NASWA Journal Columns · Kim’s Column, September 2006

Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott • 5001 25th Street North • Arlington, VA 22207 kimelli◊

Kim’s Column, September 2006

Editor’s note: This column arrived too late for our print issue. We present it here on the site for the benefit of our members and others.

Internet radios in our future?

The FCC has pretty much signed on to Broadband Over Power Line (BPL). And there are all sorts of noises from new devices creeping into the shortwave frequencies. My Verizon FIOS fiber optic broadband access seems to be one of the culprits. It’s not the fiber lines, but the Cat-5 cables between the Verizon box outside my house and the various RJ-45 jacks in rooms throughout my house.

Anyway, I’m on the verge of conceding defeat—joining them because I can’t beat them—by buying one of those new internet radios.

The Acoustic Energy wi-fi radio (available at CCrane) received this favorable review in the Houston Chronicle. The reviewer was really speaking to me when he wrote: “I love listening to oddball radio stations when I’m falling asleep at night, but I don’t sleep on a desk next to my computer.” That’s what radio is really good for: something to listen to while falling asleep, or after waking up in the middle of the night for no good reason.

Meanwhile, another internet radio has come on the market: Looking very much like a real radio, it’s the Curry’s Logik IR100.

Of course, these internet radios do nothing for the DXing instincts of NASWA members. But for the program-listening parts of our souls, they could be very useful implements. NASWA could be a useful source of URLs pointing to the international stations receivable on internet radios.

Speaking on BPL, the Federal Register (pdf) of August 23 has the entire text of FCC’s Final Rule “affirming the technical rules for BPL.” So now the United States has its own version of jamming: all shortwave stations, on all frequencies, at all times.

International broadcasting mysteries in Washington

In July, Robert Wone was hired as general counsel of Radio Free Asia. He had been on the job only one month when he was murdered. Mr. Wone was stabbed in a townhouse near Washington’s Dupont Circle. We colleagues mourn his death, too young at age 32. But we’re also amazed that no one has been arrested as of this writing. And this despite three people being in the townhouse at the time of the murder. Police sources say the crime scene had been tampered with. I have links to eleven articles (and counting) about this case Less tragic is another mystery. A VOA studio technician told me that at least eight VOA employees have recently seen a ghost, in and around studio 16. He’s a tall and (as one would expect) pale male wearing a short sleeve white shirt. The ghost strolls into the studio, then disappears. “We think it’s Willis,” added the tech.

That would be Willis Conover, the legendary jazz broadcaster, who roamed VOA’s corridors from the 1950s until his death in 1996. I’m not prepared, yet, to believe in ghosts. But, gosh, what a story.

And it sort of makes sense. An affectionate display about Willis used to adorn the second floor of the VOA building. A few months ago, it was taken down. Willis was always attentive to publicity, and I reckon even his specter has a publicist. Obviously irked that he is less remembered at VOA, his ghost has decided to come into the studio, rattle some boom mikes, and make some VOA broadcasters jump an inch off their seats in the middle of a live newscast.

VOA anniversaries: five years since 9-11 coverage, one year since getting rid of a pesky unwanted broadcaster

We are nearing the five year anniversary of 9-11, and have just passed the first year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

After aircraft struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, VOA quickly shifted into full-time coverage. At first, we were scraping for news, and it would have helped for VOA to be affiliated with a major radio network such as CBS.

For the following weekend’s Communications World, I had three days to gather pertinent audio of radio stations reporting on or reacting to the tragedy. Ralph Brandi helped me with recordings of New York radio stations. VOA and Communications World were able to cover 9-11 well enough.

From the approach to the early aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I was making recordings from WWL in New Orleans. It was dramatic stuff. Listeners were calling to report water coming out of manholes. New Orleans was flooding, and I probably know it before the Office of Home Security knew it.

I edited the best bits of these recordings for my monthly appearance on VOA’s Talk to America, on Friday, September 2. It was a lot of work on a tight deadline. Then about two hours before airtime, the producer of Talk to America called to tell me that the VOA front office ordered that I not appear on that day’s show. In fact, I’ve been banned from broadcasting on VOA (including reading the frequency announcements) since then.

I still don’t know what precipitated that decision. I had the best actuality of Katrina events that VOA would have broadcast, had I not been banned.

Reasons to keep your shortwave radio

Iran is conducting one of its periodic crackdowns on the ownership of satellite dishes. This time, Iranian police are performing this task with unprecedented vigor, even in Tehran, where the ban has been largely ignored in the past. One satellite user also comments on increased jamming of foreign satellite television. That would require powerful nearby groundwave (actually, direct wave) transmitters than cannot be good for the health of Iranians.

Meanwhile, eBay China is investigating reports that illegal satellite receivers have been sold through its site. That would run afoul of China’s “latest hunt for illegal satellite dishes that can receive foreign programs.”

And if you have some spare time, you might want to read Human Rights Watch 149-page report on the “complicity of Western Internet companies in political censorship in China.”

Vietnam has been learning the art of blocking internet content from China, according to OpenNet Initiative. My office’s most recent research in Vietnam indicates that the VOA website is clear, but that of Radio Free Asia is blocked.

Countries also try to block medium wave and shortwave transmissions, though with less success on shortwave, because of propagational factors known to us NASWA members. Zimbabwe is now trying to jam VOA’s “Studio 7” programs to that country. This includes an interesting “car horn” type jammer going after the 909 kHz relay via Botswana. For more examples of medium wave and shortwave jamming, check out Bill Whitacre’s Remote Monitoring System.

Zimbabwe has been applying diplomatic pressure on Botswana about VOA’s relay in the latter. In ceremonies marking the 25th(!) anniversary of the VOA Botswana relay, a Botswana official, perhaps mollifying Zimbabwe, noted that the United States is “solely responsible for the contents of VOA programmes relayed from” the relay station, and that the terms of the relay agreement are negotiable before it expires in 2010.

And then illness of Fidel Castro hastened Radio/TV Martí to launch its antenna aircraft, described by AP as a “new Lockheed Martin G1,” actually a used Gulfstream G1 two-engine turboprop. One anticastroista commentator called television transmissions from the aircraft “un-jammable.” Again, because of propagational factors known to us NASWA members, un-likely.

Views expressed are my own.

Read more Kim’s Column columns.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Terry said:

    Really interesting, many thanks.

    September 30, 2006 at 5:56 pm

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