Monday, February 12, 2018

DJ Frederick McKinley Jones


The first African American to build a radio station was Frederick McKinley Jones. He hailed from the small town of Hallock, MN. How small?  The population was 981 at the 2010 census. It's population probably peaked around 1960; the census that year put the population at 1,552. It's so far into north west Minnesota that it touches both Canada and North Dakota. The movie Fargo was filmed there. So it is unclear why Jones, a man born in Cincinnati would move over 1,000 miles arriving next door to nowhere. More here.

Most biographies of Jones point out that he was orphaned at age nine, and had little formal education. The details are a little uglier. He was born in 1893 to a white father and black mother. His mother deserted him, and at the age of 7 he was sent to live with a priest in Kentucky. His father died when he was nine. At the age of 11 he ran away and went back to Cincinnati and worked odd jobs. He turned out to be a mechanical genius, and became foreman of an auto-shop. In 1912, he landed in Hallock, Minnesota where he obtained a job as a farm mechanic. He was 19.

After serving in the army during World War I, he returned to Hallock, MN and this is where his career intersects with radio. Every biography mentions that he became interested in radio and built the first radio station transmitter in Hallock. Today there are zero radio station in Hallock. The nearest audible station is 950 CFAM-AM; 50 miles away in Altona, Manitoba, Canada. The closest US station is 1340 KXPO-AM in Grafton, ND. It might be audible when the weather is just right... So what station was this? The book The Entrepreneurial Spirit of African American Inventors by Patricia Carter Sluby adds a little detail.

"He began to invent things such as an improved microphone, called a 'condenser type' and fiddled with wireless transmitters. Jones and a friend built a powerful 500-watt radio station that aired short programs three days a week."
Unfortunately, Sluby doesn't name the call letters. But if you browse through old radio guides there was only one radio station in Hallock: KGFK. In 1929 the Radio Service Bulletin lists it as owned by R. W. Lautzenheiser and O. R. Mitchell. The frequency was 1340 kc operating at 50 watts. Earlier sources list the station as owned by Kittson County Enterprise the frequency as 1200. By June of 1930 the station changed hands and moved to Moorehead, MN, licensed to Red River Broadcasting and moved to 1500 kc at 200 watts.

So if we follow the timeline, Jones founded the station sometime after WWI. By the mid 1920s it was owned by Kittson County Enterprise newspaper publisher. By 1928 it was in the hands of  R. W. Lautzenheiser and O. R. Mitchell. But in March of 1929 Radio world lists the partners as O. R. Mitchell, J.E. Bouvette, and N.L. Cotter. Regardless the partners sold the station to Red River who took the license to Morehead. White's radio guide lists it operating in the Fall of 1927, But it's also in the CKLC Radio log in an undated edition that is believe to be from 1926.

In 1934 Red River began the process to move KGFK from Moorhead to Duluth. Despite a legal challenge they succeeded. [SOURCE] The FCC decided that the primary service from WEBC was adequate and granted the move in 1936. Red River already got a CP for KDAL-AM in 1937 which also in Duluth on 1490 which may be why it moved to 610 in 1941. Or it may be that they are the same station. The Federal Communications Bar Journal of 1938 clearly notes:
"In December of 1933, the majority stockholders in the Red River Broadcasting Company entered into a contract with Dalton A. LeMasurier and Charles LeMasurier. The contract provided that the licensee of KDAL (formerly KGFK) would apply to the Comission..."
A 1940 FCC report further notes:
"The application for the removal of Station KGFK from Moore- head to Duluth was originally granted without a hearing by the Federal Radio Commission on January 30, 1934... Thereafter the application was heard and this Commission, by its decision adopted February 26, 1935, 1 F. C. C. 215, granted a permit to construct the station at Duluth... When the station was constructed at Duluth, Minnesota, its call letters were changed from KGFK to KDAL."
This confirms that the first radio station built by the first black radio engineer is still on air in Duluth today as KDAL. It is unclear why their official history omits this. Today the old KGFK call letters live in nearby Grand Forks; though it's a different station. They began broadcasting in 1959 under the call sign KRAD. Jones went on to co-found Thermo-King, and consult for the U.S. Department of Defense. He died in 1961, and was posthumously awarded the the National Medal of Technology in 1991.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Maximum Louie Louie


This was an event unparalleled in the history of college radio. There are radio stunts that garner a bit of attention for a radio station. This stunt is recorded in no fewer than half a dozen books and innumerable websites. This stunt eventually led to a recurring parade... this stunt outdid all other radio stunts and thus became a historical event unto itself. It was called Maximum Louie Louie.

