Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Whats the frequency, Kenneth?"

An incident on my 48 mile commute this morning stirred memories, like a bite of a madeline. I enjoy classical music, so I tuned the radio to the local NPR outlet, the only purveyor "public" or "commercial", of classical and jazz music in central Virginia. Early morning is news time, so I was not too disappointed when the signal got, for want of a better word, "static-y". This drives me nuts; I would rather not listen than to have crackles in the music. I do not know the physics of signal propagation,but thinking about frequency and signal strength made me remember when I was younger, 500 miles north of here, and the radio I heard then.

I came to enjoy radio when either because of a strong signal or repeating by a local outlet, I first heard Jean Shepherd on the airwaves. It would be late at night, perfect for long range dx'ing, and there was this storyteller, talking to me, telling tales of growing up in Hohman, Indiana. He sounded like he was next door on cold clear New England winter nights; less so in summer. Heady stuff for a working class lad, listening in the dark.

My father, who had a part-time antique firearm business, had an old Hallicrafter "boat anchor" that I am sure he had received as part of some deal in his gun room.My brother and I would go in, fire it up, wait for the tubes (tubes!) to warm up. Listening to that, with the crackle of atmospherics and signals fading and surging, was an introduction to a wider world than 111 Union St. There was a world of sound, of other ways at looking at things, other languages to hear.
Dad is Gone West,and the Hallicrafter sits in the garage loft, waiting on new tubes. There are still sources for vacuum tubes, brickfront and of course, on the web. When a MiG 25 pilot defected to Japan(it had previously been the Big New Thing to Fear), analysts saw the thing was full of tubes: the Russians had, I'm told, developed vacuum tubes to the highest possible level. But I digress.

Radio now is not so much fun. O once in a while I try a little AM radio DX'ing, and if the conditions are right at night I can pick up WBZ in Boston. I talked to Eddie Rickenbacker many years ago when he appeared on a talk show on WBZ. AM is just that now: talk, news, and religion. I have a wee Sangean "World Band Radio" which works pretty darn well, but shortwave has changed, of course, over the years. I still like to hear the crackle of atmospherics when I am listening to Deutsche Welle.

Now when we take a driving trip, we take SWMBO's Saturn Aura, really an Opel, with XM satellite radio. There is no fade there.


Barrett Bonden said...

My Marantz amp/tuner is geared to FM and does very well, typically with Radio 3 our main classical station. Theoretically it claims to receive long wave but I get better reception (of the French station France Inter on, I think, 1408 Hz) on a cheap ghetto-blaster. It's all down to the antenna, of course, and one thing I did learn in the RAF is that antenna theory is like voodoo. The ideal antenna for long wave is 1 wave-length but you can get reasonable reception by dividing by 2, 4, 8, etc. All of which will be still too long for my garden. Did you have any success with long wave?

Relucent Reader said...

Very little, as it has only the whip antenna. Our housing subdivision has "rules" limiting outside antennae. Another level of government, but I am sure they keep the subdiv. from resembling Dogpatch.
O yes, I googled Steve Bell, and linked to his cartoons at The Guardian.Enjoyed them very much, the ones I "got" anyways (ie, the Margaret Thatcher panels).

Barrett Bonden said...

When John Major (remember him?) was prime minister he incautiously revealed he tucked his shirt lap into his underpants. So Steve Bell started cartooning him with his underpants (Y-fronts) outside his trousers. As time passed the underpants - as a symbol - began to replace Major in the cartoons. The most brilliant, when the Major government was dead in the water, was simply a tumbleweed constructed out of Y-fronts rolling down Whitehall.