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Posts Tagged ‘radio

“Any eavesdropping alien civilization will know all about our TV programs (probably a bad thing), will hear all our FM music (probably a good thing)*…


The speed of light, at which radio waves propagate into space, is fast– really fast– but it’s not instant.  So what a space traveler would hear at ever-greater distances from Earth is an ever-older playlist of radio hits.

Hear them for yourself at Lightyear.fm.

* “FM signals and those of broadcast television…[travel] out to space at the speed of light. Any eavesdropping alien civilization will know all about our TV programs (probably a bad thing), will hear all our FM music (probably a good thing), and know nothing of the politics of AM talk-show hosts (probably a safe thing)…”

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Death By Black Hole, p. 172


As we aim for about 50 LY out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that Harvard Observatory director William Cranch Bond and Boston photographer John Adams Whipple took a daguerreotype of Vega– the first photograph of a star ever made.



Written by LW

July 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Listen now for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new!”*…




Newton Minow, famed Chairman of the FCC during the Kennedy Administration, recalled visiting NASA with the President, who asked him about a satellite they were shown:

I told him that it would be more important than sending a man into space. “Why?” he asked. “Because,” I said, “this satellite will send ideas into space, and ideas last longer than men.”

Greg Roberts, a retired astronomer and ham radio operator (ZS1BI in Cape Town) has been observing and recording the sounds broadcast by satellites since 1957.  He’s collected his recordings so that one can hear “ideas traveling through space,” for example, Telstar.

Hear them all at “Sounds from Space.”

* NBC News, introducing the “beep-beep” chirp transmitted by the Sputnik satellites


As we look to the skies, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781 that English astronomer William Herschel detected every schoolboy’s favorite planet, Uranus, in the night sky (though he initially thought it was a comet:; it was the first planet to be discovered with the aid of a telescope.  In fact, Uranus had been detected much earlier– but mistaken for a star:  the earliest likely observation was by Hipparchos, who in 128BC seems to have recorded the planet as a star for his star catalogue, later incorporated into Ptolemy’s Almagest.  The earliest definite sighting was in 1690 when John Flamsteed observed it at least six times, cataloguing it as the star 34 Tauri.

Herschel named the planet in honor of his King: Georgium Sidus (George’s Star), an unpopular choice, especially outside England; argument over alternatives ensued.  Berlin astronomer Johann Elert Bode came up with the moniker “Uranus,” which was adopted throughout the world’s astronomical community by 1850.

Uranus, photographed by Voyager 2 in 1986.




Written by LW

March 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners”*…


Edward R. Murrow


There’s no denying that newspapers are in jeopardy; emerging electronic media have eaten away at both their audiences and their advertising revenue.  But lest we count them altogether out, we might remind ourselves that folks have been predicting their demise for decades.

From the March 1922 issue of Radio News magazine:

Seated comfortably in the club car of the Twenty-first Century Flyer — fast airplane service between London and New York — the president of the Ultra National Bank removes a small rubber disk from his vest pocket and places it over his ear. A moment hence, he will receive by radiophone the financial news of the world. Simultaneously, millions of other people all over the globe will receive the message. At designated hours, news of a general character will also be received.

The broadcasting of news by radiophone had long displaced the daily newspaper, and…

Don’t scoff! The day may be nearer than you suspect. In Hungary, a wire “telephone newspaper” has been successfully conducted for more than 25 years. For nearly a year, financial news direct from the Amsterdam Bourse has been broadcasted by radiophone to 200 banks and brokerage firms in Holland. And within a few months the German Government has installed near Berlin a wireless telephone station for the broadcasting of general news on a regular daily schedule throughout the entire country.

More on the premature reports of the death of the newspaper at “1922: Radio Will Kill the Newspaper Star.” (See also “The Newspaper of Tomorrow: 11 Predictions from Yesteryear.”

* Johnny Carson


As we strap on our jet-packs, we might recall that it was on this date two years earlier, in 1920, that Scientific American got a forecast powerfully right; in an issue cover-dated the following day, it made then-bold prediction that radio would be come an important medium for delivering music.

It has been well known for some years that by placing a form of telephone transmitter in a concert hall or at any point where music is being played the sound may be carried over telephone wires to an ordinary telephone receiver at a distant point, thus enabling those several miles away to listen to the music. Such systems have been in use in London between a number of the theaters and hotels for many years, but it is only recently that a method of transmitting music by radio has been found possible.

