DX-ing #atozchallenge

One year for Christmas I got a Zenith Royal 790 Super Navigator radio that had three bands on it, longwave, medium wave (the standard AM band), and shortwave. It was a great radio, although I was never able to get anything on shortwave (then again, I probably should have tried staying up late) and most of what I got on longwave were Morse code transmissions.

One summer night, I decided to try expanding my horizons beyond WLS, WCFL, and WMAQ (the station where White Sox and Loyola basketball games were broadcast) and started slowly advancing the tuning knob until I found something. As you can probably imagine, most of the “new” stations I found were Chicago-area stations, but out of nowhere, I found a baseball game: the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Houston Astros at the Astrodome. As the announcers talked a lot about the Reds, I figured out that this was a Cincinnati station, and it was: WLW at 700 kHz.

That was my introduction to broadcast DX-ing, the hobby of listening to radio broadcasts from cities other than your own, at a distance (which is what DX stands for, distance). The atmosphere helps a lot with it, especially during the summer: AM radio waves “skip” off the ionosphere and come down miles away, where they can be picked up by a standard radio. Depending on the strength of the station’s signal and the weather conditions, they might be heard hundreds of miles away. It’s not unheard of that a listener in California is able to pick up a broadcast from a station east of the Rocky Mountains.

The easy stations to try and hear are the clear-channel stations, North American stations that broadcast a signal of 50,000 watts. They’re called Class A stations and are protected as much as possible from interference from other stations that broadcast at those frequencies. So, a station at 890 kHz will either drop its power to 1000 watts or use a directional antenna to avoid interfering with WLS in Chicago, which is a Class A station with 50,000 watts of power. There’s a whole list of the Class A stations in the US, Canada and Mexico here.

I wasn’t a fanatic about broadcast DX-ing, but there are some people who go out of their way to try and hear as many stations as they can. When they find a station, they’ll send a letter to the station to tell them they heard their broadcast, along with what time they heard it and what they were playing or talking about then so the station can confirm that the person had actually received the broadcast, and then send the listener a QSL card, a confirmation that they had really heard them.

A QSL card from Jerry Dee at KXEL radio in Waterloo, Iowa (source: Wikipedia, public domain)

The most common forms of DX-ing are broadcast DX-ing on the AM dial or shortwave DX-ing, because AM radio waves used by short-, medium and long-wave stations propagate the best, but there are some hardy souls that attempt to pick up FM radio broadcasts or TV broadcasts (though I’m not sure how the move to digital TV affects that) from cities a couple of hundred miles away.


Incidentally, DX was also the name of a chain of gasoline stations, mostly in the Midwest, that was owned by Sun Oil Company (better known as Sunoco). Their gasoline contained boron (remember that?), which evidently helps car engines run better. Since I’m a sucker for old TV commercials, here are several of them for DX service stations.

This last one features the veteran character actor Jesse White, who was known for years as the Maytag repairman. He pops up a lot on vintage TV shows.

Dactylic #atozchallenge

dactylic

We have lots of poets hanging around here, so this is probably second nature to y’all. It has to do with meter, the basic rhythmic structure of a poem. I could never get this right, okay?

Anyway…

The basic unit of measure in meter is a foot. A foot in this instance represents the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. The most common foot in English is the iamb, a short syllable followed by a long one. Shakespeare knew all about the iamb, because all of his sonnets were written in iambic pentameter, in other words, five iambs per line, ten syllables in total per line. Here are the first four lines of my favorite sonnet, #130, “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun,” with stress marked.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

Easy peasy, right?

Now, other languages, specifically Latin and Greek, make it a little harder. Their poetry, such as Ovid’s Pyramus et Thisbe, Vergil’s Aeneid, or Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, are written in dactylic hexameter. A dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short ones. All well and good, right?

EXCEPT, a line of dactylic hexameter has two different kinds of feet, the dactyl and the spondee, which is two long syllables, and they’re mixed up. In music terms, a dactyl is a quarter note followed by two eighth notes, while a spondee is two quarter notes. So the feet are all the same length, but you have to figure out which are the long and short syllables.

The first indication I was going to have trouble with this was when I had to figure this out with the Aeneid. I was given this and told to scan it, i.e. mark the syllables.

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris

I was completely lost. Then, I was looking through the Latin textbook and landed on the key to the whole thing: “The first foot is always a dactyl, the last foot is always a spondee, and the next-to-last foot is almost always a dactyl.”