The setting was an infamous college radio station, 89.7 KFJC in Los Altos, CA, on the campus of Foothills College. It's only a 110 watt station but it blankets downtown San Jose, CA which gives them a reach of about 1 million people. The station was founded in 1959, when Foothills was just a Junior college giving name to the JC following the KF. Originally a 10 watt station on 88.5, the station moved to 89.7 in 1961, before the station ever aired rock n' roll music. They went stereo in 1974 and then increased power to 110 watts in 1980. (Note: some sources put them at 250 watts.)  All this was prelude to the big event.

On August 19, 1983, at 6:00 PM , the station aired 823 different versions of the song Louie Louie consecutively. The event is referred to as Maximum Louie Louie. The idea originated with two student members of KFJCJeff "Stretch" Riedle and Phil Dirt aka Frank Luft with encouragement from SM Robert "Doc" Pelzel. How this event came to be, and all of it's unintended consequences are two different stories:

The idea originated with two student members of KFJC, Jeff "Stretch" Riedle and Phil Dirt aka Frank Luft. In an inspired moment back in 1981, Stretch tore through the KFJC library and found 33 versions of Louie Louie and aired them consecutively. It took about 90 minutes. Coincidentally KALX held a completed a listener survey and determined that their all time favorite rock song was Louie Louie. A DJ there, Mel Cheplowitz used the KFJC song list and added 17 more versions and aired a  50-song all Louie Louie power block in December of 1981. Riedle responded with an 88-version special in the Summer of 1982. Cheplowitz raised the stakes and broadcast a "Lou-A-Thon" in December of 1982 that included 100 different versions. (some sources say 200) Local press started to comment on this musical escalation. Cheplowitz said he was done, but Riedle told the San Francisco Examiner " We started this thing, and we intend to end it." It sounded almost like a threat. More here.

The station began soliciting versions of Louie Louie. They planned to broadcast live versions by local bands every two hours. Jack Ely, the original Kingmen's vocalist flew down from Oregon. The original songwriter Richard Berry took a train up from Los Angeles. Riedle would tilt this windmill and kick it's ass. Local press began to guess how many versions KFJC might pull together... 200?  400?. All told it was 63 consecutive hours of programming. Los Altos was never the same again.

So how many versions were really broadcast, and by which artists? Riedle taped the event. But 24 years later, despite the numerous aircheck sheets, some versions remain unidentified even today. [SOURCE] In honor of the event, Rhino Records released RNEP605, a "Best of Louie Louie" compilation. It's only 10 tracks, but that LP made it into the hands of a very special DJ in Philadelphia.

On the East coast, 2,900 miles away a WMMR DJ named John DeBella, regaled his listeners with the true tale of Maximum Louie Louie. Inspired, he decided that Philadelphia needed a Louie Louie Parade. Thousands of people came. On April 1st, 1985 it happened. They did it again in 1986, and 1987 until the City itself started to complain about the costs. But by then it had spread, Louie Louie parades had been held in multiple cities... as of 2017, Peoria, IL has been doing it annually for 30 straight years. So that parade has outlived the LouieFest, held yearly in Tacoma, WA from 2003 to 2012.

But 30 years is a long time. Jack Ely died in 2015, and Richard Berry back in 1997. Stretch Riedle is still with us but has not been terribly healthy of late. But in 2011 the original conspirators gathered at KFJC for “Return of the Invasion of Maximum Louie Louie.” More here. It was significantly shorter, but aired some archival tapes no one had heard since the original broadcast.  In their collective honor, we all now celebrate International Louie Louie Day every year, on April 11th; aka Richard Berry's birthday. It's been held since at least 2003, but I'm pretty sure Stretch is behind that one too.

