Category Archives: Radio History

Fred Jacobs on “Rekindling Our Fading Romance With AM Radio”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dennis Dura, who shares the following article which appeared in Jacob’s Media Strategies on Dec 31, 2018. I’ve pasted an excerpt below, but you’ll want to read the entire piece by clicking here:

Rekindling Our Fading Romance With AM Radio

I know I may sound like a relic from another era, but chances are if you’re a Baby Boomer (or gasp – even older), you were inspired by AM radio as a kid growing up whether it was in a big city or a small town.  If you’re a member of a younger generation, you may not even know that AM – or amplitude modulation – has a magic power.  At night when the clouds are just right, AM signals have the ability to “skip” across geography, unlike frequency modulation (FM) which is line of sight.  “Clear channel” stations had an even easier time being heard beyond their metro confines – often covering many states during the nighttime hours.

Many of us radio veterans remember those nights, lying in bed, where your trusty bedside AM clock radio pulled in signals from all over the U.S. As a boy in Detroit and not especially well-traveled, I learned how to pronounced Des Plaines (Des-planes) and Touhy (2E) by listening to Chicago radio stations like WBBM and WLS.  Tuning in KYW in Philly (which came in “like it was next door”), I learned how to spell the quirky town of Conshohocken from listening to Phillips Ford commercials.  It was from a jingle that got in your head (CON-SHO-HO-CKEN).  At least, it got in mine.

It didn’t matter if you lived in Dallas or Des Moines, or a small town in Delaware – you were able to pick up big AM radio stations from faraway.  And if you talk to today’s broadcasters on the other side of 50, many will tell you their careers were likely inspired by these booming, exciting blowtorches on AM radio that provided a soundtrack for our teens.

AM radio was where we first heard the Beatles, the Supremes, the Stones, Stevie Wonder, and even the Doors.  Big AM Top 40 stations of the day – KHJ, WABC, CKLW, WLS – played all these cool rock songs, right next to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Elvis, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and the Singing Nun.  And even though the fidelity of amplitude modulation is obviously technically inferior to that of FM, there was something very different and even romantic about hearing all those songs first on AM radio.[…]

Continue reading the full piece at Jacob’s Media Strategies.

Thanks for the tip, Dennis! I think this piece speaks to so many of us radio listeners–especially this one who prefers the “fidelity of amplitude modulation” over so many other mediums.

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Radio receiver innovations over the last century

(Source: Microwaves and RF)

A Selected History of Receiver Innovations Over the Last 100 Years

by Brad Brannon

This article, the first of a two-part series on receiver technology, looks at the genesis and early advances of this all-important area.

Many contributed to the early days of wireless, but it’s safe to say that Guglielmo Marconi ranks as one of the more prominent. While known for his wireless technology, many people are less familiar with the business he created around wireless technology at the turn of the 19th century. For about 20 years after the start of the 1900s, he built a critical business that launched the world of wireless toward what we have today.

His commercialized technology was not the most up-to-date.  However, it was good enough despite rapid technological changes because he figured out how to use the technology available to him to enable a new industry.

Marconi set out to deploy a worldwide network capable of sending and relaying messages wirelessly at a time when the world was in turmoil at the end of colonialism, mainly due to the wars and disasters that pockmarked the start of the 1900s, including the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April of 1912. The role that wireless played in both the rescue of survivors and the dissemination of the news of that accident reinforced the importance of this fledgling technology.

The key role that wireless technology could play wasn’t missed by either the public or the military, notably Joseph Daniels, who later became the secretary of the U.S. Navy. In the U.S. and elsewhere, leaders such as Daniels felt that the military should nationalize radio to ensure that they had access to it during wartime. It must be kept in mind that during this period, the only usable spectrum was below 200 kHz or so. At least for a while, things moved in this direction. After World War I, the government’s control of wireless weakened, but not before the formation of the government-sanctioned monopoly that created the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).1

The Early Radio Days

By our expectations, the radios of Marconi’s time were quite primitive. The transmitters employed spark-gap devices (only later did they employ mechanical alternators) to generate the RF. But on the receiving end, the systems were fully passive and consisted of an antenna, resonant LC tuner, and some sort of detector. These detectors will be covered shortly, but they were either mechanical, chemical, or organic.

