Tag Archives: The Professor

The Radio Kitchen: Down Under, Up And Over

The following article originally appeared on The Radio Kitchen blog by Michael Pool, a.k.a. “The Professor.” In an effort to preserve his writings and recordings, we are republishing The Professor’s archived posts in a special collection here on the SWLing Post.

Note that not all of the original links and recordings could be recovered, but the majority have been.

Of course, all of the views and opinions in this article were those of The Professor. 

“Down Under, Up And Over” was originally published on November 30, 2007.


Down Under, Up And Over

by The Professor

When get to fooling around with a shortwave radio I usually don’t have much of an idea of what I might come across, or where the broadcasts I may find will come from. If you happen to be hunting up something originating (or relayed) from a hot nearby transmitter, shortwave listening is almost as predictable and practical as AM or FM  However, the real fun in scanning these forgotten bands is hunting for broadcasts from far-flung regions of the globe. It’s all about surfing those skywaves.

Instead of patiently scanning a SW broadcast band, this particular evening last July, I was quickly scanning several bands with my Degen 1103 looking for something, ah… exciting.

Okay, maybe “exciting” is the wrong word. I was fishing to find some exotic broadcast from far away, and preferably one in my native tongue. I’m sure there are other shortwave listeners who know what I mean. What gets my attention right away when trolling the HF bands is coming across an unfamiliar English language broadcast on a carrier marked by the scars of bouncing off the upper atmosphere a few times. Sure, It’s important that the reception has enough clarity to be understood, but shortwave radio waves from far over the horizon are infused with the sounds of the electrical and magnetic activity surrounding our planet. The audio itself often has an edge, even when listening with agile and fancy receivers. An aquired taste, the sonic anamolies of distant shortwave broadcasts have an inate musicallity, which you may appreciate  once your ears adjust to them. And the last time I heard the clear mutated throb of a strong distant transmitter traversing the globe was last July. I was sitting under the stars in the Michigan countryside when from over eight-four hundred miles away, New Zealand came calling.

RNZI (Radio New Zealand International) doesn’t seem to have any worldwide coverage mandate like CRI (China), the BBC or VOA or something. Their main purpose is as a regional service for the South Pacific. Dotted with a scads of far-flung islands, their broadcast zone actually covers a huge swath of the Earth’s surface. So just by making a point of covering this region well, RNZI is a major player in international broadcasting. (And sadly, I can’t remember when I picked up the BBC World Service as well as I heard New Zealand RNZI that evening.)

From my casual and primitive DXing experience, many powerful shortwave stations from around the world can be picked up from Eastern North America, as long as the signal doesn’t originate from anywhere directly blocked by the massive mountains of the top three quarters of the North American Continental Divide. In other words, with a booming transmitter from the closer sections of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America are the most likely catches from overseas. Deeper into these zones and continents (and Asia in general) are difficult terrain for DXing rewards from here. That said, with my limited portable equipment I’ve been able to pick up signals from at least three of the major broadcasters from the Southern Orient– India, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve always assumed that these signals ride skywaves over the lower mountains of the Southwest and Central America. But I’m no expert.

I do know that all the overseas states located directly west of the tall Rockies who are serious about reaching US citizens via shortwave rent relay transmitter time from Canada, as well as sites in the Carribean and Europe). In fact, if you happen to come across international broadcasts  from Vietnam, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or Thailand on shortwave in Eastern North America, you’re probably hearing a relayed transmission from several hundred miles away. But the recording I’m offering here is of reception from from far across the world. Considering the distance travelled, the reception here is fairly healthy. A little hairy, but practical. And there’s no local RF noise getting in the way. You really can hear the details it if you pay attention.

Radio New Zealand International pt 1 – 9615kHz – 07-07-07 0644 UTC 15:05

(download)

This first bit is an interview with Canadian chemist and author Penny LeCouteur discussing her book about molecules that have changed the world. Of note here– the legacy of how James Cook and ascorbic acid made the south seas safe for European explorers and colonists.