Monday, January 29, 2018

System Bus Radio

The System Bus Radio program exploits the design of your computer's system bus to transmit AM radio without any other radio transmitting hardware. When I first heard of System Bus Radio I thought that it's inventor must be a genius hacker. I was right.

A system bus is a single computer bus that connects the primary components of a computer system. these are the CPU, Memory and Input/Output (I/O). This combines the functions of a data bus to carry information, an address bus to determine where it should be sent, and a control bus to determine its operation. The expression "system bus" covers all related hardware, components, wire electronic pathways, and software. (Early computer buses were parallel electrical wires.) If you are still not sure what the bus is, check out this link here. The genius who wrote the original machine code was William Entriken, and he was kind enough to agreed to a short interview with Arcane Radio Trivia.

JF: What gave you the idea to try to convert your Macbook into a radio station?

WE: Well first of all I realized that it was possible.  One day I was sitting downstairs in my basement where I have an actual radio, which is hard to believe nowadays. I do listen to AM radio and the reception is just terrible down there. Some stations still turn off at night. I had the radio on and of course it [the frequency] got silent, and as I got into that room, it started getting louder. I realized this was interference from the computer. I thought wow, that's a lot of interference to pick it up like that. I just got lucky because there are only certain frequencies that it works on... and that's where the idea started.

 JF: Can you explain what components you are exploiting to emit a signal?

WE: I believe that it is the connection between the processor [CPU] and the RAM. There is a lot of space there. Basically you want something that's not shielded. If you have a shielded connection you don't get any signal that's leaking outside. So the processor is in steel, you can't have anything leak out of that, and the wires are only two atoms wide. It's airtight. The RAM likewise. The RAM is extremely tight. But between the processor and the RAM is the system bus. So the ideal is that you can push something onto the system bus that's where your emission is going to come from. It's less shielded. You don't need to have 14 nanometer wires on the system bus because there's not as much going on.

JF: The field tests indicate that it's working on a wide variety of devices.

WE: It's really exciting. It went on to some Portuguese website, then Hackernews, it hit something big. So many people came in and they're from all over the world, Japan and all over Europe, and the interesting thing is that they have different radio stations in Japan and Europe, and the US and different devices. So luckily testing it on all different frequencies on shortwave and long wave, and AM, and it's great because you're not going to know unless you test it.

JF: That sounds like we're exploring the different system buses on all these devices.

WE: Yes! So you're multiplying a bunch of things together. How hard are you hitting the system bus? What is the radio frequency emission envelope of your system bus? Then once it hits your system bus it has to exit your enclosure. So there is shielding on your enclosure too. On an open air system you're have more radiation than something enclosed. Even the same computers in different model years might have different designs. The NSA has a file about this, it's called Tempest

JF: Tempest?

WE: They went through these issues a long time ago and they studied this in much more detail. Tempest is an acronym and they have standards on every component you could get near electricity. So you can read them and see whether they are approved or not, and of course these ones aren't because they're leaking like crazy.

JF: I read about the script that is controlling the transmission. How is that able to modulate the pitch.

WE: So there are only two parts, one of them is modulation, it couldn't be easier onoff, onoff, onoff. That's all you're doing. The "off" is hopefully just using a sleep signal. There's a command on the computer for sleeping, it would just wait hopefully. That's accurate enough, and then the "go" signal. That's the timing. That's it. That's why it only works on AM. That's your carrier on AM.

JF: What about the On signal?

