Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kansas Engineering Experiment Station

The Engineering Experiment Station of Kansas State Agricultural College is just another part of Kansas State University. Back in In 1917 they were not. Actually they published the following self-description in their monthly bulletin that year:
"The Engineering Experiment Station was established for the purpose of carrying on tests and research work of engineering and manufacturing value to the state of Kansas, and of collecting, preparing and presenting technical information in a form readily available for the use of the various industries within the state. It is the intention to have all the work of this experiment station of direct importance to Kansas."
The Experiment Station still exists today and has actually proliferated. Today Kansas State University owns and operates 18,000 acres of Agricultural Experiment Stations in research centers in Hays, Garden City, Colby, and Parsons Kansas. In a practical sense, this is the academic lab for agribusiness. If you want wheat resistant to wheat rust and glows in the dark... this is where that would happen. Why do I bring this up?  Well they did a little something with early radio.More here.

Professor Andrey Abraham Potter was their assistant professor in mechanical engineering from 1910 to 1913 professor of mechanical engineering in the Kansas State Agricultural College. After that he was the acting dean of their Engineering division and acting director of the engineering experiment station.Because this bulletin was kept so early in the history of radio he very avidly had them include articles on the "radiophone."  It includes some very informative QSL reports.  It lists off the regular broadcasting programs in their district for potential listeners particularly on WDAF-AM, WEAF-AM, WBAP-AM, KLZ-AM, KSD-AM and WHB-AM. Among others. In a 1923 bulletin they published the following:
"To those living in Kansas the service rendered by the broadcasting station of the Kansas City Star, which has been designated by its government license as W. D. A. F., is available afternoons and evenings. The Sweeney Automobile School of Kansas City also renders valuable service from its high powered station W. H. B. The stations at Topeka, Wichita, Emporia, Hutchinson, Salina, Denver, Colo., Lincoln, Neb., Jefferson City, Mo., and the Kansas State Agricultural College supply all parts of the state with information and entertainment adapted to the communities served; while the large stations at Davenport, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; Chicago, 111.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Atlanta, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Minneapolis, Minn.; St. Louis, Mo.; Schenectady, N. Y., and a number of Texas stations may be heard through most receiving sets in Kansas."
The published information on making cheap receiving sets, and making  and charging batteries to power them. They sent out their own weather reports by telegraph from a station WTG. Sadly the bulletins have little information on this service. Barry Mishkind wrote about a 1923 Department of Commerce list that had WTG broadcasting on 485 meters. There is some confusion about the station because documents self-describe it as "telegraphic." It was not a telegraph office. It just broadcast in Morse Code. Their first experimental callsign was 9YV, based in Manhattan, KS. It was first licensed in 1912 and became WTG in 1922. In 1924 the calls changed to KSAC-AM with a new frequency of 880 kHz. In 1925 they moved to 580 to share time with WIBW-AM. In 1984 the calls changed to KEXT-AM, then finally KKSU later that year.

They are generally thought to have broadcast the first regular weather information in the United States. Their daily weather broadcast in Morse code went out at 9:00 AM. In 1921, physics instructor Eric R. Lyon was running the station. has great information on these early years. Today that station comes down to us as 580 KKSU-AM which after 78 years of broadcasting went off air in 2002 allowing WIBW to go full-time. The KKSU staff reorganized and now produce agricultural news programming for other Kansas stations, with now more than 50 affiliates. More here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pepsi Bottling Radio?

The Dr. Pepper&Pepsi Cola Bottler of Dyersburg, TN owns two radio stations. 100.1 WASL-FM and 1450 WTRO-AM. At first blush it would appear to be a bit of a non sequitur. What's the synergy (to use the modern colloquial) between bottling fizzy drinks and broadcasting?

The Dr Pepper Bottling Co. of Dyersburg was founded in 1935 by A.D. Burks. his son W.E. Burks was elected president of the company in 1969. At about the same time WASL-FM signed on as WTRO-FM.
  WTRO-AM was originally licensed on 1330 kHz in 1957 owned by McQueen & Co.100.1 WASL signed on in 1968 in Stereo as WTRO-FM also owned by McQueen & Co. In 1971, W.E. Burks purchased the Pepsi-Cola franchise creating the Dr Pepper & Pepsi bottling co. In 1976 WTRO-FM became WASL-FM, probably toward the end of a simulcast. In 1983 W.E. Burks bought the pair of stations, The Broadcasting Yearbook listed the owner as MDR &Co. In 1987 they changed the name to The Dr. Pepper & Pepsi Bottling Co.

WDSG-AM was first licensed in 1946 under the ownership of the Dyersburg State Gazette. In those days five other newspapers also owned radio stations: WOPI-AM owned by the Bristol Herald-Courier, WTJS-AM owned by the Jackson Sun Newspaper, WKPT-AM owned by the Kingsport Times News, WNOX-AM owned by the Knoxville News Sentinel, and WMC-AM owned by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. That always made sense to me mass media is mass media. There is an obvious connection between print and broadcasting. In 1992 WDSG-AM was deleted and WTRO-AM moved to their 1450 frequency.

