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10/23/1999 AM radio is our friend

The AM radio in my car is quite a radio -- on a normal day Winnepeg radio stations come in clearly; That's quite some distance for electromagnetic waves to travel. Bismark, Eden Prairie, Grand Forks, Fergus Falls; all have radio stations of some sort to listen to, and my car picks them all up.

If you look between 88Mhz and 92Mhz of the FM dial, you can find the only reserve for free-range radio broadcasts. 4Mhz, divided up to put enough space between channels, and without interfering with certain harmonics of the frequency, there is little left to broadcast on. 90.5, 91.1, 91.9, and that's about it, and they are all taken up by public radio. The rest of the FM band is full of for-profit stations, owned by the same parent companies, all broadcasting music only. AM, however, goes from 500KHz to 1650Khz, with less restrictions on the space between stations. It's cheaper, easier, and there's less competition between stations. Here in Fargo, the AM station selection is pretty limited, though -- plenty of talk radio, sports, and news, with 1550 being an oldies station (which is my daily listening choice).

Extending beyond Fargo, Northern Lights Public Radio is a good pick. UND's college FM radio station, they also broadcast at 1370AM. Their playlist is full of blues, classic rock, and other college-rock oriented music. Since KDSU changed over to another Talk NPR clone, destroying their better programming in order to repeat most of KCCD's already wonderful shows, Northern Lights is last local source for World Cafe, a wonderful PRI music show. Saturday afternoons appear to be a free-form locally produced, with music from David Bowie, Tori Amos, and other alternative standards. Until MSU gets their college-oriented radio station broadcasting to more than just the campus, tuning in 1370AM is the best place to go.

For a bit of strangeness, Winnipeg has a station at about 810AM that is interesting. I originally couldn't figure out the call sign, exact frequency, or if it's even really from Winnipeg , because all of the programs are foreign-language. 'Good Morning Phillipines' (the few english words I've heard spoken) is on some mornings, with Japanese, Italian, German, and Spanish programs, along with some I can't recognise their nation of origin. Thank 970AM for making it difficult to tune in -- they overpower a 50Khz band on either side, making 810Khz hard to tune in. Those few spoken English words were enough for me to track down the origin of these broadcasts -- CKJS 810AM.

Somewhere around 660AM is a 'local' (within a couple hundred miles) afilliate of Radio Disney. They fill their programming with kid songs, from the Simpson's singing Bartman to Wierd Al Yankovic's take off of _American Pie_. Afternoons have story time, and other child-friendly programming. After doing some research online, I discovered that this was a St. Cloud radio station.

If you're just driving late at night and wish you had someone to talk to in order to keep awake, tune in at around 1624. You might not be lucky, since some radios don't even go up that high. This is the NOAA weather radio station, with that familiar monotone computer generated voice, and sometimes if you're lucky you can catch something extra -- one afternoon I listened to a human voice read a 5-minute long script, over and over and over, detailing the locations of each tornado siren within 10 miles, their purpose (did you know that they are only for warning people _outside_?), and the testing schedules. Now that's entertainment!

For picking out other stations, you're only limited by distance, reception, and equipment. Digitally tuned receivers are horrible for AM tuning -- AM isn't an exact science. Expecting a station to be exactly at 970Khz is only reasonable within a short range. Beyond the horizon, you're subject to atmoswheric filtering, reflection and echos, and possibly even doppler effect causing changes to the radio frequency. They also aren't designed for good AM reception; starting in the 70s all new cars were required to have an AM/FM radio preinstalled, but it doesn't look like manufacturers were very insterested in making them _good_ radios. You're probably going to get better AM reception from a walkman then from your digital home stereo receiver. The antenna is equally important; to pull in distant stations, you need to have the right equipment. Why my car stereo is able to receive Winnipeg & Mpls/St Paul stations, I can't say, but my home stereo receivers with analog tuning have a more limited reception.

Electromagnetic radiation is my biggest pet peeve, and the biggest degradant of the AM signal. It's kind of scary to realize what sort of radiation we are all exposed to constantly; we know that radio waves are constantly around us, but until you get a physical reminder of it, we don't realize how much. Power lines make the AM radio rattle angrily, certain places in town have mysterious electronic tones which sound like alien communications, and some buildings emit strange humming interference without a definite source. There is constant energy around us, passing through our bodies with little resistance. I think that's why I have trouble getting some stations at home; since my home radio sits still, it's subject constantly to the interference my apartment building has to offer, from neighbor's TVs, PCs, blenders, fishtank air pumps, light bulbs, curling irons, and cordless phones.

I'm happy with my car radio, though. I don't miss FM at all, especially here in Fargo. I can't stand most modern pop, which eliminates Y94, country is right out, so that cuts half of the other stations, and the "rock" stations haven't changed their playlist in 5 years or more. At home I listen to a lot of MPR, which has content, but for entertainment purposes give me an hour of Chinese news & pop music at around 800Khz.

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