I get bored with radio in Washington. Lately, though, I’ve been driving around enjoying radio on cassette.
I’ve been listening to an installment of the DX Audio Service, an aural publication of the nonprofit National Radio Club, the world’s oldest and largest medium — wave distance — listening club, founded in 1933.
If you love talking with friends about the radio band, listening to distant stations or swapping tales of legacy call signs, this is for you. If you often are stuck behind the wheel, this is perfect for you.
Frederick R. Vobbe is publisher. He told me the original publication was intended for a blind audience; but since it started – 222 issues ago, in 1985 – many sighted people have signed up.
The magazine is mailed to about 150 subscribers on C-100 cassette tapes each month. The cost of a subscription is $28 to U.S. mailing addresses.
“Nobody is paid for their service; many of us often have to pay out of our own pocket the costs of producing segments,” he said. “We do this out of the need to share information and answer questions that most people don’t have access to.”
It started when a blind friend expressed envy that Vobbe could read issues of Radio World, Broadcasting and other trade magazines. (Character recognition software wasn’t a practical solution in 1985.)
“I thought that I could just read some articles … and then copy them off,” Vobbe recalls. “The National Radio Club heard about me and asked if I would be interested in reading their magazine. After starting to do this, a few other people in radio volunteered to read a few stories and the format was born.”
Each contributor has an audio column; Vobbe edits the content and acts as host. Features include:
AM Switch – Information on call letter changes, technical changes, new stations and applications. Host Jerry Starr recently retired after 300 columns in DX News magazine and 200 in DX Audio Service. The new editor is Bill Hale.
Travellog – This was one of my favorite features on the tape. John Bowker, formerly of RCA, takes a frequency – say, 830 kHz — and drives from city to city to hear the top — of-the-hour IDs from stations.
“John and Linda Bowker don’t go anywhere without their cassette recorders and radios,” Vobbe said. “It’s not uncommon for them to plan a trip from their home in Tampa, Fla., based on what stations are along the way.”
Bandscan – Mark Durenberger, a long-time friend and contributor to Radio World, takes a look at how signals are received; he also visits stations and gives us an audio tour. Mark talked and walked with Paul Jellison at historic WLW(AM) when I listened.
Sports – Which teams are on which stations, with which announcers? Says Vobbe, “Ken Onyschuk is one of those people you can mention a team to and he knows the flagship station’s call sign, frequency, the names of the play-by-play people and 50 percent or more of the affiliates. Amazing person.”
Marketscope – Another of my favorites. Phil Wayne invites people to send airchecks of the stations in a given city. “When you meet someone else who collects tapes, the first question you ask is always, ‘What does radio sound like in your town?’ Marketscope covers this question with short snippets.”
Musings to the Members – Readers call in and comment.
Vobbe will flesh out a tape with stories from publications, e-mail lists, FCC releases and other hot news; on the tape I sampled, he quoted a letter in Radio World about Cam-D. He engages readers in editorials and demonstrations on technology, such as how to select a loop antenna.
In the past, stories were sent on reel tape or cassette; now most editors use FTP. The program is distributed on cassette, although you can sample programs in Real Audio online.
A ham and award-winning broadcaster, Vobbe is a vice president and chief operator for WLIO Television in Lima, Ohio, and a communications officer for the Allen County Emergency Management Office. He is co — chairman of the Lima — Allen County EAS District and has volunteered for numerous community organizations. He collects oldies music and restores recordings of radio jingles and production.
He has interviewed people from Wolfman Jack to Mike Dorrough. His favorites include Leonard Kahn, who spoke about AM transmission, distortion and fade, and Dave Graupner of TM/Century, “because the jingle business is such a mystery to people, and probably the most misunderstood by the new broadcasters in the industry.”
He recalls working with large multi-directional AM antenna arrays, like that of WLQV on 1500 kHz in Detroit – nine towers, 50 kW by day; 12 towers with 5 kW at night. He worked at WTUU in Toledo and several other stations in Ohio and Michigan. He has been an operations manager and announcer in several markets and did an announcing stint with jingle company William B. Tanner.
More people would subscribe to the DX Audio Service if the word got out, Vobbe feels. “New subscribers … often comment, ‘I wish I would have known about you guys years ago.'”
To learn more, visit www.nrcdxas.org.