Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #189

Radio: September 22, 2017

Radio transmitter towers can be quite high. The top of KFI’s (640 AM) tower was at one time 760 feet off the ground, before a small plane hit it, causing it to collapse. It is now “just” 654 feet tall.

Radio stations have it easy. Some television towers can be as tall as 1500 feet ... or more. yet all towers must be equipped with a lighting system so that they are not -- or are at least less of -- a hazard to aircraft that may be in the area. The lights must be visible 24 hours per day as a safety measure.

It is quite impressive that these towers are built in the first place. But have you ever wondered what it is like to change one of those bulbs you see on a broadcast tower? Two videos give a glimpse into the work of a tower maintenance worker.

At http://tinyurl.com/RWTVTower1, you can see someone climb to the top of a 1500 foot tower to change a bulb and -- as is necessary now -- take a selfie from the top. A drone is used to catch the footage.

Then at http://tinyurl.com/RWTower2, a GoPro style camera is used to catch the climb of a 1768-foot high broadcast tower ... again, to change a light bulb.

At the top of any tower you get a view like no other. A view I will never see personally as I am deathly afraid of heights. As one comment said, “there’s a job I will never do.” But from the safety of your own home, you can see it now. Take a look at the videos and tell me what you think. And if you’ve ever climbed one yourself - please write to tell me of your experience!

Woody Phone

It seems like outside of talk radio, no station takes calls any more. Few have call-in contests -- whether that is because people don’t use a phone to talk any more or the stations are just cheap I don’t know.

So it was quite fun last week on Alt 98.7’s morning Woody Show, when much of one segment was taken up taking calls. In fact, it was more than one segment, as they stomped right over the commercial break to keep it going. Though it was not a contest, it was a great topic: “That Guy.” 

Listeners called in with descriptions of “that guy” (or girl) that annoys them. That guy who always has to be right. That girl who always works in something about her trip to Europe into the conversation. That guy who always dominates the conversation. On paper it may seem bland, but the bit was funny! Even my son glued to his phone was listening and laughing.

Misplaced Appeal

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, South Florida’s Sun Sentinel has joined the chorus of those asking smart phone companies such as Apple and Samsung to “turn on the FM switch” and allow people to receive FM signals on their phones.

“Smartphones contain an inner switch that lets them receive over-the-air analog signals from local radio stations,” said an editorial. They blame it on profit motives. But with that smartphone FM radio, people could have easily stayed informed.

But there is a problem. Problems, actually. Technical and practical. Technically, yes, an FM receiver is included as part of some wifi chips sets. But - and this is important - there is no supporting hardware to make it actually work. No antenna, no tuner circuit ... no way to make it work with a “flip” of a switch or a software update.

Secondly, even those phones that did have an FM radio in the past worked poorly. Reception was made through the headphone cable, and the result was that only the strongest stations could be heard. That’s why the supporting FM circuitry was removed.

As well, Apple and others have been moving to wireless headphones, so reception has more recently been made virtually impossible in the newest models.

Want an emergency radio that only lasts a day ... if that? That’s what you’re looking at. Power was off in many areas hit by a hurricane. Can’t charge your phone - lose your FM.

Finally, what good would FM be? Most FM stations today don’t even have a DJ many hours of the day, let alone a news department. In an emergency, who would give the news anyway? Oh, yeah the powerful AM station (locally it would be KFI or KNX) that can broadcast hundreds of miles and give real updates. An FM decoder on your phone won’t receive those AM broadcasts, as the phone’s internal chips create interference that wreaks havoc with AM reception.

So the editorial is misplaced at best. To be truly ready for an emergency, you need to have a real radio with a supply of fresh batteries. That will give you not just hours but weeks of radio play time. For the entire family, not just that guy with headphones.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #188

Radio: September 15, 2017

I should be excited.

What many consider one of the best radio stations in Southern California increased its coverage from a potential audience of 3 million to a whopping 11.5 million, through what is being called a merger of KCSN, which broadcasts from the campus of Cal State Northridge in the valley, and KSBR, from the campus of Saddleback College down South, both using the 88.5 FM frequency.

Considering how good KCSN is, I really should be excited. But I am not ... instead I am conflicted.

Don’t get me wrong. I give props to programmer/manager Sky Daniels for putting together one of the best AAA (Adult Album Alternative) stations -- OK the only one but you get the idea -- in Southern California. Musically, it is vastly more interesting than many other stations in town.

But the merger does nothing but remind me of my pet peeve of these supposed college radio stations: they have nothing to do with the colleges they serve.

These educational licenses are supposed to be for the benefit of students. Either in programming that expands student learning opportunities, or as student broadcasting laboratories where students do the work, on the air and off. There is nothing in an educational license that allows them do what they are doing: commercial broadcasts using professional staffs. In other words, if the FCC actually held them to their licenses, they would lose them.
 
I suppose one could argue that in this case it doesn’t matter much. Neither station used students pre-merger, the KSBR smooth jazz format will still be available on-line and via HD Radio. And KCSN really is great.
 
But former KCSN general manager Douglas Brown, who later went on to a long career in radio and production in part due to his experience at the station, explains it this way, in a letter printed at LARadio.Com:

“I find it really sad to see both KCSN and KSBR are no longer primarily student operated providing young people with a starting place in broadcasting.

“In fact, I don't get why the colleges are even holding these non-commercial licenses which are now run primarily by former commercial music radio people.

