Tag Archives: radio

Sampling Dollar Radio’s History

One of the properties threatened by this winter’s bluff erosion event is the historic site of Mussel Rock, 6XBB / KTK: Dollar Radio (Dollaradio), an early radio communication site with many notable “firsts” in communications with ships in the Pacific. Long time owner Joan Levin is urgently seeking financial help for her historic home. Dollar Radio is located just north of the Pacific View Villas condo complex on Palmetto Ave. How historic is Dollar Radio?

Dollar Radio played a meaningful role in a number of historic events. Here is some information about just three of them.

  • Admiral Byrd South Pole Expedition
  • Electronic warfare with the Japanese before Pearl Harbor
  • Submarine Attack

Admiral Byrd South Pole Expedition

The three radio towers at Little America, 1929, Richard E. Byrd Papers, #7801_15.

From the Maritime Radio Historical Society, The Robert Dollar Story, Part 1 – By Edward Prather:

Admiral Richard E. Byrd took H & K equipment on his expedition to the South Pole in 1929. After he reached Little America, and set up his radio station 30 feet below the snow, he began communication with the Dollaradio station at Mussel Rock. Night after night the operator on duty would copy material from Admiral Byrd for relay to the New York Times for publication in the morning newspaper.


Electronic warfare with the Japanese before Pearl Harbor

The Dollar Radio site operated as station KTK before World War II, and one occasion deliberately interfered with a Japanese transmission.

Communication Intelligence Summary, 21 October, 1941 

General. — Traffic volume returned to about normal today. There was no
dummy messages in the TOKYO broadcast. Last night this TOKYO to Fleet
Circuit was interfered with by station KTK (Mussel Rock, California, Globe
Wireless). This interference also bothered the Japanese for TOKYO shifted
his frequency down 10 Kcs. to avoid it.

Source: Pearl Harbor attack : hearings before the Joint Committee on the investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack, Congress of the United States, Seventy-ninth Congress, first session, pursuant to S. Con. Res. 27, 79th Congress, a concurrent resolution authorizing an investigation of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and events and circumstances relating thereto .. (1946). Archive.org link.

Submarine Attack

Japanese RO-33 submarine. Date unknown, but before 1942. Source N. Polmar, D. Carpenter. Submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1904—1945. — Conway Maritime Press, 1986

FROM: Radio Spies, Bart Lee, 2002, 2006, page 76:

On December 7, 1941, the radiomen at KFS heard, on 500 khz, the signal for submarine spotted (SSSS SSSS SSSS) then an S O S, then silence. Globe Wireless operators at KTK, at nearby Mussel Rock in Pacifica, also took the traffic. The ether thus carried some of the first signals of America’s Pacific war.

For a complete chronology and links to many more photos see Evacuation underway at 330 Esplanade:


See all of my pictures of the Esplanade crisis:


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Don’t Confuse The “Music Industry” With The “Record Industry”

From musicthinktank.com What are the ‘Music Industries’?

The term ‘music industry’ is a misnomer. In reality the ‘music industry’ is not one industry, it is several independent industries. This is an important distinction because if we say that there is a “crisis in the music industry” it suggests an equal amount of misfortune for everyone (musicians, the recording industry, the live-music industry, Internet radio, etc.) and in fact this not true. Misuse of the term ‘music industry’ distorts the reality of the situation. For example…

Read the rest of the article for a good argument against using the term “music industry”.

Is the music industry in trouble? Yes, but only if you conflate “major label” with “music industry”. Likewise is radio in trouble? And again the answer seems to be “yes” if you really mean radio consolidators like Clear Channel or Cumulus.

In reality I think it’s easier than it has ever been for musicians to find an audience and get heard. I also don’t think it’s any harder than it ever was to make money as a musician – – it’s still just this side of impossible!

