Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Driving around the Midatlantic Listening to Tater Patch Radio

The last entries that I wrote in the blog were about Greek and Dutch medium-wave pirates that I heard via SDRs. Medium-wave piracy isn't booming in the United States, and it's generally been a rarity to have the chance to really listen most any time in the past 20 years. Oh, there are examples, such as Radio Moshiach and Redemption and Radio Celesial if you lived in the New York City area, but not much sustained activity.

The New York City area was a hotbed of MW activity in the late '70s & early '80s. Some of the first pirates of any type that I heard included the KPRC on 1616 kHz and WDX on 1630 kHz on a GE boombox with its whip antenna. A couple of years later, I logged WWW on 1615 kHz and WHOT on 1625 kHz (I haven't verified these frequencies with my old logs, just winging it from memory) on my FRG-7.

By the end of the decade, I was hearing WENJ, WCPR, WKND, AM 1650, WJDI, and probably a few others. These stations were all heard on my FRG-7 while I was pining for a better receiver. But at the time, I never considered that the car radio might be a worthy listening option.

On October 19, I saw logs for Radio Corsair before I had to be drug around the neighborhood by our family dog. I tuned the Drake R8 to 1710 and started the recorder. Upon returning, I checked the car radio before going into the house. There it was! Strong signal & great audio on 1710 kHz. The operator talked at length about the station's setup and 500-watt transmitter, reasons for broadcasting, etc. Great stuff. I sat, riveted.

After about 20 minutes of listening, I went inside to the R8, where I knew the signal would be much better. Except that it wasn't. It was audible, but most of the talk was not copyable. A far cry from the big signal in the car. Is it the antenna length? The polarization of signal vs. my antenna? Is the car radio and antenna just "better optimized" for reception on these frequencies? I'm not positive, but I have a few ideas.

About two weeks later, I was in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and I felt compelled to tune the radio to 1630 kHz because I'd seen reports of Tater Patch Radio on the frequency. By golly, it was there and it was strong, but mixing with KCJJ, Iowa City. I checked 1710 and I could hear the same audio on that frequency, too. After maybe 10 minutes of listening, I heard “'80s, . . . the decade of Molly Ringwald's breasts . . . Tater Patch Radio, just good music, like this” into Van Halen “Hot for Teacher.” A minute or so later, the Van Halen song was preempted for a documentary on rockabilly.

We had a carload of people and conversations, so I only turned up the volume occasionally to check if Tater Patch Radio was still audible. And it was, the whole way from Harrisonburg to home in central PA. On the next weekend, we were near Sunbury, PA, and could hear Tater Patch Radio for about two hours.

In neither case was I in an optimum situation for listening, but they were still great experiences that I might not ever forget. And that takes me to the main point of this post. Why didn't I try listening in the car earlier? OK, that's kinda rhetorical because I didn't think the car radio would perform well and I just haven't had many MW pirates lately.

But it was just a fantastic listening experience, driving hundreds of miles at night with a pirate on the radio. Electromagnetic waves bouncing across the sky, as I pass small cities, large towns, and individual houses, and stare off into the night, enjoying the atmosphere of it all.

Now, I'm superimposing this experience on past stations. What if I had gone out to the car and listened to WKND's inaugural broadcast on Halloween night on 1621.3 kHz? What if I'd've heard KPRC while driving across the state and paused at a pay phone to talk with Pirate Joe?

All I know is that it would have been even more memorable. And I'm looking forward to hearing more broadcasts on 1710--especially while driving in the car.

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