Several readers have asked me to share my experiences at the conference, so I’ll note the conference highlights here.
I attended all three days of the conference. The first day (Thursday, November 2) was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center and focused on Cold War broadcasting. It goes almost without saying that this was absolutely fascinating. I learned a great deal. One of the day’s recurrent discussion themes, for example, focused on the keen awareness of those inside the Iron Curtain that they had been regularly subjected to propaganda. In other words, the Cold War somehow created very discerning news listeners savvy enough to separate fact from fiction quite skillfully––an ability that many fear may (unfortunately) be eroding among today’s media audiences.
That afternoon, SWLing Post reader, Phil Ewing, took me on an amazing tour of NPR’s new headquarters [thanks SO much, Phil!].
Later that afternoon at NPR, I attended an event celebrating NPR’s founding father and mission creator, Bill Siemering. Bill and I co-presented at the Winter SWL Fest in 2011, and I admire him greatly both as a journalist and as an individual; I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to be at this event held in his honor.
Friday and Saturday sessions were held at the Library of Congress and were equally riveting as they covered nearly every aspect of radio preservation.
Here’s our panel just a minute before the forum began.
I was on the Digital Curation panel along with Charles Hardy (West Chester University and National Council on Public History), Jonathan Hiam (New York Public Library), Matt Karush (George Mason University and Hearing the Americas), Elena Razlogova (Concordia University) and Mark Williams (Dartmouth College and Media Ecology Project).
The discussion was dynamic, and to my pleasure, our Radio Spectrum Archive was quite the hit. The sincere interest in this project was beyond encouraging. Indeed, after my presentation, I wasn’t able to address all of the questions from those in the audience because there were so many in line to speak to me about it; eventually the LOC had to re-arrange the room for a televised event, the 50th anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act.
But there’s more. And it’s a great ending to our story, which is really only a beginning: via Alex Stinson with the Wikimedia Foundation, I was introduced to the Internet Archive team last month, whom, to our profound delight, has wholeheartedly agreed to support the Radio Spectrum Archive by giving us nearly unlimited space to store our massive collection of spectrum files.
In a word? This conference was brilliant. There simply couldn’t have been a better outcome for the Radio Spectrum Archive and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Many thanks to the entire RPTF team, especially Director, Josh Shepperd, for putting this spectacular event together.
I’ve been invited to a couple other archive conferences as a result of the RPTF meeting, and I’ll give these some consideration. Regardless, I know this: I’ll make room in my schedule for the next RPTF conference. No way am I missing it!
And at the next conference I look forward to speaking to each one of those people with whom tight scheduling prevented my speaking at this one. After all, it’s this kind of enthusiasm that assures the Radio Spectrum Archive’s future.
Many thanks to my buddy, Bennett Kobb, who also gave me a tour of the brilliant LPFM station, WERA (96.7) in Arlington, VA–what an incredibly dynamic station and staff!
Ulysses E. Campbell (left) and Bennet Kobb (right) in the studios of WERA.
I’d also like to thank my friend Kim Elliott for generously hosting me during the multi-day event. Even modest accommodation in the DC area is very expensive–no doubt, Kim’s hospitality made the conference a reality for me. Thanks again, Kim!
I’m currently spending the better part of a week at Cape Lookout State Park on the Oregon coast, with a great view of the ocean through tall evergreen trees. This is one of my favorite parks in the Pacific Northwest, especially when DXing during the blustery winters from one of the nice cabins at Cape Lookout.
The view from the beach near my cabin; the turbulent waves were a precursor to the gale force winds at the park during the night of the 23rd!
Although I’m at the park for trans-Pacific medium wave DXing, I’m also comparing receivers, both SDRs and portables. This morning I sought out a few weak shortwave signals, pitting the Elad FDM-S2 SDR ($529 USD) against the AirSpy HF+ ($199 USD). I have a pair of the HF+ receivers to cover all of medium wave (as the FDM-S2 easily does). Many SWLing Post readers already know that the upstart HF+ trades bandwidth to gain high performance in order to keep the price reasonable.
My antenna used for the following recordings was a small “Flag” antenna using a Wellbrook Communications FLG100LN module and a 2K ohm variable potentiometer for termination. The design uses crossed tent poles in an “X” formation to support the wire loop. This design travels easily in a compact package; I have Dave Aichelman of Grants Pass, Oregon to thank for this very useful “tent pole loop” implementation of the Wellbrook FLG100LN.
