Tag Archives: Atlas Obscura

A radio museum…in a subway

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Evans, who shares a link from Atlas Obscura featuring the Museo de la Radio in the Parque de los Venados station in Mexico City:

Upon entering the Parque de los Venados station of the Mexico City subway system, you may be surprised to find that you’ve also entered a museum. Here, the subterranean corridors double as the Museo de la Radio (Radio Museum), a small institution dedicated to the communication system’s history.

The museum’s exhibits display different radio-related devices such as lightbulbs, consoles, and microphones. The most prominent is the famous four-key xylophone with which the XEW—dubbed “the voice of Latin America”—announced its broadcasts during the golden age of the ’30s.

Other showcases contain collections of old radios, and still more highlight radio stars’ records. The display cards narrate some important events such as the first transmission, the birth of the digital radio, tidbits of curious data, and explain how the sound waves work.

The most interesting part of the museum is the radio booth, which actually broadcasts live shows. It was installed and opened in 2018, complete with the most advanced technology. One space is the speech booth, and another is the editing booth.[…]

Continue reading and view all photos at Atlas Obscura.

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Atlas Obscura: Time to update the Spelling Alphabet?

Image by Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors, Paul Evans and Eric McFadden, who share this article from Atlas Obscura where author Dan Nosowitz asks if it’s time to update the spelling (a.k.a. phonetic) alphabet:

WHEN SOMEONE ON THE PHONE—THE doctor’s office, the bank, the credit card company—asks for my name, I always offer to spell it out—it’s a pretty uncommon surname. So far as I know, there are somewhere between 10 and 20 Nosowitzes in the world, and they’re all closely related to me. Because it’s uncommon, and because it would be a problem if my bank writes my name down as “Moskowitz,” I err on the side of caution. “N as in Nancy, O, S as in Samuel, O, W, I, T as in Thomas, Z as in Zebra,” I chant.

This uses what is what’s called a “spelling alphabet,” or, confusingly, a “phonetic alphabet.” (The latter is confusing because it has little to do with phonemes, or a unit of sound in a language. Plus there’s the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is something else entirely.) The history of spelling alphabets is fascinating and winding, but it’s notable that there hasn’t been an official update to the most commonly used English version in about half a century. We might be in need of one. As mobile phones have replaced landlines, call quality has, strangely, gone down. The general connectivity of the world—including the ease of international video calls and the use of foreign call centers—means that spelling out a name or word is an increasingly common practice. A modern, updated, globally friendly English spelling alphabet would be pretty useful right now, but getting people to use one might be harder than you’d think.

[…]For about 80 years, governments and corporations futzed with these spelling alphabets, and learned that some stuff didn’t work—it turns out, for example, that “Lima” is also the Malay word for the number five. A tremendous amount of research, time, and money was invested into figuring out the optimal spelling alphabet—at least for the three languages that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, the United Nations agency that handles air transportation) felt significant enough to have one (English, French, and Spanish). The ICAO scrambled, using researchers across the globe on the problem, and by 1959 had finalized what is today probably the best-known spelling alphabet: Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and so on. (As a side note: “Alfa” is not a typo. The whole “ph equals f” thing is confusing, and reasonably so, for non-English speakers. The same goes for the alphabet’s J—Juliett with a doubled final letter so the French won’t say “Juliay.”)

That is the now the standard alphabet for organizations including NATO (which often lends its name to the alphabet), the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States, the International Amateur Radio Union, and pretty much any international group that wants or needs a standard. It’s certainly the most commonly used spelling alphabet in the world, but it is, as most of these alphabets are, exceedingly Anglocentric.[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at Atlas Obscura.

Thanks for sharing this, Eric and Paul!

Funny story: Last week, I visited my parents and started cooking a nice dinner. Ten minutes into baking a roasted vegetable dish, the oven’s temperature started rising unexpectedly because the oven’s control board  (turns out) could no longer receive the temperature probe data. Its fail safe was to shut down the oven completely.

After a little online research, I found the parts that had most likely failed, so I pulled the oven away from the wall, disassembled the back panel, evaluated the parts, gathered the model number, and called a local appliance parts store.

