Friday, August 4, 2017


Originally published on Friday, October 10, 2014.

In May 1970, Wesley “Scoop” Nisker was the News Director at KSAN-FM, a remarkable “underground” station in San Francisco. Scoop was a nerdy kid from a small town in Nebraska who arrived in the Bay Area searching for spiritual bliss, world peace, sex, drugs and rock n roll.

He often produced “sound collages” with voices of newsmakers and current progressive rock music.  
In some ways, Scoop was like Hunter S. Thompson, Firesign Theater or Tony Schwartz –  a gonzo journalist with a real sense of purpose.

Scoop’s philosophy was:

“If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

He produced perhaps his most memorable “sound collages” in late May, 1970 called Seven Days in May. It documented the public rage following US invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent killing of four student protesters at Kent State University.

Scoop’s work was created using two reel-to-reel tape decks and a couple of newsroom cartridge machines.  His techniques influenced a generation of audio journalists, editors and storytellers including many public radio folks.

Scoop is still living in the Bay Area and now is a Buddhist meditation instructor, teacher and author.

NOTE: At one point in the video, the wrong date appears – the year was 1970, not 1971.  We apologize for this error.

Thursday, August 3, 2017



Originally published October 17, 2014.

If you were coming age in flyover country during the early 1970s you probably heard BEAKER STREET on KAAY AM 1090. 

From 11pm to 2am every night (except Sunday), KAAY in Little Rock departed from its usual Top 40 format for BEAKER STREET – a one-of-kind “underground” rock program.

50,000-watt KAAY had a huge coverage area stretching from the Rockies to the Appalachians.  An equally booming signal also went south bringing KAAY to listeners in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Clyde Clifford was the host of BEAKER STREET. As you will hear in the video below, Clifford sounded perpetually stoned and talked over space music to amplify the effect.

BEAKER STREET had its own favorite tunes such as Legend of the USS Titanic by Jamie Brockett and Two Hangmen by Mason Proffit. Folks listened to In a Gadda da Vida by Iron Butterfly while shooting the loop, looking for munchies and locating a party.

Why did they have the cosmic space sounds on BEAKER STREET? To mask the noise made by the blowers required to keep the tube-type transmitter from getting too hot.

Here is a sample of BEAKER STREET from June 1, 1972: 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Frequent readers of this blog know that I am a fan of Major Edwin Armstrong, the man who literally invented frequency modulation (FM) radio despite years of hassle and resistance from the nation’s biggest broadcasters and equipment manufactures.

After World War II, the FCC relocated the frequencies for FM stations at the behest of RCA. Though RCA told the FCC that the change was necessary because of “interference issues,” RCA wanted the FM spectrum for its soon-to-be-built television service. Plus, RCA had a decade-old grudge against Armstrong.

Professor Lawrence Longley, in his article The FM Shift of 1945 (below), summed up the situation this way:

Major Edwin Armstrong
Armstrong had stoked the ire of big corporate broadcasters by introducing FM broadcasting, a superior system to the status-quo AM system.

In June 1936, Armstrong debuted FM with a public demonstration at FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. It went very, very well.  Perhaps, too well.

During Armstrong’s presentation for the Commission, he used jazz recordings to demonstrate the differences in fidelity for FM an AM. FM blew AM away.   

The FM signal was as clear as a bell. A reporter who witnessed the demonstration wrote:

"If the audience of 500 engineers had shut their eyes, they would have believed a jazz band was in the same room. There were no extraneous sounds. Several engineers said after the demonstration that they considered Dr. Armstrong's invention one of the most important radio developments since the first earphone crystal sets were introduced."

RCA and other big broadcasting interests certainly noticed. Armstrong’s FM system could disrupt the established order. Not only was the FM fidelity superior to AM, the FM system was owned by an outsider – an independent college professor from Columbia University.

The Mighty W2XMN in Alpine, NJ
In 1938, Armstrong had signed on the first FM radio station, W2XMN, at Alpine, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. 

The Mighty W2XMN was at 42.8 on the then-FM dial. W2XMN’s 40,000-watts covered the entire New York City market, surpassing many AM stations.

Then the US entered World War II and FM was “frozen.”  As the war ended 1945, RCA began its push to squash FM at the FCC.

The FCC subsequently moved the FM spectrum to its current location – 88.1 mHz to 107.9 mHz. This move made hundreds of thousands FM receivers obsolete. It ruined Armstrong’s business. RCA tied Armstrong up with litigation into the 1950s.