The Wellbrook-based antenna functions superbly, and its low-noise design helps hold down QRM from the nearby cabins (which unfortunately have been “upgraded” recently with noisy cold fluorescent [CFL] light bulbs). The area around the Cape Lookout cabins used to be superbly low noise and suitable for radio listening, but now it is more of a challenge than before. The Wellbrook FLG100LN is perfect for the situation though; Wellbrook ALA1530LN Pro and ALA1530S+ 1-meter loop antennas work commendably at the park too.
The Wellbrook FLG100LN module with a home brew RFI choke in-line
A 2K ohm variable potentiometer is protected from the elements in a small plastic bag. The “pot” is adjusted for the best nulling of medium wave stations off the back side of the antenna’s reception pattern.
The “tent pole loop” antenna is strapped to a fence railing with ultra-strong Gorilla Tape to keep the 7-ft. square loop vertical.
On with the recordings…
For the FDM-S2 and HF+ comparisons I used the SDR-Console V3 software. Every parameter was identical for the receivers–sampling bandwidth, filter bandwidth, AGC, mode and so on.
Take a critical listen to the weak signals recorded with the SDR receivers, identified as only “Radio A” and “Radio B”.A link to a poll is at the end of this article;please indicate which recording of each pair has the most intelligible audio in your opinion, and submit your choices when you’ve made up your mind on each audio clip. After a week or so I’ll post the results of the voting, and identify the receivers.
9.615 MHz, LSB, Radio A
9.615 MHz, LSB, Radio B (note: the same male announcer heard in clip “A” begins at 00:14 in this “B” clip)
9.730 MHz, USB, Radio A
9.730 MHz, USB, Radio B
7.230 MHz, S-AM, Radio A
7.230 MHz, S-AM, Radio B
9.860 MHz, S-AM, Radio A
9.860 MHz, S-AM, Radio B
Note on 7.230 MHz recording: this was an interesting frequency, as the signal was tightly surrounded by a very strong local 40m ham radio LSB station as well as a strong China Radio International signal. There were other strong amateur and broadcast stations within 30-50 kHz of 7.230 MHz, also. This A-B test more than the others may indicate receiver performance in a strong RF environment on a crowded band.
Ready for the poll? Register your votes at the Google Docs form below:
In a week to 10 days I’ll post the results in another article. NOTE: I haven’t provided a “both sound the same” choice in the poll to encourage you to ‘dig deep’ into the audio and listen critically–to find something that stands out in one clip versus the other.
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.
Recently, I started posting Colin’s recordings on a schedule so that each recording is being published exactly 40 years from the original broadcast date. Check out the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive each day (or subscribe via iTunes) to listen to the recordings.
Below, I’ve embedded the recording from New Year’s Day 1978 where we learned that Yuri Romanenko and Georgi Grechko toasted the New Year with fruit juice (for obvious reasons, champagne was not allowed on the station!).
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), who notes that the excellent website, Atlas Obscura, recently featured The Shipping Forecast:
Why a Maritime Forecast Is So Beloved in the United Kingdom
For the penultimate song on their 1994 album Parklife, Blur chose the swirling, meditative epic, “This Is a Low.” The song envisions a five-minute trip around the British Isles as an area of low pressure hits.
“Up the Tyne, Forth, and Cromarty,” sings the lead singer Damon Albarn, “there’s a low in the high Forties.” The song’s litany of playful-sounding place names, including the improbable “Biscay” and “Dogger,” may seem obscure to listeners abroad, but to a British audience, they resonate.
The song’s lyrics were inspired by the Shipping Forecast, a weather report that is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Sailors working around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, recipients of the wrath of the North Atlantic and North Sea, are the ostensible beneficiaries of the forecast.
But, for listeners who tune in while tucked in bed rather than sailing the high seas, the reassuring sound—a simple, steady listing of conditions in the seas around the British Isles, broken down into 31 “sea areas,” most of which are named after nearby geographical features—is something more akin to the beating pulse of the United Kingdom, as familiar as the national anthem or the solemn chimes of Big Ben.[…]
When I lived in the UK, I would often fall asleep and/or wake up to the Shipping Forecast. Here in the States, I can listen to the forecast live via the U Twente WebSDR, but I rarely remember to do so.
And, of course, I can navigate to the Radio 4 website and stream current and past forecasts on demand, but I find the audio a little too clean and full fidelity. I prefer listening to my maritime poetry via Amplitude Modulation (AM)!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who shares the following guest post:
Late Night Pre-Christmas Medium Wave Scan, NYC 2017
I haven’t recorded a proper scan of the AM dial in New York City for a while, so I took a shot at it a week before Christmas, starting around three A.M. Monday morning, December 18.
