Results tagged “Radio”

Bootleg Youth Radio

Popular Electronics January 1972 Page 114

From the "Television Scene" column by Forest H. Belt

While you read, here's some acid rock, as might have been heard on youth radio at the time, to set the mood

Bootleg Youth Radio

Traveling through a certain city not long ago I tuned across the AM dial on my car radio. I picked up a youthful-sounding announcer saying, "This is Radio Free --town." Then some noisy switching and bumping was followed by a 20-minute run of heavy acid rock. Then there were 10 minutes of youthful ranting against some unnamed annoyances presumably caused by "the establishment."

The signal was weak, but it covered a couple square miles. There was no other station ident. I had stumbled across a recent fad--the illegal broadcasting station.

Kids set up little oscillators with a mike and broadcast around their neighborhoods. They play off-beat music for their friends, often on records some cooperating store loaned then in return for mention "on the air." All too often, they get outside the law, intentionally or not. They have a too-long antenna, high power, and a lack of technical knowledge. Any of these can lead them to interfere with legitimate broadcasters, and put the kids afoul of Federal law. Sometimes, these experimenters exploit their medium with vocal vulgarity and lewd songs and verse. These are legal violations, too. Some almost comically fill the air with pseudo-political mouthings of philosophical ideologies they don't even understand.

Not every neighborhood operation is illegal. The fine line is drawn in Part 15 of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rules and Regulations. If "transmitter" power is no greater than 100 milliwatts (0.1 watt), and the antenna no longer than 10 feet, there's no violation of the law unless profanity is used.

But distance is limited. The tenth-watt of power can only reach a block or less. So a few youngsters who don't know the legalities (or don't care) set about widening their audience. A longer antenna usually comes first, then extra power. One such illegal station ran 100 watts on the AM band. Another fed 60 watts of FM into a whip antenna.

Neither station was in any way legal. The illegitimate operators stood to incur penalties up to $10,000 and a year in prison. One FCC engineer says these operations are only occasional, but they're easy to track down. The risk is steep for a little "in" music or the "privilege" of broadcasting obscenities to an unknown and fragmentary audience.

I've read other descriptions of bootleg radio from this time period, usually just amounting to a paragraph in a radio/TV column, but this was fairly detailed, likely because he actually heard one of the stations, and he did more research because Popular Electronics was a technical magazine.

One of the transmitters Youth Radio enthusiasts would have used is this Knight Radio Broadcaster, a popular kit in the 1960s.

Knight "Phono Oscillator", 1963

This is a heavy transmitter for your heavy rock, at least by hobbyist standards. With 120 volts on the oscillator tube, it's possible that the output could hit 1 to 2 watts. When used with several feet of wire for an antenna indoors, the range was probably a few hundred feet or less, but the trick was to add a long piece of wire and run it outside. 50 feet of wire running out to a tree would make the transmitter sing, and it could give neighborhood coverage, and a ready audience of your friends from school.

The cost of the Knight Radio Broadcaster was $12.95 in 1963 dollars, and I checked with an inflation calculator which figured that would be $101 in 2017, so if your parents weren't rich, you'd have to deliver lots of newspapers to afford to broadcast, but oh what fun for you and your friends!

By the early 1970s, transistorized transmitters were introduced to hobbyists, and the power dropped dramatically.

Science Fair (Radio Shack) transistorized broadcaster kit 1971

This is a very simplistic transmitter kit, and note the range, 20 feet. Likely it had a 100th of the power of the tube kits, or less, just a whisper compared to what a rig like the Knight could do. I've never seen a commercially offered solid state kit that could get near the 100 milliwatt allowed power level; they all used low power germanium transistors, and advertised range to maybe 40 feet.

How could you mount an effective protest within 40 feet, and what would your youth protest be about, maybe your mom cooking eggplant Parmesan that night for dinner?

I liked little hobby broadcaster kits and still do, my first being a Radio Shack model, with a red base for the tuner and circuit, and a green box loop antenna that you had to wind yourself. It was pretty slick for a kid DJ, though in hindsight I'd have liked it more if these kits came with more flair, like a card with alphabet stickers so you could put your station's call letters on it and attach it to the transmitter prominently, and something like a 'Junior Broadcast License' that you could sign and put in technical features, like your station's broadcast power and frequency.

