Radio Shack Store Closing Clearance Sales

Yes, I’m on a Radio Shack writing binge this week. Radio Shack’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy and subsequent closing of nearly 1,800 stores is a big deal. We’re talking about a company that has been around for more than 80 years. The silver lining in this cloud for us radio geeks of course are those glorious Radio Shack clearance sales!

Don’t expect the deals to be as good as they were 9 years ago when Radio Shack held their first round of store closings. In 2006, the company closed several underperforming stores in multiple states. I was able to purchase scanners, ham radios, antennas, rotors, masts, tripods, and several other items for as low as 20 cents on the dollar! This time, there is not nearly as much clearance merchandise to choose from. The reason is that Radio Shack does not carry nearly as many items as they used to. Over the years, they have been cutting back their inventory of radio equipment, focusing instead on cell phones/smartphones and accessories. Also, I’ve heard that many of the high dollar items are being shipped to stores that will remain open instead of being sold on clearance. Still, it’s worth your time to check stores in your area which are going out of business. At my local store, everything in the store is being sold at 60-80% off the original retail price. I was in yesterday and found a telescoping scanner antenna (the “good” one with the low VHF coil in the middle) for $6.00! There were also several rechargeable batteries/chargers, some cell phone accessories (no phones), plus a decent selection of clearance antenna mounting kits (tripods, chimney straps, etc.)

There are some deals to be found out there. A friend in Minnesota grabbed a Uniden Bearcat BCD396XLT for $100, brand new in the box! I’ve also heard of Grundig shortwave receivers being found at clearance prices. As always, the “good stuff” goes quickly, so get to Radio Shack and take advantage of their 2015 store closing clearance sales!

Radio Shack Battery of the Month Club

As a kid with very limited funds, one of my favorite Radio Shack promotions was their “Battery of the Month Club.”

RS_Battery_Month_Club

Here’s how it worked: You would go into your local Radio Shack, sign up and be issued a card. Bring the card back each month and redeem for one free standard Radio Shack ‘AA’, ‘C’, ‘D’, or 9-volt transistor battery. The salesperson would mark off that month on the back of the card. Return next month and repeat the process.

This was an ingenious promotion. Batteries only cost a few cents each, so this was a cheap way to bring people into the store. The hope, of course, was that you would purchase expensive electronics gear while you were there. You only received ONE free battery. So unless you got a 9-volt cell, you needed to purchase between 1 to 7 more batteries to power anything. As I said, ingenious!

I quickly figured out how to “work” Radio Shack’s Battery of the Month Club. We were lucky enough to have about 5 stores in our area, so I obtained one card for each store. Then, I had my mother and little sister do the same. There was no age limit and each card was exclusive to that store, so this was completely “legal.” About once per month, I’d have Mom make the rounds so we could collect our free batteries. Usually 9-volts, since these were the most expensive and also because I used them the most. Quick math shows I was able to obtain about 15 free batteries per month. Just enough to keep all my equipment running without having to shell out any allowance money!

Radio Shack Archer Base CB Antennas in 1976

I purchased my first CB radio in August, 1976. Since I was only 12 and too young to drive a car, this meant I needed a base station antenna. Of course, the first place I looked was in my handy, dandy Radio Shack catalog. There were 4 options:

RS_Antennas_1976

Because I was on a tight budget, I chose the Archer 1/4 Wave Ground Plane. Catalog number 21-901. This was the favorite of poor kids like myself who were operating mobile rigs off of old car batteries because we couldn’t afford a power supply! Mounted 10′ off the roof on an eave mount and fed with 35′ of RG58/U coax, it was a decent performer. It was also easy to assemble. I put the 1/4 wave together by myself in about 15 minutes. No SWR adjustments were needed or possible without cutting the antenna. Just fasten the sections together with the enclosed sheet metal screws and you’re good to go. The Radio Shack 1/4 wave CB antenna was a great example of something that was simple, easy, and worked.