When the associate answered the phone I described the problem and the parts I might need. He agreed with my diagnosis, so asked for the oven’s 16 character model number :

Me: LWZTF700…

Him: LWCDF700…???

Me: Sorry, let me try again. Lima Whiskey Zulu Tango Foxtrot…

Him: Excellent! I copy that. Say, were you in the military?

Me: Ha ha… No, I’m a ham radio operator.

Him: I am too! My call sign is….

He then proceeded to give me their best price on the parts.

I’m sure he hears variations of the spelling/phonetic alphabet multiple times a day and appreciates it when his customers use the one most widely accepted!

For your reference, here’s the standard spelling alphabet currently accepted by NATO, the FAA, and the IARU:

(Source: Wikimedia)

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Atlas Obscura features KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station

Cypress tree avenue towards KPH. Photo by Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons

(Source: Atlas Obscura via Eric McFadden)

One of the most stunning sights of the Bay Area is the historic KPH Radio Station, also known as Marine Coast Station KPH. To reach the station, you must first pass through a clerestory tunnel of cypress trees near the Point Reyes National Seashore.[…]

KPH began providing Morse Code telegram service to ships at sea in the early 20th century, broadcasting from the Palace Hotel in San Francisco (where the station gets its PH call sign). The 1906 earthquake forced the station to move until it was eventually acquired by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and found its home in Marin County. The Receiving Station is a classic white Art Deco structure built in 1920. The transmitters themselves, in nearby Bolinas, are a similar style.

At the time, there were dozens of stations like KPH around the United States, though KPH was one of the biggest, sometimes referred to as “the wireless giant of the Pacific.” When the station fell into disuse, land contractors were set to demolish it, including its antennas, to build condominiums. But Globe Wireless acquired the site in 1997 and it was left untouched.[…]

Read the full article at Atlas Obscura.

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A history of listening to Mars

(Source: Atlas Obscura via William McFadden)

When the red planet comes close to Earth, some people have tried to tune in to see if it has anything to say.

ON RECENT EVENINGS, AS JULY has melted into August, Earth’s rocky red companion has dropped by for a visit. Earth and Mars, when they’re on opposite sides of the Sun, can be as many as 250 million miles apart. This week, however, Mars has been just shy of 36 million miles from Earth, the snuggest our planets have been since 2003. Looming bright and orange in the night sky, it has been easily visible to the naked eye. The close-up comes courtesy of opposition—the point at which Mars, Earth, and the Sun align, with us sandwiched in the middle.

When the planets approached a similarly cozy distance 94 years ago, in August 1924, some people, including Curtis D. Wilbur, the Secretary of the U.S. Navy, thought it might be possible to actually hear messages from our neighbor. If Martians were ever going to drop us a line, they suspected, that’d be the time.

From an office in Washington, D.C., Wilbur’s department sent orders to every naval station clear across the country. An outpost in Seattle received a telegram asking operators to keep their ears tuned to anything unusual or, maybe, otherworldly.

“Navy desires [sic] cooperate [sic] astronomers who believe [sic] possible that Mars may attempt communication by radio waves with this planet while they are near together,” it read. “All shore radio stations will especially note and report any electrical phenomenon [sic] unusual character …” The orders asked for operators to keep the lines open and carefully manned between August 21 and August 24, just in case.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES/596070

This request didn’t come out of nowhere. There was a long buildup to the idea that Mars might be trying to tell us something, with technologies that were then new to us.[…]

Click here to read this article at Atlas Obscura.

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Atlas Obscura: “This weather report has been making waves for 150 years.”

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash.

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.[…]

Continue reading the full story via Atlas Obscura.

Thanks for the tip, Eric!

SWLing Post readers know that I’m quite a fan of The Shipping Forecast. We’ve posted a number of articles about the Forecast on the SWLing Post in the past–click here to read through our archives.

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)!

To satisfy my desire for some AM forecasts, this morning I fed my SSTran AM transmitter with audio from the Radio 4 website, then made a recording with my AirSpy HF+ SDR.

Here’s my AM version of the Shipping Forecast:

Click here to download as an MP3.

For the record: this is what you get when you combine a radio and shipping forecast geek!

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