Redhatter (VK4MSL)

COVID-19: My turn

So, a few weeks back, COVID-19 went through my office at Milton. I had been at work just one day a week — basically I was working in the office on a Wednesday and working from home all other days of the week unless there was a special reason for me to do otherwise.

On the 3rd of July (Sunday), one of my colleagues reported he had tested positive on a rapid antigen test (RAT) after suffering symptoms, and would begin isolation. 2 days later (on the following Tuesday), another colleague reported he too, “had a bit of a cough”. I made the decision to not come in on the Wednesday, on the advice that it was likely better I work from home.

Over the coming days, more reported symptoms, but so far I was safe. Yes, my father and I were regularly going to the local cafés for dinner Monday-Thursday nights, but I was not exposing myself to the office cluster at this point.

I figured that, with all the cases now isolating, and a few days later, it’d be safe on the 13th of this month to work in the office… and so I did so. I think that was my big mistake. Sunday afternoon (17th), a cough started, and on the following Monday, this was the result:

Yes, the “C” is a bit weak but still present, the “T” is unmistakeable!

Some might quibble and say this one is inconclusive because the “T” marker (test result) is way stronger than the “C” marker (control result), but the fact of the matter is, both lines are there, so reason enough to count this as a positive.

A later one done on Wednesday showed more even shading of the lines, so clearly I still have the blasted virus. Even today, I’m a little on the snuffly side and coughing intermittently.

Personal risk factors

It’s worth noting that I’ve had issues with Asthma since the late 80s. My body also has a nasty positive-feedback loop: if I cough, it tends to make my nose run (the vigorous coughing causes bruising of the tissues in my nose)… that has a habit of running down into my lungs, making me cough more, and possibly developing into bronchitis. On one occasion in 2005, that developed further into pneumonia.

Unvented masks for me are bad news too because they seem to trigger my lungs into a coughing fit, which then triggers the above symptoms. Yet, everyone around me insisted that I return to working in the office and generally getting out-and-about.

Vaccination status

I have had two initial shots of the AstraZenica COVID-19 vaccine as well as a shot of the Moderna as a booster. I was looking to get a second booster, but the earliest I could book was on the 27th of July: too late for that now!

So yeah, ATAGI/Australian Health Department/Queensland Health — you can end your age discrimination on COVID-19 vaccination now — #1 undocumented policy goal: “get Stuart Longland infected” can be scratched off your list, and if some of the over 50s have never gotten their first shot by now, they probably never will! Time to stop playing around and just let all the adult population make their own decisions from now on.

China Communist Party (who won’t be able to see this without a VPN but anyway): Fuck you and the horse you rode on. COVID-19 is not the first virus to have jumped from bats via some intermediate animal to humans, won’t be the last, but somehow you managed to ensure that everyone got a share of something none of us want. Donald Trump might actually have a point calling it the “China” virus, I personally would rather call it the Wuhan virus since that’s where COVID-19 was first discovered.

Anyone who’s worked with horses already knows of another member of the Orthornavirae extended family: Hendra virus. The suburb of Hendra still seems to be flourishing, so the name hasn’t been all doom-and-gloom, but we don’t try to hide it. Furthermore, we managed to contain it in the 90s when DNA testing technology wasn’t even available in this country, yet China with far more sophisticated technology in 2019 let this “horse” bolt right out the gate!

Suffice to say, I’m not doing much in the way of development work right now. Software development needs a clear head not a stuffy one, and the bed’s the best place for me to stay warm.

Contact tracing

Well, here’s where I’ve been in the time both before and after infection. This is captured via the GPS logger on my tablet, not the most accurate device for positioning… but since the Queensland Government isn’t doing contact tracing anymore, it’s the best I can offer now.

For the sake of those who I might have come into contact with, here’s where I’ve been (all times are Brisbane Local UTC+10):

Overview of all locations… widely-spaced dots indicate I was mobile (private transport)

Ashgrove Central area

2022-06-28 (20 days before positive test)

  • 18:30 ~ 18:35: Coles Ashgrove, likely a cat food run
  • 18:42 ~ 19:24: Café Tutto, Ashgrove

2022-07-04 (14 days before positive test)

  • 17:47 ~ 18:36: Taj Bengal, Ashgrove

2022-07-05 (13 days before positive test)

  • 18:00 ~ 18:03: Coles Ashgrove
  • 18:20 ~ 18:54: Café Tutto, Ashgrove

2022-07-12 (6 days before positive test)

  • 17:30 ~ 18:33: Taj Bengal, Ashgrove

Ashgrove West area

2022-06-29 (19 days before positive test)

  • 19:05 ~ 19:54: Smokin’ Joe’s, Ashgrove

2022-06-30 (18 days before positive test)

  • 17:43 ~ 18:38: Osaka, Ashgrove

2022-07-07 (11 days before positive test)

  • 17:52 ~ 18:57: Osaka, Ashgrove

2022-07-13 (5 days before positive test)

  • 19:03 ~ 20:04: Osaka, Ashgrove

Keperra area

2022-07-06 (12 days before positive test)

  • 19:27 ~ 20:03: Finnigans Chin, Keperra

Redcliffe Area

2022-07-17 (the day before positive test!)

  • 10:58 ~ 14:40: Moreton Bay Boat Club, Scarborough

Redlands Area

2022-07-17 (the day before positive test!)

  • 16:55 ~ 17:28: Ormiston Dog Park (Small dogs area), Ormiston

Milton Area

2022-06-29 (19 days before positive test)

  • 11:10 ~ 11:12: Makya, Milton

2022-07-13 (5 days before positive test)

  • 11:08 ~ 11:15: Bagel Boys, Milton

The Gap area

2022-07-08 (10 days before positive test)

  • 18:04 ~ 18:22: Siam Garden, The Gap / The Gap Friendly Grocer

2022-07-09 (9 days before positive test)

  • 12:05 ~ 12:13: The Gap Village, The Gap
  • 12:16 ~ 12:21: Brumby’s Bakery, The Gap

2022-07-15 (3 days before positive test)

  • 19:53 ~ 19:59: The Gap Canteen, The Gap

I clearly walked past The Gap Friendly Grocer, but not sure if I went in or not… timestamps suggest probably not.

2022-07-16 (2 days before positive test)

  • 16:51 ~ 16:56: The Gap Friendly Grocer, The Gap

My actions now

So… I’m considering myself in hard lock-down until at least the 26th. That is, no visitors, no deliveries (unless already pending and I’m unable to reschedule them), no leaving the property for any reason.

I’ll be staying put. My father’s left on a big trip through Central Queensland (having tested negative to COVID-19), so I’m home alone, just me and Sam. I won’t be answering the door, for the safety of anyone who knocks. I do not want to spread this to anyone. Hard lock-down for me will be retained until all symptoms have cleared up.

If my symptoms clear up by the 26th, I will remain in soft lock-down until the 1st August: still no leaving the property or any visitors, but I may have some groceries delivered — the local shopping centre delivers for a nominal fee (seriously, you’d spend more in fuel doing it yourself), and I can meet the delivery person on the drive-way (maintaining 3m distance). They can drop the groceries down near the gutter, and when they’ve gone, I’ll go pick them up. Same with dinner deliveries: deliver to the end of the driveway, I’ll pick it up from there.