The Archer 1/2 Wave Ground Plane (catalog number 21-902) is the only one of these that I never owned. At a price of $24.95, it provided a theoretical gain of 3.75dB over the 1/4 wave. In the catalog listing, it claims to have a 5 section aluminum radiator. This is incorrect. The 1/2 wave had a four section radiator. It’s big brother 5/8 wave had the 5 section radiator. In later years, the static discharge arrestor “loops” on the top of this antenna were replaced with a “top hat”, similar to the 5/8 wave.

The Archer 5/8 Wave Ground Plane (catalog number 21-1133) was Radio Shack’s top of the line base station antenna for 1976. Retail price was $34.95. Frequent sales brought the price down to $24.95. I owned 2 of these at various times, both purchased used. With 4.00dB gain, it was a solid performer. However, the construction quality did not hold up well in Minnesota winters. These antennas were notorious for being damaged during wind and ice storms. The aluminum used was not very strong, so the sections were prone to bending and breaking. Another cost-cutting move was the use of sheet metal screws to attach the sections instead of the superior clamps used by Hy-Gain and other manufacturers. Over time, repeated flexing of the vertical radiator during storms would cause the screws to strip and fall out. Then, the affected section would slide down, rendering the antenna unusable until repairs could be made. But since the Archer 5/8 wave was priced about 25% below the similar Hy-Gain CLR2, Radio Shack sold quite a few of these antennas.

The Archer Crossbow III 3-Element Beam (catalog number 21-933) was a later arrival to my rooftop. Priced at $37.95, it was your basic 3 element beam. It was small and light enough to be turned by an inexpensive TV antenna rotator. 12 foot boom, 18 foot half wave elements, and 9dB forward gain. This antenna could be mounted either vertically or horizontally. The price was later raised to $39.95 before being discontinued a few years later. I was fortunate to grab one of these little beams on clearance in October, 1980. At the $24.95 clearance price, it was a steal! My parents happened to be on vacation for a week. A 3 element beam, rotor, 20′ of masting, 3′ tripod, and 4 guy wire anchors magically appeared on the garage roof while they were gone. The amazing thing is that my did didn’t even notice until several months later. I just told him it was a “radio project” that I worked on while they were out of town. Something to keep me out of trouble, of course. I knew with an explanation like that, he wouldn’t make me take it down. He didn’t :-)

I also owned the Micronta Regulated 12-Volt Power Supply (catalog number 22-124) at various times. Priced at $25.95, this item NEVER went on sale! No need for Radio Shack to put this item on sale. Since it was priced below most comparable power supplies, they sold a ton of these. The Shack also sold an unregulated supply with lower output for $19.95. This was designed for use with car stereos. I remember some kids tried to save money by purchasing the cheaper supply for CB use. Not a good choice. The 1.75 amp output was too low to power a transmitter. Also, because it was not regulated, you’d get a nasty 60 cycle AC hum in the background as you talked. Live and learn, kids!

And no, I never purchased the 40′ telescoping mast. I wanted to! I actually know one guy who mounted a .64 wave on his roof using one of these! I knew better than to push my parents too far with the CB antenna stuff. Well, most of the time, anyway!

Radio Shack: 1921-2015. R.I.P.

We all knew it was coming. We just didn’t know when it would become official. Radio Shack has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after suffering through 11 straight quarterly losses.

Much has been made about the causes of Radio Shack’s demise. This has been covered extensively in other forums. Here, I’d like to focus on their glory days. As a child of the 1970s, there was no finer place on Earth than a Radio Shack store! My mom would drop me off at the front door. I would then spend hours looking at all the items and talking electronics with the salespeople. Of course, this was a time when Radio Shack salespeople actually knew something about electronics and mothers did not get reported to Child Protective Services for leaving their kid in a store unattended. I learned a lot about consumer electronics and radio this way.

I could spend all day writing about Radio Shack products that I have owned and loved over the years. These 4 were my favorites:

1) MY FIRST STEREO:

RS_Stereo_1972

This wasn’t my first record player. My grandparents gave me a General Electric portable for Christmas when I was 4. Four years later, this was my first stereo. Also one of the first electronic devices that I purchased with my own money. I still remember proudly walking up to the counter with 32 mostly one dollar bills (sales tax was 4%), pointing at the stereo, and telling the guy behind the counter “I want one of THOSE!” It’s a rather unique design: one of only two phonographs I’ve ever seen with the tonearm located behind the platter instead of mounted on the right side.



