Radio Waves: New Buzzer, Remembering Virginia Norwood, More AM in Cars, and Portland Church Pirate

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Paul, Frank Howell, NT, and Dan Finegan for the following tips:

Russia’s New Mystery Shortwave Station (Hackaday)

The Buzzer, also known as UVB-76 or UZB-76, has been a constant companion to anyone with a shortwave radio tuned to 4625 kHz. However, [Ringway Manchester] notes that there is now a second buzzer operating near in frequency to the original. Of course, like all mysterious stations, people try to track their origin. [Ringway] shows some older sites for the Buzzer and the current speculation on the current transmitter locations.

Of course, the real question is why? The buzzing isn’t quite nonstop. There are occasional voice messages. There are also jamming attempts, including one, apparently, by Pac Man.

Some people think the new buzzer is an image, but it doesn’t seem to be the same signal. The theory is that the buzzing is just to keep the frequency clear in case it is needed. However, we wonder if it isn’t something else. Compressed data would sound like noise.  Other theories are that the buzzing studies the ionosphere or that it is part of a doomsday system that would launch nuclear missiles. Given that the signal has broken down numerous times, this doesn’t seem likely. [Continue reading…]

Remembering Virginia Norwood, the ‘mother’ of NASA’s Landsat program (Engadget)

The pioneering inventor died on March 27th at the age of 96.

If you haven’t heard of Virginia Norwood, it’s about time you did. An aerospace pioneer whose career would have been historic even without its undercurrent of triumph over misogynistic discrimination, she invented the Landsat satellite program that monitors the Earth’s surface today. Norwood passed away on March 27th at the age of 96, as reported by NASA and The New York Times.

She achieved all this despite significant pushback from the male-dominated industry before and after her rise. Despite her obvious talent, numerous employers declined to hire her after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For example, Sikorsky Aircraft told her they would never pay her requested salary, equivalent to the lowest rank in the civil service. Another food lab she applied for asked her to promise not to get pregnant as a condition of her employment. (She withdrew her application.) Finally, the gun manufacturer Remington appreciated her “brilliant” ideas in an interview but told her they were hiring a man instead. [Continue reading…]

Can The Industry And Congress Keep AM Radio In The Dashboard? (Inside Radio)

Facing an existential moment in the 100-year history of the medium, AM broadcasters are banding together, calling on allies in Congress, and enlisting listener support to preserve their place in the automobile. The heads of 10 state broadcasting associations have formed a Dashboard Subcommittee within the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations (NASBA) to slow or stop the removal of AM radio from the dashboard. The two-week old group is working on multiple fronts including fact finding, education and advocacy.

“Our AM general managers and owners are extremely concerned about this issue,” says Jordan Walton, head of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association and a member of the Dashboard Subcommittee.

Among its first actions is gathering information from member stations. A survey sent out two weeks ago asks stations to rate their concern about the removal of AM radio from EV and gas-powered vehicles.

The plan is to use the results to inform the radio industry dialogue with the auto industry and Congress on the prickly subject. The subcommittee expects the survey results to reinforce the position of the nation’s 4,500+ AM stations that online streams and FM translators are not a sufficient substitute for AM radio.

Response has been swift. Within hours of sending the survey out, the subcommittee received more than 200 responses. That number exceeded 400 on Friday and completed surveys continue to roll in. [Continue reading…]

FCC Warns Portland Church To Shut Down Pirate FM Operating Under Its Steeple. (Inside Radio)

They may be finding God at the Eastside Free Methodist Church in Portland, OR but it is also where field agents from the Federal Communications Commission are facing a bedeviling problem: pirate radio.

The FCC says its Portland, OR-based agents tracked an unlicensed FM station operating on 90.5 FM to the church on 139th Avenue. It appears field agents did not come across anyone at the site, however, and that may be due in part to questions about whether the church is even open any longer. Some postings online say the Eastside Free Methodist Church has gone dark for good, raising questions about whether it is the church members – or someone else – that is using the space.

Nevertheless, under federal law because Eastside Free Methodist Church owns the building, it is potentially on the hook for enforcement action related to the pirate station. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is giving the property owner ten days to respond to the warnings with any evidence they may have, showing they are no longer permitting pirate radio broadcasting to occur on their property. The warning letter to the church also points out it could face a penance of more than $2.3 million in fines.