I will not leave the property until after the 8th August at the very earliest (except for very special circumstances), and there will be no dine-in until at least the 15th. Maybe after the 22nd, I’ll consider whether I resume workplace visits and other activities.

Boomer Boom Box: Compilations worth getting

Boomer Boom Box is a new blog series where I’ll be detailing my efforts to build up my personal music library to replace what I lost on commercial radio. As I know others have a taste for similar music, I’ll document where these albums can be purchased, ideally as CDs or FLAC recordings (which can be converted to CD format).

1960s

Feelin’ Groovy Volume 4: Swinging 60s Singles

If you ever listened to Brent James’ Sunday Morning 60’s, this is more or less a flavour of that in CD form. You won’t get the out-takes, or reminiscing of Brisbane at that time, but it does carry the sound track of that time and was compiled by Brent James himself.

JB HiFi have it for sale on their website (and you can find the track listing there too). Last time I was in the Carseldine store, I did see one or two copies there.

Ultimate 60s

This is available through Sanity (with a long lead time from my experience, they seem to have stock of it now), and includes a decent cross-section of the decade. This was one of the first 60s CD compilations I bought — purchased on a gamble, and it paid off.

1970s

Classic 70s

This is a 5-disc set with a lot of the 70s music featured on stations like 4KQ. Both Sanity and JB HiFi carry this.

Living in the 70s (Vol. 4)

(Not to be confused with the Skyhooks album of the same name!) This series is named after the 4KQ radio show of the same name, also which was hosted by Brent James. There are other volumes which are worth checking out if you can find them, but this is the one I have. I purchased mine through JB HiFi Carseldine, which no longer seem to list it on their website.

Brent James lists the tracks on his website.

70 Hits of the ’70s

This is one I downloaded as FLAC yesterday… and am currently playing it as I type this. I stumbled on this looking for Jeff St. John (who had an incredible voice… especially given he was singing from a wheelchair!), and happened to notice this had a lot of songs that I was looking around for.

Z-Digital offer this in FLAC and MP3 formats.

  • Includes 4BC Lost Classic (2022-07-11): John Sebastian – Welcome Back (Theme from Welcome Back, Kotter)

One Hit Wonders (Re-recorded)

These are a lot of the one-hit-wonders from the 70s… most of them re-recorded, so they do sound a little different to what they did on the radio, but it’s the same artists, and are faithful to the songs we know.

Z-Digital have this in FLAC and MP3.

  • Includes 4BC Lost Classic (2022-07-13): Alan O’Day – Undercover Angel

Boogie! – Australian Blues, Rn’B & Heavy Rock From The 70’s

I bought this as a digital download for the Spectrum song I’ll Be Gone… but realised it had a lot of the artists that defined the 70s here in Australia, so figured I’d take the plunge on the whole lot. It’s an interesting listen and definitely worth checking out.

Z-Digital have this in FLAC and MP3.

6 x 6 – The Seventies

This is a deep-dive into the work of 6 iconic (well, 5 and one less iconic) 70s artists:

  • Hot Chocolate
  • Pilot
  • KC & The Sunshine Band
  • Mud
  • Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
  • Suzi Quatro

Z-Digital have this in FLAC and MP3. Amazon have it on CD.

1980s

80s H It’s Huge: Rare & Recycled

Not sure if that album title is right… I guess that’s Z-Digital’s interpretation of the cover! This also appears to be a Brent James production, and includes a lot of one-hit-wonders which you don’t often see in compilations. I downloaded mine in FLAC from Z-Digital, it is also available there as MP3 if you’d prefer that.

80 Hits Of The 80s

This has a decent smattering of music from that decade. My copy was purchased through JB HiFi Carseldine, however it is no longer listed there. A cursory search suggests Warner Music sell this directly, but are out of stock at the time of writing.

Brits In The 80s

It’s no secret that the UK were big in the 80s, and this set highlights a lot of what they were up to.

Z-Digital have this in FLAC and MP3 formats.

Just The Hits: 80s

The Just The Hits albums are a series of compilations all covering different eras and genres… this particular one covers a cross-section of the 1980s. My copy I think was a Sanity purchase, but I can’t find it online there. That said, Z-Digital do have it as FLAC and MP3.

100 Greatest 80s

This is an online-only release of 100 tracks from the 1980s. Z-Digital offer it in FLAC and MP3.

Classic 80s

Another multi-disc compilation with a good cross-section of the 80s decade. This can be purchased on CD from Sanity or downloaded in FLAC or MP3 from Z-Digital.

Update 2022-07-11: So playing this through for the first time today… the track Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now has a goof-up at the end. Someone made it cross-fade to Wang Chung – Dance Hall Days (which otherwise, does not appear on the album, if you want that song, see Just The Hits: 80s above), which is then abruptly cut off… instead of Thompson Twins fading to silence like it ought to have. Annoying… but maybe I can clean this up using the LP of Into The Gap I have.

  • Includes 4BC Lost Classics:
    • (2022-07-12) The Nolans – Gotta Pull Myself Together
    • (2022-07-15) Sharon O’Neil – Maxine

General compilations

101 No.1 Dad

Yeah, I bought this despite still having my virginity intact… this covers a pretty wide spectrum of 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and even some from this century. Sanity sell this one.

Original Artists – Pub Jukebox

I had bought a copy of this for my mother who was wanting Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes… but when I had a good look at the track listing, I decided to order a second copy for myself. Again, like the other general compilation, this has a smattering right across the decades.

Amazon Australia sell this. The track listing is viewable on Last.FM.

Molly

This is basically a 3-disc compilation covering some of the work of Molly Meldrum and thus features many artists who made an appearance on the TV show Countdown.

My only gripe with this particular album would be that whilst Murray Head – One Night In Bangkok is featured, they cut off the dramatic introduction! Otherwise it’s a great album.

Amazon Australia sell this, there’s a photo there of the track listing, sadly no one has typed this out.

Demise of 4KQ: one week on

So, it’s been 8 days since we woke up to the non-stop sports yap-trap that we were promised would be coming on the 1st July. Not that I heard much of it. I made a point of staying up and listening to the last of the old station before it went. The final few hours of the broadcast were ad-free and the final things heard on the station were:

  • Don McLean’s American Pie
  • The Beatles The End (from their album, Abbey Road — minus the secret track Her Maj)
  • crickets sound effect — fading out to silence

Then, shortly after… it cut over to the new mob. They just had a playlist going for the first 6 hours, with the cut-over about a minute into Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger. I put the radio on mute shortly after and got some sleep… at 5AM they were still playing music, but with occasional cut-ins with various announcers mentioning what was coming after 6AM. When 6AM rolled around, I listened for a minute, then switched off for good.

The old website changed to being just a blank page.

Radio personality moves

Not sure where everyone has gone, but here’s what I do know:

  • Bob Gallagher, who some might know from 97.3’s breakfast program, and who chaired 4KQ’s last 4 morning on air… moved over to 4BH.
  • Vanessa Gibson (apologies if I have spelling wrong, I’ve never seen it written), who was one of the more promenant morning news readers at 4KQ has stayed with the 693kHz frequency on SEN-Q
  • 4KQ’s breakfast crew have moved to 4BC — an odd match if ever I saw one given that trio’s love for music and 4BC being a talk-back radio station

Station changes

4BH have switched formats to a “classic hits” format like the old 4KQ with a subset covering 1960 ~ 1989 (inclusive). I say subset because 4KQ in their final days were already playing Seal Crazy (released 1992), Natalie Imbruglia Torn (1997) and Savage Garden The Animal Song (released 1999).