I asked Thomas if his readers might be interested in the audio from an AM scan here and some annotations, kind of like I used to do on my Radio Kitchen blog not so long ago. When I scan the dial I often start at the top of the AM dial and work my way up, but sometime it’s fun to do it the other way around and begin with more low power small stations where the fare is a little more exotic than the typical talk and news formats you hear from regional and powerful clear channel transmitters up the dial.
I have a number of radios that would really be better candidates to do this sort of thing, but since I’m kind of between places right now and most of my radios are in a storage unit somewhere, I’m using the Tecsun PL-880 I have with me. And typically I’d do this with a loop antenna up next to the radio, but they’re in storage too. So it’s just the stock ferrite antenna inside the radio doing all the work here. There’s some of the typical urban RF noise in the mix, but it’s not all that bad. Then there’s the awful splatter of digital IBOC to plow through. Not fun to listen to, and some stations you might otherwise find are masked by hash.
If you don’t listen to AM this late at night (or this early in the morning), it’s really not a great time to hear live programming. A lot of talk shows from daylight hours are rerun at this time, and the few music stations you might find are often running music automation with no live DJs. But a few talk local talk shows in big cities are live, and syndicated ones like Coast to Coast or Red Eye Radio are broadcast live overnight on quite a number of stations.
Instead of trying to do a lot of DX digging and pull in the really hard to hear stuff, I’m not equipped for that right now so I just plow through looking for what I can find without too much trouble. As I said, I didn’t have another antenna to assist me, but I duly rotated the radio and adjusted the bandwidth when appropriate. If you’re keeping score at home I do at least pause on every viable MW frequency, even if there’s nothing there.
I wouldn’t say it’s a typical late night New York medium overview of the band, as a few common finds on the dial were missing, and didn’t find many of the smaller Canadian locals I’ve heard on other nights. The one difference is that for years I’ve been listening from my former home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. For now I’m down in Bay Ridge, at the bottom southwest corner of Brooklyn, and a few things are different. Like the very first station I come across.
1710 kHz – This scan begins with an oddity, WQFG689 a “traveler’s information station” broadcasting just a notch above the x-band, but a spot on the dial that is still included on contemporary AM radios. According to Wikipedia it’s the only legit station in America broadcasting on 1710. It’s owned by Hudson County in New Jersey broadcasting on a handful of ten watt transmitters. I’m assuming this reception might be coming from Jersey City, which is across the water not far from here. A few years ago one of the Hasidic communities in Brooklyn had a lo-fi pirate station at this frequency, but I haven’t heard it there in a long time. And as WQFG689 sits in a very lonely place on the dial, this station is a popular DX target. Apparently at this hour they were experiencing “technical difficulties.”
1690 kHz – Some contemporary R&B style pop song with a male singer. It’s an English language performance however (is it Spanish?). I’m not sure what this might be, but from looking around on the web it may be CHTO, a multicultural station in Toronto, Ontario.
1650 kHz – A weak reception of a talk radio show. Some discussion of the desires of Harvey Weinstein and other matters. Perhaps this is WHKT in Portsmouth, Virginia.
1630 kHz – At this spot on the dial I receive an image of WINS (1010kHz) as well as some station broadcasting the unavoidable Brother Stair. Don’t know exactly what is going on there, but the PL-880 is known to toss in some stray images on the dial in dense radio markets like New York.
1600 kHz – Some spirted South Asian pop music. Bollywood stuff I suppose. This would be WWRL here in New York, broadcasting from Secaucus, New Jersey.
1570 kHz – I believe this is the Eagles singing about Christmas. I have no idea what station this might be. WFLR in Dundee, New York is a guess.
1560 kHz – A little bit of Bible from Family Radio – still on New York City radio, but not on the FM dial anymore. Otherwise known as WFME here in New York. Armed with fifty-thousand watts, their signal has quite a reach. I hear the ghost of Harold Camping on here from time to time.
1530 kHz – Speaking of ghosts, it’s Ol’ Brother Stair buying some time on WJDM in Elizabeth, New Jersey I believe. Is he in prison yet?
1520 kHz – Sports talk from WWKB in Buffalo, New York.
1500 kHz – A discussion of Christmas treats on WTOP in Washington, D.C.
1480 kHz – Seasonal mischief in Chinese from WZRC, a Cantonese station here in New York.
1460 kHz – Some distant choral or Christmas music from somewhere.
1430 kHz – Casual talk of God’s happiness plan from WNSW in Newark, New Jersey. Not to judge, but Catholic talk radio is just more civilized than most Protestant talk radio. A little more breezy than the fire and brimstone stuff. They always sound like their shirts are ironed. Carrying the Catholic radio network “Relevant Radio” is the latest format at this frequency in the city. Before that the “Voice of Russia” was broadcast here.
