I Told You The Ionosphere Is Strange

I’ve posted here several times stating that radio propagation has changed since the way it was when I was younger. I did not know and do not know fully what is responsible for that change, but clearly there has been change.

Now an article in Science Daily entitled, “Boundary Between Earth’s Upper Atmosphere And Space Has Moved To Extraordinarily Low Altitudes, NASA Instruments Document“, confirms that the Ionosphere has changed. It is lower than it used to be.

For the record, I believe the title of this article is scientifically horrid; there is no “boundary” between the Earth’s upper atmosphere and space. The atmosphere is a gas, and it gets progressively thinner as you move away from the planet. The definition of the boundary is arbitrary, at some “pressure” one can call that the boundary, but at what pressure you decide to do that is arbitrary.

There are many factors affecting the upper atmosphere and how “inflated” it is, but the largest is probably extreme UV from the Sun which is absorbed in the upper atmosphere heating and expanding it. The last solar cycle was the most intense on record, and then ended and a new one really has not started. There is indication that a magnetic reversal has happened, but so far there has only been a sparse very short lived sun spot every now and then, nothing like a normal solar cycle.

There are other factors as well. The Earth’s own magnetic field is weakening. How much of this relates to any internal dynamo action and how much relates to changes in the solar flux is hard to say. The interaction between the solar wind and internal sources is extremely complex.

The strength of the Earth’s magnetic field determines the latitude that cosmic rays and solar particles enter the atmosphere. When the field is strong, they enter in very concentrated zones near the poles, when the field is weaker these particles can enter farther from the poles. In the last 100 years, the average latitude that these particles enter the atmosphere has shifted towards the equator by about ten degrees.

The long term nature of this shift suggests more of an internal, change in the Earth’s dynamo, cause. One effect of this shift is to shift rainfall patterns to some degree because these high energy charged particles create ionized paths that serve as condensation points where raindrops can start to form.

Then there are changes in atmospheric chemistry. We’ve added additional carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, halides, and other sulfur.

And then there is the intentional manipulation of the ionosphere with HAARP and similar projects around the globe.

So I’m not going to pretend to understand the relative impact of each factor, but clearly our atmosphere and ionosphere are changing.

Cell Tower Safety

Since I published the article regarding cellular site safety issues, I’ve received much e-mail and comments on the subject, most of which is highly paranoid. People here the word radiation and think “nuclear”, but not all radiation is bad radiation, sunlight and all radio and television signals are radiation. These are quite distinct from nuclear radiation in that they are non-ionizing.

Radiation that is harmful has to have some physical effect on the body such as ionizing atoms in our body, which makes them reactive, or damaging DNA, or interfering with the ability of ions to transverse ion channels in our cells walls, or by causing thermal or electrical effects that disrupt normal metabolic activity.

At low power levels, cell phone radiation does none of these things, but at higher levels, thermal effects and effects on the electrical activity within the central nervous system can manifest and cause a variety of problems up to cancer and central nervous system problems. These power levels are normally only possible if you are in the same plain as the antenna and within 35 feet, and the effects can be cumulative, the longer the exposure the greater the risk. Cell sites are supposed to be designed and sited to avoid these conditions.

I received e-mail that described a situation which involved a telephone pole mounted cell site with the antenna at the same height as the bedroom window of a nearby house and the distance from the antenna was less than 35 feet from the bedroom.

This is a situation where there is a legitimate concern. The antennas used for cellular sites are highly directional in the vertical plain.

The energy they radiate is focused in a plain at their height. This means you are safe if you are significantly higher or lower than the antenna or more than about 35 feet away.

But if you are at the same high as the antenna and less than 35 feet away, and particularly if you are going to be in that location for long periods of time, as in the case of a bedroom, this is not a safe situation.

In this case I would file a complaint with the FCC and the company involved making it clear that this creates an unsafe condition and asking that they either relocate the cell site or raise the antenna above the height of the bedrooms to resolve the issue.

If you can not stop the installation at the bedroom height that close to your house, then I would look into adding some RF shielding in the walls. You can buy brass or copper screening that would be effective, or copper foil, but these things are expensive.

