Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Unlock that Cellphone!

Ever seen a really cool-looking cellphone and then heard the dreaded "available exclusively from (insert wireless carrier here)". You're bummed, dig that phone but you know that Verizon doesn't work in your apartment. Or that T-Mobile's coverage stinks in your office. Or that Cingular really screwed you over when they bought your AT&T Wireless service.

Well, apparently you don't need to worry about that anymore! CNN is reporting that the US Librarian of Congress James H. Billington approved new rules that allow owners to break software locks on their handsets in order to use them with competing carriers. It should also allow certain features that may be inherent to a phone, like MP3 playback, to be unlocked if the wireless carrier (or the RIAA) decided that they didn't want you to have that feature.

The rules were announced on Wednesday Nov.22 and are in effect for the next three years, at least. Call up your cellphone provider and demand the unlock codes today!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Who Needs Vinateri When You've Got WMWM in the Clutch!?!?

Now this is what college radio is all about. Apparently the recent sale of local AM station WESX left the annual Thanksgiving Salem/Beverly high school footgame game without a signal to broadcast on. This game is a big deal in these suburbs of's a VERY old rivalry (started in 1900) between the two towns' high schools.

But with less than 48 hours notice, brave volunteers and students for Salem State College's WMWM 91.7FM set up a deal with MooreStuffOnline to simulcast their web feed so everyone got to hear the game! And this year, in stereo FM no less!

Congrats to all on a job well done!

Congrats also to Stephen Gostowski; the Patriots' kicker nailed a 52 yard field goal this weekend against the Bears...longest of his career!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Lately I have seen a few examples of several companies getting so hung up on the details that they're not getting work "out the door". Some of these are small companies, others huge corporations.

The context on the reports I've seen is that this is a bad thing. The counter-argument is that it's better to not put out anything than to put out sub-standard work.

Personally I think it's usually better to put out something rather than nothing...but I can see both sides' arguments. What's your take?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Radio Shack and HD Radio

I hear Radio Shack will be selling the Accurian tabletop HD Radio for $99 on Black Friday and the weekend. Quite separately, (and not through RS) the Sangean HDT-1 is alleged to be available commercially by Christmas.

Don't expect the Accurians to be in stores, though...the top few thousand RS outlets might have them but not the rest. Call ahead or just order off the website. I have seen the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD in RS stores, though.

I have heard from reliable engineering sources that both the Accurian and Sangean radios are pretty good. The Accurian's speakers leave something to be desired, but it should be a good kitchen radio (it doesn't have an alarm clock so not much good for the bedroom). The Sangean supposed has lots of nifty little engineering/techie indicators of signal-to-noise and whatnot that'll make the geek in you very happy.

Methinks I'll have myself a nice HD Christmas this year!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Clear Channel's loss could be College Radio's gain?

Let the feeding frenzy begin! With this buyout, Clear Channel is divesting itself of dozens of stations across the country. Supposedly none of them are in markets above Arbitron #100. But that could mean that a decent signal could be up for sale near your college, quite possibly for "cheap".

Of course, it'll still be many thousands (more likely 100's of thousands) of dollars. But the reality is that's still cheap for a decent AM or FM signal. And since you pay once for an item that reaps benefits immediately and continues to reap them for amortizes nicely. A perfect candidate for a capital campaign, no? Remember, it doesn't matter if you want a non-commercial/education station; the FCC allows you to make a station in the commercial band (92.1-107.9) into a NCE if you want. It's just commercial operations that can't run in the NCE band (87.9-92.1).

Below is a list of markets that CC has filed with the SEC that they have intentions of selling a station(s) in. Check it out, if there's something near your college...start talking to your college administration!

