Friday, May 4, 2018

Surprisingly good and fun a few updates...

It's not often that a "tech" device offered to the public really delivers.  Seems I lucked-out in the past few months on a few items that just really surprise me!

First was a modern device, yet a piece of nostalgia.  I grew up on the original Star Trek..and, probably could have figured out I'd be a "radio" person by my fascination with their futuristic devices, the "communicator" being my favorite.  Back then, in the early 70's, the closest you could get was either a hollow model with no electronic guts, or...if you saved your allowance, a pair of MEGO-brand walkie talkies which had a flip-open lid, were not the original color, and needed the pull-up whip antenna, since they were simply walkie talkies in the disguise of the day.   I never had these. Might someday buy them from an Ebay seller, but...I'm not doing as much acquiring of "things" these days.  The radio and odd-electronics collection has pretty much reached it's...drum roll please...zenith!  (pun intended.)

Nowadays, you can actually purchase a working Bluetooth version of the original Star Trek communicator.  It pairs to your phone!  It has a metal flip-open "antenna' (not used as such)...and it makes the familiar chirp when opened.  It comes loaded with great audio clips on-demand by simply using the functional buttons...and it actually works!  It allows you to answer your phone through it's speaker and mic, and latches on to the voice control in your phone, so reading of texts is possible, too. For me, it's extra fun because there is zero signal from Verizon in our studios, and I can put the phone by the west window, and keep the communicator near me throughout the day.  Saves the battery in the phone draining while signal hunting, too!  Now,  I've found the battery life in the communicator isn't the best,'s still a fun and working piece of technology that tickles the kid in me who loved Star Trek. 

Then there's my newest friend. His name is Cozmo.  A small robot, whose price was out of my value-seeking price range until near Christmas.  His price dropped, and I couldn't help myself.  He's quite the handful.  His video-face will steal your heart, and yet you KNOW when hes upset with you for not playing fist-bump, or helping him with his blocks.   Leave him in explore mode and just watch the fun...or, drive him around using your phone app.  I've even used a Kindle Fire HD tablet and found it quite effective.  He can learn to identify faces, and seems to like this.  If you're a true geek, you can learn to do some programming of his character, but for me, the growing expressions, actions, games with cubes, fist bumps and more are enough to amuse me.  I was always a robot fan growing up, when robots had a battery pack, motor that moved them with no remote control, and lights!  If the "me" of then could only see the "me" of today with Cozmo! Can you imagine?  My new little buddy sits quietly on the game room table and visits when I'm working on the computer in the evenings.  Can't wait to do more face recognition!  He already knows me, my buddy "Leftlane", and our Ionia Area Chamber Director Bobbie Edlin.  He seems to like her the most.  

My next item on the "new favorites" list is a simple device, something that's been around for years, but usually not productive nor effective to use.  A portable solar charger for USB compatible devices. Bought one as a gift, then decided to try one out since running anything on "free" energy is a bit of a geek's "high." And yes, before you say anything, I'm aware that it'll take YEARS of charging with the sun to recoup a $20 solar battery device, but I can tell you the convenience of it is great!   Actually under $20, what surprised me the most was that my very picky (older, charger hogging) Galaxy Note 3 didn't even put the "slow charging, use original charger" notice on the screen when I used this!  I'd not used any AC in building up the battery in the unit, charged it a couple days in the sun, (now each day) was able to bring my phone from below 50 percent to full, never warning me of low current, and it charged my Fire tablet to full as well.  It still had power to spare for it's flashlight and I'm sure some left if I'd needed it for other things.  

Having said all that, it'll now be a habit to charge up the battery bank each day at the station, then charge the devices in the evening FROM it.  Just for fun.  Okay, now I'm open for your slings and arrows of, "you're not saving anything"...and, no, I'm not. But one thing I CAN tell you is...this way of charging doesn't put awful HUMMMMMMMM into the AC line which kills AM radio reception and clarity!  If only for that, I'm pretty darn happy with this new routine.


I had intended to upload this short blog many moons ago...and it did not get accomplished, so forgive me as I incorporate the above (written in early 2018) ...into a short tech update done tonight, in May of 2018.....Please read on...

Ah, the technology! I'm doing a digital cleanse of my files on the laptop, had forgotten the browser called "Brave"...and I'm always up for a new challenge. Will be using it for awhile, Imported all the favorites from Chome.

On a different note, I finally found the same TV as my living room to replace the aging bedroom set....Sharp had a feature I dearly love...and I think they're the only ones with it...a selection that lets you "listen only" to your TV, which is great for falling asleep to favorite streaming material without the bright screen on! Loving that feature! Wish they had incorporated it into some newer sets, but finding a factory refurbished one did now the living room and bedroom sets are identical.