This is a situation where the home owner really has a legitimate complaint but proving it might be expensive. That is to say, the FCC may not send out a field engineer to take measurements, instead they may require that you hire an engineer to do so. But then if you are forced into this, I would make it clear to the telephone company up front that you intend to do whatever is necessary and take legal action to recover your costs from them in hopes it might persuade them that it would be more cost effective to take action voluntarily. Alternately, they could pay the costs of installing the necessary shielding to assure the safety of the individual(s) sleeping in that bedroom.

Radio Programming Future

Eventually we will use ultra-wide spread-spectrum orthogonal frequency division multiplexing techniques for all wireless communications because this method utilizes spectrum and energy more efficiently.

We are moving in this direction with the evolving technologies of Internet wireless transmission, cellular networks, and digital radio and television. These will merge into one ultra-broadband wireless digital network.

You’ll listen to your favorite radio station, watch your favorite television program, interact on the Internet, talk on the phone, anywhere on the planet. Reliability will improve at lower power levels resulting in reduced levels of electromagnetic pollution and carbon dioxide.

There is a cloud to this silver lining. Greater channel capacity, providing the consumer with more choices results in fewer viewers per channel, lower revenue per channel, and lower quality programming.

The global reach of each channel compensates but you lose local relevance. Perhaps a situation will emerge in which quality draws a large enough audience to sustain itself.

As satellite and cable have made many more television channels available, we haven’t seen quality improve. Gone are theme songs. Real actors are replaced by Joe Average seeking glory on reality TV, which also eliminates the need for writers. Create an unreal situation and then let nature take it’s course. Writers can find work creating news.

Radio is moving towards greater use of automation, syndication, and lack of professionalism. Dead air, bad queues, and bad taste seem to be the norm. Recent ownership rules that allowing a single entity to own several hundred stations greatly reduces competition, diversity, and local relevance.

Expanded channel capacity is going to worsen these existing trends but will make narrowcasting practical. Finding specialized programming will become easier. Now you can take that radio proctocology coarse you’ve always wanted.

Advanced civilizations still using radio will have moved to this model because of the efficiencies. SETI is unlikely to be productive looking for narrow band carriers. A carrier is a waste of energy. Allocating tiny bits of spectrum to individual channels is a waste of spectrum. We’re not going to find ET on the radio unless we look at a broad bandwidth and spread spectrum encoding characteristics. I wonder if ET has found a way to address the program quality issues.

KNDD Enercom Kaplan

I’ve listened to KNDD 107.7 since they went on the air back in 1991. They are not my ideal. If it were up to me, I’d most definitely make changes. In terms of what is available from commercial broadcast stations in the Seattle area, they were the best.

Recently Enercom has replaced Lazlo as program director with Kaplan, an import from New Orleans. Harms is leaving for the UK. Lazlo has returned to Kansas (there’s no place like home). Since Harms and Lazlo shared the function of music director, someone else will need to assume that function. Even before the replacement of Lazlo, changes were made that I find objectionable.

One of the things I’ve always liked about KNDD is that KNDD has involved the audience. It’s not a one-way, or at least hasn’t been a one-way interaction. While their competitor, Jack FM (KJAQ) played established corporate crap, KNDD played new up and coming artists. The established artists KNDD does play are those that are clearly in it for the art first. When I hear Jack say, “We play what we want to”, my response is “And I listen to what I want to”. I promptly turn Jack off. I couldn’t resist the pun, it’s about only thing Jack is useful for.

At KNDD, audience interaction seemed to gradually decline over the years, until Lazlo came to Seattle. At that point it improved substantially. The Summer Beach House was a brilliant move, but they used it much more effectively last year. This year it received minimal promotion and there really didn’t seem to be many significant events. The energy that was there last year didn’t manifest this year.

This year much of the live local broadcasting has been replaced with automation and syndicated irrelevant garbage. I apologize in advance for those of you who actually like Adam Corolla. I found him funny for the first couple of weeks, and after that grating. His show is irrelevant to the local scene. People in Seattle want to know about what is happening in Seattle not what is happening in Los Angeles.

Impulse radio sucks. Given a chance to vote between three usually marginal songs is just stupid; it’s a poor excuse for audience interaction.

The Church of Lazlo show excelled with regard to interactively involving the audience. I did feel that Lazlo was not really deserving of the leading role, I found Slim Fast to be more entertaining. Still, I am sorry to see Lazlo leave, though I can catch him on the web at the Buzz back in Kansas. Their internet feed is excellent. The sound quality is much better than The End’s internet feed. That’s another thing KNDD needs to fix. In fact their entire website could be vastly improved and used much more effectively.