The presently own 97.3 WTNV which for the life of me I don't know when they bought. I know it was between 1995 and 2006 and that the previous calls were WOGY. I read that only in 2009 into the new studios with Burks Dr.pepper and Pepsi building just of hwy 211 north.They are now literally inside the bottling plant. I don't know what they're doing, but it's clearly working. By comparison, not a single one of those five newspapers still owns a radio station. (Interesting to note that all 5 stations and all 5 newspapers all still exist)

Voice-O-Graph Labelography (Part 2)

This is my first update to my Voice-O-Graph Labelography project. I've added a single early label at the bottom. It spins at 78 rpm, and has a metal base which indicates to me an early WWII vintage. metals (among other materials) were rationed in manufacture in WWII and I expect their move to the card stock base around 1942. WWII ran (for America) from 1939 to 1945 so I estimate these more rare "red tops" to date to 1943 or earlier. The first advertisements for Voice-O-Graph date to 1943, but there were almost certainly some produced earlier. The company name is printed as "International Mutoscope Reel Co." On all other discs it is just "International Mutoscope."  The word "reel" was dropped form their name (so far as I can tell) in the 1942 as in the ad above from that year.

I have also found two more types which I am still documenting including one that appears to date from the late 60s, probably the last model they made. This list is not complete, and continues to grow. Hopefully this can serve as a bit of a labelography for future use. Below I describe, label, and date each type of Mutoscope made disc as fully as possible with all dates I've encountered. I will continue to update this post so it may be used for reference.

Black on Green: Years:1951, 1955

Blue on Blue: Year: 1948

Red on Yellow: Years: 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947

, a

Black On Red: 1948

Red on Beige: 1946, 1948

Mutoscope Black Label: (45 rpm) Years????

Black on White (45 rpm) 1957, 1959

GEM Mutoscope Disc:Years: 1945?

Empire State Observations Mutoscope Disc: Partial post mark to 1953? Last digit unclear.  Patent Number 2600573 dates to 1946.

Red Top on Yellow: Years (unknown)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Capitol Radio Engineering Institute

I've written about a few other radio schools in the past. I think this one is unique in that it still exists. But they no longer focus on broadcasting. Actually they don't teach broadcasting at all. Wisely they've abandoned that part of the curriculum.  Their current course catalog sports one communications course: Twenty-first Century Mass Media" that seems to include some nominal radio content. The next closest class is on wireless devices. Inexplicably, The 2005 Princeton Review Complete Book of Colleges lists them as having a radio station. If they do it's a part 15 station. I have never seen a record of their existence. Regardless, it appears that they like the rest of the nation, have moved on. (if you can confirm or deny the existence of the station please comment)

The Capitol Radio Engineering Institute, changed its name to the Capitol Institute of Technology in 1964, and in 1987 to Capitol College They began as a correspondence school like many others advertising in the back of Popular Mechanics. Unlike the others, in 1932 they opened a residence hall and hands-on classes. By 1966 they were offering genuine bachelors degrees. In 1969 they moved to Kensington, Maryland then in 1980 moved to their current residence in Laurel, Maryland on a property that used to be the Beltsville Speedway.  [you can hear a WPGC-AM ad for it here] In 1990 they began offering a Masters program.

It was founded originally in 1927 by Eugene H. Rietzke, a Navy radio operator and his wife Lillie Lou Rietzke. Eugene was born in 1897 and he served in WWI eventually becoming Chief Instructor at the Bellevue Naval Radio Material School. For His educational courses he wrote text books.  He was awarded the Marconi Memorial Gold Medal by the Veteran Wireless Operators Association in 1955 and won the DeForest Audion Gold Medal Award  in 1977. He even was awarded the James H. McGraw award in 1962.  On a related note, McGraw Hill publishing acquired a 20% ownership share of the Capitol Radio Engineering Inst. in 1967. In 1960 CREI began awarding the Rietzke Award for the Airman showing the most promise.(I don't think they use it anymore)  He died in 1983, the school lives on.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Physics Fun!

See if you can spot the record player being re-purposed.




Thursday, March 24, 2011

The White Areas

A White area has nothing to do with race, though these area's are usually demographically very Caucasian. If you've ever looked at the Arbitron Radio Metro map you would know that the white (and beige) color coded areas are of very low population density. That color key above should look familiar if you're in the radio biz. It's the hue of the rural county, and the unrated market areas.

Shortly after the 1941 NARBA treaty was signed, the FCC turned toward the issue of providing reliable nighttime radio service to the country's "white areas." Oldradio summarized this impending shitstorm as follows:
"Attempts to build a record on the white area issue surfaced as early as an October 1936 FCC hearing, but it was on Feb. 20, 1945, that the FCC officially opened Docket 6741, looking into the future of clear channel broadcasting.Thus began a struggle that was to last 35 years and put a lot of consultants’ and attorneys’ kids through college."
The "white area" problem is that by definition these areas contain a low population density over a large area. What little they had was largely a wash of competing radio splatter and at night it usually got worse. Nonetheless this is what they chose to double down on. Their rationalization was that low population densities can't support the ad revenues necessary to run a radio station.Now today that seems pretty ridiculous. There is nary a county in the US without a radio station in or very near to it. Now many of these may be automated, but that's also the case with major metros.