WE: The other half of the program is is the "On" part, that's actually the hard part. The ideal is that the baseline is when the computer sleeping, and ideally it has a different radiation signature than when it's not sleeping and you want as broad a contrast as possible.  The problem is that when you write a program there's no function for "make noise." So typically we make a loop, I=1, then I=2, I=3... all the way up to a million. What happens is that the compiler, because it's so smart, skips over that. The end result is that the computer's not really working but it's telling you that it did. They're too smart for their own good. So what we had to do was find something that the compiler would not skip over, and we want it to load from memory.And computers are very lazy. They don't want to load something from memory if they don't have to. It's expensive. So what they'll do is cache it. You will get it from memory but then keep a residual copy in the processor. Again, that means you'll loading from the processor and nothing leaks out of the processor.  We want it to load something from memory over and over, and computers really hate doing that, and will try very hard to avoid that.

JF: So how did you get around that?

WE: The one way we did that is something called break-cache. It avoids the [CPU] cache and loads what you want from memory. It's a very specific instruction, I don't even know why they have it but that's what we used. So it takes the data from the memory across the system bus to the processor.

JF: Do you have any background in radio previous to this?

WE: I do have a engineering degree. I went to Villanova for Electrical and computer engineering. I'm use to breaking things and building things.

JF: You do know that Villanova has a campus radio station...

WE: I was on that station, WXVU. My show was called the V-Spot. There were these cards we had to read for community announcements. Nothing we pre-recorded, everything was low-budget, do whatever you want, bring guests on, bring your roommate on, everything was off the cuff and super-fun.

JF: Any last thoughts?

WE: It's great to talk about this stuff, to know that other people care, and care about breaking stuff, trying things, and making things. It's going to be a dying trade in the future. You can't open an iPhone. You can take a radio apart with a screwdriver. It's a real shame... I used to take stuff apart until it didn't work anymore then find more stuff to take apart... I hope that your blog inspires people. I hope you're making engineers out of people rather than just history majors. 

JF: Me too.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Pai Vs. Schneiderman

This is probably the first scandal of it's kind at the FCC. According to the Office of the Attorney General of New York As many as 2 million comments” on the US Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules were faked. [SOURCE]  Why this is not bigger news... I can only posit that it is overshadowed by the comically villainous move by Ajit Pai to repeal in the first place.

I have often said that for all it's flaws, the FCC is the most high-functioning agency in the US government.  Since June of 1946 The FCC is legally obligated to follow all the guidelines set down by the Administrative Procedures Act; (APA), Pub.L. 79–404, 60 Stat. 237. So an important and mandated part of any FCC rule-making procedure is gathering public comments. According to the agency itself "Gathering and analyzing comments from the public is an important part of the Federal Communications Commission's rulemaking process. The FCC considers the public's input when developing rules and policies." [SOURCE] These fake comments derail that process.

For 72 years the FCC has listened to consumers and the industry it governs in order that it be a more effective regulatory agency. On November 29th, 2017 it was revealed that in that process to abandon net neutrality, more 10 million public comments were likely faked. That's more than the entire population of North Carolina. The PEW Research Center reported some damning analysis.
  • 57% of comments used temporary or duplicate email addresses
  • Seven repeated comments accounted for 38% of all submissions
  • 94% of comments were submitted multiple times
  • Over 75,000 comments were submitted simultaneously
  • Over 25,000 instances of fake names
  • 1.4 million repeated email addresses
  • 8 Million temporary/fake email addresses
  • Just 5 comments were submitted more than 800,000 times each
A separate investigation carried out by data scientist Jeff Kao states that the FCC received at least 1.3 million phony pro-repeal comments. [SOURCE]The sheer volume of fake comments can only have come from organized bot campaigns. This was a high volume automated astroturf attack. At one point the volume of fake comments was so high, the FCC claimed it was under a DDOS attack. [SOURCE]

Only 6% of comments were unique out of the 21.7 million total. Only these comments appear to be "organic" in other words... real. That is about 126,000 comments. Kao estimates that 99.7% of those are pro Net Neutrality. Pai ignored the situation and the repeal was completed despite a deluge of public and industry criticism that has not abated. It seems certain that he is aware, and highly probable that he is it's intended beneficiary. A number of FoIA requests could determine if he is also their architect.

