Monday, February 06, 2017

Why do we listen to AM in this day and age?

The operator of longtime British AM pirate Radio Blackbeard asked an interesting question on his Facebook page on Monday evening. He wanted to know if anybody listens to a SW or MW station longer than the time it takes to get an identification. Good point, and one I often think about.

As readers of this blog will know, I provide lists of the Dutch pirate stations I've heard on MW, which means I spend a fair bit of my time tuning around the band. I guess, in a way, that means I am a collector of station names. However, it goes a bit further than that with me - I don't listen just to catch a station name so I can send off a reception report for a QSL card. 

For me, there are so many strands to our hobby. Many of the stations I hear are very low power... many talk little English... some don't have the greatest modulation... some broadcast on the same frequency and at the same time as other stations... all these are complications that I enjoy trying to master. 

I also like to let the station operators know I have heard them - that signal report can bring a great deal of pride for somebody who has built his own transmitter bit by bit, trial and error over several months. I remember the first time I heard Radio Soerabaya. So does the station operator - he has the date written on a bottle in his studio. He simply couldn't believe it when I got in touch to tell him that his little transmitter was sending out a signal right across the Netherlands and into the UK. It more than made his day.

And I actually like the AM sound - those warm, rich tones you get from listening to the stations still using this old-fashioned method of transmission. You can't beat getting a cracking signal and putting it through a decent amplifier and speakers and enjoying the sheer quality. 

Today I listened to a recording I made on Sunday night of the Zwarte Panter from Oldenzaal. I was busy with other things while he was on air, so I spent over two hours enjoying his programme this afternoon - unable to tune away to hear anything else - just his signal. I also listened to some other recordings I made last week - Barones, Bluebird and others, appreciating their sound and the effort I know they sometimes have to go to just to get a signal on the air.

When you have listened to as many Dutch pirates as I have, you are often able to work out who they are before they even open the microphone fader. The strength of the carrier... the stability of that carrier... the quality of the audio... the music being played... the depth of the modulation... the frequency... all clues to the station you are listening to, and I always enjoy trying to work out exactly who it is before any announcements. For me, that is another slice of the hobby that entertains me. Yes, I could switch on my FM receiver and listen to the local legal station, but where is the excitement? You'll be waiting a long time to hear music that is anywhere near slightly obscure, and most of the presenters may as well be robots. In fact, many stations are merely computers late at night, with no actual people in sight. Sure, there is any number of internet stations to tune into these days but, again, for me there is little excitement.

There is also a social aspect to our branch of the radio hobby. I've been tuning around for over 20 years and have made many friends in this country, in the Netherlands and around Europe. And it is always a bit of a thrill to hear those friends in the air, playing music for me. I know there are probably not many listeners - but I am listening, part of an exclusive club, a special band of people.

So yes, I write down the names of the stations I hear and share them here on the blog, but that is just a tiny part of my interest in the AM radio scene. 

Perhaps I am a rare breed, but in my case I certainly do listen for longer than the time it takes to get an ID.

Let me know your thoughts. Leave a message on this post, drop me an email through the site, drop by the Facebook page, or make contact through Twitter. In the meantime, here are some logs from the first days of February:

Monday, February 6, 2017
1651       1628       Vrijevogel weak signal, 35333 at 1703 music programme
1628       1659       Zwarte Schaduw weak signal asking for report
1628       1709       Digitaal 35343-45444 report for Zwarte Schaduw
1655       1722       Batavier 25222-35333 qsoing
1620       1724       Johnny Camaro 25222-35443 music programme
1660       1738       Batavier 35333 qsoing
1665       1742       Digitaal 35343 qsoing
1635       1755       Digitaal 35333 qsoing
1635       1816       Vrij Drenthe 35333 qsoing
1655       1849       Batavier 45444 testing
1630       1855       Moonbreaker 35333 qsoing
1629       1857       Spanningzoeker 55444 qsoing
1611       1930       Meteoor 44444 report for Moonbreaker
1634       1950       Toulouse 35333-45444 qsoing
1611       1957       Poema 34433 qsoing. Modulation problems
1611       2006       Malibu 34433 qsoing
1611       2028       Digitaal 44444 qsoing
1635       2029       Ruisbreker 35333-45444 music programme
1629       2034       Malibu 24222-35333 music programme
1665       2037       Batavier 45434-55444 testing
1647       2222       Armada 45434-55444 music programme
1629       2222       Noordzee 35333-45444
1611       2223       Batavia 33333 music programme
1625       2230       Monte Carlo 35333 asking for report
1650       2241       Wilskracht 35333-45434 reporting
1645       2300       Monte Carlo 35333 report for Wilskracht
1652       2301       Alabama weak signal report for Wilskracht

Radio Batavier was doing lots of testing on
Monday evening. The reason? He's trying out
this new transmitter which is working very well

Sunday, February 5, 2017
1615       1853       Illegaal Kabaal (Zwarte Panter) 34333-45444 
1626       1854       Twentana 35333-45444 music programme          
1635       1854       Relmus 25322-35333 music programme
1647       1854       Witte Tornado 35333-45444 music programme 
1620       2200       Alabama weak signal-25222 report for Zwarte Panter
1645       2326       Monte Carlo 35333 report for Witte Tornado

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
1623       0600       Eskimo 35443 qsoing
1629       2203       Noordzee 35333 music programme
1610       2206       Anton 34433
1635       2221       Bluebird 45434-55555 music programme
1620       2221       Anton 35333 report for Noordzee
1629       2235       Barones 43434-54444 testing new microphone amplifier
1625       2314       Barones 45434 testing


  1. Thanks, this pretty much explains, why I'm doing this too. My hobby with different SW and MW stations has lasted for 40 years, and I still find this thrilling. Just for the various reasons you have described. Jouni

  2. Hi Jouni. Thanks for your comments, and Im very pleased you feel the same way. It's nice to know that you feel the magic when tuning SW and MW. You really do never quite know what you're going to find next. Keep listening and thanks for stopping here and reading my words!

  3. A thoughtful article which accurately describes how I feel about this hobby of ours! The thrill of a new station or a chat with a station operator is just waiting for us around the corner!

  4. Couldn't agree more a very interesting article.
    For me the thrill is hearing a station on MW or SW with just a portable Radio and a telescope radio.
    If i hear a interesting station i usually record it using a Web Sdr and listen to it later.


  5. Thanks for your words Terry and Paul. That's a good point about listening with just a portable radio and the antenna it comes with. I listen like that sometimes and it is incredible what you can hear. It's amazing that somebody hundreds or even thousands of miles away can flick a switch and we can hear them on a little hand-held radio.