2) MY FIRST CB RADIO:

RS_Base_Station

8 days after I bought that little red stereo, I received this Archer Space Patrol Base Station for Christmas, 1972. Very soon thereafter, it became my favorite piece of electronic equipment. I already owned a pair of walkie-talkies, but they were nothing like this machine. For starters, it received all 23 CB channels. Unlike the cheap regenerative walkies, this baby had a sensitive superheterodyne receiver. Combined with a long antenna (about 5 feet), the Base Station allowed me to listen to all CBers in my area. Another advantage: the transmit crystal was in a socket instead of soldered to the board. This allowed me to easily switch out the supplied Channel 14 crystal and replace it with Channel 21 which was used by most of the CB stations closest to me. The external mic provided a quality sound. Using 6 “D” cell batteries gave this Archer an honest 100mW power output. I sounded like I was using a “real” CB radio, not a typical off-frequency kiddie walkie-talkie with crummy audio. Later, I constructed a crude 1/4 wave ground plane antenna by duct-taping wire to a bamboo fishing pole. Mounted it on the upstairs deck and ran wires along the railings for radials! I also increased the power output by using a 13.8VDC CB power supply as an “AC Adapter.” I used this for 3.5 years until finally saving enough to buy my first “real” CB in the summer of 1976. Best $30 that Santa Claus ever spent!



3) MY FIRST PIRATE RADIO STATION:

RS_AM_Broadcaster

The Science Fair AM Broadcaster was introduced in 1974. Instantly, I wanted one! I’ll never forget the eager anticipation of putting the kit together, winding the coil, connecting the 9-volt battery, and then…the moment of truth…talking into the microphone as I slowly tuned my radio across the dial. Would it work? IT DID! IT WORKS, IT WORKS! I was the happiest kid on the planet as I “played DJ” for my family and the next-door neighbors. Shortly thereafter, I read some library books and learned how to modify this little transmitter for extended range. Eventually, I got it to transmit about a mile ;-)



4) MY FIRST 800MHZ SCANNER:

PRO_34

I got hooked on public service band monitoring when I was given a Wards Airline 6 band portable radio for my 9th birthday in 1973. Later, I messed around with crystal scanners. Also owned one of the earliest programmable scanners: the Tenelec MCP-1. (Anyone else remember those?) But the PRO-34 represented a quantum leap forward for me. Being used to 16 or 20 channel capacities, I thought TWO HUNDRED channels was simply amazing! The frequency coverage of this scanner was also amazing. It could hear EVERYTHING! I carried it everywhere for about 2 years until I foolishly set it on the roof of my car while I fumbled for my keys. You can guess what happened next. About 1 mile down the road, I realized what I had done. Of course I went back and looked everywhere, but my beloved PRO-34 was gone. Since I did not find it smashed along the road, I assume someone grabbed it before I had chance to come back and search. Replaced shortly thereafter by a Uniden Bearcat 200XLT.



As the song goes, “these are a few of my favorite things” from the heyday of Radio Shack. It has been a sad, slow demise for what was once a cutting edge technology company. The Shack will soon be a thing of the past. But we’ll always have the memories. If you’re lucky, you also have a few Realistic, Archer, Micronta, Science Fair, Space Patrol, Clarinette, Modulette, Supertape, Concertape, NOVA, Optimus, Mach Two, SELECTaCOM, SERVO-ROTOR, Chronomatic, Flavoradio, Patrolman, Jetstream, or Deskube products still in service around your house.

R.I.P, Radio Shack. Farewell, old friend.

New and Improved Comments Section

Hey gang,

I’ve received a few e-mails from readers who tried to leave comments but could not do so. In response, I’ve made some adjustments to my spam filters which seem to have solved this problem. The downside is that I will also be getting more spam.

In the past, this site has been flooded with comment spam which necessitated the use of blockers and filters. We’re talking hundreds of junk comments each day! If this happens again, I’ll have to reinstate the blocking software. But for now, it’s off and so you should be able to easily comment on the postings. Please do so! Let me know if you have any problems.

