of the Jefferson Memorial [see above].

The next entry is dated 1 December 1966, the first day of WWV’s operation from Fort Collins, Colorado.

WWV_firstday_QSL_frontWWV_firstday_QSL_back

I have one of the special QSL cards issued for confirmation of first-day reception for my report on the 20 and 25 MHz signals [see above].

I’m sure I heard WWVH early on too but my first log entry is dated 29 March 1967. I never did QSL them.

Richard: Thanks so much for sharing these special QSL cards. Wow! I had never seen the first day card from WWV Fort Collins before–what a treasure you have there!

Updated release: “At The Tone: A Little History of NIST Radio Stations WWV & WWVH”

AtTheTone

Almost five years ago, I wrote about a unique collection of archived recordings called At The Tone: A Little History of NIST Radio Stations WWV & WWVH.

Producer Myke Dodge Weiskopf recently released a new and expanded edition of At The Tone which is now available for purchase and download.

Myke describes the update:

“The new edition significantly expands on the previous CD reissue from 2009. It incorporates a bunch of tapes sourced from the original announcer tracks made by Jane Barbe herself for WWVH, as well as a handful of vintage broadcast recordings previously left out of the set. I’ve also taken the opportunity to clean up and remaster the set overall, so it’s a much more cohesive listening experience as a body of work.”

Click here to purchase the new digital edition of At The Tone.

Please comment!

Myke is also giving away a free download of At The Tone to a lucky SWLing Post reader!

Simply comment on this post, noting the first time you heard WWV: note both the year and the model of receiver used.

For example, I would comment: “The year was 1976 and the receiver was an RCA Model 6K3 console radio.”

Myke will pick a winner from the comments next Wednesday (November 25th). If the winner has already purchased the expanded edition of At The Tone, Myke will reimburse the purchase. Good luck!

Shortwave Radio Recordings: WWV changes announcement format,1971

WWV's transmitter building in Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

WWV’s transmitter building in Fort Collins, Colorado (2014)

Shortwave Radio Audio Archive contributor, Brian D. Smith, recently contacted me; I was enthused when he described the recording he was sharing:

This recording captures the last 5 minutes of WWV’s old format (giving the time every 5 minutes) and the first 5 minutes of the new format (giving the time every 1 minute), which took place on July 1, 1971 UTC.

Apologies for the less-than-stellar audio quality, but I recorded this as a 15-year-old fledgling SWL with limited knowledge of audio recording techniques. So I simply placed the microphone from my cassette tape recorder next to the speaker on the receiver and hit the record button. The signal quality wasn’t the greatest, either — lots of QSB and QRM — but I still managed to get what I was going for.

The resulting recording has accompanied me everywhere since then, preserved only on its original cassette, until 2008, when I finally decided it was time to learn how to transfer it onto my hard drive, burn it onto a CD and stop having to rely on the integrity of 37-year-old audio tape.

Even as a teenager, I regarded the WWV changeover as historic, and felt I should attempt to record it for posterity. Consider yourself posterity!

Brian received this broadcast on 10 MHz care of a Hallicrafters S-108, with random length of wire attached to the back of the receiver serving as an antenna. Location was Franklin, Indiana.

As Brian mentions, the audio quality is a little rough, but this is still quite a treasure of a recording!

Click here to download as an MP3, or simply listen via the embedded player below:

Again, thanks so much for bringing us this recording, Brian! We look forward to any other archived recordings you–or any other readers–may have to share with us here at the Post.

Recording the 2015 Leap Second

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Yesterday, I posted a brief article about the leap second that occurred between 23:59:59 June 30, 2015 and 00:00:00 UTC July 01, 2015.

I decided to record the leap second on as many shortwave time station frequencies as possible. The only viable options for me–based on time of day and my reception location–were the WWV frequencies 10, 15, 20, and 25 MHz, and CHU frequencies 7,850 and 14,670 kHz.

I was able to record four different time station frequencies simultaneously on the TitanSDR Pro.

I was able to monitor four different time station frequencies simultaneously on the TitanSDR Pro. (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, HF propagation was very poor yesterday, so the higher WWV frequencies–20 and 25 MHz–were completely inaudible, as was CHU on 14,670 kHz. There were numerous thunderstorms in our area, so static crashes were prevalent.

Still, since this was a first attempt to record a “leap second,” I didn’t want to take any chances.  I had the Titan SDR Pro monitoring and recording two CHU and two WWV frequencies [screenshot], the Elad FDM-S2 recording WWV on 15 MHz [screenshot], and the WinRadio Excalibur on WWV’s 10 MHz frequency, as well as recording the whole 31 meter band spectrum [screenshot].

In the end, the strongest frequencies I captured were CHU on 7,850 kHz and WWV on 15,000 kHz. WWV on 10,000 kHz was much weaker than normal and the band was quite noisy–still, it’s readable, so I included this recording, too. Recordings follow…

Recordings

Photo I took in 2014 of the sign above WWV's primary 10 MHz transmitter.

The sign above WWV’s primary 10 MHz transmitter (2014).

All of the recordings start just before the announcement of 23:59 UTC.

WWV added the extra second and higher tone, then continued with their top of the hour announcements, including a note about leap second (which begins after the 00:04 announcement). CHU simply injects a one second silence before the long tone.

WWV on 15,000 kHz using the Elad FDM-S2:

CHU on 7,850 kHz using the TitanSDR Pro:

WWV on 10,000 kHz using the WinRadio Excalibur:

One interesting note about the 10 MHz WWV recording above: I believe I may be hearing BPM China in the background. I’m curious if anyone can confirm this because I don’t know BPM’s cadence/pattern well enough to ID it.

Other recordings…?

Did you record a shortwave time station as leap second happened? If so, please comment, and feel free to share a link to your recording!