I’m not thrilled at substitution of music with some stupid talk shows like their love-line at night. It is so incredibly tacky. If it weren’t for the last two presidential elections, I could never have brought myself to believe there were people who were that stupid. I don’t see the benefit of putting them on the air.

KNDD’s intended demographic, which is geared towards young people not old farts like me, is under represented in Arbitron ratings by virtue of the fact that Arbitron relies heavily on telephone surveys which exclude cell phones and younger people tend to use cell phones to the exclusion of wired phones.

In my view KNDD should address that head on. Use their own medium to sell themselves and state that fact publicly. Challenge potential customers to try advertising on KNDD and track sales and compare sales performance with other stations. Offer them a heavily discounted trial package to allow them to make this comparison at low risk.

If KNDD did things right, audience station loyalty would contribute to advertising effectiveness and by extension, sales, but canceling popular shows and then offering no explanation to the audience is not the way to engender audience loyalty. Concentrate sales on local business that are relevant to the demographic and interesting.

I said KNDD was not my ideal, and I want to elaborate a bit on that. I loved the old Mexican border stations, not because I was fond of much of the music they played but the energy level of the stations. It was like life energy flowed out of their antennas. There were many aspects that contributed to that but the formula isn’t that difficult.

Hire people that actually enjoy what they’re doing. Many of KNDD’s staff sound like they hated to drag their asses into work, aren’t real thrilled with people, and are only mildly enthusiastic about the music. and it’s not what they say it’s how they say it. Seattle has a lot of excellent college radio stations, and they produce many good eager people looking for jobs in radio. People that are a lot more enthusiastic, a lot hungrier, and just more fun to listen to than people whining on the air about their lot in life. Hire some of these people.

Involve college radio station talent where they are. They are much more connected to the Seattle music scene than people who are “in the industry”. Set up a deal where you have a guest DJ from one of these stations for a portion of the air time at least twice a week. Within the limits permitted by the FCC, encourage them to introduce new music.

Get rid of dead air, absolutely eliminate it. This is a biggie on the Mexican border stations and I think it contributes strongly to keeping the audiences attention. No dead air, not for a millisecond, even during announcements. Use something to fill the space, if not background music, then some reverb, sound effects, etc, something so that silence does not happen. Hire people who can actually hit a queue. If they can’t queue out of song that ends hard and into another song that starts hard without dead air or overlap, find someone who can. That used to be considered an essential talent.

Don’t use a separate board-op and radio personality; it takes away a portion of control from the DJ making a coherent presentation of the program impossible. If they can’t operate the board, get someone who can.

I did a stint as a PD at a small AM station years ago. It was in financial trouble when I came in, but in two months we turned it around from losing money to making money. That was a low power AM, which is much more difficult with a music format than high power FM. They were too far in debt and too far behind so banks foreclosed even though we were able to make payments. It lasted long enough for me to know it’s a working formula. Involve the audience to the extreme, keep it exciting, and eliminate dead air. People want to relate to a human element that presents excitement and enthusiasm. It’s contagious and people want to be a part of that and they want to introduce their friends to that excitement.

The Beach House was a good move but it is under-utilized. Some larger events coordinated with the city with a tent and bandstand on the beach across the street could draw much larger crowds and be even more effective. Other radio stations have done that in the past.

Talk to some of the common local music venues like the Trolley Tavern, Blue Moon Tavern, Showbox, Crocodile Cafe. Arrange to broadcast live some of the better bands. The venue gets free advertising, the band gets increased exposure, and the listeners get some exciting live music and more opportunities to interact in person, and the station gets some additional exposure.

KNDD rules regarding the music I agree with except for the no-talk over rule. Replace it with a no-dead air, minimal talk-over depending upon the material, but absolutely no talk-over the lyrics ever, with the possible exception of the White Stripes or Beastie Boys, in that case, talk loudly over the entire piece though I’d eliminate the majority of Beastie Boys and White Stripes because all of their songs sound the same with only a few exceptions.

There are songs that have really cool intros that you don’t want to obscure; there are others that have eight identical boring bars before they get into interesting. The latter should be talked over, the former not. Dead air needs to eliminated. It only takes about a second for someone to decide to hit the change button but people are reluctant to do so when there is sound. Tom Shane commercials, NO NO NO!

