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An American Odyssey


This month, Chrissy Brand looks at a selection of US websites covering analytical media programmes and reports on some zany humour from a transmitter tower.


This month, Chrissy Brand looks at a selection of US websites covering analytical media programmes and reports on some zany humour from a transmitter tower.


Visiting radio-related websites can greatly enhance your listening experience, whether it's through background information from professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists, or audio through podcasts and streaming stations. Although there is plenty of information to be found in English on British and European websites, a plethora of content tumbles out of the USA and I make no apology for the fact that many of the websites I look at this time are from that country.

I'll start with an intriguing post on The SWLing Post that really caught my attention. It was a link to the pirate radio scene in Brooklyn, New York.

While I am familiar with the type of free or pirate radio that can be heard on FM in the UK and short wave around Europe, from Greece to the Republic of Ireland, I wanted to discover more about the US pirate scene.

David Goren has launched a fantastic website called the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map, where you can hear audio and read up on this exciting and diverse activity (Fig. 1).

The site’s information states that, "In Brooklyn, when the sun goes down, pirate radio stations fire up their transmitters and take to the air, beaming transgressive, culture-bearing signals into Caribbean, Jewish and Latino neighborhoods. The Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map is an archival home for the sounds of renegade community radio at a crucial turning point in its history."

I've been enjoying a radio programme all about food, and I'm not alone, as it is broadcast on over 400 public radio stations in the USA. Going by the name of The Splendid Table, hosts Francis Lam and producer Sally Swift created this award-winning show that, "explores the entire spectrum of food: from cheese-making to finding wine bargains, to the science of a great cup of coffee, to the best little greasy spoons in America." You can listen to current and archive programmes online at this URL:

I also found an interesting podcast about the ham radio scene in the USA, even though I am not a licensed amateur myself.

A website that bills itself as a celebration of the radio listening hobby sounded pretty good to me, so I happily spent some time at the site All Things Radio. It's a blog written by Robert AK3Q, which is packed with short features and good photos. I followed Robert while he decided whether to add a vintage Zenith Royal Trans-Oceanic receiver to his collection, I laughed at some of the cartoons he uploaded and read, with interest, his views on going mobile with SDR.


Readers' Tips

I received three website recommendations from Bob Houlston. The first was for a blog, which started in 2008 and is still active. It provides information on Slow Scan Television (SSTV) images transmitted from the International Space Station (ISS) and from other ARISS-supported satellites.

Bob recommended the ISS SSTV schedule of transmission updates and wrote, "You'll likely get ten days’ notice of Russian-sector images."

Bob also claimed that the venerable Yaesu Musen FRG-7 communications receiver is still a valid piece of equipment for many short wave listeners. It covers from 500kHz to 30MHz, in AM, SSB and CW modes and dates from the 1970s. Bob stated that, "it is available at a reasonable £150 price plus £20 carriage. Ideal for preppers, as it is powered by mains, eight internal D cells, or external 12V. The FRG-7 is big, heavy and clunky with no memories or digital readout but it has got plenty of quality audio via a large, front-facing, speaker." You can read all about it in an FRG-7 owners' and maintenance manual.

Bob saw a video with a difference at Irimia Teodorian's YouTube channel. Watch the Join Us on the Airwaves song, performed by The Ham Band, in evening dress at the top of a transmitter tower. As Bob wrote, “I don't recall that pouring a glass of champagne hundreds of feet up an antenna tower was considered accepted safety procedures on the license exam. You have to see it to believe it."

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Graham Smith suggested a handful of articles and websites to check out. He says that the broadcaster Alex Jones has become a cheerleader for Donald Trump. The Alex Jones Show can be heard from WWCR on 4840kHz from 0200 UTC onwards. Current and archived programmes can also be heard online and through a dedicated app, should you be so inclined.

The English service of Al Jazeera ran a report on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in its weekly programme about media, The Listening Post programme. Although I have yet to listen to that episode, I've long been a fan of this media critique and analysis show. Richard Gizbert is its creator and host.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's own website is packed with informative features. Recently, I enjoyed an old video report (from 2009) on changes to nomadic life in Mongolia and explored the archive of analytical reports. The current news section is worth keeping an eye on as well, for global news. News and vintage features are also published daily on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Facebook page (Fig. 2).

The station reports in 25 languages, including English, Serbian, Tatar and Uzbek; it "serves as a surrogate free press in 20 countries, where the free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed. Our journalists provide what many people in those countries cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate."

Crowdfunding is a fantastic way to raise money for charities or projects such as book publishing or recording music. It can also apply in the case of raising funds for radio stations. Graham noted that Radio Dabanga in Sudan was looking for crowdfunding support. It was aiming to raise US$45,000 but only achieved US$12,600. However, its crowdfunding page has a link, should you still wish to make a donation.

Radio Dabanga states it is, "the only independent radio station from and for the people of Sudan, reaching over 2,000,000 listeners a day, providing them with lifesaving information and news. We report on the situation in Sudan from the heart of Amsterdam, where we can put into action our belief that people in Sudan have the right to access independent information. To be able to continue our important work, we need your help! One day of life-saving radio costs $340."

Graham also found another page about number stations. This one was from the War on the Rocks website and was written by Māris Goldmanis in May 2018. War on the Rocks is a media company formed in 2013. It offers, "a platform for analysis, commentary, debate and multimedia content on foreign policy and national security issues through a realist lens." The station’s podcasts too, are also of great interest to me.

The number stations piece covers information that many readers will be aware of. However, there are many additional facts and interesting links. There is also some background material on the so-called ‘Cuban Five’ and the infamous ‘Buzzer’ station, which – although not a numbers station – is nevertheless linked to what I will always consider a murky world of espionage short wave communications.

Māris takes a slightly different view, concluding that, "Numbers stations aren’t spooky, nor are they a mystery — for many in the intelligence and military communities, they are daily tasks that serve the interests of their country. We can follow their work at least partially by listening to these transmissions. If you happen to hear them, you will know that, as Bush [author, Shadows of the State] put it, the 'shadows of the state' are simply doing their daily work"

One of the links leads to a 2016 report in The New York Times, covering North Korea's recommencement of number station operations, disguised as mathematics or physics problems for distant university students.



If my dose of Americana has been a little too much for you, we'll finish with a return to a trusted UK company, Roberts Radio. I never cease to be amazed by the range of well-designed Roberts radios (even though most these days are for DAB) in retailers throughout the country and in many people's homes. Ogormons is a family-run consumer electrical goods business in Oxfordshire. Part of their company website is dedicated to Roberts Radios, "Roberts Radio was founded in 1932 by Harry Roberts and Leslie Bidmead in Hill Place, London. By 1935 Roberts Radio was producing an average of eight radios a week."


This article was featured in the September 2018 issue of Radio User

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