Whether they’re playing any of Brisbane’s “historic” bands remains to be seen.

4BC’s program seems to suggest they’re still sticking with their “news talk” format. Maybe music in the mornings, then the gab-fest begins.

97.3 still don’t acknowledge the existence of anything prior to 1980.

River 94.9 is still a very weak signal into Brisbane — if you’re in the right spot you can get them but otherwise they’re practically inaudible. Odd, since they share the tower at The Knobby with VK4RAI, and I both hear that and can work that repeater quite reliably with far less power than what River 94.9 would be transmitting. Clearly they are still beaming west, and what we hear in Brisbane is just what’s coming off the back of the beam.

How things have changed for me

Well, from my perspective… that Friday morning was quite disorienting. You get used to the time-calls and regular news updates which give you an idea of how time had passed. I put my own music on that morning… and yes, was a minute or two late for my workplace morning stand-up because I wasn’t watching the clock!

A week on, and apparently I’ve broken one of my own music listening records according to Last.FM:

I had gone from listening to just 17 songs in total (most of those would have been the Friday afternoon), to over 1300. In the last 6 weeks of 4KQ I actually stopped listening to a lot of my music: I figured there was plenty of time for that once they went — I wouldn’t have 4KQ to listen to much longer, enjoy them whilst you’ve got them.

I also didn’t do any channel-hopping: previously if Abba came on (it’s a long story, but basically you didn’t want to be found listening to that group in a late 90s high-school), I’d switch stations or switch to my own music, sometimes for hours.

At mid-day I’d ordinarily flip over to Triple-M Classic Rock as they have a Essential Vinyl show which is often an interesting deep-dive into a particular iconic album from past decades, and is often interesting from the perspective of getting to know songs from an artist I might not otherwise know much about. Obscure entities like Buckingham Nicks (basically the precursor to the modern Fleetwood Mac) are in my shopping list thanks to that show. Just like a lot of my present collection can be tracked back to special features put on by 4KQ as well.

This last week… I didn’t do any of that. So where my music listening might’ve at most started at around 10:00AM or later… now basically I’ve been listening to my own music collection from 5:00AM through to to around 7:10PM. I have a cron job that manages it:

# For more information see the manual pages of crontab(5) and cron(8)
# 
# m h  dom mon dow   command
0 5 * * * ( pulsemixer --unmute --id $( pulsemixer -l | grep -F qt-dab | awk '{ print $4 }' | sed 's/,//g' ) )>/tmp/unmute.log 2>&1
0 5 * * * pidof strawberry > /dev/null && env DISPLAY=:0.0 strawberry -p
0 5 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -36dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
10 5 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -33dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
20 5 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -30dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
30 5 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -27dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
40 5 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -24dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
50 5 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -21dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
0 6 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -18dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
10 6 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -15dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
0 18 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -15dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
10 18 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -18dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
20 18 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -21dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
30 18 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -24dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
40 18 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -27dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
50 18 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -30dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
0 19 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -33dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
10 19 * * * pidof strawberry > /dev/null && env DISPLAY=:0.0 strawberry -q
10 19 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -36dB )>/dev/null 2>&1
20 19 * * * ( /usr/bin/amixer -c Generic -- sset Master -192dB )>/dev/null 2>&1

The amixer calls were there before, and would control the volume. qt-dab would sit on the desktop and receive 24/7. Now, strawberry sits on the desktop, and I’m using its CLI to start and stop: strawberry -p to fire things off in the morning, then strawberry -q to finish playing that last song before going silent.

It’s got a lot to be desired… maybe if I get creative with a text-to-speech engine, I might get some time-calls and a bit of news headlines to replicate some of what I’ve lost, although it’ll be a very poor substitute to what I had on the old station. It might just be “good enough” though… it’ll give me a time reference.

My feelings on this

While I’ve been able to largely “replace” 4KQ on my own stereo… I’m still a bit peeved by the whole experience. There’s a lot of music that’s very hard to get / impossible to get, that they used to play. Railroad Gin’s You Told The World, Do Ya Love Me and The Academy Rock being three that used to play on 4KQ… but so far have proven unobtainium. Other bands like New World, Moscos and Stone, among others… are similarly buried somewhere in record company vaults, never to be seen again.

We’re just left to fight over what few second-hand albums exist in circulation… or pirate.

As to the mess that started this: so the ACMA have a rule that limits the number of radio stations a company can control. Fair enough, they want to promote diversity, and having all the eggs in one basket does not help this. I get where the ACMA is coming from.

Here, There & Everywhere own the Australian Radio Network, who until this year, owned 4KQ. They also own 97.3. Some bright-spark at HT&E saw dollars in buying up rival network Grant Broadcasting who owned various regional stations such as River 94.9 (Ipswich) and Hot Tomato (Gold Coast), and merging them into ARN. That meant ARN were now over the threshold.

That decision to chase the dollar, on the surface of it, seems to me to be nothing less than a complete slap in the face to the Brisbane radio listenership and the staff of 4KQ, the latter of whom had given their working lives to the station. 30 years for a single announcer to work a shift is an Australian record that 4KQ and Laurel Edwards broke. This is how HT&E pay her loyalty. I think that speaks volumes.

Plans now

Immediate plans

The morning crew I used to listen to are back on air on Monday, so perhaps I’ll set up the radio for 4BC, and see how they go.

I expect there’ll be quite a few gaffs from a trio that have been used to saying “4KQ” and “32230693” for decades (Laurel Edwards has been doing that on-air longer than anyone else). Mark Hine got so used to saying 4KQ he accidentally (as ground announcer) blurted “… on Classic Hits 4K-” to the audience at The Gabba… cutting himself off when he realised which workplace he was at.

It’ll be interesting to see how they work music into their news format. That’ll be a deciding factor as to whether I continue listening after the morning stand-up, or whether I switch to my own music until the next morning.

Radio station ideas / aspirations

So to be clear, I’m not going to rush into starting up something myself. While I do have some music knowledge, and that’s probably the subject about running a commercial music radio station I would rate as being strongest — my knowledge has gaps so large a sperm whale could swim through in comfort! If that’s the state of my knowledge in that field, this does not bode well for other critical-knowledge areas.

Really I’d need to team up with people who have some media experience. I have some technical knowledge, but there’s a big difference between a 100W SSB amateur radio station which is small enough to be bicycle-mounted, and a honking big 10kW broadcast MW AM station. I’d also need very deep pockets to commission said station.

Requirements for digital-rights management being imposed by the PPCA make Internet streaming impractical. That would basically just leave DAB+. There may be room there… seems channel 9B has a little more space than 9A does, but who knows? I’d have to ask, find out what their fees and technical requirements are. Then, I’d have to then figure out what the going rate was for advertising slots, and work out the finances from there.

I don’t know how the music needs to be obtained at this point. I’m guessing purchasing MP3s from legal sources (the same that we might as individuals) may be acceptable since they’re fundamentally the same recordings — and we’d have a separate content license that would cover their broadcast. This is a guess though, I might be wrong.