Thanks,

Drew

Do You Remember Your First CB Antenna?

It’s a lazy Sunday and I am feeling nostalgic. For those of you who were around back in the CB craze, what was your first antenna? Do you remember? Many of us radio geeks can remember our first citizens band radio. But remembering the first antenna is a bit more difficult.

My first CB antenna was…are you ready for this…a random length of 300 ohm “twin lead” TV antenna cable! It was the summer of 1976 and I was 12 years old. More than anything else, I wanted a CB. My parents were the type who didn’t just “give” their kids stuff. They made you earn it. At the time, I thought this was really mean and “unfair.” Now, of course, I’m glad they brought me up in this manner. As soon as school was out, I began doing odd jobs. Mowing lawns, washing cars, weeding gardens, etc. Whatever I could do to earn enough money for a CB by the end of the summer. This was my goal.

By the end of August, I had $100. This was just enough to purchase a Midland 13-882C from Target. The price on this radio had been $139.99, but they dropped it to $99.99 for one week only. On the last day of the sale, I showed up with a big wad of $5 and (mostly) $1 bills to purchase my new radio. I was thrilled! One small problem, though: in order to operate it from my room, I also needed a base antenna and a power supply. I could afford neither. What to do now?

I spotted an old car battery in the garage. I knew I could get the required 12 volts by hooking my new CB directly to the battery. My parents wouldn’t let me bring it in the house because of fears that it would leak acid. I soon found their concerns were warranted. So, the garage became my “radio room.” Since this battery was near the end of it’s life (which is why it was sitting in the garage), I found and connected the battery charger in parallel. I quickly learned to only charge the battery when I was NOT transmitting. Otherwise, everyone was treated to a nice “buzzzzzzzz” noise underneath my voice. Now, for the antenna:

We had recently replaced our VHF rooftop TV antenna and cable. The old antenna and about 50 feet of twin lead were sitting in the corner of the garage. I twisted the wires on one end of the cable so that it would fit in the center hole of the radio’s SO-239 connector. Wrapped plastic electrical tape around the wire and SO-239 to get it to stay in place. Then, I ran the flat cable out the window, across the patio, and tied the other end to a deck support pillar. Somehow, it worked! Not very well, but good enough to hear all the CB’ers in my immediate area. Back in 1976, that was quite a few CB’ers! Even more amazing was the fact that I transmitted this way for nearly a month and did not destroy the radio’s finals! The Midland had an AWI (antenna warning indicator) lamp that lit up when the SWR was more than 2:1. Sure enough, it became bright red every time I keyed the mic! The reflected power level was so great that I barely showed 1 watt transmit power on the built-in meter. That was one tough little radio!

I continued to mow lawns and work on the weekends. A few weeks later, I came across a cash windfall when Dad asked me to help paint at one of his rental properties. This allowed me to earn enough money to buy a REAL antenna: a Radio Shack Archer 1/4 wave ground plane, then selling for the princely sum of $12.95 plus tax. It also bought 40 feet of RG-58/U coaxial cable, a 10′ steel antenna mast, and an eave mount. My father and I completed the installation the following weekend. I thought that little antenna was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! I could now talk back to ALL the people I heard…and they could hear me! I could be heard all over town. Plus, that little red lamp on the front of the radio didn’t light up anymore when I keyed the microphone. The watt meter now swung all the way over to ‘4.’ I had arrived in the CB world as a legitimate operator. Life was good!

The Traumatic “First Radio Firing” & Unemployment Benefits

One of my radio friends contacted me yesterday. She had just been fired and wanted advice as to what she should do next. All of us seasoned radio vets know that being fired is just a regular part of the business. “You ain’t no real broadcaster until you’ve been fired at least 3 times!” My friend is new to this business, however. She’s only been in radio for a few years. This is her first termination. Naturally, she’s panicked, emotional, and wondering “what did I do wrong?”

