Keeping Public Radio Public has a good one.

And the lame-stream press — how dare they be called the “liberal media”! — only parrot the script prepared by the puppet masters, as corporate “largesse” and control has turned the media into toothless old watchdogs. They make good company for the regulatory agencies once charged with protecting the public from the excesses of corporate greed. They’re good dogs now, too.

Exactly why independent media outlets are not just a nice feature of a democracy.  If one were to read the entire constitution of the United States, a theme, loosely known as “checks and balances” becomes apparent.  You could also call that theme “Trust Not.”  I recommend anyone who is interested in freedom read the Federalist Papers.  Even with the watered-down press, US Congress has a 9% (Rasmussen, April 2011) approval rating.  Surely, the public understands that something is amiss and needs to be fixed.

While the internet and new media are great, it is too easy to mess with the internet.  True independent media needs to have independent distribution, and not be beholden to corporate ISPs, search engines, data centers, and so forth.  Radio fits that bill, to the extent that it is not broadcasting homogenized safe, automated, faceless music formats programmed from afar or content from  The Borg-like collective of NPR.  Independent radio still exists in small pockets scattered here and there.  Where it exists, it often thrives in spite of corporate conglomerates.

Of course, consolidation has reduced the radio business to a shell of its former self.  The FCC has no interest in reigning in those corporations, or, so it seems, enforcing many of its own existing regulations.  Money talks, screw the public.

What is the answer?  Get involved. Don’t buy into the lies.  Use your God-given senses and do some research.  Draw your own conclusions.  Make noise.  Confront the corporatists with the facts.  Use every means possible to get the word out.  Write your representative or senator (after you register to vote).  Talk to co-workers, friends, family people on the street, etc.  It’s time, in fact, it’s now or never.

Blanketing Interference and RFI

Blanketing interference refers to the phenomenon of receiving radio signals on devices not designed to do so.  In broadcast radio, this is defined for AM stations in part 73.88 as:

The licensee of each broadcast station is required to satisfy all reasonable complaints of blanketing interference within the 1 V/m contour.

And for FM stations, it is part 73.318:

Areas adjacent to the transmitting antenna that receive a signal with a strength of 115 dBu (562 mV/m) or greater will be assumed to be blanketed.

Any interference to any device with that signal contour is blanketing interference.  73.318 further states that:

permittees or licensees who either (1) commence program tests, or (2) replace their antennas, or (3) request facilities modifications and are issued a new construction permit must satisfy all complaints of blanketing interference which are received by the station during a one year period.

I have always taken a more pragmatic approach to interference complaints.  Rather than pass the buck and tell the homeowner or business owner that it is not our (the radio station’s) problem, I’d go and try to help them out.  Generally speaking, the interference problems are close to the transmitter site, so on the next trip to that site, I would bring RFI filters and my 25 years of RF experience and solve the problem.  I would like to think this helps the station’s and the company’s image in the community.

Most of the problems are pretty easily solved, although once in a while, I have come on some head-scratchers.  An AM station playing on the outlets in a guy’s garage, the mic cords on a church PA system, and an off switch on a blender, off all things.  The Bare Naked Ladies had a line in the song Light up my Yard: “we can dance to the radio station that plays in our teeth.”

What I have found is to start with the simple stuff first, check the ground on the electrical service entrance panel.  One might be surprised to find it disconnected, corroded, or missing completely.  On more than one occasion, I fixed all of the RFI problems with a simple turn of the screw holding the ground wire to the grounding electrode.  In my experience, this is the most common single failure point.  A disconnected ground will cause the entire neutral wiring system to act like a giant AM antenna, with all sorts of bad outcomes.

RFI suppression ferrite
RFI suppression ferrite

Most often, telephone answering machines, cordless phones, and other devices powered by wall warts are suspect.  Those devices do not have a path to ground.  A few turns of all the wires coming and going from said device around a ferrite core such as a snap on TDK RFI EMI filter available from Mouser will take care of it.  Mouser has several different versions available.

Occasionally, one needs to put on a detective hat and do some footwork.  Mast mount TV antenna preamps can cause untold heartache and problems.  One such incident involved the second harmonic of an FM station falling exactly on channel 11’s audio frequency.  This was affecting several houses in a one-block area.  I finally found the problem at one of the complainant’s houses when I pulled the TV out and found the preamp power supply.  Unplugging it made all the problems go away (I hate Radio Shack).

Usually, the process of elimination will discover the problem and thereby reveal a solution.  The aforementioned church incident was discovered after I began unplugging microphone cords from the back of the Mackie mixer in the choir loft.  It turns out several mic lines were plugged into the back of the mixer, unused and unterminated, creating a large long receiving antenna on the cable shield, which happened to be aligned perfectly to pick up RF from an AM station.

Al Fansome, Call your office

Shortwave Pirate broadcasting has been going on for years.  While it is illegal to transmit radio signals without a license, it is not illegal to receive those signals.  There is something sort of sneaky like you are hearing something you shouldn’t, part of some underground thing, listening to these guys.  I am almost remiss to write something about it because I don’t want anyone to get into trouble.

Anyway, on any given day or night, pirate broadcasters roam the shortwave airwaves.  Much of what they do is typical sophomoric humor, such as playing a song where the only lyrics are “god damn you” over and over again.  Some of it can be somewhat entertaining.  A lot of what they tell as jokes are inside baseball, you have to listen and do a little research to get it, the Al Fansome reference is one.  There are no set times or frequencies.  It is quite common to hear one guy tuning up and getting ready to go on the air when the current frequency occupant signs off (happens often on 6925 KHz).

