Tag Archives: The Professor

Remembering “The Professor:” Micheal Pool, radio zealot and host of WFMU’s Audio Kitchen

Michael Pool, aka, “The Professor,” circa 1985. The photo was taken at a record shop where, he wrote, ”I really began my journey in music.”

Regretfully, I’ve had to bid farewell to few radio friends in the past few months.  But until very recently I never dreamed I’d be saying goodbye to my great friend and radio arts mentor Michael Pool, known to the radio world as “The Professor.”

Michael was an interesting individual, to say the least.  His curiosity in humanity had no bounds:  he could find the interesting in the so-called mundane. Moreover, he was brilliant, his mind a quirky work of art as well as complex and intricate repository for a broad spectrum of facts, particularly of the radio-related. This was, no doubt, the source of his professorial “title.”

Moreover, Michael’s lifelong interest in radio, and indeed all the radio arts––especially AM broadcasting––led to his becoming an audio and radio archivist; over the years he assembled a vast collection of off-air recordings, band scans, and air checks, a curated collection of audio which he loved sharing with the world. Besides broadcasting, Michael was passionate about music; he could guide you into the depths of almost any genre, but he was especially fond of soul and R&B.  I know my own interest in these genres was enhanced by his knowledge of them.

Much like his vintage radio receivers, Michael seemed to have no filter. If he thought it, he said it. And perhaps, partly as a result of his combination of astute observation and frank speech, Michael was also a published poet.

Michael, who was feeling great throughout most of December, admitted himself to the hospital in the latter part of the month when he began noticing that his breathing was labored. Doctors soon found that fluid was building up in his lungs.

When Michael called to tell me he was ill, he broke the news indirectly and thus gently. He had been in the hospital for a week or so already; in his typical lighthearted delivery, he told me how he’d learned to finagle an extra cup of coffee from the nurses, how he managed to save his sleeping pill until he actually wanted to sleep, and how no one there really understood the “spaceship” aspect of his bedside table set up, which included a computer, hard drives, radios, and speakers. He called it his “on-site HQ.” If anything happened to him, it was clear he intended to go out with his boots on.

On the phone, Michael had me laughing pretty hard for a good twenty minutes before I was able to ask, “So what did you have…pneumonia?” He replied, quite casually, “Turns out I have stage four pancreatic cancer.”

I sat in shocked silence, groping for words.  Noting my silence, he took up my part of the exchange almost cheerfully. “You know,” he continued lightly, saying what I was unable to voice, “I’m not sure it could be a worse diagnosis.”

Michael was in and out of the hospital for the next few weeks, but somehow remained positive, setting up his HQ wherever he was, writing poetry and long humorous emails to friends. Even when he finally entered a hospice center, he remained positive, somehow at peace with this very unexpected turn of events.

I’ve struggled to pull together this post about Michael.

Like his other friends and his family, I’m still in a bit of shock. There’s no way I can summarize his life. But I can say that my life was richer and more interesting because Michael was in it.

I’m going to miss him.

Michael and I shared a love of archiving off-air radio recordings and he has entrusted me with his collection. I’ll make sure these recordings are curated, archived, and shared online.

Some readers may know Michael as a radio host on WFMU: his show was The Audio Kitchen, in which he featured “an hour of homemade recordings freshly liberated from thrift stores and junk shops, as well as some amateur audio spirited away from the closets and computers of their creators.”

If you want a flavor of what it was like to hang with The Professor, I encourage you to listen to some of the archived shows on WFMU.  They’re definitely worth a listen:

https://wfmu.org/playlists/AK

Michael was also a regular contributor here on the SWLing Post, and for many years, hosted his own websites called, appropriately, “The Radio Kitchen” and “The Audio Kitchen.” I have some of his articles in an archive, as well, and plan to post them here over time.

I had planned to visit Michael when I fly to Philly next week. Still, on Saturday morning, I sat down to compose a long newsy email to him, musing on dreaming in other languages and various other audio experiences, among other things.  I had just finished writing it and hit “send;” when my inbox refreshed, I found a message from a family friend that Michael had died the previous night.