It has now been discovered that music can be transmitted by wireless in the same manner as speech or code signals and as a result of research work on radio telephony at the Bureau of Standards it has been proven that music sent by this means does not lose its quality. It is, therefore, obvious that music can be performed at any place, radiated into the air through an ordinary radio transmitting set and received at any other place, even though hundreds of miles away. The music received can be made as loud as desired by suitable operation of the receiving apparatus. The result is perhaps not so very different from that secured by means of the ordinary telephone apparatus above mentioned, but the system is far simpler and does not require the use of any intermediate circuit. The entire feasibility of centralized concerts has been demonstrated and in fact such concerts are now being sent out by a number of persons and institutions. Experimental concerts are at present being conducted every Friday evening from 8:30 to 11:00 by the Radio Laboratory of the Bureau of Standards. The wave length used is 500 meters. This music can be heard by any one in the territory near the District of Columbia having a simple amateur receiving outfit. The possibilities of such centralized radio concerts are great and extremely interesting. One simple means of producing music for radio transmission is to play a phonograph into the radio transmitter. An interesting improvement upon this method is being utilized in the experiments at the Bureau. The carbon microphone, which is the mouthpiece of an ordinary telephone, is mounted on the phonograph in place of the usual vibrating diaphragm. As a result the phonograph record produces direct variations of electric current in the telephone apparatus instead of producing sound; thus while the music is not audible at the place where the phonograph record is being played, it is distinctly heard at the different receiving stations.






Written by LW

October 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

“This is the patent age of new inventions for killing bodies, and for saving souls. All propagated with the best intentions.”*…


From Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine

Sam Lavigne has created the ultimate tool for this, the Age of Intellectual Property:  a program that transforms literary and philosophical texts into patent applications…

In short, it reframes texts as inventions or machines. You can view the code on github.

I was partially inspired by Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine, a sort of technical/literary diary in which Scheerbart documents and reflects on various failed attempts to create a perpetual motion machine. Scheerbart frequently refers to his machines as “stories” – I wanted to reverse the concept and transform stories into machines…

Here’s some sample output, listed by invention title and source text:

“A method and device for comprehending theoretically the historical movement” (The Communist Manifesto)

“An apparatus and device for staring into vacancy” (“The Hunger Artist” by Kafka)

“A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth” (The Question Concerning Technology by Heidegger)

One can read the details– and try it for oneself– at “Transform any text into a patent application.”

* Lord Byron


As we ponder the protection of “property” that isn’t even ours, we might recall that it was on this date in 1903 that what was likely the first instance of electronic hacking took place.  During a demonstration by Marconi of his wireless communications system at the Royal Institution in London, one of Marconi’s rivals, the magician and inventor Nevil Maskelyne intervened.  As physicist John Ambrose Fleming was preparing to give the public their first demonstration of “radio,” Marconi was at his clifftop radio station in Poldhu, Cornwall, 300 miles away, preparing to send a Morse code signal. Though the audience was unaware of it, the assistant tending the receiving apparatus found it was already tapping out the word “rats,” repeatedly. Then it mocked, “There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily…” and more.  Maskelyne was attempting– rather successfully– to make Marconi’s claims of “secure and private communication” appear foolish.

Maskelyne with one of his more famous inventions/illusions: “Zoe, the drawing automaton”



Written by LW

June 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

“What I like about cities is that everything is king size, the beauty and the ugliness”*…


… an observation that gets truer with time.  Whether built from scratch…

Dubai, UAE, 1990-2013

or rebuilt…

Tokyo, Japan, after WWII in 1945 and 2013

in the developing world…

China’s high-tech hub, Shenzen, 1980-2011

or the developed…

Paris, France, 1900-2012

… cities just keep on changing, as global commerce spurs development worldwide and millions move from rural to urban lives.

More “then and now” photos of other cities at “Before and After.”

* Joesph Brodsky


As we admit that it’s tough to keep ’em down on the farm, we might send empathetic birthday greetings to Louis “Studs” Terkel; he was born on this date in 1912.  Trained as an attorney at the University of Chicago, but graduating into the Depression, he decided instead to be a hotel concierge– a post he soon deserted for the stage.  In one of his first gig as an actor, he had a cast-mate also named Louis, and was asked to pick a nickname; he chose the moniker of his favorite fictional character– Studs Lonigan, of James T. Farrell’s trilogy.  

In 1934, Terkel began to do radio production for the Federal Writer’s Project, which led to his own program, which daily aired on WFMT in Chicago for 45 years.  Over the years he interviewed  Martin Luther KingLeonard BernsteinBob Dylan, Dorothy ParkerTennessee Williams, and Jean Shepherd, among many, many others.

