If you’ve followed this blog series at all, you know that it’s based on audio content, specifically radio reception I’ve recorded. After featuring shortwave radio in the last four posts I was ready to go back to some of the sounds of medium wave (AM) again. However, recordings I had thought I would feature were either of poor quality, not all that interesting, or missing in action. What’s worse, it took a few hours of listening and searching to figure this out.
Actually, it would have been easier to comb through some shortwave recordings I have ready to go, but now and then I do want to talk about AM radio in this series as well. While it isn't as exotic as shortwave, the AM band is very 20th century-- an era I’m still rather fond of. Instead of spending additional hours digging through boxes full of cassettes and trying to find something compelling I decided to do the obvious– turn on the radio.
In previous posts where I’ve gone over some AM stations, I’ve barely touched the higher half of the band. There’s a reason for this. A big chunk of the AM up that way is allocated to local and regional broadcasting. In other words, there aren’t any far off high power stations to clearly hear and savor. And unless you’re near one of these minor signals at each 10 kHz stop on the AM band all you usually hear is a cacophony of low power stations meekly throbbing from afar.
Just for fun (and to generate some content for this damn blog post), I decided to explore this AM wilderness late Sunday night (the wee hours of April 10) and record the results. There are no 50,000 watt powerhouses from 1230 to 1490 kHz (and none past 1680 kHz (including the medium wave band extension up to 1700 kHz in the U.S.). And frankly, there’s not much compelling English language programming to be found from New York City on this segment of the AM band. During the day, once you get past WLIB (Air America’s home base/NYC outlet) at 1190 kHz almost everything is in another language. Mostly Spanish. At night it’s not a lot different except that multitudes of non-local low power stations fill the holes on the dial. You’ll hear a lot of that in this recording.
As far as content, the audio offered in this post is (in most ways) less than compelling. It’s more about radio reception itself, and what the lonely end of the AM band sounds like from New York City at night. If you're tickled by the sound of a dozen or more distant radio stations buzzing together at once then you’re going to enjoy this audio sampling.
There is nothing amazing or profound here and it's not easy listening. Some DXers love to dig into these less popular AM frequencies and seek out the teeny transmissions out in the noise. This can take plenty of skill and patience, and good equipment and antennas can make all the difference.
The reception in this recording is accomplished with my trusty Panasonic RF-2200. Since it’s an analog rig I verified a number of these frequencies with a nearby digital receiver-- a Sangean ATS-505. And unless there was loud local bleed over from another frequency, the old Panasonic had a much better grasp on the reception. The RF-2200 (even in Brooklyn) is a hearty performer on medium wave.
More than any other band scan I’ve offered in this series, this is a real noisefest. While I do hope that many readers download and check out the audio provided in these posts, I should admit that this particular scan may only be of interest to those who ears are attuned to dodgy AM reception. And while I think I’ve offered some pretty compelling and unusual broadcasting in this series, the content here isn’t really the point. It’s the lonesome sound of the forgotten end of a nearly forgotten broadcast band in the middle of the night.
However, for a strange guy like me there’s still a musicality in barely making out a voice in a sea of unintelligible signals, as well as just being awash in a multitude of extremely faint radio stations all at once. And this experience is unique to AM radio. No where on the FM or shortwave dial can you hear so many stations simultaneously. And for me personally, there's something promising in the electronic hubbub. It means I'm listening to a sensitive AM radio, and that I may hear a station or program I've never heard before.
I assure you, if digital broadcasting one day usurps analog amplitude modulation on medium wave the sound of multitudes of stations offering incomplete digital data on frequencies like these is going to offer something much more raw and much less human. That said, I'm not convinced this will ever happen, but if it does DXing will never be the same.
1220 - WHKW Cleveland, OH
Just to the right of WHPT in Philadelphia I found this. Something about Jesus and school. Maybe some information about the ongoing sadistic war on Christianity. In this mess I also hear reference to Pat Robertson’s evil “American Center for Law & Justice,” sort of like the anti-ACLU which basically works to protect the rights of theocrats and their kind, not human beings in general. I believe this is a rebroadcast of the ACLJ’s “Jay Sekulow Live!”
Although this is a 50,000 watt station it’s a very directional signal aiming north and south and not easy to hear out on the east coast. When I was a kid this was WGAR, a normal radio station. Actually, this frequency in Cleveland has gone through quite a few changes in the last couple decades, which you can read about here.
1230 & 1240 - Nothing But Noise
Quickly skipped over. Really couldn’t hear anything over the background
roar. In fact these two frequencies (along with 1340, 1400, 1450 and
1490 kHz) are known as “graveyard frequencies.” Originally
known as “local channels,” these frequencies were allotted to very low power stations to serve local communities. Before 1960 a station broadcasting
at these spots on the dial could only put out 250 watts. These days
they’re allowed to play with up to 1000 watts.
1250 - WMTR Morristown, NJ
With a crowd of distant stations pulsing in the background, you hear a lo-fi rendering of the beginning of an insurgent 60's hit by the Spencer Davis Group. Back in the 70's and 80's the AM dial was teeming with oldies stations like this. No longer. The ones that are left are mostly on FM these days, and often try to skew their programming too a slightly younger crowd by dumping MTV-era pop into the mix. While I don’t tune in WMTR very often, I don’t believe they’ve done that yet.