Because this is radio, the station is contesting her eligibility for unemployment benefits. This also comes with the territory. Out of all the times I was fired in radio (there were several), I can only think of two times when management didn’t attempt to deny my claim. In one case, the station had been sold and the entire airstaff was let go. Not much grounds for contention there. Especially since the station apparently failed to pay state unemployment tax on my behalf. Which of course I learned when I went to apply for benefits. In the other case, they didn’t bother to contest because the program director who had fired me was himself terminated for cause shortly thereafter. Trying to explain that to the Division of Labor might have become a bit messy. In every other instance, the station attempted to deny my benefits. Some would stretch the truth while others would outright lie in order to stop me from collecting what was rightfully mine. My favorite was an operation in Florida which claimed “theft of station equipment” as grounds for my dismissal. The item in question was a frequency spectrum analyzer which the chief engineer had reported missing. It was later returned, but damaged. I had no use for this piece of equipment. However, our weekend jock who also just happened to be operating a pirate FM station in his spare time found it a very useful tool in the calibration of his transmitter. It was my word against theirs. My benefits were denied.

Why do radio station owners/managers routinely contest legitimate unemployment benefit claims by their former employees? The first reason is money, of course. In most states, the employer’s unemployment insurance premium is determined in part by their claim history. The more claims, the more they pay. So there is an incentive to contest all claims against the station, valid or otherwise. The other reason is ego. The radio industry is full of egomaniacs. Some of them eventually end up in the GM chair. This is especially true if it involves a disgruntled former employee with an axe to grind. It becomes a grudge match. Management/ownership knows the unemployment benefit process better than the average jock who has just been terminated. Within the state system, there are a limited number of appeals available for denial of benefits. Once the appeals process is exhausted, the ex-employee has 2 options: drop their claim or hire an attorney and pursue civil litigation against the company. How many unemployed radio folks have the resources to do this? Very few. Management/ownership knows this. They use the process to their advantage.

Back to my newly-fired friend: I told her to hang in there. “It’s not you, it’s the business.” She’s very talented and extremely good at asserting/promoting herself. Despite the extremely tight job market for air talent today, I don’t think she’ll have any problem finding another job. Consider it a blessing to be out of a bad situation. I’ve always said “Why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t want you working for them?” She’ll be fine. If you’re reading this and happen to be in the same situation, things will work out for you also. “It’s not you. It’s the business.”

U100 WYOO AM/FM Minneapolis/St. Paul Revisited

38 years ago today, the greatest radio station in Twin Cities history pulled the plug and went dark. Now of course, that’s my personal opinion and many will disagree. But in my mind, U100 aka “The Supah Yeww” will always be the ultimate radio station to ever grace the Minneapolis/St. Paul airwaves.

U100 was actually two stations, simulcasting as one: 980 AM and 101.3 FM. These stations began life as WPBC, the People’s Broadcasting Company. Husband and wife team Bill and Becky Ann Stewart owned the stations. The format was best described as Easy Listening. Or, as WPBC put it in their promotional announcements: “Playing more of the prettier, popular music for easier listening.” The Metropolitan Opera was broadcast on Saturdays. Rock and roll was absolutely forbidden on WPBC. It was rumored that Becky Ann even went as far as to scratch out album cuts which were “too loud” with the point of a compass in order to keep the airstaff from playing them.

In 1972, WPBC AM/FM were sold to Fairchild Industries. The stations were split and both formats were flipped. WYOO-AM 980 “The New YOO in the Twin Cities” broadcast a mix of mostly 1950s oldies and nostalgia programming. WRAH-FM 101.3 “Rah-dio for the Twin Cities” was automated, focusing on rock album cuts. The results were disappointing, both in terms or ratings and advertising revenue. Less than 2 years later, management made the decision to flip both stations to an AM/FM simulcast hybrid Rock/Top 40 format.

U100 was born on August 26, 1974. Live at the Minnesota State Fair, Program Director Rob Sherwood abruptly brought an end to WYOO’s Oldies format. Throwing the cart across the trailer, he promised not to play any more “turkey records.” Rob then played Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends”, announcing that since he had left KDWB five months earlier with this song, “I guess I’ll come back with this song. A new era in Twin Cities broadcasting…as we introduce you to boogie! Are you ready to boogie?” This was followed by a montage of the entire U100 jingle package. Which in turn was followed by the J. Geils Band’s “Give it to Me.”

