Tag Archives: Radio Spectrum Archive

Talking shortwave and spectrum on the Radio Survivor podcast

Last week, I had the honor of speaking with Eric Klein and Jennifer Waits on the excellent Radio Survivor podcast. It’s rare that in one show I get to spread so much shortwave radio love–thanks for making that happen Radio Survivor:

Perhaps you are like me and you have wished that you could go back in time and spin a radio dial and just listen to and browse the full radio spectrum from another time and place. Our guest on the show, Radio Anthropologist Thomas Witherspoon, is building a website for just such a thing. It’s called the Radio Spectrum Archive and it is not magic, it uses a piece of technology called a software defined radio that makes recording a full spectrum of Shortwave, AM and even FM radio (if you have the computing power to handle the load) a very real possibility. Thomas Witherspoon is also the primary contributor to The Shortwave Listening Post (www.swling.com) so we are going to learn a few things about the wonder that is shortwave radio on planet earth.

Click here to download the podcast audio.

Click here to listen via Radio Survivor.

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Radio Spectrum Archive featured in the IEEE Spectrum Magazine

Many thanks to Stephen Cass for the interview and excellent piece about the Radio Spectrum Archive in the IEEE Spectrum magazine:

Building a Time Machine for Radio

The Radio Spectrum Archive will let you listen to old broadcasts as if they were live

Stephen Cass

Thomas Witherspoon is building a time machine, of sorts. With it, you’ll be able to pick a date and tune through an entire broadcast band as if you had a radio that could pick up transmissions from the past. Sure, well-established shows already make past episodes available, but with Witherspoon’s time machine you’ll be able to hear not just that programming but everything else that was on the air as well: the local news, the commercials, the pirate stations, even the mysterious number stations that lurk on shortwave.

Witherspoon’s time machine is The Radio Spectrum Archive. The technological advance that makes it possible is the proliferation in recent years of cheap software-defined radios (SDRs), which can digitize enormous swaths of radio spectrum. The SDR’s software can be used to select individual transmissions and listen to them live. Or the swath of spectrum can be recorded and played back through the software later, letting listeners tune into broadcasts just as if they were live.[…]

Click here to read the full article at the IEEE Spectrum.


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My Radio Spectrum Archive HOPE XII presentation on Hackaday

Wow! Thank you, Hackaday:

HOPE XII: TIME TRAVEL WITH SOFTWARE DEFINED RADIO

by: Tom Nardi

It’s easy to dismiss radio as little more than background noise while we drive. At worst you might even think it’s just another method for advertisers to peddle their wares. But in reality it’s a snapshot of the culture of a particular time and place; a record of what was in the news, what music was popular, what the weather was like, basically what life was like. If it was important enough to be worth the expense and complexity of broadcasting it on the radio, it’s probably worth keeping for future reference.

But radio is fleeting, a 24/7 stream of content that’s never exactly the same twice. Yet while we obsessively document music and video, nobody’s bothering to record radio. You can easily hop online and watch a TV show that originally aired 50 years ago, but good luck finding a recording of what your local radio station was broadcasting last week. All that information, that rich tapestry of life, is gone and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Or can we? At HOPE XII, Thomas Witherspoon gave a talk called “Creating a Radio Time Machine: Software-Defined Radios and Time-Shifted Recordings”, an overview of the work he’s been doing recording and cataloging the broadcast radio spectrum. He demonstrated how anyone can use low cost SDR hardware to record, and later play back, whole chunks of the AM and shortwave bands. Rather than an audio file containing a single radio station, the method he describes allows you to interactively tune in to different stations and explore the airwaves as if it were live.[…]

Continue reading the full article at Hackaday.

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Presentation at The Circle of HOPE conference next week!

Dear Post Readers,

If you live near or are planning travel to New York City next week, I would encourage you to check out the HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth) conference at the Hotel Pennsylvania (July 20-22, 2018). The location couldn’t be more accessible: across the street from Penn Station and down the block from the Empire State Building.