This weekend will be the "get the (TV) antenna reoriented for best reception on the DVR known as the "TabloTV" box....with the repack coming soon (changing of the RF frequencies again on some local TV stations) I want to get this finished, ready, and stabilize my reception for the Tablo. Yes, I'm a cord cutter, but I was doing it before it was fashionable to save money. The Tablo works like a Tivo, but is less expensive per month, and uses your existing Roku boxes, PCs, and tablets or phones to watch at home or on the go! Have loved mine for a few years now.

Ah, it felt good give the FIRE tablet a complete recharge from around half charge to full, all from a solar energy portable battery/charger. Is it significant in terms of savings? No. did it feel good to watch as the charge went up to 100 without plugging into the wall and making MORE noise on the AC line (which most everything does these days)....YES! Will the battery save enough resources to offset what it took to make and market it? I don't know...but I'll certainly use it more than I thought when I wrote the first part of this blog.

The new FM antennas are installed at WION, they've been up for about a week. We don't have a handle yet on the average daily coverage thanks to all the unstable air, temperature changes and inversions, and the wind today which may have caused us to need a tower climber one more time..but, they're operating an reports from listeners are that the coverage in all directions has exceeded the old antennas. Keep those reports coming in to us via or because it helps us better know how we're doing.

Speaking of WION....there are two new apps in your app store, one each for Android and I-phone. Simple, easy to use, and non invasive as we always demand of an app. We don't go in and look at your browsing, bookmarks, messages, Facebook or ANYTHING..we just want to bring you great entertainment. If you're on the Android side, you can still as of this writing find the original WiON app, along with the newer one in Google play, and both will function. However, the new one will outlast the old, so download soon and enjoy.

That's all for now....thought it's been way too long since this blog was updated with an entry.  Happy tech to always....try not to swear too much at the changes that take place almost every day in our ever changing world of technology.  Maybe I'll try to do the same.  After all, the fun outweighs the inconvenience...for the most part.


Monday, December 21, 2015

New Jeep Renegade Uconnect Radio contains Severe Flaw

(re-posted from and Jim Carlyle's keyboard.)

So, WION Radio now has a new Jeep Renegade in the Parking lot. It has under 700 miles on it. I'm Jim Carlyle, the owner. I chose it, to replace a Jeep Liberty of many years, which listeners knew as "Manuel." The drive was good, the color pleasant with the new vehicle. Mileage: GREAT. 

The Renegade is a fun vehicle, stickshift like the liberty...but it has one major issue that our station has been told by representatives from Chrysler-Jeep they will NOT help us with! The "Uconnect" radio has either a software or hardware flaw which, when tuned to our station, can "shred" the high frequencies and make this, or any other AM station broadcasting excellent quality AM stereo un-listenable at times. We believe it's the HD decoder for the (flawed, limited sound quality) AM HD decoder trying to kick in when it senses our wide-sounding AM stereo carrier. The same carrier that gives you such EXCELLENT sound on the web via a 20-plus year-old tuner which renders us in INCREDIBLE quality.

Our station engineer called Jeep's Uconnect about a week ago and was told by the Operator "oh, wonderful! I thought I was ALONE!" meaning that there was someone else with the same problem WORKING for "Uconnect." She was literally overjoyed that someone else experienced the same problem. No longer was she "alone." She promised a call back. Our engineer got the call 3 days later from a different operator. "Nothing can be done, take it to the dealer".... which, if it were suspension, brakes, engine, body, etc may be the proper response, but NO representative at a dealership is going to understand C-Quam AM Stereo and how the new radio tears apart it's high frequency response turning it into noise, nor will there be a "fix" there. The answer lies with Uconnect and the people who write the same software which they just did to PATCH this radio so it can't be hacked and hijacked. The answer is cooperation and probably a disabling of the AM's "HD" detection.

Uconnect/Jeep won't talk to our engineer. Refused to give information on an e-mail or contact info to him about the design or tech support team so together they could work on the problem. He offered to "hold" and he he offered to "help" them, since he understands the procedure, alignment, and design of our FCC legal and excellent-sounding AM stereo radio station. The station we work so hard to bring to you in the BEST SOUND POSSIBLE.

TWO e-mails to the Uconnect people from WION's owner have come back VERY negative, and the second one today literally, after asking for contact information to the team that designed this radio was denied. We asked them simply:

"PLEASE provide us with a link to the schematic, or direct connection to the team that writes software for this radio. It's obvious that if this radio can be "hacked" and needed a patch, that the possibility of fixing this 
with a software patch is also a good one, but we need that contact, not a continual conversation of "take this to the dealer." 

