Tag Archives: AM Radio

Radio Waves: United Biscuit’s Radio Station, WMAL Towers Demolished, Canada’s First Off-Grid Station, and St. Helena Gets Fiber

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: 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 Todd R, Skip Arey and Tracy Wood  for the following tips:


Cracker factory records: the surprising story of United Biscuits’ radio station (The Guardian)

Playing Bollywood soundtracks and songs about safety shoes, this shopfloor station made stars out of Dale Winton and Nicky Horne, and paved the way for UK commercial radio

nless you spent your summers packing Jaffa Cakes into boxes in the 70s, you are unlikely to have heard of the United Biscuits Network (UBN). It was a radio station for biscuit-makers, broadcasting around the clock to factories in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. One part industrial psychology, another part community radio, UBN was intended to make factory life more bearable, but over its nine-year lifespan, it emerged as one of the most daring, anarchic and pioneering stations to hit the UK airwaves.

Music has long been a point of contention in the workplace. Prof Marek Korczynski, who co-authored Rhythms of Labour (2013), describes the history of British working life as “a battle over soundscapes”. Bosses first wanted silent factories, but during the second world war, Korczynski says, “industrial psychologists – the forerunners to HR departments – started looking at playing cheerful music in factories, at the times of day when productivity would dip”. After the war, as Britain rebuilt itself, this strategy was maintained with muzak: inoffensive background tunes, played to lighten the monotony of factory work.

There was one issue, according to Korczynski: “Workers grew to hate muzak.” As jobs on the production line were deskilled and made ever more monotonous, muzak’s effectiveness weakened and staff turnover soared. For Sir Hector Laing, the chairman of United Biscuits in the 1960s, stemming the flow – and its cost – was desperately necessary. Drawing on the success of commercial pirate stations such as Radio Caroline, Laing put adverts in Melody Maker, bought state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment and set up his very own station from UB’s headquarters in Osterley, west London (where Sky’s HQ sits today).[]

Demolition of Bethesda radio towers takes a piece of history, rare open space (Washington Post)

When the four orange and white steel towers first soared over Bethesda in 1941, they stood in a field surrounded by sparse suburbs emerging just north of where the Capital Beltway didn’t yet exist. Reaching 400 feet, they beamed the voices of WMAL 630 AM talk radio across the nation’s capital for 77 years.[]

Manitoulin boasts Canada’s first off-grid radio stations (Manitoulin Expositor)

LITTLE CURRENT – Great Lakes Country 103 FM and Hits100 FM have opened a new broadcasting studio and office space at the Flat Rock Entertainment Centre, home of Manitoulin Countryfest and Rockin’ the Rock, becoming the first off-grid commercial radio stations in Canada, according to CEO Craig Timmermans.

“It’s super nice to not have an electricity bill anymore,” says Mr. Timmermans as he leads The Expositor on a tour through his company’s new headquarters at 1 Radio Road on the southeastern edge of Little Current.

Through the front doors of the building lies a reception area floating in the centre of a large, open rectangular space. All of the central furniture is moveable so the team can empty the space for special events and small live concerts.

To the right is a small seating area featuring a wood and epoxy tabletop made by Kelly ‘KT’ Timmermans, president of the company. She has also built the live-edge wooden shelving and a table inside the adjacent boardroom.

“This is what I did with my quarantine,” she says with a laugh. “It’s nice to have our own space and to be in charge of our own destiny. We loved being downtown but it didn’t help our business like we had hoped.”[]

Telecom Egypt signs agreement with St Helena Government to provide it with its first subsea solution (Capacity)

02 November 2020: Telecom Egypt and St Helena Government (SHG) have signed an agreement to connect the Island to Telecom Egypt’s subsea system over the Equiano submarine cable system.

Telecom Egypt will be the first to provide St Helena with a fibre optic connection to the rest of the world, which is a crucial step towards the Island’s economic growth. The cable, along with the associated high-speed internet, is planned to be delivered to the Island by early 2022.

The branch that connects Telecom Egypt’s system to St Helena will be 1,140km long. The cable itself will run from the West Coast of Africa and provide St Helena with access to both Lisbon, Portugal and Melkbosstrand, South Africa with scalable connectivity ranging from a few hundred gigabits up to multiple terabits, as demand varies. It, therefore, provides the most cost effective solution to the growth in the Island’s bandwidth needs.

In light of its vast experience in the subsea connectivity business, Telecom Egypt, in conjunction with SHG, will provide a Dynamic Circuit Network functionality, which will ensure that SHG’s communication partners have access to fixed bandwidth.?Telecom Egypt will also support SHG in the design, installation, and configuration of the submarine and network equipment.[]


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FCC’s AM digital order did not include DRM

This news item expands on our previous post.

(Source: Radio World)

No Luck for DRM in the AM Digital Order

Digital Radio Mondiale was hoping that the Federal Communications Commission would consider allowing its technology as an all-digital option for AM stations in the United States, along with HD Radio. But the FCC disappointed it.

[…]“Many commenters agree that all-digital AM broadcasting should be allowed but object to HD Radio as the sole authorized transmission technology,” it wrote.

