Here’s the second installment of an AM band dial scan I began a couple weeks back at BOTB. This little radio safari was recorded while I camped out on the deck of a beach house on the Connecticut coast near Bridgeport in late August.
Serious DXers favor the eastern coast of North America for picking up AM stations broadcasting from Europe and Africa (although a location right on the Atlantic Ocean rather than Long Island Sound would be preferable). However, the best time for that would be early evening and the best results would include employing an external antenna. I’d love to try this sometime, but was hardly equipped to do so on this excursion. One day...
This upcoming weekend I’m headed out of the RF noise of the city for the Catskills Mountains where I plan on scanning the international shortwave bands in search of interesting and exotic programming to feature in this series. With these two posts I’ve made a point of getting back to exploring the AM band again, because it remains the heartland of amplitude modulated broadcasting and sometimes it’s just fun to hear traffic reports from other regions of North America.
I gotta say that I think we may be coming into a prime season for some compelling and strange content on both U.S. AM radio and international shortwave. In a few days we’ll enter October, a month preceding a national election in this increasingly bizarre country of ours, and the polls still hint that the Republicans are at risk of losing the house and possibly the senate. It might just be prime time for a big political firestorm... I mean, a BIG surprise. And it’s not just the constructively paranoid types predicting it. Word is King Pig Karl Rove himself is promising something special for the faithful. So do stay tuned.
Meanwhile, as far as the content offered here, there's nothing all that amazing (or ghastly) in this scan (other than some pleasant music from Canada)-- just a fairly representative sampling of the AM band filled with a number of clear channel 50 kilowatt transmissions (on an evening when the big story involved a pale clown eager to be charged with the murder of a baby beauty pageant contestant).
As far as archiving AM radio, I try to sweep the band before 1 am Eastern time when “Coast to Coast” comes on the air. Because after that the dial is clogged with the five hundred or so North America affiliates carrying the show and there’s so much less variety of programming available for the rest of the night. And sometimes the supernatural and paranormal topics on Coast to Coast can be so damn boring.
This reception was recorded on my Degen 1103, a portable digital receiver. It’s has decent medium wave performance, but the way it renders the sound of coming in and out of frequencies (and inherent radio noise in general) has a bit more of a edge (and to my ears is less graceful) than you’d usually hear using an analog set. This part of the scan starts sometime after midnight.
780 - WBBM Chicago, IL
It’s the AM news station in Chicago. Reception is dodgy.
790 - (nothing intelligible)
But lots of signals throbbing in the distance.
800 - CKLW Windsor, ON
To Canada again, this time it’s Windsor (across the river from Detroit) and CKLW, the former North American top 40 giant. Nowadays they do “lifestyle” talk, which seems to be much more popular in Canada than the U.S. After a promo for their lightweight morning drive program and a beer commercial it’s “Healthy Talk.” Like I said, it’s a talk station but politics isn’t on the agenda.
810 - WGY Schenectady, NY
It’s Rollye James, kind of an anomaly in the talk radio world. A smokey voiced blonde with without much of a particular political slant who does kind of a conspiracy/paranormal “lite” routine along with an on-air obsession for discussing (and occasionally playing) old R&B hits.
I first heard Rollye (strange spelling, eh?) a few years ago when she was trying out as a guest host on Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast” program. Then I came across her on WPHT in Philadelphia. Now Rollye is national, but not currently syndicated on many stations. Mostly small markets. It ain’t easy being a freelance talk host these days. Lots of competition. Coast to Coast is hugely popular and other hosts in that vein (Jeff Rense for example) haven’t made much headway in syndication.
Gosh, what a rushed and uninspired version of “Stranded in the Jungle” Rollye.
820 - WNYC New York, NY
The AM side of New York’s NPR outlet, playing the BBC World Service, which they do a handful of hours each day. Superficial money and business news, not terribly exciting. And not a strong signal from WNYC here in southern Connecticut at night.
830 - (nothing intelligible)
A few stations. I assume one is WCCO in Minneapolis.
840 - WHAS Louisville, KY and ?
Not coming in well at first, but this is the usual suspect at 840-- WHAS, a Kentucky talk station. Instead I move the radio around, attempting to pull in the more exotic broadcast emanating from further south. This is where the circumstances may have changed since I'm listening right on the coast. North American clear channel stations like WHAS usually own their frequency over a huge swath of the continent.
However, here a Latin music station is coming in with a bit of power if I turn the radio to a certain angle-- a flute and conga drum can be heard. Just after eight minutes into this archive you can hear what I believe is an ID for this station in Spanish (it’s right before the blank space caused by a tape flip). Anybody catch this?
And when I turn the radio (again, I’m not “tuning,” I’m adjusting the internal antenna by physically rotating the radio) WHAS is as clear as usual, with a little bit of distant thunderstorm static on top.