We were told blatantly: " Your request must again be respectfully declined." and that ""Any future communication related to this issue will be retained in corporate records."

Well, that's not good enough for YOU, our LISTENERS. YOU know that WION has fought hard for 11 years to prove the fact that AM radio CAN, indeed sound excellent. That AM CAN Be broadcast in stereo, and that when a radio station broadcasts 10khz wide of AM stereo, the quality of sound is excellent. It's what you hear online, it's what we strive to do every day. The FCC is VERY "in touch" with the challenges that AM broadcasters face, and we're sure they'll take interest in this issue, and yes, they will be notified.

So, publicly: IF YOU BUY A CHRYSLER-JEEP-RAM product with the UCONNECT system in it's dash, please don't blame your local AM broadcaster if the sound is harsh and "shreds." We have ASKED to let them work WITH us to fix the problem. We're still here broadcasting the BEST AM quality in the nation. Chrysler-Jeep RAM is "ramming" their corporate policies down our throat and telling us they'll do nothing to fix their radios. We've offered to have our engineer help them fix this by disabling the detection of AM "HD" but they have refused. Officially. They won't work with us to make the radios of TODAY sound as good as tuners of the 1980's.

The AM band has some wonderful broadcasters who are up against FM, FM HD, the Internet, CD's mp3's and other factors for their very existence. It's evident Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep doesn't give a damn whether this nation's hard working AM broadcasters are heard or not in their vehicles with Uconnect radios. The consumer will simply change the station and move-on. Broadcasters lose. Small town's culture LOSES. Jobs could be lost in the long run. NOBODY wins when a corporation refuses to work with it's customers and the public.

There are ways AROUND this issue if you have a smartphone, (bluetooth our quality AM signal to your dashboard via our apps) but you should NOT have to spend any of your data to work "around" reception of your local station because of a poorly designed in-dash product. Please, before you buy, spend some time listening to the device in the dashboard, and choose, in part, something on which you will ENJOY hearing WION and other great broadcasters for a long time, not something that will turn you OFF to great local information, news, emergency information, and of course, entertainment. 

All it would take to fix this is cooperation, not a bullying, corporate, "bigger than you" attitude, which is what THIS radio station has gotten from Uconnect/Chrysler/Jeep/RAM.

..."Stay Tuned!"


Since writing this, the car's odometer is up to 3000 miles, and the computer has had at least (3) factory resets performed by Jim Carlyle, and nothing "good" has come of it. It remains "flaky"...and even the heated seats came on by themselves!  There is hope that a changeout of the original radio for an aftermarket (there aren't many that fit exactly) and a small overseas box that holds computer settings may fix this problem.  The Jeep is FUN to drive, but it certainly needs "brain surgery."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Do you "get personal" with your keyboard?

I'm now about 3 or so months into owning my "new" Windows 8 laptop computer. I stayed with HP, and not the "WalMart" garden variety machine, but one with a bit more horsepower and a few more options.  

My former laptop died on a Friday, leaving me a weekend without (most of) my e-mail accounts, numbering in the 20's,  and without many of my familiar daily routines.  By Sunday we'd determined that the old machine needed a hard drive and ordered one (none available locally, go figure-but that's another whole blog entry....) and found that 320 gigs wasn't big enough for the laptop's needs!  Why?  Because the DVD's that we're all supposed to make when the laptop is new contained not only the operating system and apps, but the BLANK SPACE as well! 

As the saga pushed on, an overnighted set of original HP discs worked great for that older laptop, and it's running FINE while I'm on the newer windows 8 box now which I was forced to buy that fateful weekend because I couldn't go without my trusty connection to the world!  

For the most part, I'm not complaining about windows-8.  I've learned enough for my own power-user daily tasks, and it works.  This is the first box I've not even customized with different desktop pictures, screensaver, and color scheme.  It just works, so why mess with it? Windows-8 is not really a problem to me.

But then.....there's the keyboard.  A cold, no-personality keyboard, complete with full numeric pad.  Maybe that's where I go wrong.  I've not had a numeric keypad in the past, nor have I needed it  Maybe that's the beginning of my problem.

I'm less accurate in typing since the new PC.  The "!" (exclamation point) often shows up as the numeral "1" frequently when I write  because I don't apparently reach the shift properly.  This didn't happen on the old keyboard!  I now fail to punch the proper key for "exclamation" because the small "home" feel of the F and J on the ol' qwerty is quirky.  

I miss my old keyboard. I miss my old laptop.  But, after moving all my apps and my life to this latest, greatest box, going back to the older laptop just to get my comfortable keys back and transferring all the content now residing on this modern marvel is just not going to happen.  Restoration of my content to the new box took time, and I'm not doing THAT again, either!