Late on the night of January 31, 1954, Armstrong had had enough. Armstrong opened a window of his apartment on the thirteenth floor and jumped to his death.
Lawrence D. Longley
Enter Lawrence D. Longley, political science scholar and political activist at Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin.  One of Longley’s specialties was investigative reporting about government agencies that favored corporate interests. He wrote about the back-scratching relationship between RCA and the FCC for the Journal of Broadcasting in 1988.

The article (below) is called The FM Shift of 1945. Today it is considered the definitive work on the topic. It is also a warning about the impact of big money's influence on government decisions.
(click on images to expand them)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke was a futurist and writer who is perhaps best known for co-writing the screenplay for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

After the end of World War II, Clarke was pursuing his Doctorate in Mathematics and Physics at King's College in London.  He joined the British Interplanetary Society and soon became the group’s leader.

In late 1945 he wrote a paper for his associates about peaceful uses for German V2 rockets.  Clarke’s proposed solution was to use the V2’s to launch geostationary satellites to relay radio communications.

The Society arranged for Clarke’s paper to appear in Wireless magazine. It was published in December 1945, 12 years before the actual first earth satellite.

The article was warmly received but soon vanished for many years. The successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 by the Soviet Union brought Clarke’s into reality. 

Legend has it the Clarke’s paper was required reading by Soviet scientists.

Today we have Clarke’s entire Wireless article plus copies of the original drawings Clarke used to make his points. You can see it online here.


Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?


ALTHOUGH it is possible, by a suitable choice of frequencies and routes, to provide telephony circuits between any two points or regions of the earth for a large part of the time, long-distance communication is greatly hampered by the peculiarities of the ionosphere, and there are even occasions when it may be impossible. A true broadcast service, giving constant field strength at all times over the whole globe would be invaluable, not to say indispensable, in a world society.

Unsatisfactory though the telephony and telegraph position is, that of television is far worse, since ionospheric transmission cannot be employed at all. The service area of a television station, even on a very good site, is only about a hundred miles across. To cover a small country such as Great Britain would require a network of transmitters, connected by coaxial lines, waveguides or VHF relay links.

A recent theoretical study has shown that such a system would require repeaters at intervals of fifty miles or less. A system of this kind could provide television coverage, at a very considerable cost, over the whole of a small country. It would be out of the question to provide a large continent with such a service, and only the main centres of population could be included in the network.

The problem is equally serious when an attempt is made to link television services in different parts of the globe. A relay chain several thousand miles. long would cost millions, and transoceanic services would still be impossible. Similar considerations apply to the provision of wide-band frequency modulation and other services, such as high-speed facsimile which are by their nature restricted to the ultra-high-frequencies.

Many may consider the solution proposed in this discussion too farfetched to be taken very seriously. Such an attitude is unreasonable, as everything envisaged here is a logical extension of developments in the last ten years--in particular the perfection of the long-range rocket of which V2 was the prototype. While this article was being written, it was announced that the Germans were considering a similar project, which they believed possible within fifty to a hundred years.

Before proceeding further, it is necessary to discuss briefly certain fundamental laws of rocket propulsion and ``astronautics.'' 

A rocket which achieved a sufficiently great speed in flight outside the earth's atmosphere would never return. 

This ``orbital'' velocity is 8 km per sec. (5 miles per sec), and a rocket which attained it would become an artificial satellite, circling the world for ever with no expenditure of power--a second moon, in fact

The German transatlantic rocket A10 would have reached more than half this velocity.

It will be possible in a few more years to build radio controlled rockets which can be steered into such orbits beyond the limits of the atmosphere and left to broadcast scientific information back to the earth. A little later, manned rockets will be able to make similar flights with sufficient excess power to break the orbit and return to earth.

There are an infinite number of possible stable orbits, circular and elliptical, in which a rocket would remain if the initial conditions were correct. The velocity of 8 km/sec. applies only to the closest possible orbit, one just outside the atmosphere, and the period of revolution would be about 90 minutes. As the radius of the orbit increases the velocity decreases, since gravity is diminishing and less centrifugal force is needed to balance it. Fig. 1 shows this graphically. The moon, of course, is a particular case and would lie on the curves of Fig. 1 if they were produced. The proposed German space-stations would have a period of about four and a half hours.

Fig. 1. Variation of orbital period and velocity with distance from the centre of the earth.

It will be observed that one orbit, with a radius of 42,000 km, has a period of exactly 24 hours. A body in such an orbit, if its plane coincided with that of the earth's equator, would revolve with the earth and would thus be stationary above the same spot on the planet. It would remain fixed in the sky of a whole hemisphere and unlike all other heavenly bodies would neither rise nor set. A body in a smaller orbit would revolve more quickly than the earth and so would rise in the west, as indeed happens with the inner moon of Mars.