My point is that they were hawkish on clear channel licenses as a "solution." The circular logic in some ways seems to indicate that this was their goal all along. This was not the 1930s. This was 1945. FM radio was growing, and non-commercial radio was on the rise. It's clear to me that the "problem" was back-engineered from it's solution. You can read the docket here.  On page 5 they defined the problem as they saw it
"More than half the total land area of the United States and perhaps as many as 25 million people principally in Northern New England, the more mountainous regions of the Middle Atlantic States, much of the South, the northernmost part of the Great Lakes Area, withing the Great Plains, and the mountainous areas of the West, and in Alaska are estimated to be outside the range of usable nighttime ground-wave service."
To change licensing practice entirely based on nighttime AM ground-wave reception, totally ignoring night time sky-wave reception, all daytime reception, and the growing use of FM radio... is utter garbage.  While this process began in 1936, this document was printed in 1961. There was ample time to recognize the changing dynamics of broadcasting. In 1948, CBS proposed to the FCC that FM stations should be taken into account in defining white-area service.the FCC responded curtly "Clear channels would always be needed for wide-area service..."  That's just retarded. even in that era the pace of technological change precludes that kind of assumption.

Their "Industry-Advisory engineering committees" suggested at least four national night-time AM services.The FCC went with 13 initially, and added more later. The magnanimous bureaucrats compared it to RFD mail, (Rural Free Delivery.) Dissent at least within the FCC was minimal. Commissioner John Cross criticized it as a "half-solution" for not going far enough. Commissioner Robert Lee dissented more or less on the same issue of scope suggesting that the limits on transmitting power were undue. He was essentially disagreeing with NARBA, not any of the FCC's actions.

So what they approves was a change to the clear channel regulations. Prior to this they permitted only one radio station to operate at night on 24 of the 107 channels available between 535 and 1605 kHz.In 1958 they proposed another 12 and in 1959 another 23 already dithering over power increases and directionality. They still claimed in 1961, that half the land area of the United States remained in a ground-wave white area at night. That may very well be true, but if you've ever been to one of these areas... I'm sure you notices... the cattle don't care.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dick Yash's Afternoon Polka Party!

Dick Yash is so obscure I barely know anything about him. I know his name from two lone print references. One is the back of a Joe Twarog Polkafest LP. The other is the book Polish Radio Broadcasting in the United States by Jozef Migala. The corroboration confirms for me that he was a real DJ, on 1500 WFIF-AM in Milford, CT. He was also involved in some polka fests as well including one in Danbury, CT.

WFIF-AM was a daytimer with it's studios in the Connecticut Post Shopping Center located at 1201 Boston Post Rd. (The original building no longer exists.) The AM studio had a big window facing the I-95 and had a speaker mounted outside so shoppers could hear them as they passed by.

It's three-tower transmitter site was located at the end of Kay Avenue. Around 1978 WFIF moved it's studios out of the strip mall to the to the transmitter site. Bill Blount bought the station in 1982 and he flipped the format to Christian Con. That held until about 2008 when they began to segue into Christian talk; still under his ownership. Blount Communications presently includes 1590 WARV-AM, 105.9 WBCI-FM, WDER-AM, 1230 WNEB-AM, and 760 WVNE-AM. All run christian programming of one flavor or another. 

WFIF signed on in 1965 under the ownership of Colonial Broadcasting. I looked them up in a few of the Broadcasting Yearbooks In 1965 they are listed as "not on air, target date unknown."  In 1966 they're described as "Spec Progs: Ital 1 hr; Pol 1 hr; Sp 2 hrs, C&W 5 hrs, Hebrew 1 hr, all wkly" I will venture a guess that the "Pol 1 hr" is Dick Yash. So Dick was on air at WFIF from the beginning.  In the 1960s and most of the 1970s WFIF programmed country music. They went Top-40 in the late 1970s. Those specialty shows were all on the weekends. The Sunday Afternoon Polka Party ran every Sunday from Noon to 2:00 PM. The program was still listed in 1975. After that the Broadcasting yearbook ceased to carry that type of data.

Unexpectedly the the book Polish Radio Broadcasting in the United States Had a different listing for Mr. Yash. It read: "Polka Time with Dick Yash"  broadcast every Sunday from 8 am to 9 am on WNHC, New Haven. The program consists of Polish folk music, polkas and waltzes. It is aired in English." But the book was published in 1987. I suspect that Yash moved on around the time of the Blount take-over. How long he was at 1340 WNHC-AM I don't know, but that station became WYBC-AM in 1998 and I haven't found any other references to him in the last 2 decades.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Transcription Mystery Disc #27

It's nice when there's at least a hint. A totally unlabeled disc is really difficult, sometimes impossible to identify. This 7-inch Recordisc as no labeling on either side of the disc. But the sleeve bears a name in pencil "Texas Jim Robertson."  The disc has some delamination at the center, and it has pulled away from the outer edge creating a void three inches long. Being an outer edge start disc it makes playback especially difficult.

Texas Jim Robertson lied about his age. He was born in 1909, but his later biographies claimed 1916. Nonetheless he died in 1966 which puts a firm top end on the possible age of the recording. True to his name he was from Batesville, Texas and recorded for Bluebird, RCA, and Montgomery Ward. that big catalog gives a wide basis for comparison.

This recording is obviously live and breaks into live radio chit chat after the song sends. I have no identified the tune, and it does not appear to be in his catalog. Being that thsi is from my stack of WFIL-AM transcriptions I'll assume again that this is from one of his performances on the Hayloft Hoedown. there's a little bit of conjecture there, but every time one of these discs is individually connected to this program, it validates collective association.

Monday, March 21, 2011

WKOK at Fort Augusta

I am entertained by radio stations built in odd places, or radio stations that build odd places around them. The text on the postcard above reads "Model of Ft. Augusta on the grounds of Sunbury's Radio Station, River Front Drive, Sunbury, PA. The calls are not disclosed but that radio station was 1210 WKOK-AM. But FYI: The calls are on 1070 these days. (They were also on 1240 from 1941 to 1964.) They have been owned by the Sunbury Broadcasting corporation for 78 years.