Michael Pool skipped the light fandango and departed this world on Friday, February 15, 2019. All too soon…But be at peace, my friend.

A post script.  In one of Michael’s recent emails, not long after he received his devastating diagnosis, he sent the following poem he’d written.  Hopefully, he will not mind my sharing it with you here, because fortunately for me in this moment, it says what I cannot:


A Brief Winter Examination

The future is so hard to find. It’s not yours
And it’s not here. Of course you could go for a walk
And not come back, but the mindless highway has no predictions.
That seeker? That’s me with a measurement problem, almost looking ahead.
The other day as old folks made their way to their bus seats, I realized
they are
Already in the future. Although a decrepit body Is a poor outfit for a
time traveler, it fits.

For me, these days are going somewhere,
But I just have less to say about it. Yesterday I performed
A test. I opened my eyes and noted the time, Not long after
I took another look at the clock. The readout of minutes had increased.
Why I did I think it might be any other way? I had to do the math to be
sure
I wasn’t going back in time. But give me the opportunity and I just
might do just that.

Tonight I’m all Ellington with my orange cat.
I opened the door a few minutes ago, to see the rest of it.
About an inch of snow. I had no idea. But I’m out to enjoy this era
Of surprise. I don’t know or guess or ponder as I have, I let the facts
come to me.
Call me primitive. Or just call me if you get this message. Our
conversation isn’t over.
It never will be, but I’d like to do some more work on it. The
meandering is the best part.


 

 

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The Prof recommends the Sangean DAR-101

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who writes:

I’ve had one of these for along time, and it’s been pretty much the only way I’ve recorded radio for years. It’s an easy to use rock solid workhorse.

My biggest complaint is the lack of recording format choices, and I’ve long hoped there would be a firmware update to expand them. Sure, being able to record WAV files would be welcome, but I’m not really in need of that. What I would like is a broader range of MP3 encoding options, up to 320kbps. And of course, to be able record in mono or stereo. All MP3 options on everything are just stereo by default, because almost everybody is dealing with post 50s music in the MP3 format, and that’s always stereo. But AM and shortwave radio are of course only mono, as are phone conversations, which this device is specially outfitted to record.

It’s a waste of a channel. If it’s a mono source it’s a waste of space on the SD card just for starters. But don’t forget that the encoding rate is divided by two in a stereo format. A 160kbps mono file is equal to a 320kbps stereo file. So, a 192 mono file would be superior to a 320 stereo file. Of course, I could get into “joint stereo” and VBR and throw in more variables, but what I’m saying here is pretty much on point.

That said, AM broadcasting is rather limited in acoustical dynamics, at least as we know it. I’ve found that it’s very hard for almost anybody to hear any artifacts in a 32kbps mono recording of AM radio. It stands up to compression well. And it also stands up well to RE-compression. I often expand the MP3 files I make on this into mono WAV files and tidy them up and normalize and edit them. I never notice any artifacts in the MP3 encode I make of the resulting file(s). So, I’d like more encoding formats, but the 192kbps stereo option on the DAR-101 is fine for me in the end.

This recorder also makes a fine speaker for a laptop. When you hit record the first time the speaker monitors the audio source out loud. You press record again and it starts to lay down audio on the card. So if I want to use it as a speaker I just leave it in “ready to record” mode. Works fine.

And for you old cassette heads, it looks enough like a cassette deck, which is comforting I suppose. I think the wall wart AC power adds a little noise. I just make sure the batteries are charged when I’m going to use it. And sometimes it makes a difference to keep it a couple feet from your radio to avoid any little bit of RFI.

In general, I highly recommend the DAR-101. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask.

Thanks for sharing your review of the DAR-101 and your recommendations for recording amplitude modulation!

The DAR-101 is currently $87.95 on Amazon (affiliate link) and $99.95 at Universal Radio. I’ve also found used ones on eBay for as little as $50.70.