Then the cassette came to an abrupt stop, and the part two of this recording begins with the flip of the the tape. At the onset of this archive the interview is aborted in mid-sentence and a female announcer formally announces that Radio New Zealand International is closing on this frequency. After twice insisting that I “re-tune to six-zero-nine-five kilohertz in the forty-nine meter band” (followed by a clipped “This is New Zealand”), it all sounds so damn official that I felt compelled to follow the instructions. Although I knew that just because RNZI was booming in on 31 meters didn’t necessarily mean it would come in so strong (or might even be heard) on the 49 meter band.

You hear RNZI’s interval signal (the call of the New Zealand Bellbird) after the station ID, and then the signal at 9165kHz goes dead. I then put the tape deck on pause and punch up 6095 kHz on the Degen and release the pause button. And there it was! The call of the Bellbird is quite clear there as well, although a nearby signal is chewing on the edges of the reception a bit.

Radio New Zealand International p2 2 – 9615 & 6095kHz – 07-07-07 0658 UTC 28:55

(download)

Whoever is running the board down there in the South Pacific was a little sloppy that night. After the interval signal the board-op starts to pot up the interview again (which is still running on one of the channels). But the mistake is corrected in a fraction of second, and it’s the news with Phil O’Brien. The lead story, a nationwide “Drunk Drive Blitz” the night before had netted over two-hundred inebriated kiwis on the highways down there. And an update on the aftermath of an unprecedented swarm of tornados that ravaged the North Island a couple of nights earlier.

After the news, it’s the beginning of a program I can barely believe I’m hearing in 2007. A faux flapper-era theme song launches a “nostalgia packed selection of favorites” that will saturate the skies of Oceania for the next four hours. While I love a lotta old music, the whole idea of “nostalgia” can get a little silly. Although I must say that old Joe Franklin used to pull it off with some charm on WOR here in New York City before he gave up the show a few years back. It’s really an approach to radio that’s all but dead here in the states. But apparently not in New Zealand.

As you’ll hear if you brave through this chunk of pulsing and buzzy DX radio, there are a couple of corny numbers to wade through. But I gotta tell you, that sitting outside in the middle of the night with an artifact-drenched AM signal from the other side of the world filling my headphones, it felt reassuringly twentieth-century. Maybe you’ll hear what I mean. And the Paul Robeson and Mills Brothers seemed quite appropriate.

I guess a little nostalgia isn’t so bad.

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The Radio Kitchen: The Hip Spot On Your Dial

The following article originally appeared on The Radio Kitchen blog by Michael Pool, a.k.a. “The Professor.” In an effort to preserve his writings and recordings, we are republishing The Professor’s archived posts in a special collection here on the SWLing Post.

Note that not all of the original links and recordings could be recovered, but the majority have been. Of course, all of the views and opinions in this article were those of The Professor. 

“The Hip Spot On Your Dial” was originally published on December 10, 2007. Enjoy:


The Hip Spot On Your Dial

by The Professor

I’m old enough to remember when they first pulled the oldies radio concept out of the box and plugged it into the wall. And it literally was a gadget. A machine. I was a kid in suburban Detroit in the early 1970’s when I found one of very first all “oldies” stations to go on the air. The station (which started on FM, then simulcast on AM and eventually became an AM station), and then became known as “Honey Radio.” There were no DJ’s, just jingles, commercials and lots of dated top 40.

Automatic or not, the programming of Honey Radio was immediately intriguing to me and some of my friends at the time. As the album rock format was wandering deeper into crap like Uriah Heep and Kansas, I’d impatiently fumble with the dial looking for something (anything) different and kept perching the needle on this new station that played only old rock and roll. Half of it I’d never heard before.

