Brother Peter...On the Radio

The posting below is from the Facebook page of Peter Jones:

     Peter Jones

Peter P. Jones

January 11 at 10:44pm

LIFE LESSONS: In Amplitude Modulation (AM), the amplitude (signal strength) of a broadcasted carrier wave is varied in proportion to the waveform being transmitted. That waveform may correspond to the sounds to be reproduced by a loudspeaker. And, thus, AM radio works. This technique contrasts with Frequency Modulation (FM), in which the frequency of the carrier signal is varied. Not to go too deeply into the science of broadcasting, one consequence of using the AM spectrum is that in order to send a strong signal over short distances, a lot of power has to be behind the signal, hence, the "50,000 Watt mother" super AM radio stations. FM uses a broader bandwidth, varying the frequency of the wave and thereby more efficiently using the band and the sidebands. This packs more data in the signal. But, as a result of a number of factors, it also means not as much power is needed to transmit a signal with more info in it over the same distance as an AM signal. Therefore FM stations can broadcast a richer signal (sound) with a stereo effect (sidebands) then can AM stations, all while using a lot less power. But, the FM signal is only receivable in a "line of sight", and so for FM stations, the antenna height above average terrain was important.

The unique thing about AM signals, though, as opposed to FM signals was when the sun went down and the Ionosphere was not being energized by the sun, those "50,000 watt mothers" in Chicago, New York, LA, Boston, St Louis and all the major cities in the world, could bounce their signals off the Ionosphere and have them travel virtually around the world! So, at night, the AM radio band would come alive. And people in small towns in the Midwest of America or in the bush in Africa or the outback in Australia could go outside with their AM radios and if they were sensitive enough, and antennas long enough and the time was right, they could listen to radio stations from some of these distance cities....and let their imagination go on a journey.

For a small boy in Cairo Illinois, whose small house was filled with 9 brothers and sisters and two parents, going outside on the front porch was my opportunity to retreat into some peace and quiet! With my little transistor radio, I would seek to tune in ....the world. There was the King of them all - WLS "MusicRadio!" and WGN in Chicago....KXOK and KMOX in St. Louis...WBZ in Boston ... and WOR, WABC and WNBC in New York...and on a blue moon if the stars aligned properly, and the wind blew from the west.....ever so briefly....KFI in Los Angeles!

Radio filled a social space in my life before there was FaceBook! And somewhere, around the 10th grade, I decided that I should be on the radio. In a town with one radio station, that signed on at 6am and signed off at 10pm, this might seem as something of an outlandish decision. Especially since this was 1970 in a small southern town, going through race riots. There had only been one other black person on that station as an announcer. And he was an "adult". What would make a 16 year old boy, who had no announcing experience, think he had a chance?

"Balls!", said the Queen. "If I had em, I'd be King!"

And, so, one night, I wrote a letter. I wrote to the manager of the station. It was some letter saying I wanted to work there. I don't remember exactly what I said, how I said it, what I requested. I know that I sat down and wrote this letter. Put the address of the station on it, got my 5 cent stamp and sent it off. I didn't tell anyone in my family I was writing this letter...didn't ask their opinion or advice. I mailed it, and forgot about it.

Until about two weeks later, I got a phone call.

And, I was hired. I remember my first day on air alone: I was horrible (this was after about 2 months of sitting and watching how the "board" was operated). So bad, in fact, that the station manager made an emergency trip out to the station to settle me down! lol! But, they didn't pull me off air. And, little by little, I got better.

And, after two years of being "radio mouth" at my high school, I went to college at North Central College...a good portion of the decision being made by the fact that it had an award winning student radio station, WONC-FM (of which, I would eventually become station manager). No "50,000 Watt" mother this one....but a nice 1,000 watts and a high antenna atop "Old Main"...and in the suburbs of Chicago, so, we had reach!

And one my senior year... imagination and reality do come together. I was chosen to do an internship at WLS - the King of All Radio in the Upper Midwest! As I regularly went to work at WLS on Wacker Drive in Chicago, I remembered back on all those desultory, sweltering summer nights long ago sitting on the front porch in Cairo, Illinois. As I tweaked my little transistor radio hoping to catch up with the signal from Chicago, to now be sitting in the same studio and watching John "Records" Landecker, Tommy Edwards, Bob Sirratt, Fred Winston, Jeff Davis and Larry Lujack. And Life has a way of giving you what you want...if you ask. Just write a letter.

"Balls!", said the Queen! "If I had em, I'd be King!"