“Specifically, commenters urge us to consider the Digital Radio Mondiale all-digital transmission technology on the grounds that it: (1) offers equal or better sound quality to HD Radio at lower bitrates; (2) can transmit metadata as well as emergency alerts, multicast subchannels, and a data channel; (3) is energy- and spectrum-efficient; (4) uses a superior audio codec; (5) is not susceptible to interference; (6) is not owned or controlled by a single company; and (7) has been used successfully in other countries and is the approved technology for shortwave broadcasting in the United States.”

But the FCC said the request was “beyond the scope of this proceeding.”

It said it needed to move expeditiously on this all-digital proposal; and that if parties believe that it should re-evaluate HD Radio and consider alternative technologies, “we would need to evaluate a fully developed proposal including data such as laboratory and field testing, similar to the petition for rulemaking that formed the basis of this proceeding.”[]

Click here to read the full article at Radio World.

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FCC Authorizes AM radio stations to operate using all-digital broadcast signals

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans, Mike S, and a number of others who have contacted me regarding the FCC’s Authorization of All-Digital AM Radio. Below, you’ll find the FCC press release:


For Immediate Release

FCC AUTHORIZES ALL-DIGITAL AM RADIO

Action Will Improve Listening Experience and Provide Consumers with Enhanced
Services

WASHINGTON, October 27, 2020—The Federal Communications Commission today
adopted a Report and Order that allows AM radio stations to operate using all-digital broadcast
signals. AM broadcasters will be able to voluntarily choose whether and when to convert to
all-digital operation from their current analog or hybrid analog/digital signals.

All-digital broadcasting offers AM listeners significantly improved audio quality and more
reliable coverage over a wider listenable area than analog or hybrid digital broadcasts. It also
allows broadcasters to provide additional services to the public, such as song title and artist
information. These enhancements will enable AM broadcasters to better compete in today’s
media marketplace.

Today’s Order establishes technical rules to protect existing AM broadcast stations from
interference. In addition, stations converting to all-digital operation will be required to notify
the Commission and the public 30 days in advance of their transition. These stations must
provide at least one free over-the-air digital programming stream that is comparable to or better in audio quality than a standard analog broadcast. They also must continue to participate in the Emergency Alert System. The Order envisions that AM broadcasters will decide whether to convert to all-digital operation based on the conditions in their respective markets.

Action by the Commission October 27, 2020 by Report and Order (FCC 20-154). Chairman
Pai, Commissioners O’Rielly, Carr, Rosenworcel, and Starks approving. Chairman Pai, and
Commissioner Rosenworcel issuing separate statements.

MB Docket Nos. 19-311, 13-249

###


Also, check out articles at Radio Insight and Radio World regarding this authorization. 

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WNJC DX test starting 04:00 UTC on October 18, 2020

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Hemphill (WD9EQD), who shares the following announcement from Les Rayburn (N1LF):

DX Test This Saturday Night/Sunday Morning– WNJC 1360, Washington Township,
NJ

WNJC 1360 DX TEST– SATURDAY OCTOBER 17 INTO SUNDAY MORNING OCTOBER 18

“04:00 UTC-Midnight Eastern- WNJC will conduct the DX audio test using Morse
Code and sweep tones continuing on our nighttime pattern.

At 0500 UTC- 1 AM Eastern I will be switching to our daytime pattern at 5kw
using 4 towers directional to SSE with the DX audio test concluding at 0600
UTC. From 0600 – 1000 UTC I will be leaving the transmitter in daytime mode
but be playing a mix of 80s – 2010 pop, rock, dance, country and whatever
else I grew up listening to and feel like playing.

Listen for the sweepers between songs of movie & tv show clips along with
our voice-over guy.”

WNJC has tested previously and been heard as far away as the West Coast of
the United States and Canada. Their test signals have also been received in
the UK, Norway, and Spain. Listen for their signal if you get the chance.

Thank you for the tip, Bill!

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Using the Icom IC-705 to record a local AM broadcast station

In my previous post, I mentioned how much I enjoy the built-in digital audio recorder in the new Icom IC-705. While I wouldn’t buy a QRP transceiver specifically for built-in audio recording–there are less expensive options out there–it is an incredibly useful feature in my world.

After publishing that post, I was reminded that Monday morning (October 12, 2020) I connected the IC-705 to my homebrew Noise-Cancelling Passive Loop antenna mounted indoors at my parents’ house.

My NCPL antenna

Their house is like so many others in that it is inundated with RFI (radio frequency interference). I find that the NCPL antenna does a fine job mitigating most of that noise on the mediumwave band when I position it so that the bulk of the interference is nulled.

Monday morning, I tuned the IC-705 to my favorite local AM station: WAIZ on 630 kHz.

Weekday mornings, Dave and his “Wacky Wake-Up Crew” always put me in the right mood. They’re incredibly goofy/corny and 100% original.

It’s extraordinarily rare these days to find a local radio station, with local talent, creating a local daily radio show. Almost all of their ads are local, too.