U100 was in many ways an innovative station far ahead of it’s time. For starters, they broadcast in FM Stereo as well as standard AM. This was a big deal in 1974. All of WYOO’s competitors were available on AM only. The format was “Rock 40″, more than 10 years before Dan Kieley coined the term at KKRC/Sioux Falls. Sure, U100 played the current Top 40 hits by KC & the Sunshine Band, Wild Cherry, Hall & Oates, and Elton John. But they also played album cuts from Led Zeppelin, Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many others. They also played the longer album versions of current hits, rather than the short “45 versions.” Two that immediately come to mind are “She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates and “Miracles” by Jefferson Starship. The latter was somewhat controversial due to it’s racy lyric content.

Which leads me to the most important reason I loved U100: their DJs were radical. Always pushing the envelope. The station even billed itself as “OUTRAGEOUS!” in their promotional literature. Drug references were subtle but frequent. The infamous “U100 Grabs Me” T-shirt had a pair of hands strategically placed right where a female’s ‘special features’ would be. Afternoon jock Chucker Morgan called himself “The Mother Chucker”, a play on words for you-know-what. He also hosted “Chucker’s Leak Line” where kids could call and leak test answers to other students. Parents and teachers hated that feature, of course. Teenagers loved it! Each weeknight at 10:30, “Boogie Check” allowed listeners to call in and speak their mind, tell a joke, or whatever. I had just started the 7th grade at Valley Middle school when U100 went off the air. It was an absolutely huge deal around school. Many kids wore their U100 T-shirts backwards or inside-out in protest. It was like losing a friend. More than any other radio station, it was U100 that inspired me to pursue a career of my own behind the microphone. John Records Landecker of WLS was the jock who had the most influence on me, but WYOO was my most influential station.

Why did U100 die? Depends on who you ask. Some claim it was simply impossible for them to compete against 3 other well-established stations. Minneapolis/St. Paul was unique in that it was the only market at the time with FOUR Top 40 outlets. KDWB-AM 630 and WDGY AM-1130 had been playing rock and roll since the 1950s. KSTP AM-1500 was a fairly recent convert to the format but had the money and the muscle of Stanley S. Hubbard’s Hubbard Broadcasting behind them. All 3 of U100’s competitors had bigger budgets and larger promotional warchests. Others claim that Doubleday (KDWB’s parent company) made Fairchild an offer for their FM frequency that was simply too good to pass up. By this time, it was early 1976. Top 40 stations had begun migrating from AM to FM in select markets. Smart programmers and owners knew the future of this format was in high fidelity FM stereo, not scratchy AM mono. In any case, the FM station was sold to Doubleday and would become KDWB-FM 101.3. Since FCC rules prohibited a company from owning more than one AM and one FM per market, the AM facility was sold to local Beautiful Music broadcaster WAYL-FM.

Just before midnight on Wednesday, September 15, 1976, U100 night DJ JoJo Gunne played the station’s signature song: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” At it’s conclusion, JoJo thanked the audience, saying “Remember, I love ya”, kissing the microphone, and then “We gone, bye bye” into Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.” At the song’s conclusion, just a hurried Legal ID: “WYOO AM and FM stereo Richfield now leaves the air.” The transmitter was quickly turned off, presumably to comply with the 12:00:00 deadline. Just like that, the greatest radio station in Twin Cities history was gone forever. Across town, KDWB overnight DJ Mark Ranier gleefully announced “and they just went down for the last time!”

At 6:00AM on September 16, KDWB began their 101.3 FM simulcast as “The All New KDWB, FM-101 and AM-63.” On Monday, September 20, WAYL assumed control of the 980 AM frequency. I find it amazing how a station that was on the air for barely 2 years had such a profound effect on Twin Cities radio and it’s listeners. To this day, people in Minnesota still remember and reminisce about “The Boogie Station”, “Fun Lovin’ Super U”, “The Acapulco Gold Countdown”, and of course “Boogie Check.” For those of us lucky enough to grow up in that time and place, the day the music died was exactly 38 years ago today. Right On, Super Yeww!