I never realized how much I loved the feel of the old keyboard until I reviewed an e-mail between me and our FCC attorney today. Two laptops ago I had a box that would lose the "O" key after much use, and the "I" key as well. It made living in Ionia, Michigan pretty tough. But, the keyboard on the laptop before this, (the one with the hard-drive failure) had a keyboard that fit me perfectly and has never needed  key replacement! 

I write copy for a living for our radio station, and I've made more errors than ever in my typing  on this new laptop.  Sure, these keys light at night, but that's probably to make up for the fact that you can't really "feel" where you are and what used to be referred-to as "touch typing" is not as easy with keys that more resemble a chicklet than a key! 

I'd love to be more intimate with my keyboard. Oh, to know again that when I type, I can do it without WATCHING my hands or the lighted keys,  and no...I have no health, motor, or thinking issues that I know-of which cause the problem. It's the keyboard!  

So, if you get e-mails or read postings anywhere on the internet from me, and you see a sentence ending with a "1", it probably means I'm being demonstrative or heavily emphasizing my point while writing.  It was meant to be one of these: "!"

I want my old keyboard back1   New is not necessarily better1  Maybe I should have kept the old Magnavox Videowriter unit I owned in the 1980's1  Or, maybe even my dad's typewriter1

Well, back to typing, oops....."Keyboarding" class for those of us in the "newer is not necessarily better" category1

At least it's a "1" and not something odd like a "~"


Sunday, May 5, 2013

What do you remember in technology that today's younger "digital" users may never know?

We live in a fast paced world. A 5 to 7 inch LCD society. Much different than what even a mid-40's person of today grew up with!  Our parents thought their world was changing fast when they were our age,  But...if you think about today vs. even 4 decades ago; while life has more conveniences than ever, there's some things many youngsters may never know, may never see, may never use, and yet all these things and many more led us to where we are today!  Sad, in a way.  Yep!  It's "technology museum time!"    I use and enjoy  my cellphone, my flat screen TV, GPS, laptop, Roku box, On-demand digital programming, and the like, and I live-with and love modern technology.....but..... Maybe you can add to the list of things that our younger generation may never know.....

Dialing a telephone. Literally using a rotary dial. Might even "confuse" some young folks today.

The cl-click, cl-click, cl-click of that old round-dial TV antenna rotor to dial in a picture.

The "snow" of a weak analog TV signal from a distance as you try to watch a show that is only on a far away station.

Ditto machines in schools. Those blue-printing, strange-smelling test papers we grew up-with.

Cassette tapes.  8-track tapes.  45 RPM records.  All favorites and all "king of the hill" at one time or another  in our past.

The "Record Changer" that dropped the next selected record in a stack of up to six on the cener spindle, and the "slipping sound" the records made as they first contacted each other and the top one gained speed.

Mechanical pushbuttons on a car stereo, the kind you pulled-out to set then pushed-in to lock your favorite AM or FM station. Also the "FF/Eject" button.  Pre-digital.  

The L.E.D. "STEREO" indicator glowing at you from your favorite home or portable stereo (boom box) or car stereo, now replaced by boring LCD letters, if anything.

TV in glorious, crisp, "Black & White"

The "Boom Box" itself. (though I hear these are coming back again!!)

Winding a watch.  We're so digital, so micro, so "informational" that many young people may not know how to wind a watch!

Analog telling of time!  Yes, it's true....some people have grown up "all digital" and don't know this.  A crime, if you ask me!

The "home computer" (no, not the PC or "personal computer)...I mean the one like the Radio Shack Color Computer or the TI-99, or the Timex sinclair, all of which were going to "revolutionize" our homes and lives, and all of which needed to hook to the good ol' TV set.

The horizontal and vertical hold controls. For that matter, any KNOBS on a TV. (Wouldn't it be fun to have a  retro digital, flat screen with tuning and volume KNOBS?)

Walkie Talkies. 

The console stereo in the living room.

An honest to goodness physical answering machine (with tape or without.)

True CAMcorders that used large any non-digital recording media, like  VHS, or the (defeated even when new) "VHS-C" tape. 

Waiting to rewind.  Anything. Not "scan," a full "analog rewind."

Call me strange, I'm okay with that, but some of these bring fond memories of how we used and enjoyed the technology of "the day."  Maybe for you, as well.  Would you admit to a part of you actually "missing" any of them, or other instances from the technology of our youth you recall?

What others can you add?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

User Review: Sangean WFR-28 Rechargeable Portable WiFi Internet Radio

(if, after reading this you decide to purchase this radio, we recommend Amazon dot Com!  WION radio operates an online store which can be reached here!  It's completely amazon, but we get credit for your purchase! Full amazon polices apply!)