It’s a big job — and not one I’m particularly suited for. I’m happy to sit back and let someone who knows what they’re doing go ahead and do it.

The idea of such a station would be a very loose copy of 4KQ in so far as we’d be playing similar music. Not the same, because to be honest I actually do not know what songs were “hits” in this city. I have some recollections of what I’ve heard, but likely this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I did manage to grab some feature playlists (e.g. Sizzling 70s, Easter Count-down, all-sorts… etc) from 4KQ before the site went offline. Those, when de-duplicated, amount to about 3500 songs, about 70% I already had. I can’t publish these as they belong to the Australian Radio Network (I have contacted ARN about this but not heard anything — I’ll take that as a “no, do not publish”) … but nothing stops me picking through the listings and incorporating the artists mentioned into my library where see them. If I see collections that are readily available, I’ll make note of them here.

What would the format look like? Well, musically it’ll be a mix of the heavier rock that you’d hear on stations like Triple M, and the softer stuff of 4KQ. Not exclusively focused on Brisbane hits, as I don’t have a record of what was popular… I just have a “rough idea” of what artists were popular, and would likely work on that basis. That might change if someone who does have records of this came on-board and could basically guide me on this or take on the music-director role properly.

The first days would likely be ad-free as we try to build up an audience and attract advertisers. Those booking advertising slots would have to organise their own recordings since we wouldn’t have studios to help them with that. The station would be “automatic”: no announcers, news, weather… just music, and later we’d get ad breaks in to help pay the bills and start building up a revenue stream.

If revenue picked up enough, then maybe we could organise to hire studio time and do pre-recorded shows, or perhaps live ones if we can figure out how to link studio and transmitter.

Some ideas for shows that’d work pre-recorded:

  • Classic Artists Today: a look at artists we know from the 60s~90s that are still producing music and what they’re doing these days… for example Jeff Lynne is still doing music with Electric Light Orchestra, The Who and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band did a few new songs in the early part of this century, Fleetwood Mac are still active.
  • Sunday Spotlight: a deep dive into an artist’s work (e.g. a show about George Harrison would start with his role in The Beatles, but then cover solo work and his work in The Traveling Wilburys; Graham Gouldman might cover his early songwriting for The Hollies, The Ohio Express then his later work with 10cc, solo work, and his team-up with Andrew Gold in Wax; Brian Cadd could have enough material to fill several hours I think with Axiom, The Groop and solo work, along with producing for other artists).

This is better done by someone who knows what they’re doing, and I know right now, that is not me, certainly not as a solo act. I suspect this will be at least a year off, likely longer if it happens at all.

A lot will depend on demand. I have a day job that’s paying the bills, there’s no sense of rushing off from that into the great unknown, no matter how much I might feel like a career change after some 20+ years connection with (and subsequent frustration with) the IT industry in one form or another! Time will tell.

Resurrecting an SGI O2

Years ago, I was getting into Linux on esoteric architectures, which started with a Gateway Microserver which runs the MIPS architecture… to better understand this platform I also obtained a few SiliconGraphics workstations, including this O2.

Originally a R5000SC at 180MHz and 128MB RAM, I managed to get hold of an RM5200 300MHz CPU module for it, and with the help of people on the #mipslinux channel on the old irc.freenode.net, managed to obtain a PROM update to get the RM5200 working. Aside from new HDDs (the original died just recently), it’s largely the stock hardware.

I figured it deserved to go to a new home, and a fellow on Gumtree (in WA) happened to be looking for some of these iconic machines, so I figured I might as well clean this machine up as best I can and get it over there while it’s still somewhat functioning. That said, age has not been friendly to this beast.

  • the CD-ROM drive tray gear has popped off the motor spindle, rendering the CD-ROM drive non-functional
  • in trying to fix the CD-ROM issue (I tried disassembling the drive but couldn’t get at the parts needed), the tab that holds the lid of the machine on broke
  • the PSU fan, although free to spin, does not appear to be operational
  • the machine seems to want to shut off after a few minutes of run-time

The latter two are related I think: likely things get too hot and a protection circuit kicks in to turn the machine off. There’s no dust in the machine to cause a lack of air flow, I thus suspect the fan is the issue. This will be my biggest challenge I suspect. It looks to be a fairly standard case fan, so opening up the power supply (not for the feint of heart!) to replace it with a modern one isn’t out of the question.

The CD-ROM drive is a different matter. SGI machines use 512-byte sectors on their CDs, and this requires CD-ROM firmware that supports this. I have a couple of Plextor SCSI drives that do offer this (there is a jumper marked “BLOCK”), but they won’t physically fit in the O2 (they are caddy-loading drives). Somewhere around the house I have a 68-pin SCSI cable, I should be able to link that to the back of the O2 via its external SCSI port, then cobble together a power supply to run the drive externally… but that’ll be a project for another day.

A working monitor was a possible challenge, but a happy accident: it seems some LCD montiors can do sync-on-green, and thus are compatible with the O2. I’m using a little 7″ USB-powered WaveShare LCD which I normally use for provisioning Raspberry Pi PCs. I just power the monitor via a USB power supply and use the separately-provided VGA adaptor cable to plug it into the O2. So I don’t have to ship a bulky 20″ CRT across the country.

The big issue is getting an OS onto the thing. I may have to address the sudden-shutdown issue first before I can get a reasonable chance at an OS install. The big problem being an OS that these things can run. My options today seem to be:

  • Debian Jessie and earlier (Stretch dropped support for mips4 systems, favouring newer mips64r2/mips32r2 systems)
  • Gentoo Linux (which it currently does run)
  • OpenBSD 6.9 and earlier (7.0 discontinues the sgi port)
  • NetBSD 9.2
  • IRIX 6.5

The fellow ideally wants IRIX 6.5 on the thing, which is understandable, that is the native OS for these machines. I never had a full copy of IRIX install media, and have only used IRIX once (it came installed on the Indy). I’ve only ever installed Gentoo on the O2.

Adding to the challenge, I’ll have to network boot the thing because of the duff CD-ROM drive. I had thought I’d just throw NetBSD on the thing since that is “current” and would at least prove the hardware works with a minimum of fuss… but then I stumbled on some other bits and pieces:

  • irixboot is a Vagrant-based virtual machine with tools needed to network-boot a SGI workstation. The instructions used for IP22 hardware (Indy/Indigo² should work here because IP32 hardware like the O2 also have 32-bit PROMs)
  • The Internet Archive provides CD images for IRIX 6.5, including the foundation discs which I’ve never posessed

Thus, there seems to be all the bits needed to get IRIX onto this thing, if I can get the machine to stay running long enough.

Artificial scarcity

Lately, I’ve been on the look-out for “new” (to my collection) music to add to the library here. This has changed somewhat in direction in the last few months as I start adding songs into the wish-list that I previously would have switched the radio on for.

One pet peeve I have is basically the attitude of the record companies for artists or songs that globally have been “less successful”. These groups are the gate-keepers for licensed copies of the works entrusted in their care, so you really don’t have any option but to try and work with them if you want to remain above-board. That said, they seem intent on making life as difficult as possible.