Using material ferried up by rockets, it would be possible to construct a "space-station'' in such an orbit. The station could be provided with living quarters, laboratories and everything needed for the comfort of its crew, who would be relieved and provisioned by a regular rocket service. This project might be undertaken for purely scientific reasons as it would contribute enormously to our knowledge of astronomy, physics and meteorology. A good deal of literature has already been written on the subject. 

Although such an undertaking may seem fantastic, it requires for its fulfilment rockets only twice as fast as those already in the design stage. Since the gravitational stresses involved in the structure are negligible, only the very lightest materials would be necessary and the station could be as large as required.

Let us now suppose that such a station were built in this orbit. It could be provided with receiving and transmitting equipment (the problem of power will be discussed later) and could act as a repeater to relay. transmissions between any two points on the hemisphere beneath, using any frequency which will penetrate the ionosphere. 

If directive arrays were used, the power requirements would be very small, as direct line of sight transmission would be used. There is the further important point that arrays on the earth, once set up, could remain fixed indefinitely.

Moreover, a transmission received from any point on the hemisphere could be broadcast to the whole of the visible face of the globe, and thus. the requirements of all possible services would be met (Fig. 2).

 Fig. 2. Typical extra-terrestrial relay services. Transmission from A being relayed to point B and area C; transmission from D being relayed to whole hemisphere.

It may be argued that we have as yet no direct evidence of radio waves passing between the surface of the earth and outer space; all we can say with certainty is that the shorter wavelengths are not reflected back to the earth. Direct evidence of field strength above the earth's atmosphere could be obtained by V2 rocket technique, and it is to be hoped that someone will do something about this soon as there must be quite a surplus stock somewhere!

Alternatively,' given sufficient transmitting power, we might obtain the necessary evidence by exploring for echoes from the moon. In the meantime we have visual evidence that frequencies at the optical end of the spectrum pass through with little absorption except at certain frequencies at which resonance effects occur. Medium high frequencies go through the E layer twice to be reflected from the F layer and echoes have been received from meteors in or above the F layer. It seems fairly certain that frequencies from, say, 50 Mc/s to 100,000 Mc/s could be used without undue absorption in the atmosphere or the ionosphere.

A single station could only provide coverage to half the globe, and for a world service three would be required, though more could be readily utilised. Fig. 3 shows the simplest arrangement. The stations would be arranged approximately equidistantly around the earth, and the following longitudes appear to be suitable :--

-- Africa and Europe.
-- China and Oceana.
 -- The Americas.

Fig 3. Three satellite stations would ensure 
complete coverage of the globe.

The stations in the chain would be linked by radio or optical beams, and thus any conceivable beam or broadcast service could be provided.

The technical problems involved in the design of such stations are extremely interesting, but only a few can be gone into here. Batteries of parabolic reflectors would be provided, of apertures depending on the frequencies employed. Assuming the use of 3,000 Mc/s waves, mirrors about a metre across would beam almost all the power on to the earth. Larger reflectors could be used to illuminate single countries or regions for the more restricted services, with consequent economy of power.

On the higher frequencies it is not difficult to produce beams less than a degree in width, and, as mentioned before, there would be no physical limitations on the size of the mirrors. (From the space station, the disc of the earth would be a little over 17 degrees across). The same mirrors could be used for many different transmissions if precautions were taken to avoid cross modulation.

It is clear from the nature of the system that the power needed will be much less than that required for any other arrangement, since all the energy radiated can be uniformly distributed over the service area, and none is wasted. An approximate estimate of the power required for the broadcast service from a single station can be made as follows : -- The field strength in the equatorial plane of a /2 dipole in free space at a distance of d metres is 4
e = 6.85
\/ P
where P is the power radiated in watts.
Taking d as 42,000 km (effectively it would be less), we have P = 37.6 e 2 watts. (e now in V/metre.)

If we assume e to be 50 microvolts/metre, which is the F.C.C. standard for frequency modulation, P will be 94 kW. This is the power required for a single dipole, and not an array which would concentrate all the power on the earth. Such an array would have a gain over a simple dipole of about 80. The power required for the broadcast service would thus be about 1.2 kW.

Ridiculously small though it is, this figure is probably much too generous. Small parabolas about a foot in diameter would be used for receiving at the earth end and would give a very good signal noise ratio. There would be very little interference, partly because of the frequency used and partly because the mirrors would be pointing towards the sky which could contain no other source of signal. A field strength of. 10 microvolts/metre might well be ample, and this would require a transmitter output of only 50 watts.