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Radiwow offers deep discounts for R-108 unbiased reviews

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who notes that Radiwow is offering free and half-price units to consumers willing to review their R-108 receiver. All of the details are on the Radiwow R-108 product page at AliExpress.

Here’s a copy of the statement:

Dear friends

Are you still struggling to find a cost-effective radio? Now the FREE  opportunity is coming!

Recently ,our store have launched a RADIWOW® R-108 Radio which has  great sound quality, selectivity and sensitivity .R-108 Radio is a good world receiver with great FM Stereo/LW/SW/MW /AIR/DSP. It will start selling on January 30, 2019.You deserve it!

We are looking for 20 people from Japan, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, France to test and write an unbiased and honest review for our latest radio.

In addition, we need friends from Spain, Italy, France to help us translate R-108 English user manual into Spanish, Italian and French.

In all top three users who apply for the test will enjoy the radio for free, and the 3-20 will enjoy it at half price. Please indicate in the subject when contacting us: your country; product model; leave review or translate user manual.

Click here to read this statement on the Radiwow R-108 product page.

Please comment if you’ve successfully ordered a unit under this program. I’m currently evaluating the R-108 here at SWLing Post HQ.


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Guest Post: The Prof finds a Nova Tech Pilot II RDF receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who shares the following guest post:


A 1960s Signal Sniffer

by The Professor

I just recently purchased a radio that on eBay that looks very intriguing, especially if you happen to DX AM Radio. It’s a mid-60s portable made in Japan – a Nova Tech Pilot II . However, wasn’t just a grab ën go to the beach kind of transistor set. This radio has a serious side. It’s actually an RDF – a “radio direction finder.”

I have seen these kinds of radios before, somewhere. Only the ones I’ve noticed were older and had more of a military look. Although I’ve never actually attended a hamfest, I’m sure these types of receivers might be found at a gathering like that.

But this is a smaller and frankly more stylish version of RDF. Not to go into too much detail about something I know little about, but before GPS became ubiquitous, devices like this would commonly assist in the navigation of ships and aircraft by pinpointing “beacon” transmitters at specific known locations.

As you might imagine, this type of technology was (and probably still is) a strategic tool for military purposes. In fact, one of more “infamous” incidents of using radio direction finders was when they were utilized by the Japanese in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Their bombers just honed in on the signal of a Honolulu AM station (KGU at 760kHz) as their beacon.

So, this radio has three bands which were traditionally used by beacon transmitters. Besides the medium wave band, it also has a section of the longwave spectrum, and the VHF airband. Other models included the old marine band (around 3 to 5MHz). A later model also included the CB frequencies, and another included a VHF police band (called the Nova Tech Action!!).

So, no shortwave on this one. No FM either, but I have plenty of radios with those bands (like almost all of them). Of course, there’s not much to find on this side of the world on longwave these days, and listening to aircraft communications has its fans but it’s not something I’ve done much. But this thing has a unique toolset for medium wave DXing. And after doing a little research online I’ve discovered that the big rotating double ferrite on top is only one of the attributes it offers for AM DXing purposes.

For one, it has an RF amplifier in the front end to help pull those weak signals up out of the noise floor. For another, it has a pure RF gain function called “DF” (direction finder), which when turned on shuts down the AGC (automatic gain control) and allows you to tweak the RF gain any way you like. And it also has a very accurate tuning meter. That all sounds good to me.

So, I haven’t actually seen my Nova Tech in the flesh yet, and it will be probably a couple of weeks before I get a chance to give it a test drive. But I’m pretty confident in my purchase at this point. More than a few people have spoken glowingly of the AM DXing capabilities of this set. But one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and bid on this device was that not only did the dealer have an excellent eBay rating, but he says he also fully serviced the radio electronically and physically restored most of its original beauty. Apparently, it was cleaned up, recapped, and even a transistor was replaced. And he also aligned the AM band IF and re-peaked the antenna trim for AM and the airband.