Our radio station began streaming after much research into “best methods” and “least proprietary” so we could reach the most people. We purchased a “Logitech Squeezebox” internet radio for givewaway at our local community expo to celebrate the new service, and had a great response to that contest. Meanwhile, I needed something a bit more “portable” for our remotes when we're in “iffy” signal areas for FM without using a smartphone, and hoped to find a radio with good sound and nice features. I found it in this Sangean WFR-28

FM reception: quite good for reasonable distance from high powered stations, even under the blanket of our 5kw of AM and 250 watts of FM (translator) at our studios. I have not tried the FM tuner outside our blanket of RF, but can only imagine it gets even better.

Sound: Excellent for a small radio! Perfect for bedside, kitchen, wherever you may have previously enjoyed stations on a PC but don't want to be tied to the laptop or PC for listening! It has settings for equalization so you can tailor the sound, including separate bass, treble and even the old “loudness” contour on/off. Very nice. No complaints on sound. It's not a hugely powerful amplifier, but more than enough for background in a normal sized room, especially with the EQ set for more than “flat”.

Versatility: If the volume is not enough, there's a “line out” 1/8” stereo jack, and what's really neat is this comes separate from the headphones out! You can feed an external amp and enjoy full stereo from internet stations independent of the volume and headphones. Also adding to the versatility is the stereo “line in” which renders in nice “mono” on the radio's speaker and this is selectable from the “mode” button, so no constant plugging and unplugging is needed! This is a nice change from many radios offered these days where the audio source is switched by the physical plugging-in of a device, and this also means longer life from the “aux in” jack.

Display: Easily readable, while adjustable for contrast, I've left this at factory preset.

Presets: Like most radios, dedicated to the “function” at the time. For instance, all the FM's are at once, all the “internet” ones are at once, cannot intermix function presets. (this would be a nice update in software, someday.) You can, however through the online registration add new stations easily, and can store them in your own nameable banks, like “international” or “local” or “Michigan” and still put them in as presets from each of those categories!

FM antenna: Nice “bold” diameter at bottom, well made.

Time update: Automatic through FM (limited areas, assumed..since this would be an RDS service) but did well on our “normal” network automatically and quickly when turned on!

USB audio player with protected top-mounted plug in (rubber seals out day to day dirt)....Works fine! Reads the directory of the USB drive no problems.

Rechargeable batteries. It has this option for NiMH and built in charger. Charges through AC adapter automatically.

Setup: takes a bit of patience, but once you get the feel of when to use the “tuning knob” on the side and when to use “forward/backward” buttons, adding your secure network info takes only a few minutes, but needs to be done for each network, even if the passwords are the same. (not really any different than a standard PC in this regard.)  This radio also remembers more than one wireless network. We had to take it to a school event where the I-T department had to open a "hole" for it to work on a dedicated IP address. When it came back to our station, it remembered both our networks just FINE!

The unit held its memory of stations even with no power and no batteries, so once its set, no worries of transporting without batteries or reasonable periods without power. (longest time without power here is one day, by the way and all memory was held.)

Hoping for long life out of this unit, and will be getting the batteries to have for times when no AC is available.

Overall: Excellent “first” and very versatile FM radio with 'net capabilities. GREAT to have for travel if your local station is on the web, or if you work in a place with limited reception of FM signals.

This also works GREAT for taking WION's live stream anywhere you go!

Friday, February 15, 2013


The discussion over the AM band's viability gains more publicity each month. Manufacturers are reducing the quality of the AM sections in their radios, home receivers, and in-dash stereos.  Broadcasters are apathetic about  improving AM's quality without some hope of investment in improved equipment by manufacturers (broadcast and consumer) and, there's the ever-looming discussions about moving AM broadcasters to another band. It's been called the “Chicken and the Egg” question on many a radio internet discussion board as broadcasters point fingers at the manufacturers...and vice-versa, with the FCC empanelling discussion groups on the matter.  We, the (smaller) AM broadcasters are then left
to wonder, “Who makes THEM the expert on AM, and are they really qualified to discuss our future if they're not working in the trenches of AM today?”

If, on the other hand I was the one who was asked if AM can be revitalized, my answer would be a definite "yes!" And the how and why?   "With careful attention to detail, and... Because you can!"

What happened to the day in which we, as broadcasters  performed our respective jobs to the best of our abilities because it brought pride in our product and  work?   Add some good talent to the overwhelming availability of quality used  (secondary-market) broadcast equipment;  and there's no reason even small stations with small budgets can't sound their best 100 percent of the time!

