Sunday, December 11, 2005

For Radio Geeks

WFMU in Jersey City, New Jersey has a superb blog dedicated to audio rarities and weirdness of all kinds. This past week, somebody posted a scan of the New York City radio dial from the night John Lennon was assassinated. This isn't the aircheck I referred to in my post on Lennon last week, but it's interesting listening nonetheless.

Does anybody surf the radio dial like that anymore? I used to. Long-distance reception on AM radio always fascinated me. My father used to tune in distant stations early in the morning on his little AM radio in the barn, and when I got my own AM radio, I tried doing the same. (One of the first stations I ever got was WWL from New Orleans, which is at 870, right next to WLS from Chicago at 890.) The rise of digital tuners, first in cars and then at home, made this a lot easier--no more need to nudge the tuning dial to make sure you were precisely on the beam. You could choose the frequency and see what came in. From my various listening posts in Wisconsin and Iowa over the years, it was ridiculously easy to pull in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Richmond, Atlanta, and Dallas on a single swing around the dial after dark.

If you applied yourself, you could do even better. While I was working at KDTH in Dubuque in the early 80s, our signal was directional--meaning that after dark, its transmission pattern shifted so as not to interfere with another similarly powered station at about the same frequency. KDTH's signal went north. As a result, the station became inaudible only a few miles south of Dubuque--but one day we opened the mail and found a reception report from a guy in Finland. Clearly that was an anomaly--your typical medium-wave transmission can go a long way, but not normally that far.

I experienced an anomaly of my own--and on FM, which isn't known for long-distance reception--one rainy Wisconsin morning in the late 70s, I was fiddling with my FM tuner and thought I had landed on my favorite station--only to be shocked when the station identified itself as being from Paterson, New Jersey. I accomplished this feat with a simple ribbon antenna draped over a desk chair.

So anyway--at WFMU's blog, a contributor has posted the results of a dial scan he did over Thanksgiving weekend from a vantage point in upstate New York. If you're a member of the AM-radio dial-surfing fraternity, you'll enjoy it.


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