The real Fort Augusta was a British fortification built in 1756 to protect against French and Indian raids in what was then claimed to be their westernmost settlement. It was dismantled in 1794. The remaining structures burned down in 1852. The commanders residence (the Hunter House) was rebuilt by his grandson.  In 1920 the State of Pennsylvania acquired the property. In 1931 the Hunter House was acquired by the state as well and it became a museum. The tract  serves as headquarters for the Northumberland County Historical Society (1150 North Front Street.)

That address was key to my stumbling upon this. The street address for WKOK-AM in the 1935 Broadcasting yearbook was also 1150 North Front Street. The WKOK-AM studios were then located in the basement of the Fort Augusta building. WKOK-AM didn't sign on until may of 1933 and was the first commercial radio station in Sunbury. Their license was the handiwork of Professor C.W. Halligan of Bucknell University. In 1924 he made a little experimental transmitter and went on air with 50 watts on 1420 under the call letters WJBQ-AM. In 1925 he changed calls to WJBU-AM and increased power to 100 watts. In 1928 he was shifted to 1210 and made to share time with WBAX-AM. Then as now running a station was difficult and expensive. On May 12th 1933 they sold the station and it's hardware to the Sunbury Broadcasting Corp. C.W. Halligan is an odd character, he wrote occasionaly for Popular Science and later worked for Bell labs. He may be the same one that headed up MITRE.

In 1947 Sunbury Broadcasting launched WKOK-FM on 94.1. It simulcasted the AM programming for years. In 1951 National Geographic stopped by to do a photo op with the station engineer who posed in the dry moat of the model fort. The stick on 94.1 Sunbury changed calls to WQKX in the 1950s. In 1973 they stopped publishing the Front Street address in the radio directories and went to a PO Box. I suspect that's about when they moved to their new location parting ways with the little fort in their front yard. The scale model is still at  1150 North Front Street and still replicates the original structure from drawings to one sixth scale.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I bought an oddball double LP labeled "Earplay Vol 5" at a record store in Biddeford Maine. It was only a dollar and had some water stains. I almost skipped it; mold being the worst enemy of any personal library. (see dirty sleeve above) For this I risked it. I'd only heard of earplay. I never thought I'd get to hear it. These LPs were not in general circulation. The instruction was printed on the back cover of the gate-fold:
"Cleared for any number of radio broadcasts—only by non-commercially licensed radio in the U.S.A. —only between September 1 1972 and August 31, 1975. No copies of thsi record may be made. Record must be returned to EARPLAY September 1 1975. Acceptance of this record commits the station to conditions enumerated above."
EARPLAY was a project of Karl Schmidt at WHA, and the longest-running series of radio drama anthologies on NPR. I'm not making that up. NPR stands by that claim. Source here. Oficially it ran from 1972 into the 1990s. That claim is dubious. It started with a $150,000 grant. They started with 10-minute dramas and worked up to 4-hour features. It wasn't just a radio drama revival program. They had big name novelists and playwrights writing their scripts: Edward Albee, David Mamet, Friedrich Durrenmatt, Tom Stoppard, Donald Barthelme, Arthur Kopit, Archibald Macleish and many others.

But that multi-decade claim is misleading. Earplay certainly began in 1972, and certainly at WHA. Some sources put the end of Earplay in 1981. In 1981 NPR started overlapping Earplay with another radio drama program called "NPR Playhouse." Playhouse did adaptations of novel and films. They did versions of Don Quioxte and even Star Wars in that era. Some came from ZBS, some from the BBC, WHA WGBH and the Radio Theatre of Chicago. And in 1981, it was being carried on 200 stations. The funding came from the CPB not NPR. That's an important difference. As the program shunted into the NPR fold, NPR Playhouse even drew episodes from the Earplay catalog. To reiterate, even the Radio Gold Index puts Earplay as running only until about 1982 with the last couple discs being comprised of 1940s catalog material from the BBC. The Radio Gold Index has a decent EARPLAY discography here.

As Jack W. Mitchell put it in the book Listener Supported "Although critically successful, Earplay did not attract audiences and did not revive radio drama."  It was inadvertently killed by a funding dispute.  In an interview Tom Lopez, President of ZBS  exlained how it went down
"The thing is that they put forward a proposal. That is Earplay, NPR. The proposal was that they would have 3 centres producing radio drama. One doing classical, one doing popular, one doing serious drama,  I believe.  And it was starting off with 1.1. million and then it would increase to about 2 million. We looked at this proposal and were horrified. We said 'If this thing happens, we're screwed. Nobody else in this country will ever see any kind of money for producing radio drama'.  And so we put up a stink...The National Endowment listened to us, CPB wouldn't listen to us.  And the National Endowment agreed and that year didn't fund Earplay at all. They got zero. And they collapsed."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Newton N. Minow

Article: A Vaster Wasteland by Newton N. Minow former chairman of the FCC, PBS, and the Carnegie Foundation, and is the Annenberg Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University.

When you get old and accomplished sometimes you can speak truth to power. Minnow was the man at the FCC who famously once described television programming as a "vast wasteland."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Short trip, be right back.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Transcription Mystery Disc #97

This 7-Inch 78 rpm Duodisc bears no markings of any kind. But the crumbling sleeve had a small scribble in pencil. It appears to read "Earl B" in flowing cursive. I despise cursive. Cursive is is designed for writing notes and letters quickly by hand. It's not particularly quick, and then it's very hard to read so it's more like scribble that can only be read by the writer. Please, engineers of today, write clearly and legibly on your master tapes!