1380 kHz – More Chinese talk. This time it’s from another multicultural station – WKDM here in New York City.
1350 kHz – A poor reception of late night talk. I believe it’s “Red Eye Radio.” I really don’t know where this is coming from.
1310 kHz – A female host on a talk radio program. Mediocre reception from another unknown AM station.
1300 kHz – Again, a female conversation here as well, but this time the topic is spectator sports of some kind. I’m thinking this is the ESPN affiliate WAVZ in New Haven, Connecticut.
1280 kHz – A medical case study in Spanish and English from WADO, here in New York. This is a Spanish news/talk station owned by Univision.
1250 kHz – It’s WMTR in Morristown, New Jersey, which is essentially the only true oldies station that reaches New York City. During the day it’s not a rock solid signal in New York, but anybody who knows how to fiddle with a decent AM radio can pick it up. At night, I had a hard time getting a good read on WMTR when I lived up at the top of Brooklyn, but down here in Bay Ridge at the South Brooklyn waterfront it’s pretty solid as you can hear. Starting with “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Sugar, Sugar” I let it roll for a few minutes. Not many radio stations play a “classic oldies” format these days, or if they do it might just be the torture of a super tight 300 song playlist. While WMTR can’t top the huge music library of WLNG out at the end of Long Island, they rotate a respectable mix of the old hits. There’s a rather interesting Wikipedia entry for WMTR, where you can read about their experimentations with AM Stereo and how they’ve tweaked their oldies rotation over the last few years, partly in response to WCBS-FM in New York moving away from oldies into a morass of format noodling.
1210 kHz – WHPT in Philadelphia playing the conspiracy/paranormal Coast to Coast program, the most popular syndicated overnight radio show in North America. It’s George Knapp hosting, but during the week it’s George Noory. The original host and creator of the program, Art Bell is long gone after quitting radio about five times. After one A.M. or so, moving across the AM dial means you’ll come across Coast to Coast many times. Tonight the topic is Area 51, which is hardly surprising.
1190 kHz – Some contemporary R&B flavored Christian music from WLIB. in New York. This station was actually the original flagship station for “Air America,” the short-lived progressive talk network. For those of you who may remember WOWO, the Midwest clear channel 50,000 watt station heard far and wide at 1190 from Fort Wayne, WLIB’s powerful 30,000 watt upgrade is directly related to that Indiana station’s demise as a nighttime powerhouse. Back in 1994 the owners of WLIB actually bought WOWO for the specific purpose of cutting back their signal after dark (It’s now only 9,300 watts and directional) so WLIB’s could be increased up to what it is today. Sneaky, eh?
1180 kHz – Coast to Coast again, this time coming from in WHAM, in Rochester, New York. Great call letters.
1170 kHz – Coast to Coast coming from WRVA in Wheeling, West Virginia this time.
1130 kHz – WBBR in New York, otherwise known as “Bloomberg Radio.” I may find it kinda tedious, but if you’re a big time profiteer this might be your favorite radio station. Just listen to the commercials, sheesh! And as a bonus you get a public service announcement about how high-tone Manhattanites should prepare for disaster.
1110 kHz – A strong read of Coast to Coast from WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina.
1100 kHz – It’s WTAM in Cleveland, Ohio broadcasting Coast to Coast. Not as strong as the signal from Ohio.
1090 kHz – WBAL in Baltimore, Maryland offering some tips on “layering” customer rewards programs.
1050 kHz – Sports in Spanish from WEPN in New York City.
1030 kHz – WBZ in Boston, Massachusetts. Something about hips. One of the few talk stations I’ve heard which still specialize in local programming around the clock. WLW in Cincinnati would be another.
1010 kHz – WINS in New York. News radio which still features the hokey teletype sound effects in the background. I let this play for a few minutes, including a PSA about a cocaine cessation program.
960 kHz – Something about a meatball sub. It may well be WELI in New Haven, Connecticut.
970 kHz – 970 “The Answer,” otherwise known as WNYM in Hackensack, New Jersey with top of the hour Fox News. The big story – the power outage at the airport in Atlanta.
970 kHz – More Fox News from WNYM in New York City.
950 kHz – Choral Christmas music. Probably the Family Radio outlet WKDN in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
930 kHz – WPAT, a brokered station in Patterson, New Jersey. In this late night slot it’s either an infomercial or just a discussion of meditation and mindfulness.
920 kHz – Newsradio 920, an iHeartMedia station – WHJJ in Providence, Rhode Island. The weather.