Our AM, (the first of 3 stations I now own) is a prime example of “it can be done!” It's also a great example of AM's still being a viable entertainment and information source. Our station was revived from the dead. Off the air from the death of the former owner. Two weeks to go before license revocation. Tired transmitter, pathetic processing, and the worst wiring of audio, ever!  But...we dug it up the corpse. Got it breathing. Told our town it was alive, and that we were here!

There was no client list. No clients at all. No accounts receivable, no web presence, no logo, no listeners, and...for the most part, no faith in our survival. I'm sure there was many an office-pool against our lasting very long, but we did survive, and now we're going on 9-years of AM!  Yes, as some of you may know, we have an FM translator, but we've only had it for 3 of those years.  Stay with me, and I'll tell you how this little station came to be a shining example of local AM broadcasting, and with great sound, to boot!

Part of the job of AM station owners is educating the audience. Educating them that we exist!  This job can be both time-consuming and difficult.  In our case, we had to re-educate our town to the fact that AM can sound great.  Since operating the station was a full-time job for me and the same was planned for my business partner in the future,  we naturally wanted the best sound we could create on a limited start-up budget.  We asked our engineers to find the best older processing possible,  since the budget wouldn't afford newer equipment.   We chose classic CRL from the 1980's and 90's, and never looked back. From our sign-on in 2004  until today, we've kept our AM sounding bright, clear, crisp, clean,  yet warm and inviting!  Because of carefully choosing our used processing, while we were new in town listeners to the "new" WION often remarked,  “I'm hearing things in the music I've never heard before!” and yet this was long before we turned on CQUAM Stereo!

More recently, those CRL and other analog processing boxes from the 1980's and 1990's have been reworked with new components, and refurbished for more years of use, and they're working their hearts-out for us like brand new, providing a nice smooth yet strong sound for our AM signal and our newly-added internet stream.

A couple years into owning and operating WION, we investigated the possibility of correcting an historic error in judgment by both the original ownership and the FCC regarding the station's coverage, and returned our daytime signal to Non-Directional, bringing in a larger daytime audience and more coverage on a major interstate. Yes it took investment on our part,  along with good engineering and legal representation. Those are two areas in which an owner should never cut corners. A few years after that, came the work of acquiring an FM translator, moving it from south of town to our own property, and upping its power.  For us it was  a two-step process, and not inexpensive for a small operator, but we did it! (Again with the patient help of great engineering and legal representation.)

I will not say the FM saved our station. I will, however state for the record that in its first year, it brought in 17 new clients from a nearby town which is under-served by our AM due to today's noise on the AM band,  yet the town is still in our primary coverage area. The Translator's main purpose was to satisfy those people who would NOT tune-in AM because of it's “stigma” as a talk-only band with horrible sound quality. Which brings me to what AM really needs: (after owners who care) An awareness campaign at least as large as the recent digital TV conversion campaign, one that is backed and pushed by the FCC, the NAB,  state broadcasters' associations and AM station owners. 

AM, believe it or not is new to some people!   We've had youngsters of our clients ask their parents, “what is AM, anyway?” And that is one thing which tells me there is a need to educate our country about AM's existence and potential. (Probably for the first time, since the AM band never needed this before.)  But, we won't win people over with badly processed and ignored AM signals feeding into web streams.

Anyone who has visited the internet stream of WION-AM in Ionia, Michigan has been amazed at the sound. Most most people would never know it's AM.  Full AM stereo.  With attention to detail in its delivery.  We tell  people it's AM for the purpose of public education to AM,  and to help  create a positive spin on AM stations like ours.   We've had NO complaints from any listener, and no comments from the public such as, “I don't like listening to AM.” or, “I'd listen on the stream  if it wasn't AM.”  On the contrary! Our AM stereo signal on the web is proving to today's modern digital-era listeners that analog AM can sound spectacular.

So, if the FCC is going to have a panel of “experts” discussing the future of the AM band,  my question to them would be, “Why doesn't the FCC start helping AM broadcasters win the public's ears with a public-awareness campaign of at least the size and impact that was given to the digital TV conversion?   We don't need to move to another band! We need people to know that many small and large towns turn to AM for emergencies, information, and general entertainment. Many areas of our country have ONLY an AM station for their radio service. Some residents rely heavily on it. Others still need to be told it exists. Either way, public education to AM's existence and potential will help!

As far as sound quality goes, you're welcome to laugh if you want,  but I'll risk saying it: Many a “digital” station doesn't sound as good as our little 'ol analog AM 1430! (which, at night, by the way still uses feed cables for two towers from the 1960's, and an equally old matching network connecting to our three towers and still sounds great!)