Sometimes, much later on someone sees the light, and a release is made. The Traveling Wilburys comes to mind here. Volume 1 was released on both CD and LP back in the late 80s. Back around 2001, I was trying to buy a copy of the CD for my mother (who had an illegally made copy)… Rockaway Records Ashgrove had both CD and LP copies. The LP was somewhat pricey but not too bad; about $10 if I recall for a used copy, and there were a few there. The used CD was behind the counter, they wanted $50. I settled for a couple of LP copies instead: at least I’d have a legal license in the form of the LP. A couple of years ago, I managed to get what I was after: Amazon had The Traveling Wilburys Collection for about AU$30, a much better deal.

On the other hand, some other titles do not seem to get the same love. Matt Moffitt was a quite successful lead singer for Matt Finish, but also managed the solo hit “Miss This Tonight” which was featured on his debut album “As Little As A Look“. I managed to find a copy of the LP through World Of Books for $22, but they only had the one copy — that copy now resides with my other records. The used CD seems to sell for anywhere between $120 and $150. Not bad considering it would have sold for $20~$30 back in 1986, sadly Matt Moffitt’s estate won’t see anything for that appreciation in value.

Other one-hit-wonders are a lot easier: Gyan was known for the hit “Wait” — you can get this as a MP3, but a better option in my opinion, is directly from her website. As is often the case with a lot of these artists, what you hear on the radio is often the tip of the iceberg, and her other work is worth a look.

Carol Lloyd’s work in particular seem neigh on impossible to get hold of. Carol Lloyd Band – Mother Was Asleep At The Time can be ordered through Sanity for $33 (20 day lead time) and will get you the two hits “All The Good Things” and “Storm In My Soul”, but if you’re after her earlier work, good luck! The same site has Railroad Gin – A Matter Of Time for the same price and lead time, which includes the title track, but lacks a lot of tracks that Railroad Gin were known for (e.g. “Do Ya Love Me”, “The Academy Rock” and “You Told The World”). Apparently they released a second album, Journey’s End… but at $150, that’s “tell ‘im he’s dreamin'” territory. I’ve not seen this on sites like ZDigital. Some of these apparently appeared on compilations, such as Keep On Rockin’, if you can find them.

Ross Ryan‘s “Blue Chevrolet Ballerina” is another track that’s difficult to get hold of. Apparently it’s on the compilation “Difficult Third”, which I have on order from Amazon, but it’s been a few weeks now and has not even begun to ship. Aztech Records apparently sell it here, so maybe that’s a better option, and I may yet go that way if the Amazon seller doesn’t ship soon.

In the coming months I’ll be compiling a bit of a shopping list, and where possible, I’ll see if I can point out where the songs on this list can be purchased, legally, either as physical media or as lossless digital download. I think we need to send a message that not all of us like being forced to stream things, and they can’t monetise something they don’t make available. I don’t think they are doing their clients any favours by “squatting” on copyrighted works, but they won’t get the message unless we generate demand for it.

COVID-19

My Q-U-A-R-A-N-T-I-N-E starts today,
Because I got COVID-19 and now I have to stay…

(Apologies to Billy Connolly)

Well, actually, not me personally… but another member of the household has tested positive following a cruise around northern WA. Apparently 10 people came down with it on that particular trip, despite all being required to test (on both PCR and RAT tests) negative for three days in advance. Of all the souvenirs he could have brought home, he brings home this one!

The patient in question waited the required 7-day quarantine period before turning up, but was still weakly testing positive at the time he made the dash for home. So while theoretically that should mean I’m “safe”, I’m still a “close contact”. I have no idea which variant it was, my guess is possibly one of the Omicron family.

Whilst it’s not required of me to enter lock-down isolation, I will do so as masks for me are problematic. Was looking for a nice feed of Indian or gorging on a bento box, but that’ll have to wait another week or two.

So far, I myself do not have any symptoms, but I’m watching for that like a hawk as I feel with my existing conditions, I’d likely get hit hard by this.

Building a broadcast station: initial due diligence

So, recently I started giving consideration to building a station… starting of course with how the station might broadcast to an audience. This is in no way a sign that I’ll actually go and do it: to survive I need about AU$30000/year (yeah, I have low overheads at present) and I doubt a dinky little radio station is going to make me that much money.

That said, this is an industry I know little about, so it’s hard to know what the finances would look like.

Content licensing

Irrespective of how the broadcast is done, a station like 4KQ will need a content license for the music broadcast. Not just music though, news updates and even the weather are potentially in the scope of content licenses.

These can be negotiated with individual holders in some cases. I know for small narrowcasting services you can obtain a license through OneMusic, however looking at their offerings they don’t seem to cater to broadcasting services. Turns out there is one that does: the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia.

What this would all cost is a complete unknown.

Radio Broadcasting

The above only lets you use content in a broadcast, it doesn’t let you actually transmit anything on any radio frequency. For this, two things are needed (in addition to the broadcasting equipment). Both come from the ACMA:

  • Broadcast station license: This doesn’t cover transmitters, this is merely the right to have a radio station servicing a given geographical area, irrespective of how it reaches that area.
  • Apparatus license from the ACMA.

I’m not sure whether this is true of DAB+, the transmitters themselves are operated by Digital Radio Broadcasting Pty Ltd, it could be that the stations “piggy-back” on their license the way the do on the actual transmitter itself.

If we did decide to commission a transmitter, that’ll get expensive fast. I don’t expect much change out of AU$1M, in fact, even that may not be sufficient! Then there’s running costs: a 10kW class-B transmitter PA stage will need at least 12-15kW on signal peaks and it will want it now! So likely, 3-phase power is needed, and with a beefy local energy store to smooth out those sharp peaks.

An AM transmitter will also occupy a decent-size land area. If you want an idea; have a look at the 4QR/4QG site or 4KQ’s site as examples. That size area does not come cheap.

Internet broadcasting

This looks to be, in the short-term, the cheaper option if we aim to start small first. We still need the content license, but potentially there are fewer unknowns in the costs. The interesting bit is the content license requirements, specifically I had a look at the forms needed to apply for such a license… this question stuck out:

“What security measures will be in place to prevent downloading or stream ripping?”

This is a tricky-one. In terms of technology my first choice would be something like icecast to manage the audio streams, but this is trivially ripped (possibly using nothing more exotic than wget).

DAB+ can be ripped trivially — qt-dab has both a “frame dump” and an “audio dump”; the former gives you the raw HE-AAC frames, the latter gives you decompressed PCM audio. The same tool can even rip the whole multiplex, recording every single station simultaneously (all 28 stations for the Brisbane DAB 1 multiplex).

Fundamentally, our ears do not hear digital signals, they only respond to analogue pressure waves (travelling through a gas or liquid). To listen to a “digital” station, it must first be converted from whatever on-air format it’s in to a plain uncompressed audio stream, passed through a digital-to-analogue converter, then amplified to electrically drive a speaker transducer which converts the electrical signal into the sound-pressure waves that our ears respond to.

Those sound pressure waves are not protected from being converted back to an electrical signal, having that electrical signal sampled through a analogue-to-digital converter and captured by a storage device.