I made the following off-air recording for myself, but decided to upload it for others to enjoy. I’m not sure what the receiver audio EQ or bandwidth filter was set to when I recorded this. It’s not a demo of receiver performance, just a little radio fun.

Enjoy:

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NPR listeners shift from over-the-air radio, to streaming content (in a very big way)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, William Lee who shares the following story via Nieman Labs. Note that this is an excerpt from the story and that my comments follow:

Radio listening has plummeted. NPR is reaching a bigger audience than ever. What gives?

This year, for the first time, NPR will make more money from underwriting on podcasts than on its radio shows.

Since the pandemic took hold in the United States, NPR’s radio ratings have taken a nosedive. Half of AM/FM listening in the United States takes place in a car, but between reduced (or eliminated) commutes and social distancing, there’s been a steep decline in the drivers that make up public radio’s traditional broadcast audience.

“People who listened to NPR shows on the radio at home before the pandemic by and large still do,” NPR’s own media correspondent, David Folkenflikreported on July 15. “But many of those who listened on their commute have not rejoined from home. And that threatens to alter the terrain for NPR for years to come.”

Even as its legacy platform’s audience has declined, though, NPR says it is reaching more people than ever. The dip in radio listenership — 22 percent — has coincided with a record number of people turning to NPR on virtually every other platform. More people than ever are reaching NPR through the website, apps, livestreams, and smart speakers (“Alexa, I want to listen to NPR”).

[…]Some of the changes in NPR’s audience mirror what we’ve seen elsewhere in the news industry — traffic to news sites spiked in the early months of the pandemic — but the pandemic’s long-term effects seem poised to have a unique impact on radio listenership.

NPR’s senior director of audience insights, Lori Kaplan, has said public radio’s audience includes a disproportionate percentage of workers who are able to do their jobs remotely during coronavirus shutdowns — and that these professionals are interested in continuing to work from home even after we’ve left coronavirus in the rearview mirror.

“We’re experiencing a sea change,” Kaplan told Folkenflik. “We’re not going back to the same levels of listening that we’ve experienced in the past on broadcast.”

[…]NPR’s leaders have been reading the tea leaves. They’ve seen the studies showing younger generations overwhelmingly use the internet and their phones (not radios) for audio. In other words, they knew this shift was coming. They just didn’t know it would happen all at once.

“It was so clear people’s behaviors were changing,” said Tamar Charney, who leads NPR’s digital strategy. “You’d look at the demographic trends and young people were not listening to radio like older people.”[…]

Continue reading the full story at Nieman Labs.

This is a fascinating report and I’m willing to bet NPR has nothing to lose by being open about listening numbers and platforms compared to some commercial networks.

I’ve spoken with a number of friends in the commercial radio industry and the story is very familiar: since the pandemic especially, less people use over-the-air radio to listen to programming. The majority of over-the-air radio listening is done in the car and with the C-19 pandemic, there’s simply been less driving and commuting.

We radio enthusiasts are unique compared with our neighbors in that we actually have radios in our homes.

There is a trend, though, above and beyond anything pandemic related and it’s hard to ignore: with the proliferation of mobile Internet devices that anyone and everyone carries on their person, consumers prefer and expect on-demand content.  If you have a radio show on an FM station and it’s not offered as a podcast or via one of the streaming networks, you could be missing out on the bulk of your potential audience.

Even though I’m a hard-core radio enthusiast (by pretty much any measure), I appreciate on-demand content. For example, my staple evening news show these days is Marketplace. I prefer listening to the show live at 18:00 local on WCQS (88.1 FM) even though the signal isn’t super strong at my home (fortunately, I’ve got some brilliant radios to pull it in!). At least half of the time, however, family plans intrude on that 18:00-18:30 time slot, so I rely on the Marketplace podcast version of the show which is typically posted thirty minute after the end of their live show. So even though I’m a radio enthusiast, I still rely on streaming content for my favorite news show.

As technology and listener habits shift, I do wonder how local radio stations will adapt.

We’ve a number of SWLing Post community members who work in the radio industry around the world. Feel free to chime in and comment with your thoughts and experience.

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UK analog commercial broadcasters given permission to go digital at their discretion

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Kris Partridge, who shares the following article that notes the UK will not follow a Norway-style digital switch-off. Rather, broadcasters will be allowed to switch off individual AM (and eventually FM) transmitters once they determine it is no longer a cost-effective strategy.

From Radio Today:

Analogue commercial radio licences to be given ten-year renewal

Analogue commercial radio licences due to expire in the next couple of years will be given a 10-year extension under new government plans.

During a consultation, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had originally proposed either 5 or 8 year extensions, but in light of the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on commercial radio revenues has decided to offer stations an extra 10 years.

[…]Minister for Media and Data John Whittingdale said: “As we move into an increasingly digital world we’re making sure the licensing landscape for radio is fair and up-to-date and allows audiences to enjoy a wide range of high-quality stations.

“Today’s step ensures there is no disruption for loyal listeners of treasured FM and AM radio services such as Classic FM, Absolute Radio and TalkSport over the next decade.

“We will soon be turning our attention to providing similar long-term certainty to support the future growth of digital radio.”[…]

Click here to read the full story.

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