I have never personally certified the recording date of a Duodisc. I have found ones attested to anywhere from 1945 to 1952 depending on the label. Like many acetates there is no available labelography. These red labels seem to be early 1950s, possibly as late as 1954. I found a fellow via Flickr who ripped a set and posted them online here. He did  a great job cutting the bed noise, it's a set of nice rips. His also date from 1954 and 1955. Those are worth browsing.  

This song is a country tune of unknown origin, clearly recorded from the radio. Then he tells a joke about Bessie who I believe is a dairy cow. The B-side is a badly recorded room, many voices, lots of racket pretty unintelligible. It was probably recorded at a party. Age and origin remain unknown but as always with this batch I continue to suspect the WFIL-AM Barn dance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lindbergh and KHCAL

It was a time in which air travel was the work of celebrity pilots. The little commercial and freight air traffic moved by zeppelin. Charles Lindbergh's famous solo transatlantic flight was in 1927. Most flights between then and WWII were largely experimental including the one on July 27th 1931. That day, Anne and Charles Lindbergh took off in the Sirius for a flight to the orient. Many histories skip this flight which is a shame as we have copious information about it.  He role is often downplayed by biographers. (Walter Ross did a good job in The Last Hero.) Anne Morrow Lindbergh recorded the events of the flight in her book North To The Orient.  It actually details the radio equipment aboard the plane in an appendix of the book. It had the standard Pan American Airways model 10-C, 15 watt C.W. telegraph transmitter with dynamotor and type A.C.C. receiver.And all the following
  • 1 Key assembly
  • 1 Pair Headphones
  • 1 Trailing antenna assembly
  • Transmitting coils for the following frequencies: 333, 500, 3130, 5615, 8450, and 13240 KC. 
  • Receiving coils to cover the range of 17-150 meters, and 600-1100 meters.
  • 1 Direction finder (Fixed Loop)
  • 1 Emergency radio in water-tight box with dry cells (44 lbs)
  • 1 Repair box containing spare tubes, wire, spare sntenna weight, tape, special antenna weight for emergency installation in flight, fuses, misc. spares
  • 1 Extra antenna wire
  • 1 Hydrometer (for battery testing)
  • Lists of fixed and land stations
The reason we care about Anne and this flight at Arcane Radio Trivia is that she was the radio operator for KHCAL about the Sirius. She had made her first solo flight in 1929, in 1930 became the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot's license. But she didn't learn Morse Code until this flight. She had to pass a code test to be permitted to run communications. her test involved sending Morse messages to an unnamed operator on Long Island.  For her flight to Nanking, her first message was to WOA at North Beach. I assume this is North Beach, Maryland as their flight began in Flushing, NY and on this leg was headed to Washington DC. She was a novice at this point and fumbled with the instruments as Charles flew the plane.
"Master Oscillator? Power Amplifier. I held them in my lap, as there was no other place to put them. They were both marked 5615 KC. That was not the right frequency. I was planning to send on 3130 kilocycles, therefore I must find the 3130 coils in the coil box at my feet.  Feeling blindly, I took out two at random. they turned out to be 500 KC. These also went on my lap.  Four more came out.  One of the coils fell down and started rolling back into the dark unknowns of the fuselage...  It was like trying to fit a lamps plug into a socket in the dark."
Her book has this true sense of the difficulty a radio operator endured in that day. Her account is not just hers, but of any novice from that time. that day she did not get the radio to work, she did however manage to take a 400 volt shock to the chest. But by the time she took of at 18:06 July 30th from North Haven Maine for Ottawa she had it down and the radio was outfitted properly. She sent "POSN" and "WEA"  (position and weather) every fifteen minutes.

Throughout the text she refers to stations by their cities Edmonton, North Beach, Coppermine, Chicago, New York, On their flight to Aklavik she was unable to raise another station. She got WXB in Point Barrow while en route on August 8th. He reported low fog confirming they'd be able to land by sight. On august 11th they landed in the Shismaref Inlet off the coast of Alaska as it had become too dark to land and they were short of fuel. She messaged WXB again because she was unable to get WXY in Nome or WXW in Kotzebue. At that time of year, at that latitude it is difficult to predict dusk.They were to meet a ship called the Northland to refuel.
She became increasingly confident on the journey and moved from writing down code to writing down text. By the time She took down her first message from JOC the Japanese station at Nemuro she was completely competent. JOC sent the message "WELCOME TO JAPAN WELCOME COLONEL LINDBERGH"  they guided the Sirius toward Buroton Bay. But they were flying through fog and were forced to land in the open ocean on the east shore of Ketoi Island and were towed to Buroton Bay by the a Shinshiru Maru. One of their sailors, their own radio operator also managed to get a 400 volt shock from the radio aboard the Sirius.  They made it to Nanking on September 19th.

The Sirius was damaged while being towed in the Yangtze river thus ending their air-travel in Hankow. . It was repaired by Lockheed and resides in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The HBCU Radio Guide

"Historically Black FM" actually used to be the slogan of  91.5 KGRM at Grambling State University. GSU is a 4-year, liberal arts university founded in 1901.  But it's not just any liberal arts school. They were established for black farmers by the Farmers’ Relief Association of Ruston and. Dr. Booker T. Washington.They are a historically Black University, a classification that is usually abbreviated HBCU. More here.