That act of hubris has been followed by vigorous journalistic inquiries. Writer Jason Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request on June 4th asking the FCC for data related to bulk comment uploads. The FCC acknowledged receiving the FoIA request, but it did not approve or deny the request despite being legally obligated to do so... Even today it's listed as Under Review. SOURCE Another journalist, Kevin Collier filed a lawsuit against the FCC, alleging that the commission failed to comply with FoIA requests about the alleged DDoS attack. A nonprofit named American Oversight filed a FoIA request for all records related to communications regarding net neutrality between ISPs and Chairman Ajit Pai. None of these have been answered.

But the story now is FCC Chairman Pai Vs. NY Attorney General Schneiderman. The Attorney General "slammed" the FCC for stonewalling the investigation. [SOURCE] But in defiance of the law, and even the inquiries of other agencies... the Pai seems determined to click undo on half a century of transparency. This sets up a fight that will be "yuge" topic in the midterm elections.

Monday, January 15, 2018

KVAN vs. The Volcano

It is my informed opinion that AM radio station KVAN has endured more engineering and administrative hardship than any other radio station in the contiguous 48 states. It is amazing that the station endured, more so that the license still exists today.... though that's complicated. More here.

The original 910 KVAN-AM in Vancouver, WA in 1939 and was shut down in 1976. The frequency is used today by KMTT.  But another KVAN was on 1480 AM from 1967-1980, in Vancouver which became KARO and is now KBMS.  From 1981-1989 and 1991-2003 a third station used the KVAN calls in Vancouver on 1550 AM. That one is now KKOV.  The fourth KVAN on 92.1 operated from Pilot Rock, OR from 2007-2010, which later became KUMA-FM. More here.

The original KVAN operated on 910 AM in Portland for 20 years. But our tale begins in April of 1955 Camas-Washougal Radio, Inc. applied to the FCC to build radio station at Camas, WA on 1480kc operating at 1 while kilowatt of power, as a day timer. The CP was approved on September 28th, 1955 and call letters KRIV were assigned. IT debuted on air on  February 2, 1956. Then things went down hill for about the next 40 years. So much more here.

On June 2nd, 1956 a severe flood of the Columbia River endangered the KRIV-AM transmitter site. The site was successfully sandbagged and KRIV broadcast 24 hours a day, to keep the community informed with the latest bulletins from Civil Defense and the Red Cross.  In 1958 they changed calls to KPVA for Portland Vancouver Area re-targeting the region for ad sales. They followed that up in 1959 by relocating their studios to downtown Portland in the "Washington Hotel" at 1129 S.W. Washington St. but the transmitter remained at Camas. On May 9, 1960 KPVA became KVANThe callsign was well-known in the area from it's time on 910 AM. 