“In the late '60s and early '70s, the staff of KEDC/KCSN was well more than 100 students performing virtually every function: writing, performing, production, engineering, continuity, music programming, news, public affairs, publicity, etc. It was a great place to start for many of us.

“And BTW, the KCSN call sign was my idea (in January '73) to coincide with the university name change from San Fernando Valley State College to CSUN.”

It just seems wrong that students are not involved, since that is the sole reason the educational broadcast license exists. I’m calling on Daniels -- and operators of all other pseudo college stations -- to correct this error. Maybe if only like KKJZ (88.1 FM), which offers student-run K-Beach on one of its digital HD streams. That’s not much to ask.

Excellent

Mo’ Kelly had a very fitting program last Sunday on KFI (640 AM). His guest was Josephine Bias Robinson, former White House Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush. Robinson was in the White House as the 9/11 attacks began, and she gave her personal stories and memories of the day as it began, and the actions of her colleagues as the event unfolded. Included were recordings of news reports from the day.

Overall, typical Mo Kelly. Insightful, entertaining, and unfortunately too short. Hear it for yourself on the podcast page of KFIAM640.com; hear Mo’ Kelly every Saturday and Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Radio Waves Podcast #187

Radio: September 8, 2017

The Sound (KSWD) currently occupies the broadcast space at 100.3 FM. But more than a few call-letters and formats ago it was known as KIQQ.

Actually, the station launched as a background music station called KMLA back in 1957. It later became KFOX-FM, country-formatted sister station to the original “Country King,” KFOX (now KFRN, 1280 AM) in Long Beach.

In 1972, a group that includes author and owner of LARadio.Com, Don Barrett, bought KFOX-FM and rebranded it as KIQQ, the letters resembling K-100 which it was called on the air to tie in its frequency. Originally the format was softer rock (early “Adult Contemporary,” but just months later Bill Drake and Gene Chenault were given programming control and changed to top-40, competing against KHJ (930 AM) which they previously consulted.

It was not to be. AM still reigned the king of the airwaves, and the FM top-40 audience ended up being split by the arrival of KKDJ (now KIIS-FM, 102.7). Neither one would do well until years later.

Once FM gained a foothold in the early 1980s, KIQQ evolved into an innovative top-40 hybrid, playing traditional top-40 hits with a twist: it played them far earlier than almost any other station. The station was the first to play songs form bands representing the British music invasion of the ‘80s; it was among the first to play anything new from Michael Jackson, and Rick Springfield’s entire album was already on the way out before Jessie’s Girl would be found on competing stations.

It didn’t last long. As KIIS-FM climbed in the ratings, others fell by the wayside. By 1985 KIQQ would be changing again, this time full-circle to light rock. But for a roughly three-year span, KIQQ was like magic to its fans. Managed by George Wilson and programmed by his wife Paula, DJs included Bruce Chandler and Tony St. James, “GW” McCoy (the GW was George Wilson, Jr.), Jay Coffee, Ernie Sanchez, and a few more. 

Due to its short history with this format, not many recordings of the era were made. To the rescue: Airchexx.Com, which just added an aircheck of G.W. McCoy from July of 1984. Most of the music is edited out, making the commercial sets sound even longer, but it’s a good representative of the sound of KIQQ during that time. Just go to Airchexx.Com, search for KIQQ, and it should be the first result to show up.

Make no mistake, though ... the heydays of 100.3 didn’t happen back then, as much as I enjoyed the music. They didn’t happen under numerous other formats that followed. No, the highest, most consistent ratings the station has enjoyed since it began broadcasting in 1957 are happening right now. Perhaps we need to be recording The Sound right now ... in 20 years we may be talking about how great IT was.

Inspiring

KOST (103.5 FM) morning host Ellen K and Alt 98.7 morning co-host Renae Ravey made the list of Inspirer Magazine’s “The Wonderful Women of Radio ... the women we love to listen to.

“Her unique voice, and fun and famous friends like Lisa Rinna and Kris Jenner, allow for an entertaining 5 hour morning block,” writer Haley DePass said of Ellen K, while Ravey “is refreshing and hilarious. Her laugh is absolutely contagious, and she wows with an impressive array of knowledge on sports, celebrities, and nerd topics. Ravey is a long time radio host, and is taking over airwaves alongside her hilarious co-hosts.”

SiriusXM’s longtime sidekick to Howard Stern also made the list, as did a few from BBC Radio. “These women are only a few of some of the amazing ladies in radio,” wrote DePass. “They utilize their platforms to shut down shamers, build up women, and create fun, relatable content. They are definitely providing some serious ear candy.”

Short Takes

Anyone catch Disco Saturday Night on K-SURF (1260 AM, 105.1 HD2)? Or how about the DJs in mornings and afternoons? ...

Why did SiriusXM place some of its best Summer programming on channels only available via radios that can receive the newest satellite feeds (known as SiriusXM as opposed to Sirius or XM)? I count at least 20 channels I can get in my truck that my wife can’t hear in her car. And what happened to George Carlin’s Corner? ...

Rumor has it that Jay Thomas, former morning host of Power 106 who recently passed away, was let go from the station back in 1993 because his acting was taking so much of his time he wanted to pre-record his radio show. Supposedly that didn’t sit well with Power management ...

I mentioned Don Barrett’s LARadio.Com earlier. Didn’t he retire? For the last time? Yes, indeed. But he can’t stay away and his site is still updated. You should check it out ...