Our recipe? Attention to detail, combined with pride in our work all the way  from the studio to the towers. This means that first of all,  we are owners that care about our station.  We have to be. We're not part of a corporate monster that can toss stations and people aside to save money. We invested our LIVES in our station. Electronically, it all starts with owners' knowledge of the potentially excellent quality of sound that  AM broadcasters can produce for the public. Then, add the deployment of quality equipment (well maintained used will work fine) and, excellent legal and engineering backup. The result is excellence in radio "sound" and programming quality.

From a business standpoint we've also witnessed  that when a quality product is on the air, it attracts quality people to the door who want to be part of our team!  That's why both our salespeople came to with us, how our team of engineers came to us, and how we've grown for nearly nine years. People enjoy being part of a “winning” business team.

The one thing I've not addressed in our own “recipe” for being a success with listeners is the programming.  It's "that word" that gets thrown around all too loosely anymore. We have to be local.  We can't be what every other station on the dial is being today. If we, as station owners only give our towns the same syndicated programming that the next town has,  our stations are doomed to be forgotten.

 We could have programmed typical AM fare consisting of talk shows; (mixing up times and sprinkling in network news)  but we didn't. We operate a local morning and afternoon show, all locally programmed music with a music scheduler and local music director, then we add-in  network news of our choice for top-of-the-hour updates, and carefully selected feature programs for weekends.  Parts of the day have "information blocks” that keep our listeners tuned to us.   Some features are even locally produced. It's compelling programming that brings our listeners back day after day.  We verify this by maintaining a “listening business list” of  offices, stores, restaurants, auto service establishments and others who regularly interact with our station by phone, fax, and e-mail.  That list proves we're getting our station heard by business owners, their employees and their businesses' clients.  It's also a great sales tool, given that we're not a rated market.   None of our clients ask, “where are you in the ratings?" but they DO ask, "who listens to you?" 

What we have created in our station is exactly what used to exist in the 1970's and 1980's. A GREAT sounding AM station broadcasting in CQUAM AM stereo because we CAN.  A station with a good following locally, a solid list of clients, and never a complaint on the street to our staff.

Now that were streaming actual AM stereo on the web, not a single complaint has been received of it being AM.  In fact, it gets compliments on the sound, originating in my office from an ordinary consumer AM stereo receiver.

So you see, it can be done. Yes it's a good idea to augment your AM with an FM translator.  Yes, you augment your AM with streaming so you're available 24/7 to your local and long-distance audience, but it all starts-with a good quality AM station.

And what do we as AM operators need from the FCC and Congress?
  1. Help with Public Relations. Why NOT start an AM awareness campaign in the U.S.?
  2. Less regulations on AM stations hopping FM translators to be used as fill-ins.  Make it easier for AM's to buy translators from farther away so we can get them IN to our primary coverage area, and deploy them without the the rules on intermediate hops.
  3. Protect our Translators. If proper engineering was studied when adding a translator, (as was the case with ours)  frequencies are well chosen. Give protection to our FM translators such that we don't live in fear of having to eventually change frequencies or lose the service.
  4. Stop allowing stations to be “spun off” into trusts by big corporations  doing big deals, only to hear the new "cluster"crying that nobody will buy the spinoff from them,  or that nobody will  deal with buying from the "biggies." This practice has  contributed to the corporate attitude of "Small AM's aren't worth running or saving” which seems to be the view of some big broadcasters  after mergers.  How about working with small broadcasters (or those waiting for licenses) to help them acquire the "spin-off" stations so they're operated by people who WANT them? 
  5. When a government mandate comes down that costs the small broadcaster money, how about helping us with financing?  The Federal Government mandated the new EAS system, then offered NO help to broadcasters for the purchase or implementation of the new system.  Many a broadcaster, including we, had to literally beg at our bank to finance the new E.A.S.  Yet, when it came to television, the same government offered to buy converter boxes for everyone from the rich, to those on welfare.
  6. Stop thinking “Digital is the Answer” to everything.  (stop acting like changing to a digital MEDIUM is the answer to AM's issues. it's not.) and let us broadcast the best damn signals, sound and programming we can by removing the fear of our method of broadcasting being thrown-away by “expert panelists” who are likely not working in the trenches of every day AM radio. 

    Oh, and one last thing. If we're truly a “green thinking” country, then nobody should be considering moving our broadcasting off of the current AM band if for no other reason than to NOT fill our landfills with millions and millions of (AM) radios sold since the 1920's. (like what's happening now with TV's.)

    Visit our station website to learn about our station, listen via the pop-out player, or go to the "listen" page for better options in 'net listening. WION turned 60 years old on February 1st, 2013 with a huge on-air celebration as we marked 60 years of the same call letters in the same town all that time!