It is the second Oregon-targeted pirate action to be released by the FCC in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the FCC proposed an $80,000 fine against an alleged pirate operating in La Grande, OR. The FCC says Thomas Barnes was the man behind a pirate station operating on 100.5 FM since at least 2018. Under FCC rules, Barnes has until mid-April to decide if he wants to pay the penalty or file a request that it be cancelled or reduced. [Continue reading…]

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9 thoughts on “Radio Waves: New Buzzer, Remembering Virginia Norwood, More AM in Cars, and Portland Church Pirate

  1. Dave Mason

    Ya gotta ask yourself, who benefits from the lack of certain entertainment options in the dashboard? Follow that logic and you may find at least some of the reasons behind the potential dashboard changes. If a dashboard becomes all internet related, do you think the internet providers will benefit? The online streamers? They have every right (and probably exercise it) to lobby for the removal of broadcasters from your dash. The NAB, RAB, NBC, CBS are being squeezed out at least in some part by the financial benefit to other companies looking to raise their stake and revenue.

    Then, follow AM radio in itself. Last Saturday morning I got to hear a home improvement show (narrow interest), a couple of financial shows (narrow interest), a Baptist Preacher on what used to be the #1 talk station in its market, many samples of Hispanic music, syndicated sports talk (not play by play), and more religion. I’m not down on ANY of that. If the station is making money from it, great. But if I wanted general mass appeal entertainment, I couldn’t find it on AM, and I live close to a population center of more than 17 MILLION people. Sad that Rush Limbaugh’s time on Earth passed us by. The replacements don’t even come close. Rush’s appeal wasn’t the topic. He was doing fast-paced TOP 40 TALK, except in his waning days he seemed to stop having fun -and started seriously believing what he was saying.

    If AM continues to narrow cast, the devastation will continue. With millions of podcasts out there-I don’t need to hear an AM station telling me how to keep crows from eating my awning, how to invest the money (that I don’t have) into an annuity, or why the devil is in my soul. It’s all available “wherever I get my podcasts”. Mass appeal was what radio brought to the world, and to survive-it has to bring it back. It’s just one man’s opinion.

    1. Rich

      Dave, you are 100% correct. Try convincing them of that, though. I think these radio stations carry the programs they do now because they can not afford to man their stations 24/7 with announcers, like the old days.

  2. Hank

    Around 1992 Chrysler started putting Cummins Diesel engines in Dodge Ram pickup trucks. Many Hams and SWL listeners starting remarking how nice it was to not have RFI from spark plug wires. Diesel 18 wheel truck drivers already knew this. My father (a radar installation & repairman in the US Army) had earlier bought 240D and 300D Mercedes cars after hearing of them going +300,000 miles as Taxi cabs, but was also pleased with the lack of RFI on radios.

    Dad and his father had bought and built 1930s Motorola radio kits for cars. My grandfather was trained in 1918 in Morse Code and radio operation as a “Ballon Observer for Artillery Fire Direction”. Those Ballon Observers had a 90% death rate – no parachutes in those days. It was strange luck that the deadly 1917 to 1919 “Spanish Flu” epidemic delayed my Grandfather’s training completion at Camp Zachary Tailor in Louisville KY and World War I ended just was he was about to board a troop ship to Europe.

    In the 1920s my Grandfather read that a new-fangled “Voice Radio Station” had begun operation in Pittsburg PA as KDKA so he ordered a crystal set kit and built it. RFI was so low in those days that he was able to receive KDKA in Paintsville KY. I know that RFI became so bad that you could not hear KDKA in 1965 on a crystal set because I tried to – but I could hear local stations.

    Many older people get upset that they wake up during the night before they get 8 hours sleep. Sleep Specialists now know that this is actually natural and good – it is called First Sleep/Second Sleep and is actually a sign you are not sleep deprived.

    My Grandfather had this sleep pattern, and so do I. My Grandfather handled this by not turning on any bright lights ( dim red or green lights are OK) and listening to the radio – but not to any station – you should listen to A BORING PROGRAM to help you get back into your Second Sleep. My Grandfather’s opinion was that the most boring radio program was Shortwave Radio Albania – their announcers would drone on and on about the amazing success of the Communist run agricultural and industrial out put of their socialist “Paradise on Earth.” Within 45 minutes to 90 minutes it was becoming hard to keep your eyelids open.

    Sadly, SW Radio Albania is no more.
    Paradise on Earth lost, so to speak. 🙂

    Today I listen to long distance AM radio talk or music.

    I start with 740 Zoomer Radio oldies music or 650 WSM country oldies. Then I switch to “Red Eye Radio” from 820 WBAP, and then check MW propagation conditions by tuning to the other dozen or more AM radio station transmissions of various wattage power levels spread across the country that carry Red Eye Radio. Soon I feel the urge to begin Second Sleep phase.

  3. Rich

    I do not listen to AM broadcasts. I haven’t for over a decade. Why? Poor, narrow-band audio. Weak, fading signals. The main reason, though, is that AM radio programs are BORING and ANNOYING.