But Terkel is perhaps better known– certainly beyond the reach of Chicago radio– for his writing, largely oral histories of common Americans– e.g.,  Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great DepressionWorking, in which (as suggested by its subtitle) “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” and The Good War”: An Oral History of World War Two, which won the Pulitzer Prize.



Written by LW

May 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Numbers constitute the only universal language”*…


… or they could.


With 10-digit strings we can distinguish roughly 10,000,000,000 phones from each other. That assumes someone can have the number 000-000-0000, which is probably God’s number; and sure, maybe Satan has laid claim to 666-666-6666, so it’s not available; but we’re only being approximate here. The bottom line is that there’s enough space in principle for everyone in the USA to have 20 or 30 different cell phone numbers, if we use it efficiently.

But we don’t…

Read Geoffrey K. Pullam‘s thoughts on making more sensible use of our phone numbering system, in the always-illuminating Language Log.

* Nathaniel West


As we subscribe to sensible semiotics, we might recall that it was on this date in 1905 that the first U.S. advertisement for a radio receiver– the “Telimco Wireless Telegraph Outfit”– appeared in Scientific American.



Written by LW

November 25, 2012 at 1:01 am

What’s in a name?…


What is the “7” in 7UP? We’ll never know for sure. The soft drink’s creator, Charles Leiper Grigg, went to the grave without ever revealing where he got the name. But there several interesting rumors regarding its origin.

When Grigg introduced his drink in October 1929, it had neither a “7” nor an “UP” in its name. He called it “Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda.” Imagine trying to order that bad boy from a Taco Bell drive-through! Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda is perhaps the single worst name for a soft drink in soda history. How did he come up with this extraordinarily crummy name?..

Besides having a very bizarre name, Grigg’s concoction hit stores just two weeks before the 1929 stock market crash. It also faced competition from about 600 other lemon-lime sodas. Despite all of these daunting factors, the new drink actually sold pretty well. Chalk it up to the cool, refreshing taste of lithium.

But even with its success, Griggs soon realized that Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda was a little tricky to remember (you think?) or maybe he just got sick of saying it himself. Griggs changed the name of his drink to “7UP.”…

Eddie Deezen explores the possibilities at Neatorama

Here’s the most persuasive (and logical) explanation for the name: The “7” refers to the drink’s seven ingredients, and the “UP” has to do with the soda’s rising bubbles. This version is supported by an early 7UP tagline: “Seven natural flavors blended into a savory, flavory drink with a real wallop.”…

But as Deezen observes, there could be other explanations, among them:

Is 7UP an aphrodisiac? Remember Wilt Chamberlain, the great basketball player who claimed he had made love to 20,000 women in his lifetime? Well, Wilt the Stilt’s favorite drink was 7UP. According to Wilt, “I used to drink the stuff all the time.”…

Consider the other possibilities at “What is the 7 in 7UP?


As we wonder if Mayor Bloomberg knows the answer, we might send melodious birthday greetings to Harold Baron “Hal” Jackson; he was born on this date in 1914. An avid sports fan and music lover who wanted to share his passions, Jackson broke one color barrier after another in the radio and music businesses.

While studying at Howard University, Jackson…

… approached the management of WINX, owned by The Washington Post, in 1939 about covering black sports events for the station. Told that station policy prohibited hiring black announcers, he took a different tack: he persuaded a white-owned advertising agency to buy time on WINX for a 15-minute interview and entertainment show, without revealing that he was involved. As he recalled, he showed up in the studio at the last possible moment and was on the air with “The Bronze Review” before management could stop him.

“When I started, the business was so segregated,” Mr. Jackson said in 2008. “Fortunately, that didn’t last long.”

Indeed, once the station’s color line had been broken, Mr. Jackson went on to host a music show there and to broadcast Howard University football and Negro league baseball. He also became a sports entrepreneur, assembling an all-black basketball team, the Washington Bears, which won the invitational World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1943.  [New York Times]

He began to broadcast as a disk jockey as well, and was instrumental in bringing “black” music to audiences of every race.  Jackson continued to host “Sunday Classics,” a program on WBLS in New York (one of a chain of stations he co-owned) until near his death earlier this year.

In 1990, Hal Jackson was the first minority broadcaster inducted into the National Association of Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame; in 1995, he became the first African-American inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame; he was given a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 2003; in October 2010, he was named a “Giant in Broadcasting” by the Library of American Broadcasting– and (your correspondent can attest) he was a genuinely nice guy.

Hal Jackson in 1993



Written by LW

November 3, 2012 at 1:01 am


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