Years ago, yes, I had some pirated music, and this included a copy of Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh (I now have a legally purchased CD of that song, and the MP3 no longer exists on my equipment), in which you could hear someone gently placing a microphone in front of a speaker and nudging it forward. That method works whether the source material is a Victorian-era wax-cylinder phonograph recording or a Blu-ray disc. It would also work for any streaming service you care to mention.

Indeed, most of the listening devices feature headphone sockets or Bluetooth interfaces — it is entirely possible to sample the analogue or digital electrical signal without the acoustic conversion. Most computer sound devices feature a “monitor” port you can record from, and there’s nothing stopping you plugging in a device that advertises itself to two hosts as a USB Audio class device, piping audio from one to the other.

Yes, there’s signal degradation doing that, but this does not matter in a piracy law suit: it could be downmixed to mono and downsampled to a 2kHz sample rate with a 4-bit resolution, and still be a copyright violation.

So I wonder what “counts” as a security measure. No doubt this was a request put in by the record companies who seem to forget the above limitation. Maybe services like Listener and iHeartRadio have some tricks up their sleeve… who knows? Firefox seems to see iHeartRadio like any other website, and of course, to pipewire, Firefox is just like any other pulseaudio client, so stream ripping is very doable.

Also interesting was the question of: “How will access by countries other than Australia be restricted?” We seem to live in a world where VPNs don’t exist or are 100% detectable by the hosts. If I can stand up a VPN server, and “dial” into it from my tablet from any sufficiently-open Internet connection on the planet: practically anyone can. In doing so, it would look like I’m streaming from my home Internet connection, not from the real connection.

Funding the costs

So, for a station to “stand on its own feet”, it would need to find a revenue stream that pays for the above. The way most do it is through advertising, and there are groups like Commercial Radio Australia that cater to that. No idea what they pay broadcasters, but I’d imagine it’s a function of service area, number of listeners and the listener demographics.

This is hard to know in advance. The station I’m looking at as a model targeted the 40+ market (noting that I myself am not in that age bracket). Some of this group will be less technically inclined to do Internet streaming unless there’s some sort of dedicated streaming client available through their device’s software repositories. Integration into smart speaker voice assistants is a desirable feature to some this group, but many I’ll bet are listening the same way they’ve done for decades: traditional radio broadcast.

I think a “new” Internet-only station is going to struggle justifying the same fee for an advertising slot as an established 75-year old broadcast station.

Asking for donations might be another avenue, but having done work for a few charities in my time, this is definitely not an easy way to raise funds. Staff would essentially be volunteers: this would be at best a side-hustle for me and anyone else that joins me in this venture.

Subscription services for Internet broadcasting could work, but then you’re competing against the likes of Spotify, Deezer, Bandcamp, et all… that’s tough going! They don’t make much, and pass even less on as royalties. Plus, the listeners will likely demand more than just an advertising-free experience, they’ll probably want music-on-demand, which is a whole different class of content-license, and would have to be factored into the subscription fees.

Time will tell on the above, but that at least gives some thought as to what I’d be up for if I decided to take this thought-exercise further.

New project: a replacement head unit for the Yaesu FT-857(D)

So, for a long while now I’ve been a user of a Yaesu FT-857D. I bought it back in 2011 as shop-soiled stock (someone bought it before me thinking they could make it work on 27MHz!) and have used it on the bicycle pretty much ever since.

The FT-857D is a great rig. Capable of all common amateur bands from 160m through to 70cm, 100W on MF/HF/6m, 50W on 2m, 20W on 70cm, and able to work AM/FM/SSB/CW, in a nice small package. It’s ideal for the bike in that regard. The only thing I could wish for is an actually waterproof head unit, but the stock one has been good, until now.

Last time I rode the bike I had no issues with the head unit display, things were stable and working just fine. That was some months back. Today fired it up to check the battery voltage: it seems I’ve got the dreadded zebra stripe issue. The bike has been in the garage for the past few months, so under cover, not in the sun… anecdotal evidence is that this problem is caused by vibration/heat in vehicle installations, but some reports suggest this can happen for indoor fixed installations too.

The problem

Either way, the zebra has made its home in my radio’s head unit and the display is now pretty much unreadable. Reports suggest I can send it back to Yaesu, pay them $200 (I presume that’s USD, and does not include shipping), and they will replace the defective LCD. However… given they discontinued making these things a few years back, I think I’ve missed the boat on that one!

Time for replacement?

Buying a new replacement isn’t viable right now — Yaesu don’t make anything equivalent: the FT-991A is too big (same size as the FT-897D), the FT-891 doesn’t do 2m/70cm, the FT-818ND is only QRP. Icom’s IC-7100 is the nearest competitor, not out of the question, except it’s a pricey unit for something that will be out in the weather.

Also, a lot of these options are out-of-stock with a big lead time.

Most of the Chinese units only do FM, and are at best quad-banders. Not that I’m interested in buying one: I hear they’re not the longest-lived of transceivers and right now I wish to avoid buying from China anyway.

Kenwood are basically out of the market here in Australia, and they never had an offering like the Icom or Yaesu units; their TS-480SAT was the closest, but does not cover 2m/70cm. The TS-2000 is a monster.

Alinco don’t have anything in a mobile format that competes either. The DX-SR9T does not cover 2m/70cm and is rather big; none of their 2m/70cm sets do HF or SSB.

Keeping the old faithful going

The radio itself works fine. It looks like the wreck of the Hesperus… with paintwork rubbed off the body, screws missing, a DIY fix on the antenna ports, and miscellaneous fixes to other bits. It still works though.

DIY Repair

This could be tricky as I’m not entirely sure what the issue is. It could be just a need for re-flowing everything, or there’s talk of parts needing replacement. The information I have is pretty murky and I could wind up making my partially-working head unit completely non-working.

Replacement used head unit

If someone had a working head unit that they were willing to part with, that might be an option. That said, the used unit could have the same problems my existing unit has, so no guarantee it’ll fix the problem.

CAT port auxiliary display

There are projects that link to the CAT port and present a UI on a separate screen. I was planning on putting a Raspberry Pi 4 there for SDR work, so that’s an option.

Homebrew head unit

Another option is to make a new front head unit. It turns out this has been partially reverse-engineered, so might be a worthy avenue to consider. That would give me a head unit that I can purpose-build for the bike: an attractive option. The hardware interface is 5V TTL UART with a 62kbps baud rate and 8-bits, no parity, two stop bits.

I have a big LCD (128×64) that has been kicking around for a while as well as some TFT resistive touchscreen displays with STM32F103VEs.

The Raspberry Pi 4 scraping the data and presenting it via a remote UI is also an option, in fact may be the direction I wind up going simply because Python on an ARM CPU is much easier to use prototyping something than doing C on a MCU whilst I bed down the finer details of the protocol.

The attraction of this is that I can use what I have on-hand now. Possibly use my tablet as the front-end in the short term. Not good in the rain, but can’t argue with the price!

I’ll go ponder this some more… one thing I am short of though is time to work on this stuff. This week-end is through, and the next one I’ll already be tied up on the Saturday, so I guess I’ll have to squeeze something in.

Why?

Seriously Amazon, why?

So, yeah, I’m trying to convert music wish-list entries to actual recordings in my music collection (as I won’t hear many of these on the radio anymore). I must stress I do want to support the artist by buying at least one license to their work. Preferably in a lossless form like CD or FLAC, but LP will do if the other two aren’t available. Heck, I even have a cassette player if it comes to that!