It’s hard to imagine now, when most oldies stations play such a tight and boring playlist, but the original oldies format was born in the “American Graffiti” (and then “Happy Days”) era, when old rock and roll was immediately more evocative and uplifting than the arena rock epic thud and guitar solos that were clogging up the album rock format.

From what I recall of early Honey Radio format, the music spanned from 1955 until 1967 or ‘68. I started soaking it up– Rockabilly, r&b, doo-wop, even dopey pop. I loved it all (okay, except Neil Sedaka…). And it filled in a missing chapter in top 40 history for me– between my mom’s record collection and the music I had been hearing on the radio since diapers. Listening to the station turned me on to a whole world of recording artists I barely knew before (and ones you probably won’t hear much on oldies radio nowadays), like Huey “Piano” Smith, Ral Donner or the Impressions. And not just the big canonical hits, but other choice tracks that charted too. All that from a robot radio station.

A little later (after I’d stopped obsessively listening), Honey Radio added real DJ’s and in the final tally had a good run as Detroit’s premiere oldies station until shutting down in the early 90’s. The demise of Honey came as the format’s followers were surging into middle-age, and the new thinking in advertising advocated virtually abandoning that once valued demographic. This shift in advertising strategy drove more and more oldies outlets to desperately expand their playlists into the hits of the1980’s, and drop almost all the 50’s and early 60’s music that fueled the original format.

There are some good, even interesting, oldies stations that are still out there (WLNG, for example). And a few brave ones have popped up and bucked the era-shift gentrification of the oldies format, and specialized in the early rock era with music libraries much larger than the mind-numbing 300 tested superhits that make up the format in most markets. However, these days radio stations exist in a cutthroat environment, where anything but sucking in big piles of money every day isn’t just unacceptable. It’s fatal. The profit margin possible with creatively (or lovingly) programmed oldies radio is almost never enough to keep these stations alive for very long. It’s not that true-blue oldies stations don’t attract a loyal audience, it just isn’t big enough or young enough to have a chance in the dog-eat-dog world of contemporary radio advertising. That is, unless you happened to have purchased a radio station for a really reasonable price, and making a fat profit isn’t necessarily your goal. Then you have choices. Then you have WHVW.

A true media miracleWHVW in Hyde Park/Poughkeepsie, New York, is the ultimate oldies station for the culturally inspired fan of American roots music. While there’s a number of hosted regular programs, the majority of the WHVW’s air time is occupied by a music automation system, otherwise known as “Murray the Machine.”

Programmer/owner “Pirate Joe” Ferraro has radically expanded the oldies format with Murray. But instead of following the present-day model of stretching the format forward in time and taking on dodgy material, Joe has lopped off the late 60’s music and everything that followed. No psychedelia, no bubble gum, and thankfully no Jim Croce. While he’s held on to the doo-wop and rockabilly of the classic 1955 to 1964 era (adding a helping of folk music that was popular at the time), the rest of library goes further back in time. But unlike the hit parade highway you might hear on senior citizen radio, Ferraro opts for the rural routes of r&b, blues, old jazz, and classic country. All and all, it’s the rockin’ 20th century– an “oldies” overview based on favorites of record collectors and the kind of music that kept people putting nickels in jukeboxes for decades. While I haven’t done a scientific study of all the ingredients of Pirate Joe’s automated format, but I can tell you one thing– it’s compelling, and unlike any radio station I’ve ever heard. And it makes a lot of sense.

For the last decade or so, I’ve had family in Poughkeepsie, which places me within the transmission range of WHVW a few times a year.  I’ve stacked up a number of airchecks of WHVW over the years– mostly captures of Murray on the job. But what a well nursed and well-fed automation system Ferraro has set up. No matter how many tapes I’ve gathered of his automation over the years, it always sounds fresh.

