music

Boomer Boom Box: The Locals

It’s been a while since I last looked at this, basically, real life intervened… but let’s have a look at some local artists… that is, Australia and New Zealand. Bear in mind links can break — stores can withdraw options from sale (or the record companies can ask them to withdraw it), so it’s possible I can post links then have the rug pulled out from underneath me by the supplier.

Of course, if you know an alternate source (that is of new copies, not second-hand), do drop me a line and let me know.

The following are some artists with 10 or more significant tracks that I’ve been able to locate copies of so far.

Bee Gees

This was a very successful group that hails from the Redcliffe area of greater Brisbane, and of course 4KQ featured them very strongly over the decades.

Ultimate Bee Gees

A great start for this band would be the Ultimate Bee Gees compilation. It’s got nearly all of the hits they’re famous for, including their later stuff.

Timeless – The All-Time Greatest Hits

This was actually the first CD of theirs I bought… and it does do pretty well, but it misses Alone and some of their earlier work. BUT, as a budget-conscious option, definitely worth a look!

Other albums worth considering

The above will get you most of the tracks they’re known for… some other options worth considering:

  • Best Of Bee Gees (Vol. 2): includes I.O.I.O and My World — on Z-Digital
  • Mr. Natural: for its title track — on Z-Digital
  • To Whom It May Concern: for the song Road To Alaska — on Z-Digital
  • Life In A Tin Can: for the song Saw A New Morning — on Z-Digital

Daryl Braithwaite

The lead singer of Sherbet.

The Essential Daryl Braithwaite

If you’re looking for Daryl’s work from the 80s onwards, this is worth getting.

Dragon

From the other side of the ditch, Dragon are a great export out of New Zealand.

The Very Best Of Dragon

There are a few compilations out there, but this one is by far the better of the lot. The only song it misses out on in my opinion is Cry (for that, look for Body and The Beat, Cuts From The Tough Times or Snake Eyes on the Paradise: Greatest Hits). Pretty much everything else they’re known for is here.

  • Sanity (seems to be out-of-stock at the time of writing)

John Paul Young

A big name from the Countdown era.

I Hate the Music

This is a compilation of all his significant work over the 40 years or so he’s been releasing music.

Little River Band

The Definitive Collection

Most of the work done by this group from its early beginnings up to the 80s before John Farnham went solo.

Monsoon

This was where Glen Shorrock made his come-back… and is where you’ll find Love Is A Bridge.

(Upcoming) Masterpieces

This isn’t out yet, but it may be worth a look when it is released. It includes No Reins On Me, which does not appear on the other albums.

Skyhooks

Nearly everything from this iconic Melbourne band can be found on two albums.

Hits’n’Riffs

This has most of their hits.

Ego Is Not A Dirty Word

Features the song Love On The Radio.

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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn from Z-Digital.)

  • 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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn from Z-Digital.)

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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn from Z-Digital.) 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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn from Z-Digital.)

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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn from Z-Digital.)

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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn from Z-Digital.)

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. (As of 2022-09-22 it has been withdrawn 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.

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.

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.