It’s only thirty some miles away, but their nighttime 7000 watts isn’t all that impressive here in Brooklyn. It’s a little better during the day, and once you get across the Hudson and into New Jersey reception improves pretty quickly. Considering that New York City no longer has an “oldies” radio station or ANY English language music formats on the AM dial, I’ll bet there’s probably a few diehard folks in the city who remember the heyday of AM Top 40 stations like WABC and WMCA and keep a little radio near the window tuned to hear Fats Domino and the Dave Clark Five on WMTR.
1260 - Nothing Intelligible
1270 - Nothing Intelligible (plus WADO bleeding into the frequency)
1280 - WADO New York, NY
This has been a Spanish language news and talk station in New York City for over forty years. It’s coming in strong, and you get the ID with a little music.
1290 - Nothing Intelligible (WADO bleeds into this frequency as well)
1300 - A Jumble of Stations
This is typical of frequency stops where there’s no local station. Just how many layers of distant radio signals are piled on top of one another here in this throng of sound? What’s interesting to me is that it seems that it seems to be a dozen or more male voices talking at once. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since that’s what most of AM radio is these days– the sound of so many men talking. Years ago, this type of accidental collage would have been mostly music with a few voices all pulsating together.
1310 - A Jumble of Stations
Another mass of voices, not as loud as the mob at 1300 kHz.
1320 - Nothing Intelligible (WADO bleeds into this frequency as well)
1330 - WWRV New York, NY (Radio Vision Cristiana)
Christian propaganda in Español coming in strong with a reverb sheen and soothing music. Strangely enough, this station is rebroadcast with a monster transmitter from the Carribean and can be received locally in New York at 540 kHz as well (which I had mentioned in this post). Christian broadcasting, it’s relentless.
This is another one of those “graveyard frequencies.”
1350 - Another Jumble
Another mess of stations, but with a sappy adult contemporary ballad faintly leading the pack.
1360 - Another Jumble of Stations
1370 - Jumble
However, there seems to be two stations in front on this frequency. One or both seem to be playing commercials. And it’s just a few minutes after 3 am at this point, a typical time for spots after or during the news. I think I hear a violin in there somewhere.
1380 - WKDM New York, NY
A mambo! This frequency in New York has been broadcasting in a number of languages (mostly Spanish) since the 1960's and has a few call letter changes as well. It’s currently a “ brokered” ethnic station, meaning people who speak languages than English buy blocks of programming to do their thing. Obviously, it’s Spanish here and a bit nostalgic as well.
1390 - Another Jumble of Stations
Many stations here again. Could that be CCR ever so slightly sticking out atop this pulsating audio slop?
1400 - Unknown Talk Station
Coming in very poorly on this graveyard frequency, it’s a right-wing female talk host spouting off about the immigration bill in the Senate. Not much to go on here, but a little detective work leads me to think this might be WSTC in Stamford, CT or WWGE in Loretto, PA, or maybe something else.
1410 - KQV Pittsburgh, PA
Some patient dial manipulation and antenna tweaking pulled this one up out of another frequency pile up. In fact, in a moment of DX happenstance the station seems to come in at it’s strongest right when they give the ID. This was a successful top 40 station for many years, and now it’s all news all the time. Oh, and El Rushbo was a hotshot rock jock here years ago too.
1420 - Jumble
More messy reception with a nice heterodyne whine for your pleasure.
1430 - WNSW Newark, NJ
Not coming in as well as usual, this is another brokered (mainly ethnic) station at this end of the dial in NYC. And they’re playing some sweet Spanish ballads. Sounds Mexican to me, but what do I know.
Earlier in the evening you can hear big band/standards stalwart Danny Stiles on this frequency playing old and moldy classics and rarities. And via the miracle of minidisc recording he also broadcasts late in the night on a stronger frequency in the city on sister station WPAT at 930 AM.
1440 - Unknown Christian Station
Not coming in very well. A creepy preacher carrying on. Something about a human conspiracy (is there any other kind?) in ancient Rome. Don’t really know what this is. I suppose it could be WNYG out on Long Island, but offering only 38 watts after sunset that seems unlikely.
1450 - One More Messy Jumble of Stations
One more stop in the graveyard. Absolutely nothing to hear at this frequency except that fact that somewhere out there a whole bunch of stations are using up electricity.
That’s it for my impromptu scan of the upper end of the AM band. Considering the fact that my apartment is less than five miles from 50,000 watt WQEW at 1560 kHz the next few frequencies are polluted by the Radio Disney garbage they spew into the atmosphere. The signal is so strong that it bleeds into my stereo system if there’s bad connection and you can hear the station by just picking up the pay phone down the street.
During the 1990's, WQEW was the home of damn good standards/nostalgia station, but in 1998 the owners of the license (The New York Times) saw fit to rent out this wide-coverage clear channel frequency to the freaks at Disney/ABC for their automated kiddie format. Those guys at the Times are such visionaries.
Other posts in this radio series can be found here.
Thanks for listening