Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Radio Waves Podcast #155

Radio December 9, 2016

Recently I wrote of the military use of AM radio signals being used to help our planes make the trip to Hawaii during World War II, using the signals of KFI (640 AM) and a station in San Francisco to work as a crude triangulation system.

This brought in some fascinating emails, the first of which speaks of the early days of AM radio when decisions were being made for stations broadcasting on a clear channel, meaning they were the only station on a frequency, the idea being that smaller communities would be able to receive radio from the power but possibly distant clears.

From reader Don Muller: “While thumbing through old engineering files, I ran across correspondence between the FCC and engineers at KOY Phoenix. It was somewhere between 1920 or maybe 1922 regarding offering KOY the ability to be a 50KW clear channel 1-A licensee rather than KFI. The idea was instead of having emergency broadcasts done from a facility on the west coast susceptible to invasion, it might have a better chance of surviving an attack a few hundred miles inland. 

“A completion time frame was given, but the folks at KOY weren't able to either come up with the funds to run a 50KW transmitter or perhaps felt the small, sparsely populated, desert city of Phoenix could not support or need it. Letters showing the cost of buying the transmitter and estimates of monthly electric bills was evidently what led to the FCC giving the venerable license to KFI/Los Angeles in 1922.”

As to the triangulation system, I assumed incorrectly that it was used only for military airplanes. Correcting me is Don C. Moss: “The early Automatic Direction Finding technology you wrote of used every major clear channel station located in major cities around the nation. This method of radio navigation was also used by commercial carriers as well as the military.

“ADF continued to be a back up navigation method after development of the next long distance navigation system, VHF Omnidirectional Range, was developed. Now, of course, GPS navigation has made both systems obsolete.

“The times of station operation were noted on the aviation navigation charts; The military requirement for 24/7 transmission was unique to the war years.”

Was radio responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor? Some have felt that the strong signals served as homing beacons to keep enemy bombers on course. But perhaps it wasn’t homing, but the instead a tragic mixup. Reader Gene Smith submitted this:

“There were limited operating hours for the Hawaiian Islands Air Warning radars due to high failures. On Dec 7 at 7 a.m. the Air Warning Service -- stations and information center -- was shut down. However, Private George Elliott wanted extra practice on radar, so the radar system itself was left on for Pvt. Joseph Lockard to provide training. Elliott detected a large target and Lockard confirmed that it must have been a large flight approaching. He attempted to contact the Info Center but it had shut down. So he called on the administration line to the switchboard operator, who found Lt. Kermit A. Tyler still hanging around the center to take the call. He advised ‘no problem’ and assumed it was a flight of B-17s from the mainland. Less than an hour later, the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced.

“During the Congressional Investigation into Pearl Harbor,  Tylor explained himself. ‘You see I have a friend who is a bomber pilot and he told me that any time they play this Hawaiian music all night long, it is a good indication that our B-17s were coming over from the mainland, because they used it for homing. When I had reported for duty (at the Information Center) at 4 o'clock in the morning, I listened to this Hawaiian music all the way into town, so I figured then that we had a flight of B-17s coming in;  that came to mind as soon as I got the call.’" 


Hundreds of years of on and off-air experience were on hand at the semi-annual informal Los Angeles radio reunion held last Saturday at Fuddruckers in Burbank. Bruce Chandler, Sam Riddle, Shadoe Stevens (who my German Shepherd “Shadow” is partly named after), and many more were there. I had a nice long talk with Chandler and Chris Roberts about their early days in Riverside and San Bernardino.

But the story of the day came from Stevens, as told to me by others. Seems he had agreed to step down from programming at the original KRLA (now KDIS, 1110 AM) and just do a regular air shift, some time in the early-mid 1970s. He decided to go back to school and he realized that after the pressure of programming and the long work days, he was just happy to have the three-hour shift. He’d arrive happy, be in a good mood during the show, and leave happy. He was happier than he’d been in years.

Then one day the programmer who replaced him called him into the office to let him go. The reason? He was too happy, and the other DJs were bothered by his attitude.

No you can’t make this stuff up. And yes, radio had its bad management even in the top-40 glory days!

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