In the United states there are a total of 104 HBCU schools. Interestingly, a statistically high number have their own radio stations. Some are more recent LP licenses such as WRWS-LP, WASU-LP, WLCD-LP and WFVS-LP. Also notably, Miles College was granted a CP for 88.7 WMWI back on 3/19/2009. At 13,000 watts that's nothing to scoff at. Six of them are old closed cable stations including the often awarded WDSU at Delaware State.  They were awarded "Station of the Year" atthe annual Black College Radio Convention in 1998. [Link] (image below)

Many of these are Class A stations, only a handful are really powerhouses. Notably both WFSS and WJAB are 100,000 watt monsters. But a dozen others are below 1,000 watts FM. There's also a pattern among formats. 12 are Urban, 4 smooth jazz, 10 Jazz and 4 are gospel. All of these are exceedingly rare in the general pool of College radio stations.Of the 104 existing HBCU colleges and universities 53 have college radio stations of some form, be it AM, FM, low Power, Internet, Cable, Part 15 or a traditional terrestrial broadcaster. As always the cable, and part 15 station may or may not be currently active. It's difficult to tell.

But the total is 51%. That's a higher percentage than the average. I thought at first this might be due to some explosion of HBCU schools during the rise of radio, but that's not the case. Two thirds of the schools were founded before 1900, before radio was even a popular hobby. but notably the newer HBCU schools are less likely to have real stations. Of the 18 HBCU schools founded after 1920 (the year KDKA was licensed) only three have radio stations of any kind, and one, J. F. Drake State Technical College has an amateur radio club N4DTC. That's only 16%. More here.

There were plenty of FM educational licenses to be had over the years, but these later universities didn't go for it. They passed on the Class D licenses, an the two rounds of LP licenses that have come and gone. These schools don't even have affiliated Internet stations. I interpret this as a disinterest in the Communications major or possibly toward broadcast media.  But, according to AAPRC, there are approximately 1.5 million listeners of Black public radio stations. They must be doing something right.  The array of data was interesting to me so I researched and typed out a simple little excel file with the data and wrapped it up as a pdf. You can download it below.
To Get All 48 KB 
Download HERE

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doc Savage (no relation to Michael or Dan)

That pulp novel above is from 1982. It was a little late to be milking the cool out of some radio affiliation. By the 1980s broadcasting was being taken for granted. But this is how I discovered Doc Savage. I had missed the 180 some other magazines somehow, probably the same way I happen to miss those Danielle Steel novels.This one had the key phrase "Radio Exploits."  That's just the kind of thing that gets me curious.

Radio history is filled with cases where actors moved from medium to medium, usually from radio to Television. Fictional characters often made the leap too, but it's rare that one so obscure has held on so long. Here is a case where a fictional character came from a pulp magazine in the 1933 and moved into radio, then into books, then eventually a movie in 1967. But the character didn't die there. Unlike most of his peers in that golden radio era, he lived on in a series of pulp novels into the 1980s. Then inexplicably he was resurrected on radio in 1985 by NPR. Just last Fall Variety printed an article that the film was back on schedule minus Schwarzenegger. I guess that makes it time to revisit his radio exploits.  

Doc Savage was created by the Street and Smith publishing company. They were the makers of the Shadow pulp Magazine based on the famous radio program. Publisher Henry W. Ralston, and editor John L. Nanovic crafted the basic frame work. But it was writer Lester Dent who crafted most of his stories. Marilyn Cannaday wrote a nice biography of Dent, Bigger than life: the creator of Doc Savage. The bio is gentle but Dent was some kind of manic hyper-graphic type: a 200-lb man dictating 60,000 words a week into a Dictaphone including all 26 original radio scripts. The Doc Savage Magazine was printed by Street and Smith from 1933 into 1949—a total of 181 issues.

There were three Doc Savage radio series, the first two were broadcast during the time the pulp mag was in circulation. The first was in 1934 a series of 15-minute shows. It ran for 26 episodes on the Don Lee network. It did well enough to get national syndication. So far as I know there are no surviving transcriptions. In 1943 Street and Smith tried again this time over WMCA-AM in New York City. that series went on for another 26 episodes. In 1985, NPR ran 13 half-hour episodes of The Adventures of Doc Savage. These were all-new original scripts but based on the existing cannon.

I suspect that after all these years that Doc Savage is done with radio. But Bantam books reprinted a string of the the original Street and Smith Doc Savage mags in 1964 reinvigorating the series. that's part of the reason the books were still being published in the 1980s. With a feature film pending, it's always possible for a fourth radio series.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

42-50 MHz: the Other FM Band

In 1937, Edwin H. Armstrong built the first FM radio station, W2XMN. It first operated at 600 watts and broadcast from Alpine, NJ on 42.8 MHz. Contemporary accounts record that after it increased to 40,000 watts that it was audible 100 miles away. He had run tests as early as 1925, and there were a few other contemporary FMs, but this was the big commercial venture. The original Apex FM band reached from 42–50 MHz before it was rudely unseated in 1945.  To be succinct, it was the fault of David Sarnoff and it set back the AM to FM conversion by at least a decade, maybe longer... so long that today it may be coterminous with radio broadcasting (at least as we know it.)  

