Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

WSJ: AM radio and electric cars don’t mix

(Source: Wall Street Journal via Bob LaRose W6ACU

Cars and AM radio go back a long way, but there’s a rough road ahead for the old travel buddies.

The same types of electric-powered motors that propel Teslas past 150 mph and the Chevy Bolt as far as 238 miles on a charge, are a total buzz kill for AM reception. Instead of sports, oldies or news, it’s more like all-static, all-the-time radio.

As auto makers race headlong into an electrified future, AM radios are getting kicked to the curb, joining cassette decks, eight-track players and ashtrays.

Daniel Rich is a fan of both San Francisco’s KNBR-AM 680 and his Chevy Bolt. That means his commute isn’t as easygoing as it used to be. “All my other cars over the years could receive that station just fine, despite the distance,” the 58-year-old eye surgeon said. “Not the Bolt.”

A General Motors Co. spokeswoman said GM was aware of the issue in the Bolt and has “taken steps,” but declined to say exactly what they are.[…]

Click here to read the full article at the Wall Street Journal.

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Rabbit Ears: Millennials discover an amazing (and totally free!) TV “hack”

I find this article intriguing on many levels; what’s more, I find that it’s not really an exaggeration. My comments follow…

(Source: The Wall Street Journal)

Cord-cutters accustomed to watching shows online are often shocked that $20 ‘rabbit ears’ pluck signals from the air; is this legal?

Dan Sisco has discovered a technology that allows him to access half a dozen major TV channels, completely free.

“I was just kind of surprised that this is technology that exists,” says Mr. Sisco, 28 years old. “It’s been awesome. It doesn’t log out and it doesn’t skip.”

Let’s hear a round of applause for TV antennas, often called “rabbit ears,” a technology invented roughly seven decades ago, long before there was even a cord to be cut, which had been consigned to the technology trash can along with cassette tapes and VCRs.

The antenna is mounting a quiet comeback, propelled by a generation that never knew life before cable television, and who primarily watch Netflix , Hulu and HBO via the internet. Antenna sales in the U.S. are projected to rise 7% in 2017 to nearly 8 million units, according to the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group.[…]

Carlos Villalobos, 21, who was selling tube-shaped digital antennas at a swap meet in San Diego recently, says customers often ask if his $20 to $25 products are legal. “They don’t trust me when I say that these are actually free local channels,” he says.[…]

Almost a third of Americans (29%) are unaware local TV is available free, according to a June survey by the National Association of Broadcasters, an industry trade group.[…]

Read the full article in The Wall Street Journal.

Obviously, this WSJ article draws our attention to the fact that those who were raised in the Internet age (and in that of cable and satellite TV) who were never exposed to over-the-air (OTA) television,  never even realized it existed. For those of us who grew up with silver rabbit ears sprouting out of the TV set, it seem incredible that this technology should be unknown to many. I love how the WSJ frames OTA TV as a “hack.” I suppose to some millennials, it is just that. And a fully-legal one, at that. Who knew?

The move from analog to digital TV broadcasts seems to have confused a lot of people, too. Indeed, one of my family members approached me a few years ago complaining about the rising costs of satellite TV. Though she was raised in the era of OTA TV, she had no clue that a simple, inexpensive set of rabbit ears would deliver no less than eight TV stations with multiple sub-channels, most of which originate from a large city sixty miles away.  And of course, she was delighted to re-discover this was possible.

One of my younger friends was gobsmacked to find that a $20 set of rabbit ears delivered higher-definition TV than the signal from his $200+/month satellite subscription. He has a very large flat-screen TV and loves live sports. Some of his favorite games are available on the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) all of which are easy catches with a set of rabbit ears where he lives. My $20 suggestion changed his world…and saved him (big) bucks.

And of course, Post readers, many of whom are radio geeks, are all about grabbing signals out of the air!

Perhaps shortwave radio is an a more extreme example of of forgotten (yet fun) technology, since it’s well-removed from popular culture now. After all, you can walk into any big-box retailer to pick up an antenna for your TV, but in such environments, shortwave radios are truly an endangered species.

I receive a phenomenal amount of inquiries from people of all ages who have only recently discovered shortwave radio. Many are self-described hackers, as well as preppers, pirate radio enthusiasts, travelers, off-grid buffs, and listeners who’ve recently discovered the strange and inexplicable world of numbers stations.

Shortwave radio has become an “underground” pursuit for many of these people––and somehow remains a well-kept secret, despite my role as a public and highly-vocal evangelist for the medium.