Although this radio is still a twinkle in my eye at this point, I thought I’d mention it here in hopes some of the fine readers of this blog might have something to say about DXing with direction finding radios. And I was especially hoping that a few people might have personal experience with these 60s era Nova Tech receivers. I also noticed online that there are U.K. versions of these RDFs that were branded as “Bendix” radios.

All insights offered as comments are appreciated, and once I spend some time with this radio I’ll be sure to offer some of my own.

I always find it so much fun to await the arrival of an interesting old radio I’ve purchased on eBay, especially one that I’d never heard of before.


Thanks for sharing your find, Professor! I was not at all familiar with the Nova Tech Pilot II. I love the Transoceanicesque design! No doubt, it’ll be a handsome addition to your collection, and I’m willing to bet a MW DX machine as well! 

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The Professor reviews the RFA200 external ferrite antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who shares the following review of the RFA200 external ferrite antenna:


The Tecsun R-9012 and RFA200 MW antenna (Photo credit: The Professor)

A Quick Review of the RFA200

The Professor

I’ve considered saying something here about RFA200, as I bought one of these not long after its existence was announced on this blog a few months ago, but I’ve been hesitating because I didn’t have much good to say about it. A couple of times I’ve placed it up snug up against the the top of the two Tecsun sets I have handy (the PL-310ET and the PL-880) and found that despite a lot of knob turning it had little or no effect on improving signal on medium wave stations. I was not impressed.

But I guess I’ve kind of changed my mind on that. And oh yeah, I bought another radio. It’s funny how you can talk yourself into things when you’re talking someone else into something. But after I had mentioned to a reader here the other day that the very inexpensive Tecsun R-9012 was a worthy analog DX portable, I decided to drop twenty and pick one up for myself. After all, it was about the same price as a fancy Brooklyn hamburger. It arrived a couple days ago.

So, I have been playing with it a bit over the last few days. It’s as good as the other ones I’ve had which are the same basic radio (I’d mentioned that the bandswitch slider broke in a couple of mine). It’s single conversion. The bandwidth is a little wide, but it’s a very sensitive and simple analog set.

Yesterday I was going through the AM band and remembered that ferrite from Greece, and I pulled it out recalling that in my experience some radios are more susceptible to reception improvements using passive loops than others. Maybe this ferrite bar might be similar. And sure enough, the antenna made a notable difference this time. By placing it up against the R-9012 and tuning the thing I could certainly increase signal a bit. And I could even see it in the slight brightening or steadiness of the tuning light.

So, not a total waste money after all. I would emphasize that the difference in reception doesn’t seem to be as dramatic or sustaining as you might hear with a tunable loop antenna next to your radio. But it’s not junk either. Then again, for fifty dollars shipped it is a little pricey. Twice as much as a Tecsun tunable loop antenna, and two and half times more expensive than the R-9012 itself.

I found the best way to use this antenna is to tune the radio separately first and when you find a weaker signal you want to improve physically go ahead and rotate the radio until the signal is strongest and THEN put the antenna along the top of the radio and adjust the tuning knob on the antenna. Focus in on strengthening the signal you actually hear, going back and forth until it gets strongest. If you seem to be pulling up other stations it’s because the antenna adjustment will bring in adjacent stronger stations if you move it too far either way.

I’m surely not able to pin down the science involved in exactly how these things work, but perhaps somebody can chime in on this. I’m wondering if analog radio tuning in particular is better suited to the use of these tunable passive antennas, as opposed to PLL and DSP radios?

If you buy one of these be prepared to wait. At least mine took weeks to get here from Greece. And don’t expect miracles. But it seems rather well constructed, and will probably work with some radios. The seller has a 100% rating on eBay and has all sorts of interesting antennas for sale. I’m glad to see people succeeding in that business.


Many thanks, Prof, for sharing your fine review of the RFA200! Thanks for also mentioning the Tecsun R9012–I purchased one a couple years ago with the intention of reviewing it, then gave it to teenager who expressed interest in shortwave. I don’t think I actually put it on the air myself. I do enjoy simple old school analog radio–especially when making band scans. 

Click here to view the RFA200 antenna on eBay.

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