I don’t want to pirate music. That was something I did in the last century because I didn’t have money — those MP3s are deleted long ago (they got thrown out around 2004 or so; for both technical and legal reasons).

Making legally-purchased copies unobtainable does not help make this happen! Making copies unobtainable encourages piracy!

In this case, someone does have a copy for sale. There’s even an “Add To Cart” button to indicate a desire to purchase. Guess what, it just tells me “Not Added” when I click it. Can I contact Amazon about it? Not that I can see!

Seems the recording industry and the retailers are their own worst enemy on this front. Too distracted by the modern “hip” stuff than the stuff the rest of us actually listen to.

Demise of a Brisbane Icon: 4KQ to become “sports” station from 1st July

So, this is quite sad news… I learned this on Friday morning that one of Brisbane’s longer-serving radio stations will be taken over by new management and will change its format from being a “classic hits” music station, to being a 24/7 sports coverage station.

It had been operated by the Australian Radio Network who had recently done a merger with a rival network, Grant Broadcasters, picking up their portfolio which included their portfolio of stations which included a number of other Greater Brisbane region stations. This tipped them over the edge and so they had to let one go, the unlucky victim was their oldest: 4KQ.

Now, you’re thinking, big deal, there are lots of radio stations out there, including Internet radio. Here’s why this matters. Back in the 90s, pretty much all of the stations here in Brisbane were locally run. They might’ve been part of a wider network, but generally, the programming about shows and music was decided on by people in this area. Lots of songs were hits only in Brisbane. There are some songs that did not make the music charts anywhere else world-wide. But, here in Brisbane, we requested those songs.

Sometimes the artists knew about this, sometimes not.

Over time, other stations have adjusted their format, and in many cases, abandoned local programming, doing everything from Sydney and Melbourne. Southern Cross Austereo tried this with Triple M years ago, and in the end they had to reverse the decision as their ratings tanked and complaints inundated the station.

4KQ represented one of the last stations to keep local programming. I’m not sure how many still do, but in particular this station was unique amongst the offerings in this area due to its wide coverage of popular music spanning 1960 ~ 1995, and in particular, its focus on the Brisbane top-40 charts.

Some of the radio programs too were great: Brent James in particular had an art for painting a picture of Brisbane at that time for both people who were there to experience it, those who missed out because they lived someplace else, and people like myself who were either too young to remember or not alive at the time in the first place. A lot of their other staff too, had a lot of music knowledge and trivia — yes you can reproduce the play lists with one’s own music collection, but the stories behind the hits are harder to replicate. Laurel Edwards is due to celebrate her 30th year with the station — that’s a long commitment, and it’s sad to think that this will be her last through no fault or decision of her own.

It’s loss as a music station is a major blow to the history of this city. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, they’ve torn down Festival Hall to put up an apartment block!

A new normal

The question is, where to now? The real sad bit is that this was a successful station that was only culled because of a regulatory compliance issue: ARN now had too many stations in the Greater Brisbane area, and had to let one go. They reluctantly put it up for sale, and sure enough, a buyer took it, but that buyer was not interested in preserving anything other than the frequency, license and broadcast equipment.

In some ways, AM is a better fit for the yap-fest that is SEN-Q. They presently broadcast on DAB+ at 24kbps in essentially AM-radio quality. 4KQ has always been a MW station, originally transmitting at 650kHz back in 1947, moving to 690kHz a year later… then getting shuffled up 3kHz to its present-day 693kHz in 1978 when the authorities (in their wisdom at the time) decided to “make room” by moving all stations to a 9kHz spacing.

Music has never been a particularly good fit for AM radio, but back in 1947 that was the only viable option. FM did exist thanks to the work of Edwin Armstrong, but his patents were still active back then and the more complicated system was less favourable to radio manufacturers at a time when few could afford a radio (or the receiver license to operate it). So AM it was for most broadcasters of that time. “FM radio” as we know it today, wouldn’t come into existence in Brisbane until around 1980, by which time 4KQ was well-and-truly established.

The question remains though… ratings were pretty good, clearly there is demand for such a station. They had a winning formula. Could an independent station carry forward their legacy?

The options

So, in July we’ll have to get used to a new status-quo. It’s not known how long this will last. I am not advocating vigilante action against the new owners. The question will be, is there enough support for a phoenix to rise out of the ashes, and if so, how?

Existing station adopting 4KQ’s old format?

This might happen. Not sure who would be willing to throw out what they have now to try this out but this may be an option. There are a few stations that might be “close enough” to absorb such a change:

  • 4BH (1116kHz AM) does specialise in the “older” music, but it tends to be the softer “easy listening” stuff, they don’t do the heavier stuff that 4KQ and others do. (e.g. you won’t hear AC/DC)
  • KIIS 97.3 (97.3MHz FM) was 4KQ’s sister station, at present they only do music from the 80s onwards.
  • Triple M (104.5MHz FM) would be their closest competitor. They still do some 60s-80s stuff, but they’re more focused on today’s music. There’s a sister-station, Triple M Classic Rock (202.928MHz DAB+) but they are an interstate station, with no regional focus.
  • Outside of Brisbane, River 94.9 (94.9MHz FM) in Ipswich would be the closest to 4KQ. They make frequent mentions of 4IP and its charts. Alas, they are likely beaming west as they are not receivable in this part of Brisbane at least. (VK4RAI on the other hand, located on the same tower can be received, and worked from here… so maybe it’s just a case of more transmit power and a new antenna to service Brisbane?)

I did a tune-around the other day and didn’t hear anything other than those which was in any way comparable.

Interesting aside, 4IP of course was the hit station of its day. These days, if you look up that call-sign, you get directed to RadioTAB… another sports radio station network. Ironic that its rival meets the same fate at the hands of a rival sports radio network.

A new station?

Could enough of us band together and start afresh? Well, this will be tough. It’d be a nice thing if we could, and maybe provide work for those who started the year thinking their job was mostly secure only to find they’ve got two more months left… but the tricky bit is we’re starting from scratch.

FM station?

A new FM station might be ideal in terms of suiting the format, and I did look into this. Alas, not going to happen unless there’s a sacrifice of some sort. I did a search on the ACMA license database; putting in Mt. Coot-tha as the location (likely position of hypothetical transmitter, I think I chose Ch 9 site, but any on that hill will do), giving a radius of 200km and a frequency range of 87-109MHz.

Broadcast FM radio stations are typically spaced out every 800kHz; so 87.7MHz, 88.5MHz, 89.3MHz, … etc. Every such frequency was either directly taken, or had a station within 400kHz of it. Even if the frequency “sounded” clear, it likely was being used by a station I could not receive. A big number of them are operated by churches and community centres, likely low-power narrowcast stations.

The FM broadcast band, as seen from a roof-top 2m “flower pot” in The Gap.

There’s only two ways a new station can spring up on FM in the Brisbane area:

  • an existing station closes down, relinquishing the frequency
  • all the existing stations reduce their deviation, allowing for new stations to be inserted in between the existing ones

The first is not likely to happen. Let’s consider the latter option though. FM bandwidth is decided by the deviation. That is, the modulating signal, as it swings from its minimum trough to its maximum peak, causes the carrier of the transmitter to deviate above or below its nominal frequency in proportion to the input signal amplitude. Sometimes the deviation is almost identical to the bandwidth of the modulating signal (narrowband FM) or sometimes it’s much greater (wideband FM).