In all honesty it's not all that cut and dry. Two totally reliable sources disagree with me. Gary Lewis Frost claims that Armstrong lied to the FCC about FMs requirements to try to keep it in place which may have effected the outcome.  Hugh Slotten argues that RCA didn't get their proposals core requests and that the relocation wasn't what we currently assume. the conflicting engineering was fact. TV and FM could not effectively occupy the same band. Sarnoff also definitely lobbied government regulators. It's also a fact that FM lost and had to move. You can make your own decisions about the nuance.

But that early FM era was 8 years long and for early adopters had it's own radio band very different than the one listeners know today. But they had prefab radios already; both Zenith and GE were making FM radios.  In 1936 the FCC was still expanding the FM band due to demand. TV made it all go pear-shaped. In 1942 there were 82 FM stations on the original band in the U.S. [List Here] And as you'd expect they were clustered around the largest U.S. Markets. New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Etc. By 1939, Apex stations were operating in 34 cities in 22 states.  Let's take New York for example at it's peak. More here. In 1941 the following was reported by the weekly Broadcasting Magazine:
"As there are 35 channels set aside for FM broadcasting—six Class A, 22 Class B, and seven Class C—and it is not feasible for stations in the same locality to operate on adjacent channels, the number in New York is limited to 17—three Class A, 11 Class B, and four Class C."    
That's a pretty accurate statement. Since stations cannot be on adjacent channels of the 35 possible frequencies only half can be used in any one market. Half of 35 is 17.5, and there's no such thing as half a station. So in an ideal well-engineered world you could have up to 17. It's not that simple but you get the point.  You'll count only 13 below. I'll get into the difference in the next paragraph. 

42.1 WNYE
43.9 WNYC
44.7 W47NY (WGYN)
45.1 W2XWG (W51NY, WEAF)
45.5 W55NY (WFGG)
45.9 W2XQR (W59NY, WQXQ)
46.3 W63NY (WHNF)
46.7 W67NY (WABC-FM)
47.1 W71NY (WOR-FM, WBAM)
47.5 W75NY (WABF)
49.5 W95NJ (WAAW)
49.9 W99NY CP

The FCC had made north New Jersey and New York City into separate service areas. As you know today that's not very practical. Arbitron considers those precious New Jersey metros to be "embedded" in the New York City MSA including Morristown, Monmouth, and Middlesex-Somerset. 

But after the move all that went kaflooey. In 1945 the FCC announced a plan of frequency allocations plan for over 1,500 FM stations.The Apex band would go to Television. The only fight left was how it would be chopped up. Armstrong held out with court injunctions but Sarnoffs money was talking loudly in DC. It was clear that Armstrong was going to lose. By September the FCC has issued a new band including new allocations including nine New York Stations, and WAAW in that funky north New Jersey market. In July 1946 the Apex band was closed to FM save for Armstrong's experimental KE2XCC holding on with just a court order. He died in 1954 and the station held on for another 4 weeks. By 1946 the big move was essentially over and the new FM band (below) was settled. It was expanded and was re-engineered repeatedly but it might look a bit familiar already.

91.7 WNYE
92.1 W2XMN / WFMN
95.3 WNYC
95.7 WAAW / WAAT
96.1 WGYN
96.5 WBAM
96.9 WABC / WCBS
97.3 WEAF / WNBC
97.7 WQXQ
98.1 WGYN
98.5 WABF
98.9 WFMN
99.3 WHNF / WMGM
99.7 WFGG / WGHF

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Transcription Mystery Disc #28

This disc is in rough shape. Both sides had partial de-lamination. This is the better of the two sides. It took a low pass filter very well and despite appearances, is surprisingly listenable... at least in terms of old acetates. The other side is missing the label entirely. This one is labeled "I Won't Cry."  My initial assumption was that this was a version of the Bobby Vinton song of the same title, but it is not.

The lyrics appear to be original, and the rendition is accapella. Phonozoic dates this type of Audiodisc acetate to the 1940s. I have no reason to think this 7-Inch disc is otherwise. It spins at 78 rpm, and starts at the outer edge. That and the wear pattern is at least consistent with the vintage.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Radio Ads

There was once a monthly British magazine called Punch. It was first published in July 17 of 1841. It survived for decades eventually becoming a national institution. It went through changes in management, ownership, format, layout and the occasional scandal. After 160 years and almost 2000 issues, it ceased to exist in 2002 after a failed reboot in the early 1990s. This has nothing to do directly with radio. But recently I came into the possession of two issues. One is from November of 1927, and the other from December 1931—the golden age of radio. I scanned a couple ads for your edification: Ecko, Philips, Lotus, Langham and Mullard valves.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Cab Calloways's Quizzicale

Very briefly Cab Calloway had his own program.  He and his orchestra were featured on his own radio program, Cab Calloway's Quizzicale. The program had two separate runs. The first was from July through September of 1941 on Mutual. It aired on Sundays 10:30-11:00pm.  In 1942 it aired Wednesdays 9:30 -10:00 pm on NBC Blue. After that he went back on tour. It ran as a "sustainer," because no sponsor could be found for a program which featured African-American as the host.  The program was broadcast from station WOR in its Mutual incarnation, while the NBC Blue version aired from a different city each week. More here.

Cab Calloway's popularity was greatly due to his twice-weekly live national radio broadcasts on NBC at the Cotton Club. Calloway also appeared on Walter Winchell's radio program. But the Quizzacale, though short-lived was something else entirely.The Quizzacale was a parody of Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. Calloway played the role of Professor Calloway. Eddie Barefield was Brother Treadway, and Milt Hinton was Brother Sixty-Two Jones.