The HOPE conference is diverse with an incredibly wide range of topics spanning technology, culture and so more. We’re talking about “hacking” in the best sense: those with the technical knowledge and ingenuity to overcome problems and better understand/explore the world around us. HOPE always has a strong contingent of radio enthusiasts as well–many of whom also attend the Winter SWL Fest in Plymouth Meeting, PA.

This will be my first HOPE conference so I’m especially honored to have been selected as a presenter.

HOPE Presentation

My presentation is titled: Creating a Radio Time Machine: Software-Defined Radios and Time-Shifted Recordings–here’s the description:

Since the earliest days of radio transmitting, individuals and organizations have made an effort to record and preserve radio signals in the form of broadcasts and other over-the-air communications, especially those of historical significance. Now low-cost software-defined radios (SDRs) coupled with today’s faster memory-enhanced computers allow us to record not just individual signals from one radio station at a time, but an entire broadcast band – a wide swath of frequencies – all at once. Each recording from a particular day and time can easily contain dozens, if not hundreds, of stations broadcasting and communicating simultaneously. Later, via a software-defined radio application, recordings can be tuned and listened to (decoded) as if they were live. This talk will discuss how you can build your own “radio time machine” which supports such virtual time shifts by utilizing an inexpensive ($25-$100) SDR, and also show how you can – for free – virtually “travel” through recent history on radio archivists’ preexisting radio time machines.

Time & location: Saturday 1900 Booth

My two main goals with this presentation are to bring more radio converts into our hobby by showing how accessible and dynamic radios are today and also to give The Radio Spectrum Archive some exposure.

HOPE Workshop

I’m also excited to co-host workshop with my good friend, David Cripe (NM0S). Our workshop is titled: Build the HumanaLight: A “Green” Lamp from Trashed Batteries–here’s the description:

This mini-lamp developed for use in impoverished regions where there’s no electrical grid is powered by a surprising, but ubiquitous, waste product – the residual energy in depleted (used) AA batteries. Workshop attendees will build a HumanaLight on a high-quality printed circuit board. The kit includes all necessary parts, even a “dead” AA battery! No experience required. There is a $15 fee for the kit, with the proceeds going to the nonprofit organization Ears To Our World, which developed this valuable and important technology.

Time & location: Friday 1900-2030 Hardware Hacking Village (Mezzanine)

No kit building experience is necessary! We’ll help and guide you as you build an incredibly useful tool!

HOPE Radio

 

In my spare time, I also plan to help with HOPE’s special event amateur radio station W2H. If you can’t attend the event, consider trying to work us on the air! Here are the details:

Amateur Radio Special Event Station W2H and 70cm Repeater

If you’re an amateur “ham” radio operator, you’re part of a hacker community that goes back over a century. Bring your handie-talkie to QSO with the many hams at HOPE to keep up with what’s happening. Visit Special Event Station W2H and operate on several HF/VHF/UHF bands in various voice and data modes to freely communicate with hams around the globe – sans telecom infrastructure! Our 70cm repeater input is 442.875 MHz (PL 167.9) and the output is 447.875 MHz which W2H operators will be monitoring. We also encourage simplex ops on 147.545 MHz and 433.545 MHz (PL 77.0).
More details at http://ham.hope.net.

Time and Location: Friday through Sunday – 18th Floor (next to the 2600 store)

If you can’t tell, it looks like an action-packed weekend! I’m super excited and (admittedly) a little intimidated! Should be lots of fun.

Come join the fun!

Full details can be found at The Circle of HOPE conference website.

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Report from the 2017 Radio Preservation Task Force meeting

SWLing Post readers might recall that, last year, I had the distinctly great honor of presenting at the 2017 Radio Preservation Task Force meeting at the Library of Congress.

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.

If you’d like a more in-depth report of the RPTF conference, check out this article in Radio World (via Richard Langley). If you’d like to learn more about the Radio Preservation Task Force, check out their website by clicking here.

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!

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