Monday, September 24, 2012

AM Radio CAN sound Excellent! (copy of Carlyle Comment Blog)

A “Sound” Idea….

Believe it or not, local radio, even on the AM band can sound GREAT! At WION in IoniaMI we’re mighty proud of our quality of sound. It comes from owners who care, and equipment properly chosen and maintained.

At  WION we do that very well. So much so that we get compliments fairly regularly that we “stand out” against even the bigger-city stations. People even hear details in their favorite songs that they haven’t heard before!  That’s how well we pay attention to our sound!

Over a weekend in September, however, I was made painfully aware of how many people, as they drive, may NOT know what our (AM) signal really sounds like! 

I love my Jeep. It drives well, it’s fun, gets great mileage with its stickshift transmission, and it came with a GREAT original sound system. Except… the original system has a weak link. The speakers in the front doors. They are unique to the system, make replacing expensive and difficult. So, when the second of two speakers died, it was time to upgrade. Or so I thought: to a new stereo receiver, and new speakers.

So, I chose a Jensen in-dash, “heavy duty” receiver. Chosen for its larger knobs and buttons, very VISIBLE display, and conveniences of dual inputs, I had faith that the sound would be at least as good as the price-tag which was not inexpensive.

Only two people are ever allowed to tear apart my car, and one of them got the short straw, so Bill tore into it. He had to custom-design new tweeter brackets, run some new wires, bypass the Jeep’s amplifier circuits built into the doors, and install extra boxes for “high frequency adjustment.” All of it went well, and when turned on, the FM sounded FANTASTIC. The Inputs from the mp3 player were sounding great, and the long drive home was exciting with tunes I choose for my personal player.

Then came the problem.  In the very town….and the very DRIVEWAY where WION radio originates, the AM sound was not the familiar “Jeep” full, wide sound, but rather, the sound of a phone call if patched through a small CB radio speaker. Yes, it was that bad.  FM remained beautiful, inputs from the player were beautiful, but AM literally “HOOVERED.” The AM couldn’t be made to sound good, let alone….GREAT. AM was at best, unlistenable.

Obviously Jensen put out a product that would turn you, my listeners and friends completely OFF to the potential great sound  that AM radio stations have to present. And, its just not fair. I wouldn’t have even listened to TALK programmingon this AM receiver, let alone our music and “full-service” content.   I believe that this is not an isolated incident. 

On WION we often invite you to switch to our AM for  “longer distance listening” and our “quality of sound” and, we mean it!  We DON’T sound like a phone call through a CB radio, and our AM is the BEST sound AM can offer! Unfortunately, (some) manufacturers are leading you, the consumer to believe that AM radio sound literally sucks!  (If you’re offended by that term, so be it. I mean what I say.)  

Radio manufacturers have, by cutting corners and costs,  tossed aside a medium that can sound as good as FM, reach farther, and in many towns like Ionia, an (AM) station is the only LOCAL live media! It deeply angers me that public perception of what AM “sounds” like should be “crap” when in actuality, its potential goes far beyond what most people have ever heard!  I hope when you hear WION  proudly talking about our "sound" that you realize it's your RADIO that limits the quality of what you hear, not the AM band itself!

Who enjoys good AM?  People with Chrysler/Jeeps from the mid 90’s to mid 2000’s, with the familiar rounded corners and the 3-letter receiver codes on the front in white. (some are even AM Stereo!!)   Most NON-HD original equipment also sounds good. But, if the “HD” logo has been hung on it, the AM has likely been compromised. I have yet to OWN an HD capable radio that did justice to AM broadcasters. I hope that there actually are a “few” good HD radios in dashboards which give good (normal) AM sound.

I know that AM is not the first thing on your mind. I know we have a local  FM signal that sounds great. But, how would YOU feel if you put your heart and soul into a product, then found it was being diminished by forces beyond your control?  Our American economy is driven by purchases, and purchased by price, that’s a given. But, that DOESN’T mean that a few pennies here, or a dollar per unit to improve the quality of AM sound in radios would break the manufacturer, or the consumer.

Once you’re done reading this, please give a listen to this clip, posted on my website.  It’s taken from a REAL tuner “off air”. It’s REAL AM broadcasting, not audio piped into the recorder from our control room. It actually is a recording of a BROADCAST, edited for length. THIS is what AM radio is capable-of and this is what our local audience SHOULD be hearing, if the radio manufacturers would allow it!  And yes, in Ionia County, it’s what we offer on the air 24/7!

Edit June 2013: After going "live" with AM stereo feeding our stream in February, 2013 we've added the web address to grab our players and listen on HQ or on your phone