Barefield was a saxophonist, and clarinet player he played for Calloway from 1933-1936, but also Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, and Bernie Moten. When working with Calloway at WOR he was a staff musician for ABC. Late in his career he actually played for The Ringling Brothers Circus. Hinton was a bassist, supposedly the most recorded bass player in history. Early in his career he played with fiddler Eddie South. Moving to Chicago he played in the Chicago scene and graduated to playing with the likes of Art Tatum and Joe Venuti. By 1935 he was playing for Zutty Singleton. It was there that Calloway discovered and then drafted him. He stayed with Calloway's orchestra until it was disbanded in 1951.

Eddie Barefield died of a heart-attack in New York on January 4, 1991. Milt Hinton died six years later in the same city, at the age of 90. Cab Calloway out lived Eddie by 3 years, making it to 86 years old.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Jazz-Rock KFMK

As long as I can remember, 97.9 KBXX has been a CHR/Rhythmic station.But like any station more than a few years old, it's had some former incarnations. 'The Box' debuted it's current format back in 1991. But back in the 60s it was a free form FM station, wild and crazy living a woolly rock n' roll playlist. KFMK debuted on the FM dial in Houston back in 1958. In those years they only broadcast from 8:00 AM to Midnight.They ran block programming and from the get-go carried even some jazz programming such as Dan Shannon's "Jazz in America." By 1960 they were already calling themselves 98FM. It was the first radio station in Houston to play rock music on the FM dial. There may have been others that snuck in a single or two but this was not a Top-40 station it was all rock n' roll.
In October of 1967 they dropped that free form mess and flipped to what they called "Rock-Jazz." Billboard,dumbfounded, ran a very short article the change. Billboard's description of it as Rock-Jazz seems comical now of course but maybe not at the time. Some of that later hot jazz was just as rambunctious as rock n' roll. This website explained it thusly:
"It was the epitome of underground radio in the early days. It was an FM station that was so low powered that they had to run promos on how to construct home antenae that were the right length to receive the signal!! This was done with cool moog synthesizer music in the background."
But later references to the station indicate they were still playing progressive rock in 1968. Rock-Jazz, whatever it was, died in 1968. Under Crawford broadcasting it became a Southern Gospel station and then a Contemporary Christian station. They sold it in 1979 to First Media who flipped it to an oldies/ Soft AC mix. That odd mix hung on through most of the 80s even being decribed by Billboard in 1989 as an "oldies Top 40 blend."The KFMK calls currently reside just outside Austin now on 105.9.  More here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

NARFD or Not

The National Association of Radio Farm Directors (NARFD) was founded in 1943. These were very different years in terms of radio programming. In those days Billboard actually had a category for "Farm Programs" in their Best Local Program Competition. Today the format is leaner and more insular than ever. And from the start, their annual meetings documented the diminishing presence of farm programming. NARFD in some ways had the very basic purpose of changing that. They wanted to sell Farm Programs outside of their local markets. At a meeting in 1948 it was admitted that less than one third had managed to do so. NARFD had only 140 members in that year.
NARFD executives tended to serve repeatedly and often went into government especially the USDA whom they had close ties to. It's first President Chuck Worcester of WMT-AM was unseated in 1946 and Layne Beaty of WBAP-AM took over as Chuck moved down a notch to become VP. Beaty later served as an information advisor in Europe with the U.S. aid programs; and from 1954 to 1980. In 1949 Roy Battle of WLW became president and Phil Alampi of WJZ became VP. Alampi had his term at the helm a few years later. His wife Ruth read a poem at their 1947 banquet "The Lament of the Forgotten Women—RFD's wife."
That same year the USDA cut back on the funds it had been using to support agricultural radio programing and NARFD was caught off guard. They were powerless to change the decision so they issued a terse statement that blamed no one directly but instead mourned their collective shrinking importance.
"We regret the circumstances which have compelled curtailment of funds and personnel to an extent which severely limits the ability of the USDA radio services to adequately serve agriculture and which also limits assistance to radio farm directors in providing adequate farm service to listeners." 
While big market AMs bought FM sticks and expanded into TV NARFD stations barely limped along. Station managers dissatisfied with unprofitable farm departments cut them back or cut them off.  They needed a game-changer. In 1955 NARFD became the National Association of Television and Radio Farm Directors (NATRFD.) IN the move they increased their ranks to almost 500 members. membership to 500. The name changed in 1964 to the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB). In 2005, the name was adjusted to National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB)needling over grammar.
Chuck continued on at WMT into the 1950s. Fifty years later, President Chuck Worcester is not forgotten. They award Chuck Worcester Scholarships to this day. I haven't heard it yet, but his voice is recorded on the WMT Voice of Iowa LP released in 1962.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Trancription Mystery Disc #103

This is a typical 78 rpm Voice-O-Graph disc. It's condition looks worse than it is. The grooves are relatively clean and free-of wear, but it's cracked, four times. By playing it back slowly, and editing out the pops I was able to produce a listenable rip. I applied a different filter to 3 different segments because of varied bed noise. This is audible, and one segment in the middle remains irretrievable.

The label says "Mother's Day May 4th 1951"  The speaker is a soldier in basic training.  He refers to his last letter, a car he got in Blacksville, a 10 hour-pass and his last $30.  There are eleven Blackburn's un the United states and I cant figure out which one has the closest or most-likely military base.  But his accent is southern, and according to him, he will visit home soon, whoever he is.