"Some fun, hey kid?!" - Tramp to Lady in Lady and the Tramp



WZUM to jazz today

After a few years as Pittsburgh's soul station, WZUM AM 1550 in Braddock switched to jazz at noon today, with Bill Hillgrove announcing. Here's their statement, transcribed on the air:

Welcome to the new WZUM from Pittsburgh Public Media. We're a group of ex-WDUQ staffers that started a new service when that station ended five years ago. Since then we've been working bit by bit to bring fulltime jazz service back to Pittsburgh. We started with the Pittsburgh Jazz Channel, online at, and then we went on the air on 88.1 FM WYZR, which can be heard in the Southern and Western suburbs of Pittsburgh. We've also been providing jazz to public radio stations nationwide, and we're the largest provider of 24//7 jazz in America.

Our hearts have always had a place for that special relationship with the listener members that enjoyed what we did in the past, and now we're starting to bring that back, first with this station, WZUM AM 1550, and in a few months a brand new FM station on 101.1. The FCC has approved it all, and now we need to build the FM station. The sooner we can get the funds in to build it, the sooner it's on the air, and we need you to help. We're an IRS 501-C3 charity, and operate WZUM noncommercially. Please donate today at, that's, it's safe and secure.

We're starting this venture in the most humble of ways, and with your help we can grow this service in a way you can depend on as you did before. We have a lot we want to do, community voices, live performances and more, but it only happens with your support. Please help with your donation to get to the next step, build the FM station. Support us now at Thanks.

My first recollection of AM 1550 was when they broadcast as WLOA, and my mother liked to listen to their 'beautiful music', sometime in the late 1960s-early '70s. 1550 has tried a number of other program concepts over the years, several varieties of music and talk, including being the Pittsburgh outlet for the Don and Mike Show in the 2000s, as 1550, The Edge.

The WZUM call letters were picked up when the station was in bankruptcy a few years ago, and was bought by the Pittsburgh team that had been managing its operation. They formed AM Guys LLC, who ran the station as a local, automated soul classics station. WZUM had been a popular Pittsburgh AM station from the 1960s, with soul and breaking album rock played by personality DJs.

Original WZUM promotional record bag, scan by Boomer (click for larger size)

I welcome our new jazz overlords and wish them well, and hope that the soul format and legacy of WZUM can return on another radio station. My hope is that with the new funding that they can improve the sound on 1550 and add AM stereo to the transmitter.

Here's their announcement at the time of the changeover to jazz.


X-15 and Boris

I was looking through an old box of papers, my Andy Worhol time capsules, and found this picture in local rock rag 'Rock Flash' from September 1989. They did a special about Russian rock with two articles, and this picture was at the end. I had to show this to my friend Ric from Cleveland, doubly so, as he's a fan of Randy California and Spirit.

X-15 Crew With Russian Rocker.jpg
AM 1510 Pittsburgh radio folk with Boris Grebenshikov

X-15 was a 'new rock' radio station from Monroeville PA at AM 1510. They were hampered from full city coverage by a 250 watt signal and an old transmitter, but reached East Pittsburgh pretty well. I remember their sound having a 'mushy' tonal quality to it. They only broadcast during the daylight hours.

Originally, we had a new wave / 'new music' station in early-to-mid-1980s at 100.7 FM. For the time it was surprisingly underground for a station in the commercial band, playing vintage punk rock, and were the first to play groups like the Pet Shop Boys when they had just come on the scene. 100.7 never had big ratings, but developed a 'cult following'. Were they the inmates from the asylum who were released and found their way to a radio station? That's what some people joked at the time, and it was a cool station.

When 100.7 changed format, there were a lot of dedicated listeners who had lost their music, so the owner of 1510 AM asked new music expert Bree 'Cheese' Freeman come in as program director and bring 100.7s format to AM, calling it WXVX, where new rock lasted for a few years, at least until the early 1990s, when the Seattle sound happened. Bree was a media teacher at Point Park College, so the 'gang at X-15' is probably all student DJs.

This all from my memory, but should be pretty much right. This was the last time punk DJs and an underground rock format was on commercial radio in Pittsburgh.