Monday, November 16, 2009

Radio Waves

I was finished up a drive last night and parked my car in my garage and had just tuned into an interesting program on the radio.  I wanted to rush inside the house so that I could continue listening via the Internet since I don’t have a radio in my front room.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t made note of which radio station the program had been on.  I listen to a lot of talk-radio, so it could have been on any of six stations that I frequent.  And since a host I was not familiar with was moderating the program , I really had no idea where to search.  And because booting up any “Listen Live” Internet radio station takes a good two minutes when things are said and done, I didn’t want to waste any time with searching six stations via the Internet.

Feeling lazy and realizing I was now close to my front door, I didn’t want to run back to the car again.  Then, I took a moment I just thought of what the broadcast “sounded” like.  If you listen to a lot of radio, and AM radio in particular, each station has a kind of “sound.”  I suppose it’s similar to how I described studios orchestras back in the day having a specific sound in my blog called, “Herbert Stothart’s Score,” dated 10/25/09.

I’m guessing that many people might not hear the differences between stations, but because I am constantly in my car wanting to hear what is going on in the world and what people think about it all, I can tell pretty quickly which station I am listening to without having the call letters announced and given that I don’t have huge hints such a host I already know.  I’m not an idiot savant or anything (well, maybe the former occasionally); it just comes with doing a lot of listening in my same car.  Yet, I’ll bet a different car could throw me off for a while.

But for instance, KNX 1070 and KABC 790 have a generally similar sound to me, though KNX’s is slightly more muffled and KABC’s is a bit more treble-pushed and clearer by a hair or two.  KFI 640 has a slightly thuddier, deeper sound that is not at all crisp to my ear. 

KTLK 1150 has a grainy sound, and the dead give-away with this station is that even though they broadcast from Burbank, wherever you are in LA County, you don’t get a totally clear signal.  Their reception always seems to be vulnerable to the smallest power-wire you might drive under.  KFWB 980 has the muddiest sound of all of them.  It’s like someone at the station just completely turned down any treble, so all that you are hearing are the low tones.

I could be completely wrong about this, but I sometimes suspect that even the wave frequency that each AM radio station has determines it’s clarity and better yet, it’s longevity.  Like those stations towards the bottom of the dial such as KFI 640 AM and 550 KUZZ have longer waves that will travel much farther.

My girlfriend and I were driving at the very top of highway 29 in California late one night about four years ago, just arriving at Clear Lake, which is way up past San Francisco’s wine country area, and we were listing with pretty good clarity to Phil Hendrie who was on KFI at the time.  I’m sure we were getting the bounce off of the ionosphere a few times or whatever.

My girlfriend had never heard of Phil Hendrie at the time, and Phil was supposedly interviewing an old African-American woman who has been the former live-in nurse to President Roosevelt.  She used to tease him and make him crawl to her by pretending she was going to trash his prized golf clubs.  My girlfriend couldn’t believe what she was hearing while all the time I knew it was Phil Hendrie’s put-on antics.  Phil does a strange show, but I always get a chuckle out of it.

Well, back to last night.  When I got in my house, I asked myself, which station did that program “sound” like.  I answered, “KFI 640,” because it had that thud-like sound to it.  I  launched the Listen Live function and indeed found myself listening to the same program I had left in the car.  So there is something to this.

It reminds me of those American WWII soldiers who were radio transmission interceptors.  They would listen hour upon hour to Japanese frequencies.  Even though they did not understand Japanese, they could single out a specific Japanese communicator by the sound and cadence of his voice.  Sometimes, just the information that this specific Japanese soldier was still transmitting gave the Americans information that a certain part of the Japanese force was still in tact which was an advantage for us; something like that.

It’s all part of the expertise that people get in anything they do a lot.  A good salesman can tell pretty quickly if you really have the potential to buy, or are just looking around with no intention of going any further.  He or she just has a sixth sense for subliminal cues you give out as a serious shopper or a lookie-loo. He knows to either stick with you or move onto the next customer just because he's done it so long.

That stuff always interests me.