Friday, December 3, 2010

Long-Distance AM Radio's

Backroads Information-Long Distance AM Radios

Nighttime AM radio had a magic hold on Americans until FM became the radio medium of choice in the 1970's.  Throughout the 1930's through the 1960's nighttime AM radio broadcasts brought blues music from the south into northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The country music of Texas and Oklahoma was heard in the mid-west and the east coast.  The FCC for a long time protected the signal of clear channel stations at night so rural areas without radio service could hear radio broadcasts.

Here is a link to the history of clear channel stations in North America:  History of Clear Channel AM Stations.

I have lived in rather remote areas of the American West and have listened to clear channels at night for news of the outside world.  It was at that time the only connection we had to the rest of the country.  The diverse programming of AM radio has been basically taken over by talk radio.  And thanks to Art Bell, with syndication you can now listen to Coast to Coast all over the AM dial.  The good news is AM radio is slowly dying so much so that Clear Channel Corporation has donated six stations to local communities.  Maybe in the future AM radio will again have unique programming that will be worth staying up all night.

Today there are some clear channels with local programming.   But where AM radio shines is in emergency situations.  The Emergency Broadcast System has as it core an AM radio station since it is easy to keep up in an emergency.

When the 1989 earthquake hit the Bay Area I could not contact my parents since all phone lines were jammed.  I tuned my radio to KNBR 680 the official Emergency Broadcast Station and KGO 810 which also stayed on the air.  From the reports on the radio I could determine that they were probably fine since there were no reports of damage coming from their area.

In 1992,  I took the family on one of my business trips to Sacramento.  We drove over for dinner in Santa Rosa with an old friend of Susie's.  As we were returning on the backroads the radio informed us that riots had broken out throughout the urban areas of California.  Believe me it always seems worse when the road is dark and rainy.  I then remembered that KFBK 1510 was the clear channel out of Sacramento so we tuned the car radio to the frequency.  We learned that Sacramento was quiet and peaceful and we returned to downtown Sacramento.

Incident Management Teams managing natural and man-made disasters are using communications to better inform the public.  In the past, they teams have merely passed on information to the media.  They are starting to take a more active role to make sure the public receives the needed information.  Yes, this summer the management of the oil spill was a disaster itself, but I can tell you that the Coast Guard, BP, and many politicians will be learning how the Incident Command System works this winter!! 

So there are reasons for getting a good AM radio besides just the entertainment value.  First step is to get a tuned loop antenna.  Here is the article on a tuned loop antenna published a couple of weeks ago.  Tuned Loop Antenna's.  Get the antenna first.  A good antenna is more important than a good radio.  These tuned loop antenna's really work they will boost a scratchy and static ridden signal into a clear signal that sounds like next door.

If you listen to AM radio you need one of these antenna's!!

The radio is also important.  But the antenna is more important than the radio.  Just get one of these antenna's.

At one time there were lots of good AM radios.  Some of the best were the old AM radios in cars, but those days are long gone.  The better shortwave radios always had good AM reception.  I have owned dozens of radio's over the years.  The best radio's allow you to tune just to the left or right of the channel.  This way you can avoid interference from adjacent radio stations. 

I have the GE Super Radio.  That model has been replaced by the RCA RP7887.   Read the Amazon reviews.  It appears to also have been discontinued.  The Super Radio has great sound, great reception on both AM and FM, and runs forever a D cell batteries.

This radio has NO digital stuff or any other fluff.  This is a radio.  Period.  Without that that stuff it gets better reception than other radios, but is harder to tune.  If you tend to listen to one station rather than hop around the dial this is the radio for you.

Well, if you can find it for sale.

I do not own this radio, but the reviews have been great on AM reception.  It looks like a good radio particularly given its antenna.  Price is pretty good.

Here are some used radio's that I have owned that are great.  The Sony 7600GR shortwave radio.  Great portable shortwave and AM radio.  Mine died an untimely death.  Other than that probably my favorite radio.  However, difficult to find and expensive at $190.

Panasonic RF-2900 from the early 1980's.  Radio's from that time period were good.  If you can find them used or in garage sales snap them up.

The C Crane Company from Fortuna, California sells AM radio's made to their specifications.  They are into AM radio reception so their radio's are pretty good.  This is my current AM radio.

Lots of controls for making sure the AM signal is the best you can receive.  It will also charge the batteries inside the radio without need for an external charger.  It will run on AA batteries or D cell batteries.  My observation is that it comes a very close second to the GE Super Radio but is much easier to use.

There you are.  Lots of good AM radios to chose from.  And maybe with AM radio stations becoming less valuable we might be entering the golden age of AM radio once again with local programming taking center stage.

These are great radios, but make sure you get the antenna.  Remember the antenna is much more important than the radio.  Out on the backroads there is no substitute for a good AM radio and antenna.

Here is the view from Wenatchee as we wait for the end of the month.  I was hoping for good duck and pheasant hunting weather and instead we got skiing weather.  The low at Camas Meadows in late November was minus 12.8F.  We are looking forward to hitching up the 5th wheel and heading as quickly as possible to the southwest!


mountainborn said...

Thanks for the great AM radio report ! That's where I first began to hear rock and roll as it emerged from rythm and blues, back before it was even called rock a billy. And it was only on Am late at night, mostly broadcast from low power black owned radio stations operating on low power. Every one was convinced that lightning would strike my home made long wire antenna as punishment for listening to "the devil's music" !

Vladimir Steblina said...

You should try that tuned loop antenna. It beats a long wire and is a lot easier to use when traveling.

Seems like AM is probably going to go back to a local radio basis over the next few years. Hopefully, this will mean more worthwhile stations and fewer sports talk and other syndication programs.