When it is remembered that these figures relate to the broadcast service, the efficiency of the system will be realised. The point-to-point beam transmissions might need powers of only 10 watts or so. These figures, of course, would need correction for ionospheric and atmospheric absorption, but that would be quite small over most of the band. The slight falling off in field strength due to this cause towards the edge of the service area could be readily corrected by a non-uniform radiator.

The efficiency of the system is strikingly revealed when we consider that the London Television service required about 3 kW average power for an area less than fifty miles in radius. 

A second fundamental problem is the provision of electrical energy to run the large number of transmitters required for the different services. In space beyond the atmosphere, a square metre normal to the solar radiation intercepts 1.35 kW of energy. 6 Solar engines have already been devised for terrestrial use and are an economic proposition in tropical countries. They employ mirrors to concentrate sunlight on the boiler of a. low-pressure steam engine. Although this arrangement is not very efficient it could be made much more so in space where the operating components are in a vacuum, the radiation is intense and continuous, and the low-temperature end of the cycle could be not far from absolute zero. Thermo-electric and photoelectric developments may make it possible to utilise the solar energy more directly.

Though there is no limit to the size of the mirrors that could be built, one fifty metres in radius would intercept over 10,000 kW and at least a quarter of this energy should be available for use. 

Fig. 4. Solar radiation would be cut off for a short period 
each day at the equinoxes.

The station would be in continuous sunlight except for some weeks around the equinoxes, when it would enter the earth's shadow for a few minutes every day. Fig. 4 shows the state of affairs during the eclipse period. For this calculation, it is legitimate to consider the earth as fixed and the sun as moving round it. The station would graze the earth's shadow at A, on the last day in February. Every day, as it made its diurnal revolution, it would cut more deeply into the shadow, undergoing its period of maximum eclipse on March 21st. on that day it would only be in darkness for 1 hour 9 minutes.

From then onwards the period of eclipse would shorten, and after April 11th (B) the station would be in continuous sunlight again until the same thing happened six months later at the autumn equinox, between September 12th and October 14th. The total period of darkness would be about two days per year, and as the longest period of eclipse would be little more than an hour there should be no difficulty in storing enough power for an uninterrupted service.


Briefly summarised, the advantages of the space station are as follows:--

(1) It is the only way in which true world coverage can be achieved for all possible types of service.

(2) It permits unrestricted use of a band at least 100,000 Mc/s wide, and with the use of beams an almost unlimited number of channels would be available.

(3) The power requirements are extremely small since the efficiency of ``illumination'' will be almost 100 per cent. Moreover, the cost of the power would be very low.

(4) However great the initial expense, it would only be a fraction of that required for the world networks replaced, and the running costs would be incomparably less.

Epilogue--Atomic Power

The advent of atomic power has at one bound brought space travel half a century nearer. It seems unlikely that we will have to wait as much as twenty years before atomic-powered rockets are developed, and such rockets could reach even the remoter planets with a fantastically small fuel/mass ratio --only a few per cent. The equations developed in the appendix still hold, but v will be increased by a factor of about - a thousand.

In view of these facts, it appears hardly worth while to expend much effort on the building of long-distance relay chains. Even the local networks which will soon be under construction may have a working life of only 20-30 years.

Monday, July 31, 2017


Today we have one of our most popular posts of all time. 

Since it was originally published on December 12, 2014, it has been viewed over 3,000 times.

In May 1987, new management at KUNM, Albuquerque [link] decided to make major programming changes. At that time, KUNM was airing eclectic freeform music between Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Volunteers did most of the air shifts.  The proposed programming changes called for cancelling the hours of freeform and replacing them with jazz and news programming.

The freeform hosts did not want the changes to happen and called for “drastic action.” The management of KUNM made the mistake of letting freeform hosts do final shows, knowing they were about to become toast.

On May 14, 1987, one freeform host took his complaints directly to KUNM’s listeners prompting then-PD Patrick Conley to take the volunteer off the air. When Conley entered the booth, the volunteer turned on the studio microphone.  Listeners heard the verbal and physical altercation.  Someone was taping KUNM at the time.

Craig Oliver, who had recently become president of the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) interviewed Conley for an in-house feed.  You can hear what happened in today’s video:

Freeform music wasn’t cancelled.  In fact you can hear it today – 30 years later – from 1:00pm to 4:00pm every weekday and during overnights on KUNM. The image on the right comes from the current KUNM schedule.

So, a lesson is, once you tell a host their show is being cancelled, don’t let them go back on the air.