Still, in a world where we must assume any “connected” device monitors our viewing/listening habits, our movements, and not to mention, our personal preferences, I would say, yes––there is definitely “underground” appeal to all things over-the-air. It’s less complicated, inexpensive, accessible, provides anonymity, and often of higher quality…admirable attributes, in my world. Not to mention (unless you are a radio pirate, of course), it’s perfectly legal.

So, young media hounds, allow me to introduce you to a “secret” hack you might like, too––  shortwave.  Have a listen…but take care:  you, too, may find yourself drawn in to the mysterious and alluring world of the free and nearly forgotten airwaves.  Enjoy…!

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The WSJ features Willis Conover

Willis Conover, The Voice of America (Source: Wikimedia Commons)(Source: Wall Street Journal via Any Sennitt)

The Radio Broadcaster Who Fought the Cold War Abroad but Remained Unheard at Home

By DOUG RAMSEY

During the Cold War, listeners in captive nations behind the Iron Curtain huddled around radios in basements and attics listening to the imposing bass-baritone voice of the man who sent them American music. His greeting—“Good evening, Willis Conover in Washington, D.C., with Music U.S.A.”—was familiar to millions around the world. At home, relatively few people knew him or his work. A proposal for a postage stamp honoring Conover may give hope to those who want the late Voice of America broadcaster to be awarded a larger mark of distinction.

For 40 years, until shortly before his death in 1996, Conover’s shortwave broadcasts on the Voice of America constituted one of his country’s most effective instruments of cultural diplomacy. Never a government employee, to maintain his independence he worked as a freelance contractor. With knowledge, taste, dignity and no tinge of politics, he introduced his listeners to jazz and American popular music. He interviewed virtually every prominent jazz figure of the second half of the 20th century. His use of the VOA’s “special English”—simple vocabulary and structures spoken at a slow tempo—made him, in effect, a teacher of the language to his listeners.

Countless musicians from former Iron Curtain countries have credited Conover with attracting them to jazz, among them the Czech bassists George Mraz and Miroslav Vitous, the Cuban saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and the Russian trumpeter Valery Ponomarev. On the Conover Facebook page established in 2010, Ponomarev wrote that Conover had done as much for jazz “as Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.” Conover’s New York Times obituary said, “In the long struggle between the forces of Communism and democracy, Mr. Conover, who went on the air in 1955 . . . proved more effective than a fleet of B-29’s.” In his publication Gene Lees Jazzletter, the influential critic wrote, “Willis Conover did more to crumble the Berlin Wall and bring about the collapse of the Soviet Empire than all the Cold War presidents put together.”[…]

Continue reading at the Wall Street Journal…

Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m a huge fan of Willis Conover. Much like VOA’s Leo Sarkisian, Conover represented some of the best diplomacy this country has had to offer. [I’ve actually had the honor of meeting and interviewing Leo Sarkisian at his home in Maryland, a few years ago–one of the highlights of my career.]

Are there any SWLing Post readers out there who listened to Willis Conover from behind the “Iron Curtain?” Please comment!

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Ed Royce to champion “new approach” to US international broadcasting

US Representative, Ed Royce

US Representative, Ed Royce

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Michael, for sharing a link to this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Ed Royce (R), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Here is a short clip from the piece:

“Vladimir Putin has a secret army. It’s an army of thousands of “trolls,” TV anchors and others who work day and night spreading anti-American propaganda on the Internet, airwaves and newspapers throughout Russia and the world. Mr. Putin uses these misinformation warriors to destabilize his neighbors and control parts of Ukraine. This force may be more dangerous than any military, because no artillery can stop their lies from spreading and undermining U.S. security interests in Europe.

Neither can the U.S. international broadcasting services that performed such a valuable service during the Cold War. They have withered until they are no longer capable of meeting today’s challenges. Until this changes, Russia’s president and his propaganda will flourish.

[…]From its inception, the BBG has drawn criticism from right, left and center. A part-time board that is supposed to oversee and spend $740 million a year, it has a fundamentally flawed structure. A 2013 Inspector General report for the State Department found the BBG to be dysfunctional. The same year, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the BBG as “practically defunct.” No wonder the agency isn’t coming close to competing with Mr. Putin.

Righting this ship must be an urgent foreign-policy priority. I will soon introduce bipartisan legislation to do just that. The bill would charge one U.S. broadcasting organization (VOA) with reporting U.S. policy and other global news, and another, including RFE/RL and similar services, to act as the free press in repressive societies like Russia. Each organization will have its own CEO and its own board, with accountability that is clear to all[…]”

Read Ed Royce’s full Op Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal online.

Update: Dan Robinson also points out this piece, by Ron Nixon, published in the NY Times.

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