Some of these systems employed a battery simply to bias them, but not to provide any circuit gain as we might recognize today. The output from these systems was supplied to some sort of headset to convert the signal to audio, which was always very weak and just a simple click or buzz at best.

Because these systems provided no gain on the receiving end, range was determined by the amount of transmitted power, the quality of the receiver, the experience of the operator to adjust it, and, of course, atmospheric conditions. What Marconi realized was that given a reasonably predictable range, a network of stations could be built to reliably communicate information across both continents and oceans. This included installations both on land and at sea.

Marconi set off to install his wireless stations across the globe and at sea, both on passenger ships and cargo ships.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at Microwaves and RF.

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“Crystals Go To War”: A 1943 film about the production of Signal Corps radio crystals

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Charlie (W4MEC), who shares this fascinating film which documents the production and calibration of crystals in 1943. I had no idea of the amount of labor and attention to detail this process required–an absolutely fascinating process:

Click here to view on YouTube.

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David Vaughan on Czech radio and the role of propaganda leading up to WWII

Czechoslovak Radio in the mid-1930s, photo: Czech Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Palmer (KC8RZM), who writes:

Was listening to Radio Prague yesterday evening, there was a very interesting item where author, David Vaughan, was interviewed and talked about his most recent book “Hear My Voice” a novel which deals with the lead-up to WWII and in which Czech Radio plays a part:

Click here to view on Amazon (affiliate link).

The play, on which the novel is based, was commissioned by Czech Radio and was awarded the Czech Book readers’ award for 2015. In the interview the importance of this then new technology called radio was discussed and its influence, for good or bad, in the world at large, an interesting parallel to today’s discussion on the role of the internet and social media. From the capsule bio on the book cover his background is in languages and radio (BBC and Czech Radio).

I’m sure his other book, Battle of the Airwaves: Radio and the 1938 Munich Crisis, will be of interest to shortwave listeners:

Click here to view on Amazon (affiliate link).

From the Amazon description:

“1938 was a turning point in the histories of Europe and the media. When Hitler annexed Austria and then turned his attention to Czechoslovakia, radio was at the heart of events. Battle for the Airwaves looks at the Munich crisis as it was played out on the radio stations of Czechoslovakia, Germany, Britain and the United States, and reveals just how central a role radio played in the run-up to the Munich Agreement and beyond. It is a story of propaganda and counter-propaganda, censorship and self-censorship. It is also a story of courage and innovation. Munich was a fateful step in the road to World War Two; it also marked the beginning of the age of the electronic media. Published in English and Czech in a single, illustrated, hardback volume, Battle for the Airwaves is accompanied by a CD recording of key British, Czechoslovak, German and American radio broadcasts from 1938.”

Anyway, just thought the above might be of interest to others at the SWLing Post. I’d like to learn more from him on the role of radio in those early days on the events leading up to WWII. I’m probably going to check out his novel.

Thank you so much for sharing this John! I received an Amazon gift card and have already put Hear My Voice in the cart. I look forward to reading it!

I missed the live broadcast, but did find Pavla Horáková’s interview with David Vaughan on the Czech Radio website. Here’s the introduction and audio:

Earlier this year the Czech Republic marked the 80th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, signed in September 1938 by the leaders of Germany, France, Great Britain, and Italy, resulting in the annexation of the Sudetenland by Nazi Germany. Radio Prague’s David Vaughan recently published a book in the UK titled “Hear My Voice”, most of which is set in Czechoslovakia in the months preceding the Munich agreement. Its narrator is an interpreter for the international press corps in Prague and he watches the events of 1938 unfold in Central Europe as the atmosphere is getting tenser ahead of the outbreak of the Second World War. Pavla Horáková spoke to David Vaughan and their conversation begins with a few paragraphs from the book.