In December of 1960 the FCC granted KVAN permission to change city of license from Camas to to Vancouver, but station management screwed up the paperwork delaying the process. It was not until late in December of 1961 that they finally moved the transmitter to Hayden Island, OR. The station got it's delinquent paperwork in order in October of 1965 and officially changed its city of license to Vancouver.The location was literally in the corner of a parking lot Jantzen Beach Amusement Park." The small studio had no running water or toilet. Disc jockey's used an outhouse about 20 yards away. The (ahem) crappy location had security problems too In 1966 they had a series of burglaries knock them off the air repeatedly. 
  • April 28, 1966 burglars broke into KVAN and stole some of relay tubes.
  • April 30, 1966 burglars returned and this time knocked KVAN off the air for 7 days by stealing four tubes from the transmitter. 
  • May 7, 1966 but was burglarized overnight again and had to postpone broadcasting until May 8, 1966. A cart machine and a tape recorder had been stolen, and the transmitter damaged
  • On June 7, 1966 KVAN was knocked off the air again for 5 days by burglars, after stealing equipment. 
  • On June 11, 1966 KVAN returned to the airwaves but burglars knocked it off the air that evening. 
In 1969 Jantzen Beach Park had closed down forcing a change of venue. Their leased land had been sold out from under them to developers to build a mall. The station shut down for a week in April to relocate to 18608 North Portland Rd. in North Portland. The new studio was located in a trailer again  with no running water or toilet facilities. There was no outhouse this time. DJ's had to use the bathroom at the St. Johns Gun Club & Dog Motel. (The Dog motel and gun club were separate buildings.) The station's transmitter lost it's tower and a horizontal dipole was flown between two trees down by the Dog Motel near Smith Lake. This was rectified in August then the FCC granted an STA operate with a 200 foot flat top antenna at 11665 North Portland Rd. through 11-25-69. This began a long series of special temporary everything...  They were permanently temporary.
  • Oct. 7, 1969 CP to change transmitter and studio location
  • Nov. 12, 1969  FCC extended STA thru 1-11-70
  • Jan. 8, 1970 FCC extended STA thru 2-6-70
  • April 29, 1970 FCC extended STA  thru 7-6-70
  • June 30, 1970  FCC extended  STA thru 9-30-70
  • July 6, 1970  FCC extended  STA thru 9-6-70
  • Sept. 4, 1970  FCC extended STA  thru 10-1-70
  • October 9, 1970  FCC extended STA to 12-15-70
  • Nov. 2, 1970 FCC extended STA and temporary site thru 2-4-71
  • Jan. 27, 1971 FCC granted CP to replace expired permit
  • February 4, 1971 FCC extended STA thru 4-4-71
  • April 1, 1971 FCC extended STA thru 5-4-71
  • April 30, 1971 FCC extended STA thru 7-2-71
  • June 29, 1971 FCC extended STA thru 10-1-71
  • September 30, 1971 FCC extended STA thru 1-1-72
  • December 27, 1971 FCC extended STA thru 4-1-72
It got worse. According to eminent Gerald Gaule, Portland Radio historian and broadcaster: "On March 15, 1972 the FCC announced that Wallace E. Johnson, Broadcast Bureau Chief recommended to FCC Hearing Examiner Millard F. French that the application of Cathryn C. Murphy for license of KVAN Vancouver, Wash. should be denied. Chief Johnson stated: "In the past, the Commission has been faced with licensees who have been seriously deficient in the operation of their stations and the Commission has also been faced with licensees whose candor has been found wanting. But we can safely say that never in the annals of this Commission has there been a licensee so deficient in the conduct of the affairs of her station as Mrs. Murphy. Nor has there been a licensee so lacking in candor. This total lack of candor by Mrs. Murphy and willingness to submit false statements in order to escape embarrassing inquiry by this agency require the ultimate conclusion that she does not possess the requisite qualifications to be licensee." The 50 page Recommendation showed that since 1960 Mrs. Murphy had been cited for 133 violations of Commission rules."  Highlights include:
  • The license renewal application was filed after the station license had expired. 
  • False representations were made about current public affairs and news programs 
  • False representations were made about public affairs and news programs 
  • An unauthorized change was made in the location of the transmitter. 
  • False testimony was given at a hearing about the location of the transmitter. 
  • Failure to provide program and operating logs for the station. 
  • Misrepresented true facts in an affidavit filed with the commission. 
  • Testified falsely regarding the matter at a hearing. 
The KVAN license was taken away from station owner Cathryn C. Murphy, and transferred to her own mother! Ada C. Brown. In general mom did a better job running the show than her daughter. In January of 1974, the FCC granted KVAN a permit for the transmitter move that had occurred five years earlier. Then in August of 1976, the FCC granted KVAN a CP to build a four tower array, so it could broadcast 24/7.  Then in June of 1979 mom sold it all, lock stock and barrel to Patten Communications Corp. The format flipped from acid rock to Top 40 overnight. The following January KVAN became KARO. But the nightmare wasn't over.

Less than 6 months later, on May 18th, 1980 Mount St. Helens erupted. Volcanic ash 
was sucked into the 5kw Continental transmitter knocking the station off air. Geographically KARO was the closest radio station to Mt. St. Helens. Due to the proximity of the volcano and the eminent danger it created, the FCC granted KARO another STA to broadcast at 1kw non-directional nights from their Smith Lake studio site at 11197 N. Portland Rd. for a two year period. Dave Bischoff, Chief Engineer said it was the fastest STA he ever saw. More here.