So now, it becomes a math problem. I count the number of syllables in a line, figure the first three are a dactyl, the last two are a spondee, the three before the last two are another dactyl, then I just have to figure out how to split the rest up. There are fifteen syllables, the first three are a dactyl, the last two are a spondee, the next to last is most likely a dactyl. That’s 15 – 3 – 2 – 3 = 7, so I know there’s another dactyl and two more spondees. And I’m right:

Arma vir | umque ca | no, Troi | ae qui | primus ab | or is

Still got a C in the class, which was good enough to pass…

Deep Dive #atozchallenge

DEEP DIVE

Yesterday’s post on CONELRAD is a perfect example of a deep dive, which according to the Online Slang Dictionary is “an in-depth exploration.” Probably not what you expected during the A to Z Challenge, but I’m just full of surprises.

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I think everyone has topics that they really want to get into. Mine are baseball, music, broadcast history, and probably a few others which I can’t think of right now. How about you? What are the topics you want to make a deep dive into?

#atozchallenge: Dramedy

dramedy =
drama + comedy

 

A dramedy is a TV series that’s basically a drama, but has elements of a comedy. The term was coined in the 1980’s when many dramatic shows started adding elements of comedy. A good example is the long running series JAG, which starred David James Elliott and Catherine Bell as judge advocates in the US Navy. There was plenty of courtroom drama and investigation, but there was usually a second story line that was a little more light-hearted and provided comic relief. The spin-offs from that show, the NCIS family, are more good examples. More recently, The Mysteries of Laura starring Debra Messing and Hawaii Five-O, starrring Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, employ a good deal of humor along with the action.

Which shows do you watch that you would consider dramedys?

D

Diamond (#atozchallenge)

diamond
Source: globe-views.com

Subject a lump of coal to sufficient pressure and heat, and it becomes a diamond. Okay, that’s a little simplistic, but really, a diamond is nothing more than carbon. It’s the hardest known mineral as measured by the Mohs Scale of mineral hardness, and will cut glass and just about anything else you use them on. They’re also very precious, and can be very expensive, depending on four factors: color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. They are, as Marilyn Monroe sang, “a girl’s best friend,” and they are the birthstone of people born this month, such as Mary.

Certain diamonds, known as “blood diamonds,” are mined in war zones and sold to finance those wars or the warlords that sell them. Many come from Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and other African nations.

But, there are lots of other kinds of diamonds. A few of my classmates had a surname of Diamond, including two of my friends, both of whom were named Mark Diamond. And they were in a lot of classes together, which meant they had to find a way to distinguish each other. Finally, one of them went by “Mort,” and all was well. Other Diamonds include Dustin Diamond, who played Screech on “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” which evolved into “Saved by the Bell,” of which he was also a star, and Selma Diamond, who played Selma Hacker, one of the bailiffs on TV’s “Night Court” during its first two seasons, who, sadly, died of lung cancer in 1985. She had an impressive resume, as both an actress and a writer, and was the inspiration for the character of Sally Rogers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

200px-French_suits.svg
Clockwise from upper left: Spades, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds (source: f l a n k e r, Wikimedia, released into public domain.)

Diamonds are a suit of playing cards as well, at least in the standard (French) 52-card deck we’re all familiar with. The King, Queen, and Jack of diamonds (called the “court cards”) represent Julius Caesar, Rachel (the wife of Jacob from the Bible), and Hector from Greek mythology. In contract bridge, Diamonds are the third-highest rank of the suits, behind Spades and Hearts but ahead of Clubs.

Baseball_diamond_clean
Baseball diamond (source: Wikimedia Commons)

And, of course, there are baseball diamonds. A baseball diamond is a square, 90 feet on each side. At each corner is a base, one of which is home plate, a pentagonal piece of hard rubber, at which the batter stands. Players score runs by making a full circuit of the bases (first, second, third, and home) before their team makes three outs. The pitcher stands on a hill in more or less the middle of the diamond, 60 feet and six inches from home plate, and throws the ball to the catcher, positioned behind home plate, trying to get the batter, standing in a box next to home plate, to swing and miss at the ball, or to hit it to one of the fielders… yes, it’s a complicated game and I’m just making it worse.

So, as you can see, there are all kinds of diamonds out there…