As far as radio goes NPR and news / talk radio point the way to profitability: relevance and audience engagement. Local content for a local community, and a web strategy that’s central to the station’s presence and not just a live stream. For music radio there’s a fantastic experiment going on right now in our (San Francisco) market at Live 105:

Jelli radio SUNDAYS 10pm – Midnight: Be a part of 100% listener-controlled radio. No suits. No DJs. No kidding. You decide what plays on LIVE 105 on Sunday nights. Use the web to control the airwaves…

(Link to musicthinktank.com from the excellent “music 2.0” informative blog hypebot Don’t Confuse The “Music Industry” With The “Record Industry”.)

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HD Radio for $35 – Who Cares?

MightyHD Pocket Radio

MightyHD Pocket Radio

I’ve avoided buying any gear with an HD Radio receiver for some years. Sometimes it’s even getting to be a chore to avoid HD Radio, as with the many new internet radios that seem to have it by default. On the one hand, I objected to what appeared to be an attempt to make me pay a second time for a service – radio – that I was already mostly happy with. On the other hand, HD Radio failed to address the growing problems I’d seen in radio for years: homogeneity, loss of a local focus, too much advertising, BORINGNESS.

It was easy to reject HD Radio in part because it was expensive but today Eric Rhoads, a fantastic radio journalist, posted a link to a $35 HD Radio at www.mightyredhd.com. What can I say… I was opposed to HD Radio without ever listening for any extended period of time, but for 35 bucks why not? So I ordered one and we’ll see how much it sucks, or not.

Actually, I hope I like it!

The thing is, I love radio. From the time I was a kid and listened to late night talker Jean Shepherd (web and podcast) on WOR NY on a little AM transistor under my pillow after “lights out,” through short stints as a DJ during high school and college, on to today DX-ing on shortwave and internet-attached scanners, I am a big radio nerd. I did and still do love radio.

HD Radio – A solution to the wrong problem

I will always enjoy radio for the personalities and music and local information, but as far as I can tell HD Radio was a solution to radio-station owners’ problems. Not listeners’ problems, and that’s a Bad Thing.

The radio business sought to upgrade itself to digital starting back in the ’80s, in large part to fend off the threat posed by satellite radio. This coalesced in 2002 into a technology system called HD Radio (wikipedia). HD Radio claims higher quality sound, song names on the radio’s display like an iPod, and more choice / stations. Other than the song names (which I already had with RDS-enabled receivers), the other benefits are at least debatable. Critics have credible and serious problems with HD Radio, and overall neither stations nor radios have had much if any success (Pushing the Rock Up the Hill, WSJ).

While the radio business was right about being threatened, it wasn’t by satellite radio but by the internet and more specifically iTunes and iPods. Radio’s response was to double down on their radio-as-commodity business model with ever-larger holding companies and fewer and fewer independently owned stations (for example). I never listened much to most profitable and widely heard morning shows like drive-time funny guys / shock jocks like Howard Stern or Bill Webster (KFOG here in San Francisco), so it came as surprise to learn that more and more of these shows are syndicated from out of state.

How amazingly tone deaf – radio trying to save itself by reducing its costs rather than increasing its value. By focusing on cost and “reusing content” radio managed to make itself largely indistinguishable from what I can get on Pandora or an iTunes genius play list. The few over-the-air stations I still listen to are opposite of that! KQED, KFOG, KDFC, KCSM and at last KPIG. The formats vary (NPR, adult album alternative, classical, jazz, americana / folk) but all offer music-related news about my area. New music from artists I like, or might like. News and information about my area. Visibility and interaction with my community.

Radio to care about

I listen to these stations because I need to in order to hear music I’ll like, learn stuff I need to know, to be a participant in the community at large. The community I care about after I turn the radio off.

With any luck the MightyHD radio will be a cool gadget: it’ll work, some stations will sound good, and the batteries will last. And with a lot of hard work and luck radio industry people like Eric Rhoades and Mark Ramsey (who wrote a great overview The Premature Death of HD Radio), radio in a form that works can survive. And I do care about that.

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