Most of these guys build their own transmitters based on designs found on various websites.  Power levels vary, but 10 to 50 watts is common.  Because of this, a good low-noise receiving antenna is required to pull them out of the noise floor.  I have used, with good success, a K9AY terminated loop antenna.  We are in a rural area, so it is pretty low noise to begin with.  Even so, the coverage with a 50-watt transmitter is remarkable when propagation conditions are good.  Sound quality can be quite good for a homemade AM transmitter.

There is a lot of focus on FM pirates these days, that particular setup is likely the easiest to attain for most non-technical types.  There are a few AM pirates floating about, those are likely the most difficult to construct and conceal once they are on the air.  Both of those broadcast bands have the advantage that there are many kits and or instructions on how to build a pretty good-sounding transmitter.  Shortwave seems to be a small cadre of dedicated hobbyists that simply like to fool around on the radio.

In any case, with the FCC stretched thin, it is unlikely that a SW pirate will be busted but not unheard of.   One SW pirate station was busted in Florida about a month ago.  Even so, that was the first one in almost five years.

For the most part, the activity seems to center between 6850 to 6970 KHz or so.  Some others operate around 15055 to 15070 KHz.  Here is a brief selection of what one might find on the SW pirate frequencies:

  • WHYP on 6925 USB “Who Wants To Be A Pirate Radio Operator” at 0156z.
  • WMPR on 6925 AM “This is WMPR Dancy Party” ID at 0040z.
  • Captain Morgan Shortwave Radio on 6925AM “Positive Captain Morgan Shortwave ID, email, and twilight zone theme at 2209z.
  • Radio Ronin Shortwave on 6950AM oriental-sounding interval signal, id at 01:04, Outer Limits intro, “She Blinded Me with Science”, strange version of “SOS”, anti-BP comedy skits, id at 01:19
  • Indira Calling  on 6925AM pop music that I can’t identify, “Rock-It”, Indian music, id at about 00:37, “Beach Party 2000” show, Calcutta mail drop, Beach Boys medley
  • WEAK Radio on 6925 Shout out to Voice Of Honor. 0048z “Godzilla” 0055z Sabbath.
  • Channel Z radio on 15067AM 2218z ID and contact info, must be an old show (Blue Ridge Summit maildrop)

And so on.  Those call signs are usually spoofs on something.  Occasionally, contact information is given out, usually in the form of a mail drop.  If so inclined, one might write a letter and receive a QSL card.

Radio Ronin QSL card
Radio Ronin QSL card

There is plenty of information floating around out there about shortwave pirate radio if one cares to look for it.  Two of the more popular discussion forums are HF underground and Free Radio Network Grapevines.

FCC authority to conduct warrentless searches of Private Property

FCC seal
FCC seal

I was this interesting tidbit on the Radio World website the other day.  The question is, how much authority does the FCC have to conduct a search of a private residence?   The Electronic Frontier Foundation wanted to know therefore they sent a FOIA request to the FCC seeking documents supporting this claimed authority.

The documents received seem to be redacted and some are mostly blank, such as the training module on how to obtain permission to enter private property is supposed to take 6 hours to complete, but consists of 3 paragraphs and 2 questions.  Hopefully, that is redacted and does not reflect on the quality of agents the FCC is employing these days.  The upshot seems to be the agent either needs a warrant or permission.

It may be surprising to some citizens, however, the FCC does have the authority to investigate radio signals, whether they are intentionally generated, as in a pirate broadcaster, or unintentionally generated, as in a piece of gear gone bad.

According to federal regulations, an FCC agent may request entry to inspect a private building anytime he/she believes there may be a device emitting radio frequency energy.  This includes anything with an FCC part 15 sticker, which can be computers, TV remote controls, garage door openers, WiFi network routers, etc.  This basically covers every house in the US as well as most businesses.  Those rules were written when most homes and businesses did not have any RF generating devices and there was little to indicate that they ever would.

The consequence of failure to allow an FCC field agent into a residence or business appears to be the issuance of a citation in the form of a threatening letter.  Continued intransigence would be met with a NAL (Notice of Apparent Liability) followed by a forfeiture notice also known as a fine.  The typical FCC fine these days seems to be $10,000.00.  If it is a repeated and willful violation, the equipment can be ceased and the perpetrator arrested.

In instances where the safety of life is in question, then every step necessary to disable the offending device needs to be taken.  Things like transmitters spurring into aircraft frequencies or TV antenna amplifiers running wide open, also interfering with aircraft frequencies come to mind.

One of the examples given details a field agent trying to track down a noisy cable TV amplifier.  From the FCC field agent’s perspective, the homeowner appears to be a royal pain in the ass.  In this day and age when everything has a computer and most of them generate RF, tracking down interference can be a painstaking process, especially where housing is dense.  Uncooperative homeowners, especially dumb ones, who have no idea what they have plugged in only make things worse.

Still, there is the issue of fourth amendment rights, which, if the above law was misinterpreted, misused, or applied with the wrong standard would likely be trampled.  In these days of extra-constitutional activity, giving Los Federales entry into one’s house might invite unwanted scrutiny by other agencies.  As far as changing the rules, with the current group of scoundrels and rouges in the legislative branch, one might end up with something ten times worse than before.