Spell out to advertisers, if they’re producing their own commercials, they have to fit the format, no dead air; no droning, (Tom I’m talking about you), no droning, no monotonous please kill me droning. If you really do things right, station loyalty will contribute to advertising effectiveness and by extension sales.

That’s my two cents worth regarding KNDD’s replacement of Lazlo with Kaplan and recent trends there. I hope things get better but I’d be lying big time if I thought I could say I felt optimistic.

Future of Radio, Television, Telephony, Internet

In the present day most of our transmissions are discrete units where the signal corresponds directly with an information path. An AM station transmits a program, and FM station transmits a program, a TV station transmits an audio and visual program.

Gradually we are seeing a trend towards the breakdown of this 1:1 relationship in favor of a continuous digital RF media and multiple multiplexed information channels. Cell phone networks, WiFi, and WiMax networks are examples of this.

The availability of spread-spectrum technologies and orthogonal frequency division modulation technologies made it possible for multiple transmitters to share spectral space and to transmit and extract information even when noise actually exceeds signal.

We are seeing AM, FM, and TV stations move to digital transmission and virtually all of the new digital systems use a orthogonal frequency division modulation techniques because of the noise immunity and lack of susceptibility to rapid fading that the technique provides.

We are seeing multiple information channels being multiplexed onto these AM, FM, and TV digital signals just as with cellular and WiMax capability.

As the demand for faster transmission rates and the availability of faster and faster digital signal processors capable of encoding those rates continues, the bandwidth of each transmitted signal widens.

We will see the end of the discrete 1:1 information flow to transmitted signal disappear entirely for terrestrial transmissions. Eventually the special purpose nature of various transmissions will disappear and we’ll end up with ultra wide broadband networks with virtually all communications multiplexed onto those networks.

The digital bandwidth available will eventually eliminate the need for nodes to be wired together, they’ll start routing information between themselves directly. Smart routing will be developed that will find optimal routes on the fly allowing nodes to be added / dropped at random with no effect on service, automatic hand-off will allow information streams to follow moving targets as with present day cellular.

This sort of infrastructure is inevitable because it will make the most efficient use of bandwidth and power while providing almost infinite functional flexibility.

Devices will be less inclined to have significant data storage, instead, you’ll access data over the network from a centralized location. This will greatly increase interoperability between devices as well as facilitate communications between people.

There are going to be challenges, organizational issues, who owns what when any given node will carry anybodies and everybodies traffic of all kinds?

Privacy, any veil of privacy is going to disappear. Privacy itself has already disappeared, the current administration demonstrated that it’s OK to completely ignore the constitution when it comes to unreasonable search and seizure and it’s implications for domestic spying. Privacy is already gone.

We’ll be able to use our electronic gadgets everywhere, that will be another assault on personal privacy because virtually everywhere there will be laptops with built-in cameras, cell-phone with built-in cameras. However, strong end-to-end encryption will become indispensable. It will need to be based upon something other than factoring the product of large primes because quantum computers will render that task trivial, unless advances in number theory does so first.

The media center in your home and car will no longer tune stations that occupy certain frequencies, instead it will tune addresses. Narrowcasting will largely replace broadcasting.

The ubiquitous nature of this new ultra-broadband everything media will not lend itself well to respecting national borders and this is going to change the nature of governments as well as society greatly.

One social aspect I see coming is that the total lack of privacy will lead us to the recognition that nobody is without sin in a social sense at least, and perhaps that will force laws to be brought more inline with our true nature, what we are, as opposed to what we like to pretend we are, and the need to jail 2% of our population will go away, and hopefully a fair amount of the current social hippocracy .

It’s going to be an interesting experiment, if we manage to survive the current era so that it can unfold.

Virtenna

Virtenna (at http://www.virtenna.com/) is kind of a virtual internet tuner. You select a city and then you can select from various radio and television stations in that city to listen to or watch.

It’s a neat idea, easy to use, but the downside is that right now it only lists a handful of major cities around the world. If it were made more comprehensive it would be an incredible service.

Radio Heritage Foundation

I received e-mail from the Radio Heritage Foundation and after taking a look at their website decided it was a resource that was worthy of mention. I’ve added it to the resources on the right column under Radio History.