(Thanks to John Devecka via the CBI listserv for this list!)
Boise, ID * Market 203   1A   108
Lancaster, PA * Market 393 1A 113
Victorville, CA * Market 344 1A 127
Reading, PA * Market 147 1A 131
Shreveport, LA * Market 208 1A 132
Burlington, VT * Market 337 1A 136
Fayetteville, AR * Market 267 1A 141
Salisbury, MD * Market 347 1A 146
Ann Arbor, MI * Market 350 1A 147
Tyler, TX * Market 288 1A 149
Albany, OR * Market 230 1A 150
Montgomery, AL * Market 300 1A 151
Huntington, WV * Market 329 1A 156
Rome/Utica, NY * Market 151 1A 159
Poughkeepsie, NY * Market 339 1A 162
Anchorage, AK * Market 248 1A 172
San Luis Obispo, CA * Market 384 1A 173
Lincoln, NE * Market 273 1A 176
Fort Smith, AR * Market 268 1A 177
Binghamton, NY * Market 245 1A 179
Lebanon, NH * Market 392 1A 180
Lubbock, TX * Market 284 1A 182
Midland/Odessa TX * Market 286 1A 188
Tupelo, MS * Market 379 1A 189
Amarillo, TX * Market 277 1A 195
Yakima, WA * Market 242 1A 201
Tri-Cities, WA * Market 407 1A 202
Duluth, MN * Market 424 1A 204
Santa Barbara, CA * Market 186 1A 207
Medford, OR * Market 231 1A 212
Bangor, ME * Market 352 1A 216
Fargo, ND * Market 361 1A 223
Laurel, MS * Market 381 1A 227
Rochester, MN * Market 371 1A 230
Charlottesville, VA * Market 174 1A 231
Muskegon, MI * Market 375 1A 232
Marion/Carbondale, IL * Market 380 1A 235
Eau Claire, WI * Market 348 1A 242
Abilene, TX * Market 360 1A 243
Wheeling, WV * Market 330 1A 248
Lima, OH * Market 220 1A 249
Parkersburg, WV * Market 410 1A 249.1
Battle Creek, MI * Market 294 1A 258
Billings, MT * Market 403 1A 260
Wichita Falls, TX * Market 387 1A 261
Texarkana, TX * Market 287 1A 262
Augusta, ME * Market 377 1A 266
Williamsport, PA * Market 159 1A 269
Sioux City, IA * Market 395 1A 272
Mankato, MN * Market 370 1A 273
Lawton, OK * Market 276 1A 282
Cookeville, TN * Market 107 1A 284
Bismarck, ND * Market 211 1A 285
Grand Forks, ND * Market 244 1A 287
Jonesboro, AR * Market 374 1A 289
Cheyenne, WY * Market 240 1A 290
The Florida Keys, FL * Market 123 1A 291
Mason City, IA * Market 372 1A 292
Meridian, MS * Market 408 1A 295
Casper, WY * Market 239 1A 297
Ashland/Mansfield, OH * Market 369 1A NR
Ashtabula, OH * Market 368 1A NR
Bozeman, MT * Market 404 1A NR
Burlington, IA * Market 197 1A NR
Centralia, WA * Market 237 1A NR
Chillicothe, OH * Market 214 1A NR
Defiance, OH * Market 217 1A NR
Dickinson, ND * Market 363 1A NR
Fairbanks, AK * Market 249 1A NR
Farmington, NM * Market 262 1A NR
Findlay/Tiffin, OH * Market 218 1A NR
Fort Dodge, IA * Market 200 1A NR
Frankfort, KY * Market 411 1A NR
Gadsden, AL * Market 298 1A NR
Gallup, NM * Market 362 1A NR
Laramie, WY * Market 420 1A NR
Lufkin, TX * Market 285 1A NR
Marion, OH * Market 222 1A NR
Minot, ND * Market 246 1A NR
Missoula, MT * Market 405 1A NR
Ogallala, NE * Market 274 1A NR
Pocatello, ID * Market 204 1A NR
Randolph, VT * Market 390 1A NR
Sandusky, OH * Market 223 1A NR
Shelby, MT * Market 406 1A NR
Somerset, KY * Market 391 1A NR
Springfield, IL * Market 292 1A NR
Twin Falls, ID * Market 206 1A NR
Victoria, TX * Market 289 1A NR
Yuma, AZ * Market 260 1A NR

Thursday, November 16, 2006

AM Radio Antennas

Lost in the 20+ years of ever-shrinking radios is the importance of the antenna.

Remember the antenna? Yeah, that wire that comes out the back? Looks ugly? Usually you stuff it behind something else?

Sigh Yeah, that's the antenna. And it's at least half the equation when it comes to static-free listening. Ever wonder why your walkman, or your clock radio, has such crappy reception? There you go...there's almost no antenna whatsoever in those things.

So today I'll share with y'all a great list of AM radio antennas I saw on the wonderful PUBtech listserv. If you've always thought of AM as a vast wasteland of static, consider some of these antennas. Many you can make yourself for less than $10, or contact your local SBE chapter and some engineer will likely make you one in trade for a cool, refined libation. Some you can buy for less than $50, too. Virtually all of them will make SOME improvement to your AM reception.

Even if you don't have connections for an external AM antenna, some of these models (like the Select-A-Tenna) will improve reception even sitting next to your radio. Nifty, eh?

Don't forget to connect that ground wire, too!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

HD Radio in Radio Shack

Old time engineers have bemoaned the lack of radios in Radio Shack for some time now. But Radio Shack is taking the lead, sort of, when it comes to "HD Radio" (aka "digital radio" or "IBOC"). They're the first major nationwide retailer (AFAIK) to start selling HD Radios in their stores. Locally, Tweeter ETC has been selling the Boston Acoustics Recepter HD for several months, but Tweeter isn't as ubiquitus as Radio Shack is.

Unfortunately, Radio Shack's "You've got questions, we've got confusion" mantra is still sort of in play. The early versions of the Recepter HD radio had a gawdawful "rat tail" antenna that made it next to impossible to reliably receive any radio signals, much less HD Radio signals. I stopped by my local Radio Shack and discovered that they had the rat tail and, sure enough, I couldn't get any HD signals reliably.

Now, to this Radio Shack's employees' credit...when I suggested they put a pair of "rabbit ears" antenna on the Recepter HD, and when it took a few adapters to make that work...not only did they gladly do so, they were pretty enthusiastic about the improved reception.