    Sure, AM signals travel great distances at night. The phenomena is well understood. I used to listen to GREAT programs back in the 1970’s. The Charlie Douglas Road Gang Show, transmitting with 50 kW from New Orleans, covered 32 states and was a truck driver’s favorite overnight show. Very good country music. I remember the Mexican “border-blasters.” I remember listening to overnight talk KMOX in St. Louis. At the time, KMOX did NOT broadcast syndicated programming; The hosts were live and local and you got a great sense for the City of St. Louis by just listening to the different viewpoints. That was a good thing.

    However, those days are over. Programming is syndicated and it stinks. What am I going to do? Tune to a distant station to listen to the same, lousy George Noory Show I can pick up from my local station, at the same time, but never would bother?

    So, farewell AM. Automation, syndication, consolidation and the march of technology condemned you. Your program directors also did their part, playing the same 40 terrible songs over and over, 24/7, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. They went out of their way to eliminate anything unique about their stations. Maybe it was just plain incompetence, or perhaps falling ad revenue.

    I will not shed a tear when the old AM broadcast service is shut down. It sounds terrible, compared to current technologies. Maybe the MF band can be used for some type of HD system in the future.

  4. Hank

    I support keeping AM available in automobiles, but I also think that every other channel on the AM band needs to address the RFI noise challenge by going to all digital HD, or even DRM like in India.

    I wish 840 in KY and 1090 in AR would go to all digital HD from midnight to sunrise. I know from an inside source that 840 gets nearly zip ad revenue over night, and suspect 1090 is similar. 840 WHAS has one of the best night time coverage of any USA AM station.

    Perhaps WSM would allow them to recast their country music stream over all digital HD from midnight to sunrise on either 840 or 1090 as an experiment. Those three stations have great legacy antenna farm setups. Maybe Zoomer Radio 740 would allow their oldies stream to be broadcast by an all digital HD Clear Channel station from Midnight to Sunrise as a DX experiment.

    As I write this it is just before sunrise and the audio of my Sony XDR S10HDiP radio hooked to a Selec-A-Tenna is cutting in and out because the Sony is trying to decode the all digital HD signal on 820 from Maryland 300 miles away.

    1. mangosman

      In the AM band Hybrid Digital occupies the pair of adjacent channels and the power is 0.1 % of the carrier. In all digital AM band which doesn’t use the adjacent channels still has the carrier with 0.5 % of the carrier. All other digital systems have no carrier.

  5. Harrison Pierce Reed III

    This conundrum is more complex than it might appear. I had a “Long Distance” Zenith A.M. radio in the dashboard of my 1946 Super DeLuxe Ford — and LONG DISTANCE, it surely was! — able to hear Chicago at midday in Saratoga Springs, New York (except in July and August). But trouble began for A.M. when they started using computers in cars: in deep-fringe reception, computer R.F.I. made listening inpossible. And the problem has grown worse with the rapid increase of computerised electronics in an automobile. I drive an 1988 Mercury Grand Marquis — and I can hear the “whine” in the A.M. radio on near-distant stations during the day: relentless attempts to ground-out the noise have failed. Another problem are the short stick antennae on modern cars and the rather poor radio-sensitivity on A.M. car radios, especially since the advent of transistors in vehicle receivers in the early 1960s. It’s been decades since you could carry the same station on a daytime trip for hundreds of miles — which was routine in the 1950s. But E.V.s present an impossible problem: when one passes near me on the highway, its extreme R.F.I. obliterates whatever I happen to be listening to on the A.M. side of my dashboard radio/cassette player. How can they include an A.M. radio in an E.V. when, in order ro hear any station, you must be within 1/4 mile of the A.M. transmitting-tower?

  6. John Brandt

    Regarding AM radio in new cars… It seems they are asking the wrong people for input. How about figuring out how many car owners actually listen to AM radio? I don’t think I’ve used it in more than 10 years.

    I am also old enough to remember that a radio was an option for new cars. Our 1951 did not have one and we were thrilled when Dad ordered the new 1960 Ford Fairlaine 500 with a radio. It was an option, had tubes and got a lot of use. By the late 1970s you could get AM/FM as an option but AM radio came standard in most cars. Since I bought my first new car, a 1979 Ford Fiesta off the lot, it only had an AM radio. A few years later I bought a kit and replaced the AM with and AM/ FM with cassette. The cassette tape player got most of the work.

    Do, to me, the answer is simple: Make the AM radio an option for new car buyers and make them pay for it!


  7. Rob W4ZNG

    Re the push to ditch AM receivers in cars: AM is the only over-the-horizon broadcast band in common use in the U.S. That matters a lot to us out in fly-over country. FM, along with various 5G and wifi options, are by their nature line-of-sight only. Why is this so difficult for car makers to understand? Have they all turned into flat Earthers?


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