This site is rich with material covering history, current events, pirate radio, foreign radio, all with a substantial degree of depth. Many very cool photographs and much in depth information. I’d write more about it but am pressed for time at the moment; however, let me assure you that this site will keep you entertained and informed for many hours.

Rainier Radio

I received e-mail today from one of my early partners in bootleg and then later legitimate radio informing me of a new website that has been created by the Seattle community colleges that has a lot of interesting radio history for the Pacific Northwest.

There are jingles for various local radio stations including KAYO, KJRB, KJR, many classical radio shows, old mysteries and other radio drama.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of 60’s era regular radio shows on stations like KJR and KOL, a lot of radio checks from various DJ’s but not full programs.

They’ve also got a streaming online station you can listen to as well as many photos.

For being new though there is a wealth of material there and hopefully more will come as it evolves. Enjoy!

Cell Phone and Cell Tower Safety

I continue to receive e-mail from folks who are concerned about cell phone and cell tower safety.

It is my position that cell towers do not represent a safety risk, at least in so much as the RF radiation from them being a health hazard is concerned. I do believe that modern hand held cell phones, which operate with a maximum power of 100mw but typically much less than that, pose a very minimal but non-zero risk, and that the older 3 watt and 5 watt units were a significant health risk.

Regarding risks posed by cell towers, you may wish to read this article entitled, “Health Symptoms Aren’t Linked to Cell Tower Emissions, Study Finds…” in Science Daily.

I’ve added a new section to the sidebar links with related information, and in particular there is a new link to this FCC Website, “Human Exposure To Radio Frequency Fields from Cellular and PCS Transmitters“.

It may seem odd that I’d take a position that cell towers are not harmful, whereas cell phones may pose some health risks, but the reason is very simple. RF fields decrease rapidly with increasing distance from the emitter. You hold a cell phone up to the side of your skull where there are only a few millimeters from your cell phone antenna to your brain. But it is unlikely you will get any closer than tens of meters to a cell tower antenna. In short, the exposure you will receive from a cell phone that you use will exceed that from a tower by a factor of thousands.

If you really want to get excited about RF fields, I’d be much more concerned about these things in this order, HAARP (High Active Aurora Research Program), high power RADAR, UHF television stations, VHF television stations, FM stations, AC wiring in your house, CRT televisions and computer monitors, AC above ground transmission lines, ULF submarine communications systems.

What all of these things have in common is that they either operate at power levels that are high enough to have thermal effects on people close to them, or they operate on frequencies that are low enough to cause ion transport issues across cell walls, both of which are known mechanisms that can induce cancer and other health problems. HAARP has the unique distinction of having both of these properties making it a double threat to health.

With respect to cell phones and cell towers, what I would really like to find are recent large scale studies that attempt to analyze statistical correlations between living in proximity to cell towers and health issues, and studies that do the same for cell phone usage. My hunch is that no health issues will be related to cell towers, save maybe for one falling and injuring someone physically, but that there may be some issues with heavy uses of cell phones although I don’t expect that to be significant. But I’m really interested in actual numbers rather than conjecture and sensationalistic crapolla.

One issue to be aware of is that when you read of long term studies finding risks, and those are studies that go back ten years or more; you are getting into an era when high powered, as much as five watt, handsets were used that did cause thermal effects, and it is not at all surprising to me that those sets did cause significant health issues.

Stupid Radio Commercials

Last night I found myself I wish I could secretly break-in to KVI 570 and replace their stupid commercials.

Listening to coast-to-coast and when it ended a commercial…

Men… Are you finding that you are urinating more frequently?

Do you sometimes wake-up at night to urinate?

Now be honest, how’s your sex life been lately?

Super-beta prostate contains 10,000 times the active ingredient found in Saw Palmetto… yada yada yada..

Anyway, I’d add a testimonial, I mean what’s more effective than a testimonial?

“Hi, My name is Ivan P. Freely. Lately I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night to urinate and so I decided to try Super-Beta-Prostate.

Boy did it work! The sex that night was fantastic.. And now I sleep like a log, no more getting up at night to urinate.

Unfortunately, that night was the last night I had sex, seems the wife has problems with the no more getting up at night to urinate. She much preferred that I woke up and got up first.

Seems to me like this era is a almost like a century ago with all the snake oil being pedaled.