And “Attention Kentuckiana!” (You gotta love this local nicknames for regional media markets. Metro Chicago is known as “Chicagoland.”) is the intro for a car dealership spot offering a free little car if you purchase a big (SUV) car. Wow. Two-for-one car deals? As automotive sales continue to slump, the industry is coming up with some creative schemes to lure buyers these days. What happened to balloons and candy for the kids?
840 - WHAS Louisville, KY and ?
850 - WEEI Boston, MA?
Well it might be this sports station or maybe KOA in Denver (but I doubt that). Two boring network ads come up and I’m not patient enough to wade through more commercials and end up moving up to the next frequency.
860 - CJBC Toronto, ON
Unfortunately, this is the last major CBC outlet on the AM dial that has any widespread reach into the U.S., and it’s all French all the time. Female announcer, sounds like she might be reading off Canadian tour dates for one of the recording artists she’s about to play. Then it’s a moody folk-rock number, dark and a little quirky. Sound to me like Richard Thompson might be playing guitar on this one. If anyone can ID this song, or translate the french announcer in the comment section below, I’d sure appreciate it.
The next song (and what a nice segueway by the way) sounded very familiar to me for some reason. It’s a catchy pop tribal rave-up, featuring a singin’ and stompin’ kid chorus. And thanks to FMU’s Bill Zurat I discovered that this number had indeed become a bit of an FMU staple when a compilation (Freak Out Total Vol. 3) featuring the song landed in the new bin a couple years back. It’s “Ani-Kuni” by a French-Canadian singer (and actress?)– Madeleine Chartrand. And if you’re as enamored by this tune as I am, you’ll be pleased to know you can have high-quality MP3 of “Ani-Kuni” of your very own by going to the WFMU “On The Download” page. Thanks to WFMU's Music (and Program) Director Brian Turner who posted it there last year.
Beside’s the classic country of Nashville’s WSM (at 650kHz) and the easy oldies of AM 740 in Toronto, I’m hard pressed to think of any clear channel AM stations that can be heard in the Eastern U.S. who play a good mix of music. In fact, I’m not sure there’s any that play music at all. It’s a sad thing. But in all my years of AM DXing east of the Mississippi I’ve consistently heard the most interesting and diverse mix of music on CJBC at night. On any given evening you can hear great African music, all sorts of jazz, obscure rock and folk, all kinds of stuff. If there were a just a few more powerful North American stations blasting music programming half as thoughtful as CJBC, the quality of listening to AM radio at night around here would improve exponentially.
If you’re scanning the AM dial late at night anywhere within a few hundred miles of Toronto, CJBC is well worth checking out. Although Cuba’s Radio Reloj also beams in pretty strong on at 860kHz from time to time.
870 - WWL New Orleans, LA?
That’s probably what this is. They’re a sports heavy news/talk station, and this definitely sounds like some sports commentary or something, but it’s buried by adjacent (clear channel) WCBS at 880, which is what usually happens anywhere near New York City.
880 - WCBS New York, NY
I believe this is the tail end of a Yankees game. What astounded me was the list of sponsors. Instead of two, three or four companies funding these sportscasts, I was blown away by this list of TWENTY advertisers. Just listen to the roster with each business’s name followed by a strategically edited slogan. Capitalism at its finest. Imagine how many bazillion dollars WCBS paid to snatch the rights to air Yankee games from WABC back in 2001? While the NFL must be a media profit machine beyond compare, I’d bet that the Yankees are the most lucrative sports franchise on Earth.
890 - WLS Chicago, IL & ?
It’s a mixed bag here, again the fact that this reception is from the eastern edge of the continent might have something to do with it. Some Spanish "la la" music introduces this segment, and then it’s an impromptu collage with the sappy Español pop music vying with a WLS commercial break as I rotate the radio to focus on each signal.
When I lived in deep south, finding foreign (mostly Spanish) stations infiltrating the AM band was much more common. As I recall when I lived in New Orleans you could actually receive English language broadcasts Radio Habana Cuba on the AM car radio most evenings.
900 - CHML Hamilton, ON
An antique radio drama from Ontario. It’s cool that a clear channel AM station lets loose a few hours of old time radio across a large expanse of North America each night. Again, it would be nice if more old broadcasts would fill some of the night time hours on some AM stations with historical content instead of crap like rebroadcasts of right-wing talk shows.
That’s it for this medium wave scan. With some good luck, I’ll be back to this series in the next week or two with some intriguing shortwave radio recordings confiscated from the night sky of upstate New York.
I’ve been toiling away at this radio series for the better part of a year, and I do hope some readers are still keeping up with this project after all this time. I’m always interested in feedback, suggestions and corrections, which can be left below. And you’re welcome to send me an email (via this page). If you've just found this series, you can take a look at the rest of these posts here.
Thanks for listening.