Is AM Radio Dead in 2014?

That was the question posed to the “I Love AM Radio” Facebook group yesterday. A lively discussion ensued, eliciting over 100 responses before the end of the day.

Many seem to feel that AM radio is doomed. Headed towards the ash heap of history, alongside spark gap transmitters and teletype machines. Others feel AM radio is still relevant in 2014 and needs to be given a new lease on life.

Here’s my two cents: “It depends.” If the AM station in question is simply churning out the same syndicated programming that can be heard in 12 other places on the dial, it’s doomed. If the station’s owners treat it as an afterthought: a poor red-haired stepchild to the 5 FMs in their cluster, it’s doomed. If nothing is done to improve the audio quality of the station, it’s doomed.

Contrary to popular belief, music can actually sound very good on AM radio IF the owners are willing to spend a little time and money. Anyone here remember the final “Musicradio” days of WLS/Chicago? They were broadcasting in AM stereo, utilizing the Motorola C-QUAM system. The audio was gorgeous. I was working in Garden City, Kansas at the time. At night, I would sit in the station vehicle and listen to Turi Ryder, amazed at the sound quality I was receiving from nearly 900 miles away. The best example I can recommend today is Ionia Michigan’s WION-AM 1430. Give ‘em a listen when you have a chance and let me know what you think. Yes, that is the actual air signal that is being streamed! This is a small market, independently-owned station. They don’t have a million bucks to spend on engineering. Proving that it doesn’t take a huge budget or an army of engineers to make AM sound good!

Then, there’s the programming issue. In order for an AM station (or ANY station) to survive, it needs to provide compelling, innovative programming. Serve your local community! Give your listeners what they can’t get from a satellite syndicated corporate clone. If it’s good, they will listen. They will tell their friends. Some of their friends are potential advertisers. You get the picture. Make your AM station a facility worth listening to and you will have listeners. Pretty simple, really.

I grew up on AM radio. So of course, I’m somewhat sentimental about this and would hate to see it go by the wayside. But I firmly believe that with a bit of effort spent on programming and technical improvements, AM radio is most certainly still viable in 2014.

High School Football Games = AM DX Opportunities

It’s that time of year again! The 2014 high school football season has begun. Friday night lights, cheerleaders, popcorn, and…all too often…AM radio stations that stay on their daytime power/directional pattern in order to broadcast the games.

I call these “football emergencies.” Many AM stations which are required to drastically reduce power and/or use a restrictive directional pattern at night will conveniently “forget” to drop to their required after sunset parameters when broadcasting play-by-play of local sporting events. The reason is so that more listeners (and advertisers) can receive the games clearly. Problem is, this is a blatant violation of FCC rules. The FCC does allow AM stations to operate their daytime facilities during bonafide emergencies. These include earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and floods. Some program directors and general managers seem to believe this rule also applies to high school football games.

A quick scan through the AM dial on an autumn Friday night reveals several potential violators. In the age of the Internet, it’s pretty easy to determine who you should and should not be hearing from your location. Once you’ve made a positive ID on the station, check their coverage map at radio-locator.com. If you’re hearing a station from 200 miles away that is licensed for 170 watts nighttime and you’re in their directional null, it’s a pretty good bet they’re not operating within their night parameters! To confirm, try to receive this same station on a different evening. My guess is that you won’t hear a trace of them.

Since we’re not FCC enforcement agents, we might as well turn lemons into lemonade. I consider these “football emergencies” to be great DXing opportunities. This is your chance to log stations which would otherwise be impossible from your location. It’s usually very easy to identify stations running local ball games since the towns will be mentioned frequently. Also, these games tend to be heavily sponsored by local merchants. Small town advertisers almost always include their locations in their spots. “Joe Blow’s Construction, located at 123 Main Street in Anytown. Joe Blow’s Construction. Call them today at 666-3333. Joe Blow’s Construction, for all your construction needs.” These ads stick out of the pile like a sore thumb.

Let us know what you’re hearing during these “football emergencies.” Happy DX’ing!