910 kHz – “Eight Days a Week” from the Beatles. I don’t know where this is coming from, but it might be bumper music for a talk radio show like Coast to Coast (They often let the bumper music play for a minute or two) or a full playing of the song on a music radio station. Some crosstalk from a talk station in the mix on this reception.
900 kHz – CHML in Hamilton, Ontario. I know this Canadian news and talk station for playing old time radio shows overnight. Kind of odd to me that they’re covering the hearings of an American judge. Followed by some news about Prince Harry.
880 kHz – It’s WCBS in New York, a powerful clear channel news outlet heard across the country. Here you get a dramatic report on four separate shootings in New York City, the kind of news you don’t hear so much these days. I let this play for a few minutes.
860 kHz – Very poor reception of CJBC, a French CBC outlet in Toronto. I’ve heard a wide variety of great music on this station over the years. I almost always would get a good copy on this station from my former home in North Brooklyn, but then again late night AM reception does vary.
820 kHz – WNYC-AM in New York, the sole NPR outlet on the AM dial in the city. Overnight they carry the BBC World Service, which is what you hear in this scan.
770 kHz – Trump apologetics from “Red Eye Radio” on WABC in New York. While this syndicated program has roots in Bill Mack’s great country music program, now it’s just one more conservative talk show. But it’s the exception to the rule as most live overnight talk radio programs don’t stray into political opinion like this, unlike during the day when it’s everywhere.
750 kHz – WSB in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a strong signal up the east coast. Here I find them in a commercial break which leads into a snippet of a rebroadcast of the Johnny Kielbasa Final Fast Food Review of 2017. Then the much beloved Meg calls in.
740 kHz – CFZM, or “Zoomer Radio” in Toronto, Ontario. It’s a quirky format, and often the only dependable music radio station for listeners in the eastern middle of North America. Here we’re treated to Jim Croce and some holiday fare.
710 kHz – WOR in New York. It’s former WABC talk host Mark Simone enthusiastically selling “My Pillow.” AM radio can be so comforting late at night, but the IBOC surrounding this frequency not so much.
700 kHz – You can almost hear WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio trying to cut through the IBOC from WOR, but it’s a mess. I guess it’s a sacrifice so all those dozens of HD radio listeners can enjoy WOR in all its digital glory.
660 kHz – WFAN in New York. Sports radio heaven I guess.
640 kHz – Some old-fashioned vocal belting in Spanish. Not sure what this is. Perhaps WWJZ in Mount Holly, New Jersey.
620 kHz – WSNR in Jersey City booming in. Here you get one of the epic and much-played recordings of Alexander Scourby reading from the King James Version. What a voice – warm, authoritative and dramatic. I have to admit he sounds dated, but in a good way. His recitation of the Bible is still popular almost seventy years after it was recorded.
610 kHz – Difficult to read signal of a talk radio show. Male host. I’m guessing this is sports talk WTEL in Philadelphia.
600 kHz – Another hard to hear transmission of a talk show with a male host, and it seems to be another sports discussion.
570 kHz – A cheesy Infomercial on WMCA. Once a great top 40 station, WMCA was also where the “Father of Talk Radio” Barry Gray got his start back in the nineteen-forties. Nowadays it’s a New York City Christian outlet owned by Salem Media, which apparently pays some bills by playing tightly edited testimonials praising the miracles of consuming fruit and vegetable pills. I never hear programming like this promoting a diet of real fruits and vegetables.
560 kHz – More Christian broadcasting from another former legendary top 40 station, WFIL in Philadelphia. They’re also owned by Salem. Some more traditional preaching, and not a great signal arriving here in Brooklyn.
From there, I stop by a couple very weak signals up to the top of the dial, and that’s it.
There were a number of radio stations I almost always hear late at nights that were absent or very faint in this scan, like WHAS in Louisville, WAY in Schenectady, WJR in Detroit and WHKW in Cleveland come to mind. And on a good night (especially if the IBOC on an adjacent station isn’t active), if I can null out a booming local next door I can receive WSM in Nashville, or KMOX in St. Louis and even occasionally pick up WLS in Chicago sneaking over the edge of booming clear channel WCBS at 880.
I hope some shortwave listeners find something of interest in this medium wave excursion. Thomas runs a fantastic blog, and I’m proud to be a little part of it today.
Thanks for listening, and reading.
Thanks so much, Prof, for taking us on a guided tour of the Brooklyn AM radioscape!
I thoroughly enjoyed your recordings and, especially, your commentary and insight. You’re welcome here on the SWLing Post anytime. I’m also posting your recordings and notes to the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive.