If you think you’ve got a decent AM or shortwave portable, but you’re not receiving much beyond local stations and static at night, there’s one easy way to give it a chance to perform. Take it outside. Most houses are full of RF (radio noise) generating devices and signal blocking material. Big buildings are often worse.
Of course, what’s better is to get away from all the buildings and electrical devices altogether. That’s why I like to DX on summer camping trips, and that’s where the dial scan I’m featuring on this post was recorded. I was in northern Michigan at a state park located on small peninsula extending out into Lake Michigan. Call me a fool, but give me a nice campsite, a few radios, a picnic table, and a few beers on ice and I’m gonna have a good time. That evening the nearby roaring fire was a bonus, as well as the black sky full of stars overhead. The sliver of a moon didn't rise in the sky until several hours after sunset and the Milky Way was a magnificent white smudge across the sky. I haven’t seen it that distinctly since that night.
I was listening to my Optimus 12-603A, also known as a "Tuned RF AM-FM Extended Range Receiver." What it really is a Radio Shack ripoff of the excellent GE SuperRadio. It’s a good receiver, not quite as super as the original GE model, which can be found easily online for around forty bucks. Both have great sound and reception, but only AM & FM. No shortwave bands.
I also had an external Radio Shack's loop antenna (15-1853) hooked up to the radio as well. Like usual, this was a Radio Shack ripoff of another (probably better) product, but it’s a powerful device for thirty bucks. Requires no batteries. You adjust its knob to the frequency you’re tuning in, and then you rotate the antenna to get the best copy of the signal. In a good DX situation like I had that night, it’s quite possible to find two or possibly three separate readable stations at one frequency by just rotating the antenna. And remember, if you're going to try this yourself the AM antenna is a typically ferrite bar INSIDE the radio (usually mounted lengthwise across the top), so you need to turn the radio itself to improve the reception, not the extended aerial which is for FM and shortwave.
All that said, don’t walk into a Radio Shack looking for the equipment I’m talking about here. They’ve discontinued both the antenna and the radio. While I don’t remember any public announcement, over the last decade Radio Shack stores has become a different kind of franchise. Where you could once find a plethora of shortwave radios and all the clips, cables and connectors you’d ever need, Radio Shack is now a swell place to get accessories for your cell phone and some nice video equipment. I think they keep a few radios around just in case somebody happens to notice that the word "radio" is in their logo.
And what makes this session of radio listening more interesting than some others is the point in time of its occurrence. It was Thursday, August 23, 2001. George Bush Jr. was on the longest vacation of any sitting President, and the attacks of September 11 were just two and half weeks away. So, the radio recordings I made on that trip are audio specimen slides of our culture on the brink of a cataclysmic event, and right before the dawn of a national obsession. It was a lot like the world we live in now, except totally different.
As on my first post in this series, the recording offered will feature me slowly turning the knob on an analog receiver starting out the low end of the AM dial (530 KHz) and working my way up, usually stopping at each point where a signal should be (in 10 KHz steps in the U.S.), and then adjusting the dial and antenna to find the best reception (if there’s something there). And the text below will be an attempt to briefly identify and perhaps describe what was received.
I believe this scan begins sometime just before 11 p.m., but I haven’t verified that yet. With a decent setup and a good location, every notch on the dial at night is filled with something, even it’s just 2 or three stations faintly throbbing on top of each other. And in a situation like this a majority of the allotted frequencies will have some station you can discern if you work at tuning it in. However some stations will come in much weaker than others, and others will have some tough competition with a station sharing the frequency in another part of the country. But at some stops, there really is nothing there to hear but distant tiny noises.
Like the first post in this series, this is a medium wave scan from 530 to 750 on the dial. Like usual, I didn’t keep a log but there are so many familar stations across the dial here that it’s usually not difficult to know what frequency I’m near at most points in this recording. And it sure helps having the internet to quickly research stations as you review a listening session like this.
If you haven’t read any posts in this series and if you’re wondering why or how I’m looking for distant radio stations, you might want to check out the first post here, where these such topics are explained or linked in greater detail.
On now on to the show.
Segment 1 - Northern Michigan Radio 08-23-01 (530 to 750 AM) (download MP3 here)
530 - (Nothing Intelligible)
540 - (Nothing Intelligible)
550 - WKRC Cincinnati, OH
It’s THE TALK STATION. Starts off with a promo for the 55KRC Morning show. Sounds kinda like a manic loud mouth talk host sounding unconvincingly outraged. This is followed by one of their pre-recorded slogans: “We have an opinion, and we give it everyday.” Just think, in less than three weeks slogans like this would be replaced by “United We Stand,” and “God Bless America.”
This is actually a pretty good catch considering that WKRC is only broadcasting with 1000 watts from 450 miles away.
560 - WEBC Duluth, MN (probably)
Some sports conversation. Apparently there was some bitterness between the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears. I hope they've worked it out since then.
570 or 560 - (Unidentified Spanish station)
Might be something in Cuba. Sounds like there might have been some kind of ID in there. Any Spanish speakers out there able to help me ID this station?
570 - WKBN Youngstown, OH
“You’ve got a voice. Use it! Call the comment line...” It must be a talk station. Then some techno bumper music leads us into the Phil Hendrie program. Phil is calling his own show on the phone again, pretending to be “guest”-- one of his stock characters, "Ted Bell." It’s another screwball Hendrie monologue where he pretends to be outrageous goofball and suck in angry callers who think he and his guest are actually two different people.
580 - (Nothing Intelligible)
Sounds like at least three different stations somwhere...
590 - WTCM Traverse City, MI
The topic of the night begins.
“I think everybody will agree that this guy is immoral...”
Earlier that evening, Connie Chung interviewed Congressman Gary Condit on national television. The Chandra Levy missing person story (now a murder mystery no one talks about much) was the number one issue in America the month before 9-11. And as you’ll hear repeatedly through this dial scan, it was all over talk radio and the news. While I’m as likely as any of the callers you’ll hear on these recordings to suspect Condit might have had some role in Levy’s offing. But I don't KNOW, and I really leave it to the police and courts to figure that out that sort of thing. And I don’t spend a lot of time dreaming up scenarios and motives, and invest any of my valuable anger toward a creepy California politician.
It’s funny how foul play against one attractive American white girl combined with a politician’s adultery scandal can capture an entire country’s imagination and make so many people angry, yet the death and torture of thousands of people overseas barely registers any national outrage. Gary Condit had nothing to worry about. In less than a month everybody forgot about Mr. Condit or that body that would eventually be found in Rock Creek Park.
This is “The Jim Bohannon Show.” Bohannon inherited Larry King’s late night radio gig when King gave it up in 1993. Maybe it takes somebody as uncharismatic on the radio as Bohannon to make you really miss Larry King. But he’s real pissed off about Gary Condit at this time. Call in the Ethics Committee! It has already been over two years since the Clinton impeachment and the possibility of another Democrat in a sex scandal was getting a lot people in the media all worked up. As the caller keenly points out, these politicians need to “keep their morality up in their off-time.”
590 - (Unidentified lousy rock music)
I don’t know. Could be CKRS 590 in Jonquiere, Quebec, or WJMS, 590 in AM, Ironwood, Michigan.
600 - CFCH North Bay, ON (probably)
It’s faint country pop song– “Yooooo never FOOLED around...” Kinda hokey, but I think I like it.
610 WTVN Columbus, OH
More Condit fever. This caller’s got it all figured out, and the talk
host is interviewing him as if he were an invited pundit with years of research under his belt. And he asking pointed questions about an interview the caller hadn't even seen yet. But look at the facts. Condit has been “ducking the media on
the questions,” and “lying to the authorities that were investigating
it...What else CAN you assume?” Assuming is even more fun when you do it together, isn't it?
Ducking the media? Lying to authorities? You could get into trouble... if you're a Democrat.
620 - WTMJ Milwaukee, WI
This is coming in pretty good across Lake Michigan. Nothing blocking a radio wave flying across all that water. While the trolley to the Mexican Fiesta commercial is nothing special, the two that follow are entertaining local ads. The first is for a company that calls itself the “guardians of data,” and presupposes that customers might be “frolicking naked through candyland” when a monster storm knocks out their “service.” The next is an ad for a music warehouse joint encouraging parents to rent the musical instruments when kids take up music lessons. After all, parents need to protect themselves. It’s nice little manic collage.
630 - CFCO Chatham, ON
It’s a Canadian oldies station between Detroit and Toronto, "Classic Gold." Nothing special, except the fact that you’re hearing a music format on AM radio, which isn’t so common these days. It’s Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay.” I didn’t edit it, and just included the whole song on this archive. If you can enjoy this song for what it is, from a somewhat distant station with Art Bell’s talk show eating the edges of the signal, maybe you have what it takes to DX AM radio. As far as copying a distant music station, this ain’t bad.
640 - (Nothing Intelligible)
A few stations battling it out here, at least three of them. There’s a man and woman speaking English with foreign accents and a sports station. I do wonder what all this is.
650 - WSM Nashville, TN
The big clear channel station in Nashville and the home of The Grand Ole Opry. Over 650 miles away and coming in with clarity. Still playing the old country music after all these years. I wish there were more stations like this across the dial. And it’s another catchy song.
660 - WFAN New York, NY
Some deep pop psychology regarding the New York Mets. Some people spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the emotions and motivations of a few rich athletes.
It’s a whopping clear channel signal however, and used to be a big NYC top 40 station (WNBC) once. It’s almost 650 miles away
670 - WSCR Chicago, IL
More sports. Nice awkward live read (at least I HOPE it’s live) of a restaurant spot. Actually this is the best moment I’ve heard on a sports talk station in quite a while.
680 - (Nothing Intelligible)
A muddle of signals. One of them is probably CFTR, a talk station in Toronto.
690 - CINF Montreal, QC
This is the same station I picked up in upstate New York heard on this post. I had said it was CBF at that time (That’s still how the Radio Locator site identifies it.) But Canadian reader David Bachner in his comment corrected me. And he’s right. Apparently official CBC stations have call letters that begin in with “CB,” and this station was sold to other interests in a national campaign that had the network giving up their AM outlets for high fidelity FM stations. Now it’s "Info690," a French language talk station.
700 - WLW Cincinnati, OH
Sports. After a year the Bengals are getting used to their new stadium. I’ve heard it takes a while to get adjusted to a stadium.
710 - (Nothing Intelligible)
Seems like I should have stuck around a little longer and worked that antenna to see if I could dig WOR in New York out of the noise.
720 - WGN Chicago, IL
Gas prices were rising in the Chicago area. I guess there was a refinery fire.
730 - (Nothing Intelligible)
740 - CHWO Toronto, ON
Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
Otherwise known as AM 740, this is one of my favorite stations on the AM dial here in the city at night. Although they don’t have a live DJ in the wee hours, their “jukebox” format overnight has plenty of old pop tunes to satisfy and entertain almost anybody who remembers when the AM dial was full of this stuff. It’s a shame that since clear channel WQEW has been reduced to running canned "Radio Disney" that not one station has taken up a format anything like this in New York City. And there's not a country station here either.
750 - WWKK Petoskey, MI
The Rolling Stones - “Get Off Of My Cloud”
This is now “Progressive Talk KOOL-750,” but this is when it used to be an oldies station, still called KOOL-750. (Why avoid those intriguing call letters– WWKK?) The transmitter itself is very close, less than twenty miles away, but the signal is dodgy at best. Why? They’re only allowed to run 330 watts at night.
Just turn the loop antenna, and there’s another radio station. And this one is a better read, AND it’s coming from over 800 miles away. That’s the power of a 50,000 watt clear channel station.
First the weather. It’s August, it’s horrible hot in Atlanta. And there’s a “code orange” alert. However, it’s not a terrorism problem. Just smog. And some radio smog as well, in the form of a rerun of the Neal Boortz program. He’s another second tier national right wing blabbermouth host based out of Atlanta. Like O’Reilly, he occasionally disagrees with the Republican party line and acts like he's a radical maverick. But he’s just another monkey, and not an appealing one.
Actually, he has a male/female duo filling in this evening. And tonight’s scintillating topic? Should teachers who go through a sex
change come back to work at the same school or district after they’ve
“crossed over?” Man, that’s got a lot of potential for a burning
debate. Thanks to talk radio a lot of important issues are thoughtfully
reasoned out in public forums like this.
Next week I’ll get back to this dial scan, again starting at WJR in Detroit. If you're interested in other posts in this series they can be found here.
Thanks for listening.