WHVW – Murray the Machine 11-23-07  61:35

(download)

While the Pirate Joe’s music machine does a heck of a job, there’s a skeleton crew of real live on-air personalities who keep WHVW human as well, and fun to listen to. Like Pirate Joe (who does a wonderful afternoon drive weekday shift himself), the DJ’s musical appetites are mostly variations on Joe’s musical themes– record collector/characters who live and breathe old jukebox shakin’ hits and rarities. Curt Roberts, the morning drive guy goes for more of an eclectic golden oldies approach, adding some soul and garage sounds to the mix. And what a voice. And the personalities of Roberts and Ferraro set the tone for the on-air persona of WHVW– wry and dry and isn’t the music great. It’s straight-forward– rarely exuberant and rarely boring. And I like it.

WHVW – Curt Roberts 11-22-07  29:55

[This audio has not been recovered.]

I don’t get up in WHVW territory enough to know the schedule well, and their website (which looks like it was put together with mid-90’s know-how) usually seems a bit out of date. But you can see what the official schedule was late last year here (the link to this page has mysteriously fallen off the home page). And while it’s not much a web site, there is some history of the station and a few pictures. And sadly, they do not stream their air signal there (or anywhere). But if you want to get an idea of some of WHVW’s glowing fan mail, Joe has posted a bit of it on this page.

One show that’s been a Sunday mainstay for well over a decade now is Darwin Lee Hill’s “Real Hillbilly Jamboree.” It’s a three hour hand-crafted hootenanny, featuring  hits & obscurities from all the classic country music sub-genres, as well as some more recent material from neo-traditionalists and aging legends. That said and all technical descriptions aside, Darwin’s show is consistently warm and informative radio, including occasional interviews with country legends. And the music is always heartening. Kinda makes you wanna buy a second home in Poughkeepsie.

WHVW – Darwin Lee 11-25-07  62:08

(download)

I wish I could say that WHVW could be the harbinger of a new creative era of AM music programming. But I’m a realist, and there’s little reason to think that the glory of this little radio station is much more than fortunate happenstance. As his nickname implies, Ferraro is a former radio pirate, someone with synergistic mastery of musicology and old radio technology, who happened to get a good deal ($350,000) on a lowly class D AM station. While there’s still bargains like that around, they’re more likely in desolate North Dakota or rural Mississippi. WHVW is located in an actual city (albeit a small one), surrounded by the fringe suburbia of New York City. It’s a convergence that brings a big chunk of musical Americana to the radio dial in a place where people really live and play, or at least drive through on their way to Albany.

And the station doesn’t operate in a vacuum, WHVW really serves the community. They have locally oriented talk shows and local news, something you don’t hear very often these days on stations with far larger budgets and bigger transmitters. And requests from listeners carry a lot more weight when the DJ actually programs their own show. For folks who live in the mid-Hudson Valley who love great (and occasionally obscure) old music, WHVW must be a godsend.

For those who might have dreams of snatching up a cheap radio station and running it on a shoestring, Ferraro’s WHVW offers an intriguing model. Two people on staff (including the owner) handling the weekly drive-time slots and then a roster of weekly volunteer hosts doing shows for the love of it (and perhaps the advertising they can generate), with the rest of the broadcast day filled with the offerings of a tasteful and compelling automated music mix. This way a small radio station can maintain a local connection and eschew the predictable dependency on pre-packaged music formats and syndicated talk shows. And I think that WHVW disproves the bias of a number of non-conformist radio types I’ve known who equate radio automation with a lack of imagination or laziness. It all depends on who’s programming the machine.

Now in the age of mp3 players, I suppose you could spend a couple of years loading up on thousands of old shakin’ and stompin’ classics and kinds create your own WHVW in your pocket. But it would still be an imitation of Pirate Joe’s musical vision. Which is on the air right now by the way. Filling the sky of Dutchess Country with radio waves carrying the likes of Coleman Hawkins, T-Bone Walker or Harry “The Hipster” Gibson, proving that automated radio can be a non-conformist’s best friend. And that it’s not impossible for a radio station to be a better music machine than a money machine.

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Remembering “The Professor:” Michael 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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