However, it pains me to think that these nice folks didn't know that to begin with. Why didn't they at least try another antenna? Even a [shudder] amplified one? That simple rabbit ear solution was under $10 and 10 minutes of work, and it made an unjustifiable $250 for a radio suddenly "worth it" because customers could now actually hear the multicast channels.

Moreover, why aren't local radio stations...that have shelled out $75k, $100k, $250k for their HD Radio transmitters...going around to all the local retailers and making sure they're aware of this stuff? How else can they expect listeners to pay for those HD Radios to hear their big investments?

RANT: The MBTA route maps goes OLD style

Visitors to Boston quickly learn that our subway system, the MBTA...or just "The T" mighty damned confusing. What visitors don't know is that even us locals are usually pretty perplexed!

The system is inherently confusing to begin with; part of the legacy of being over 100 years old. But the MBTA is notoriously bad about signage. Last weekend my wife and I really got a taste of just how bad when we went to the Copley Square / Green Line station. On the outbound platform they're doing lots of construction, and it appears that a old subway system map was ripped off to reveal an even older map. How old, you ask? Well, it still shows the Red Line ending at Harvard, which it hasn't done since 1985. Yikes! There were also all the old Orange Line stops like City Square and the Washington Street Elevated that were all torn down in 1987. Sure hope nobody planned their trip based on that system map!

Still, I wish the MBTA would pull that map down, clean it up, and put it on display somewhere in a museum or something. It's at least 20 years old, probably more like 30+...that's pretty much "historical" at this point.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

ISDN and College Radio

If you've never heard of ISDN, that's okay - it's a bit obscure. In radio terms, it usually refers to a device that uses ISDN telephone lines to make a high-quality audio connection to a remote location, with almost no delay. It's like having a cellphone but with CD-quality sound.

NPR & public radio make extensive use of ISDN...most affiliate stations have an ISDN box or "codec" in their studios. Lots of universities love having their professors and staff being interviewed on NPR. It's almost a status symbol these days.

But most of the time, those professors and staff don't want to hoof it over to the NPR affiliate's studios. They'd much rather stay on campus. At the same time, NPR always prefers to interview over ISDN instead of a regular telephone; audio quality is something they take seriously.

So this is where you, at your college radio station, come in. If your campus doesn't have can offer to provide it for any of your campus's professors/staff, if the college pays for the ISDN codec & line fees.

It's a win-win all get a free ISDN (that you can use for sports games and other remote broadcasts if you like), your college's media relations office will love you for providing the service since NPR is bound to call on your college's professors more often, and your professors are happy to stay on-campus and not drive 30 minutes to another station.

Best of all, besides just your campus's professors, you can rent out your studios for the purpose. Common rates are anywhere from $50 to $200/hr. Say you're in a small college town, and there's a local policitian that NPR wants to interview that has nothing to do with the college. There you go! NPR will pay you to rent your ISDN for the purpose of interviewing that politician. Happens all the time.

If you're not sure if your college has ISDN already, call up the media relations dep't and ask. If your campus already has an NPR affiliate with ISDN, obviously it's all moot...but if not, and if media relations doesn't either, suggest the idea above. Odds are good they'll like it.

Telos Systems makes the Zephyr Xstream, a common and well-designed ISDN codec. Other manufacturers of good models include Musicam USA, Comrex, Tieline, and AEQ. Prices for many of these are available at Broadcast Supply Worldwide, among other dealers. I mention BSW just because they're pretty good about having prices on their website...but if you have a preferred dealer then by all means, go with them.

You'll also need to work with your college's IT/Telecommunications office to get the required ISDN phone lines installed.

And finally, once it's all set up - don't forget to publicize it! Have your info posted at these sites: and and set up a page on your website detailing what your capabilities are, how much you charge, when you're available, and who to contact about booking the studio. Example sites include studio rental pages for Living on Earth and The Infinite Mind.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Quicktip: Mixing levels

If you're not sure if your theme music's volume level is "right", try changing the volume on your monitor speakers approximately -20dB and then back to 0. A-B it back and forth a bit.

If it sounds right at both the lower volume, and the normal volume, you've got it pretty close... if not set properly. This is a great way to check your mix on the fly when you're doing a live broadcast.

How not to suck as a manager

So today on my blog trolling I spotted this article about "managerial entitlement" by Computerworld's Paul Glen and found it fascinating. Not just because I suspect it's more true than any us care to admit, but because I know it's more true than I would care to admit.

One thing that leaps out at me - being the kind of person who always shows up 10 minutes late to meetings, thus making everyone wait for them. I have known, many, many people who do this. Not always maliciously, but a lot of people. I'm glad I haven't worked under many of them!

Paul focuses on managers, but let's face many of you have had a job you hated and started thinking all the horrible things "they" did to you "earned" you the right to steal office supplies, goof off on the job, knife someone (metaphorically) in the back, etc.?

Yeah, I thought so. I certainly know I'll be keeping an eye on myself so I won't become "that guy".

The first post... always the hardest. This is just to get the blog rolling, in the coming posts I hope to have something intelligent, or at least mildly amusing, to say about my passions in life. Usually college radio, public radio, radio engineering, politics, the MBTA, life in Boston and the vagaries of being among the newly-wed.