Click here to download the MP3 audio of this interview.

Check out the full story and listen to the interview via Czech Radio/Radio Praha.

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75 years ago today: “Christmas Eve at the Front,” a ground-breaking global broadcast

How would Christmas Eve at the Front have sounded on a radio back in 1943?  Something like this…


Christmas Eve, 1943:  America’s third in WWII.

On this day, exactly three-quarters of a century ago, America tuned into a special live broadcast that would not only engage American listeners, but also every major network in the US at the time: CBS, NBC, and Mutual Broadcasting Company.  The simulcast program, “Christmas at the Home Front,” starred troop entertainment veterans Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, as well as numerous others including screen actor Lionel Barrymore–also well-known for his regular portrayal of the miserly Scrooge in NBC’s annual radio drama “A Christmas Carol”–and featured an address by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This broadcast also included live audio feeds from North Africa, Italy, New Guinea, Guadalcanal, New Caledonia, China, India, Panama, Alaska, Pearl Harbor and even Navy ships in undisclosed locations. Keep in mind, this was 1943. These audio feeds weren’t carried over the Internet or a satellite network, they were shortwave radio signals from remote sites–signals that were bounced off of the ionosphere and back to the studios where they were incorporated in a live radio show.  No doubt, this holiday special required months of planning to orchestrate and perhaps even a leap of faith to execute.

Being something of a WWII radio buff, I’ve listened to this recording a few times in the past. And after receiving Bill’s message about it recently, I listened again; the audio obviously came from a recording at NBC studios, very pristine considering the recording’s age and the number of times it’s likely been copied or changed formats, but also with demarcated track switches, not exactly as it would have sounded on the air at the time.

Radio broadcast with entertainer Bob Hope, 1943. Source: Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress

So I did what any self-respecting radio geek would do: I fed the recording into an AM transmitter to recreate the sound as it might have played on American radios of the time, and made an off-air recording of the entire broadcast.

Hopefully now, with the help of this recording, you may be able to imagine what families on Christmas Eve in 1943, huddled around their radios, might have experienced as they strove to feel a little closer to loved ones serving in the war, while enjoying a little light entertainment and absorbing the latest message from their president.

But it’s also meaningful to note that times have certainly changed since 1943.  Without a doubt, it’s often easy to be lulled into a nostalgic appreciation of that time, and former times generally, made all the rosier by the present knowledge that the outcome of the war was, in many respects, favorable to us.  But those who know history know the truth: that war is hard, that our struggles both here and abroad were real, and that people died–as many as 85 million.  When the drama was over, the fallen did not rise again to play in another film; they were gone, forever.  This is the grim shadow that lies beneath the warmth of entertainment broadcasts like this one.

Fortunately, our civilization continues, and will always view the war and the political circumstances surrounding it through the fading glass of advancing time and hear it through the crackle of increasing distance.  And fortunately, our then-enemies are now among our strongest allies.  We have a diverse and international audience here at the SWLing Post, so I hope this recording is recognized for what it is: simply a moment in entertainment history that the passing of time allows us to enjoy, during a war the likes of which we hope never again casts such a shadow over us.  One such was enough.

Now sit back, close your eyes, and set your time machine’s dial back to Christmas Eve, 1943…

Imagine you’ve just turned on the family console radio, the frequency dial gradually warming with its familiar glow, and have tuned to your local NBC station; soon, the voices of well-known entertainers begin to fill the parlor and the rest of the household, their tasks or play momentarily abandoned, quietly join you there to listen…

Click here to download this recording.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Hemphill, who reminded me of this show recently when he shared this excellent feature article from the American Legion website

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