UHF CB radios for example; deviate either 2.5kHz or 5kHz, depending on whether the radio is a newer “80-channel” device or an older “40-channel” device. This is narrowband FM. When the ACMA decided to “make room” on UHF CB, they did so by “grandfathering” the old 40-channel class license, and decreeing that new “80-channel” sets are to use a 2.5kHz deviation instead of 5kHz. This reduced the “size” of each channel by half. In between each 40-channel frequency, they inserted a new 80-channel frequency.

This is simple enough with a narrowband FM signal like UHF CB. There’s no sub-carriers to worry about, and it’s not high-fidelity, just plain old analogue voice.

Analogue television used FM for its audio, and in later years, did so in stereo. I’m not sure what the deviation is for broadcast FM radio or television, but I do know that the deviation used for television audio is narrower than that used for FM radio. So evidently, FM stereo stations could possibly have their deviation reduced, and still transmit a stereo signal. I’m not sure what the trade-off of that would be though. TV stations didn’t have to worry about mobile receivers, and most viewers were using dedicated, directional antennas which better handled multi-path propagation (which would otherwise cause ghosting).

Also, TV stations to my knowledge, while they did transmit sub-carriers for FM stereo, they didn’t transmit RDS like FM radio stations do. Reducing the deviation may have implications on signal robustness for mobile users and for over-the-air services like RDS. I don’t know.

That said, lets suppose it could be done, and say Triple M (104.5MHz) and B105 (105.3MHz) decided to drop their deviation by half: we could then maybe squeeze a new station in at 104.1MHz. The apparent “volume” of the other two stations would drop by maybe 3dB, so people will need to turn their volume knobs up higher, but might work.

I do not know however if this is technically possible though. In short, I think we can consider a new FM station a pipe dream that is unlikely to happen.

New AM station?

A new AM station might be more doable. A cursory look at the same database, putting in much the same parameters but this time, a 300km radius and a frequency range of 500kHz-1.7MHz, seems to suggest there are lots of seemingly “unallocated” 9kHz slots. I don’t know what the frequency allocation strategy is for AM stations within a geographic area. I went a wider radius because MW stations do propagate quite far at night: I can pick up 4BU in Bundaberg and ABC Radio Emerald from my home.

The tricky bit is physically setting up the transmitter. MW transmitters are big, and use lots of power. 4KQ for example transmitted 10kW during daylight hours. Given it’s a linear PA in that transmitter, that means it’s consuming 20kW, and when it hits a “peak” it will want that power now!

The antennas are necessarily large; 693kHz has a wavelength of 432m, so a ¼-wave groundplane is going to be in the order of 100m tall. You can compromise that a bit with some clever engineering (e.g. see 4QR’s transmitter site off the Bruce Highway at Bald Hills — guess what the capacitance hat on the top is for!) but nothing will shrink that antenna into something that will fit a suburban back yard.

You will need a big open area to erect the antenna, and that antenna will need an extensive groundplane installed in the ground. The stay-wires holding the mast up will also need a big clearance from the fence as they will be live! Then you’ve got to keep the transmitter fed with the power it demands.

Finding a place is going to be a challenge. It doesn’t have to be elevated for MW like it does for VHF services (FM broadcast, DAB+), but the sheer size of the area needed will make purchasing the land expensive.

And you’ve got to consider your potential neighbours too, some of whom may have valid concerns about the transmitter: not liking the appearance of a big tower “in their back yard”, concerns about interference, concerns about “health effects”… etc.

DAB+?

This could be more doable. I don’t know what costs would be, and the big downside is that DAB+ radios are more expensive, as well as the DAB+ signal being more fragile (particularly when mobile). Audio quality would be much better than AM, but not quite as good as FM (in my opinion).

It’d basically be a case of opening an account with Digital Radio Broadcasting Pty Ltd, who operate the Channel 9A (202.928MHz) and Channel 9B (204.64MHz) transmitters. Then presumably, we’d have to encode our audio stream as HE-AAC and stream it to them somehow, possibly over the Internet.

The prevalence of “pop-up” stations seems to suggest this method may be comparatively cost-effective for larger audiences compared to commissioning and running our own dedicated transmitter, since the price does not change whether we have 10 listeners or 10000: it’s one stream going to the transmitter, then from there, the same signal is radiated out to all.

Internet streaming?

Well, this really isn’t radio, it’s an audio stream on a website at this point. The listener will need an Internet connection of their own, and you, the station operator, will be paying for each listener that connects. The listener also pays too: their ISP will bill them for data usage.

A 64kbps audio stream will consume around 230MB every 8 hours. If you stream it during your typical 8-hour work day, think a CD landing on your desk every 3 days. That’s the data you’re consuming. That data needs to be paid for, because each listener will have their own stream. If there’s only a dozen or so listeners, Internet radio wins … but if things get big (and 4KQ’s listenership was big), it’ll get expensive fast.

The other downside is that some listeners may not have an Internet connection, or the technical know-how to stream a radio station. I for example, do not have Internet access when riding the bicycle, so Internet radio is a no-go in that situation. I also refuse to stream Internet radio at work as I do not believe I should be using a workplace Internet connection for personal entertainment.

Staff?

The elephant in the room is staffing… there’s a workforce that kept 4KQ going who would soon be out of work, would they still be around if such a station were to materialise in the near future? I don’t know. Some of the announcers may want a new position in the field, others may be willing to go back to other vocations, and some are of an age that they may decide hanging up the headphones sounds tempting.

I guess that will be a decision for each person involved. For the listeners though, we’ve come to know these people, and will miss not hearing from them if they do wind up not returning to the air.

In the meantime

What am I doing now? Well, not saving up for a broadcast radio license (as much as my 5-year-old self would be disgusted at me passing up such an opportunity). I am expanding my music collection… and I guess over the next two months, I’ll be taking special note of songs I listen to that aren’t in my collection so I can chase down copies: ideally CDs or FLAC recordings (legally purchased of course!)… or LPs if CDs are too difficult.

Record companies and artists could help here — there are services like ZDigital that allow people to purchase and download individual songs or full albums in FLAC format. There are also lots of albums that were released decades ago, that have not been re-released by record companies. Sometimes record companies don’t release particular songs because they seemingly “weren’t popular”, or were popular in only a few specific geographic areas (like Brisbane).

People like us do not want to pirate music. We want to support the artists. Their songs did get played on radio, and still do; but may not be for much longer. Not everything is on Spotify, and sometimes that big yellow taxi has a habit of taking those hits away that you previously purchased. They could help themselves, and the artists they represent, by releasing some of these “less popular” songs as FLAC recordings for people to purchase. (Or MP3 if they really insist… but some of us prefer FLAC for archival copies.)

The songs have been produced, the recordings already exist, it seems it’s little skin of their nose to just release them as digital-only singles on these purchase-for-download platforms. I can understand not wanting to spend money pressing discs and having to market and ship them, but a file? Some emails, a few signed agreements and one file transfer and it’s done. Not complicated or expensive.

Please, help us help you.

Anyway… I guess I have a shopping list to compile.