Radio Waves: 9/22/17

To the top (of the tower)

Radio transmitter towers can be quite high. The top of KFI’s (640 AM) tower was at one time 760 feet off the ground, before a small plane hit it, causing it to collapse. It is now “just” 654 feet tall.

Radio stations have it easy. Some television towers can be as tall as 1500 feet … or more. yet all towers must be equipped with a lighting system so that they are not — or are at least less of — a hazard to aircraft that may be in the area. The lights must be visible 24 hours per day as a safety measure.

It is quite impressive that these towers are built in the first place. But have you ever wondered what it is like to change one of those bulbs you see on a broadcast tower? Two videos give a glimpse into the work of a tower maintenance worker.

At, you can see someone climb to the top of a 1500 foot tower to change a bulb and — as is necessary now — take a selfie from the top. A drone is used to catch the footage.

Then at, a GoPro style camera is used to catch the climb of a 1768-foot high broadcast tower … again, to change a light bulb.

At the top of any tower you get a view like no other. A view I will never see personally as I am deathly afraid of heights. As one comment said, “there’s a job I will never do.” But from the safety of your own home, you can see it now. Take a look at the videos and tell me what you think. And if you’ve ever climbed one yourself – please write to tell me of your experience!

Woody Phone

In the heydays of top-40 radio, stations would ask for listeners to call in; a designated caller would be the winner. Usually it was random, though KIIS-FM often used “caller 102.7” (I assume rounded to 103) in its contests. Whether the station actually counted all of them or not, I am not sure. I do know that I was one of the counters when I interned at Magic 106 (now KPWR, 105.9 FM) … and we DID count the callers to find a winner. But I digress.

You really don’t hear stations running such call-in contests very often any more. The usual reason is that so many people today use phones more for texting than calling that call-in contests and such are old fashioned. Personally I believe it is because stations are too cheap to run contests. But again I digress.

Last week on Alt 98.7’s morning Woody Show much of one segment was taken up taking calls. In fact, it was more than one segment, as they stomped right over the commercial break to keep it going. Though it was not a contest, it was a great topic: “That Guy.” 

Listeners called in with descriptions of “that guy” (or girl) that annoys them. That guy who always has to be right. That girl who always works in something about her trip to Europe into the conversation. That guy who always dominates the conversation. On paper it may seem bland, but the bit was funny! Even my son glued to his phone was listening and laughing.

Misplaced Appeal

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, South Florida’s Sun Sentinel has joined the chorus of those asking smart phone companies such as Apple and Samsung to “turn on the FM switch” and allow people to receive FM signals on their phones.

“Smartphones contain an inner switch that lets them receive over-the-air analog signals from local radio stations,” said an editorial. They blame it on profit motives.

But there is a problem. Problems, actually. Technical and practical. Technically, yes, an FM receiver is included as part of some wifi chips sets. But – and this is important – there is no supporting hardware to make it actually work. No antenna, no tuner circuit … no way to make it work with a “flip” of a switch or a software update.

Secondly, even those phones that did have an FM radio in the past worked poorly. Reception was made through the headphone cable, and the result was that only the strongest stations could be heard. That’s why the supporting FM circuitry was removed.

Apple and others have been moving to wireless headphones, so reception has more recently been made virtually impossible in the newest models as well.

Want an emergency radio that only lasts a day … if that? That’s what you’re looking at. Power was off in many areas hit by a hurricane. Can’t charge your phone – lose your FM.

Finally, what good would FM be anyway? Most FM stations today don’t even have a DJ many hours of the day. In an emergency, who would give the news anyway? Oh, yeah the powerful AM station (locally it would be KFI or KNX) that can broadcast hundreds of miles and give real updates. An FM decoder on your phone won’t receive those AM broadcasts, as the phone’s internal chips create interference that wreaks havoc with AM reception.

So the editorial is misplaced at best. To be truly ready for an emergency, you need to have a real radio with a supply of fresh batteries. That will give you not just hours but weeks of radio play time. For the entire family, not just the one person with headphones.