Friday, January 21, 2011

Silence in the Air Part 2 - The Sound of Silence

this week, Wavescan continues their Silence in the Air series

Last week here in Wavescan, we presented a feature item about silence on the radio, and we gave several examples regarding radio stations that were silenced for varying periods of time and for various reasons. We continue with this category of information, and we begin with the story about the silent juke box.
The juke box was a colorful electronic machine that could play multiple recordings of popular music and these were installed in restaurants and cafeterias throughout the United States. To operate the juke box, it was necessary to insert a coin in the slot, and then press a button according to the desired piece of music. The name juke box is derived from a slang term in one of the original African-American languages and they were most popular from the 1940s to the mid-1960s.
Some people who like to eat out in the popular restaurants preferred silence rather than what they considered to be raucous and rowdy music and their preference was also available in some of the juke box selections. If you wanted a few minutes of silence instead of music, you could insert a coin into the machine and press the button marked silence.
Back during the 1930s, and on subsequent occasions also, some radio broadcasting stations have experimented with the idea of silence within a commercial advertisement. This style of silence was in occasional use in both the United States and Australia, but it was never very successful.
In more recent time, for example, this idea of silence within a commercial was tried in Canada. Back in the year 2000, radio stations in both Toronto & Vancouver broadcast 17 seconds of silence in the middle of an advertisement to illustrate the performance of a super quiet dishwashing machine. However, disgruntled listeners who apparently were not listening to the programming very intently, telephoned these stations stating that they thought the station had left the air.
These days, with so many radio broadcasting stations proliferating around the world, sooner or later you will observe a radio station going silent with no audible programming, even if the station is still on the air. Some technical problem has occurred, and instead of broadcasting music or speech, there is just complete silence. Maybe a computer somewhere has not responded properly, or in earlier days, maybe a record player or a tape recorder has malfunctioned.
However, back in 1997, a whole network of AM & FM stations in the United States went silent during what was supposed to be a test of the emergency broadcast system. It is a requirement in the United States that all radio broadcasting stations should periodically broadcast an emergency alert test signal. Normally, this is simply a test of the system, as the announcer states, and not a real emergency at all.
It happened to be that several hundred AM & FM stations in three states, Ohio, Florida & Louisiana, were all hooked up to the same emergency alert system that was installed at the mediumwave station WLS in Chicago. However, there was an equipment malfunction at station WLS, and as a result, all of these connected stations went silent for around about one minute. The stations were still on the air, but no programming was audible.
As would be expected, sometimes what might be described as natural disasters will put stations off the air. For example, earlier last year, several local stations were off the air during the devastating floods in Nashville Tennessee, including the shortwave station WWCR. In the case of WWCR, the flood waters covered almost the entire area of land upon which the antenna system was standing, thus making it impossible for the signal to be radiated from the antenna system, and so the transmitters were closed down.
On onother occasion half a century ago, there was massive flooding in Australia, along the coastal border area of New South Wales and Queensland. The mediumwave station 2MW, located at Murwillumbah in the middle of the flooded areas, was taken off the air. However, by special arrangement, both the main out-of-town transmitter and the emergency in-town transmitter were activated and they were noted going on the air and off the air, alternately talking to each other.
Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina disabled most of the AM & FM stations in New Orleans, Louisiana. In fact, so many stations were off the air, and so great was the disaster in those coastal areas, that a large number of the radio stations combined their available personnel and equipment and they produced common emergency programming that was on the air under the title, The United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans.
Much of this programming was co-ordinated by the well known mediumwave station WWL, and it was on the air from the transmitters of other stations that could still be activated. In addition, shortwave station WHRI 800 miles distant, on the edge of Indianapolis, also carried this same programming in order to give wide area coverage of the tragic events and the many relief endeavors within the New Orleans area.
We could also mention that the island of Guam is sometimes hit by massive cyclones and there have been occasions when both shortwave stations, Trans World Radio KTWR & Adventist World Radio KSDA have been temporarily disabled, and off the air. The same thing occurred during the massive Cyclone Tracy that struck Darwin in Australia during the Christmas season in 1974. In fact, as a result of the damage that the transmitter facility sustained from the cyclone, the station was off the air for several years.
Earthquakes are another event that will disable radio stations and put them off the air. This has occurred in California on several occasions over the years, and it has also taken place on the island of Guam, and both shortwave stations KTWR & KSDA have been off the air for varying periods of time.
We could also mention about disastrous fires, that have temporarily silenced stations in California for example; and then too, sometimes animal invasions have caused problems in a radio station. Take for example, the story of the alligator in Colombia South America that waddled into the transmitter building of shortwave station HJ1ABB in 1936 and with one mighty sweep of its tail, damaged the transmitter and put it off the air.
We can think also of the mouse that quietly crawled into the transmitter of the ABC mediumwave station 2CO in Australia; there was a brilliant flash, and the station went silent for half an hour. Back in the year 1988, the on-duty announcer at Radio Uganda was reading the final news bulletin at the end of the broadcast day. Four minutes before sign off, a large snake slithered into the studio. The announcer abruptly ended his news bulletin, shut the station down a few minutes early, and promptly left the building.

Another reason why sometimes radio stations have gone silent is at the time of security emergencies. For example, during World War 2, mediumwave stations in New York City, and also over in California, and in Sydney Australia, were ordered off the air when it was thought that their signals could be used as a homing beacon by invading aircraft. In fact, station 4PM in Port Moresby New Guinea was closed down forever in 1941 for that very reason.
And finally, there are occasions when stations have gone silent, deliberately, so that listeners could hear a distant station on the same channel. Some 10 years ago, it was announced that the CBC station CBL in Toronto Ontario Canada was closing its mediumwave station and moving into the FM band. Station WJIB in Cambridge Massachusetts agreed to go silent for a short while so that listeners in North America could hear the final broadcast from CBL on 740 kHz.
Jerry Berg in his book, Listening on the Short Waves, tells of the occasion when the mediumwave powerhouse station WLW in Cincinnati Ohio agreed to go silent for just one minute so that listeners in North America could hear station HCJB in Ecuador on the same channel 700 kHz. Then again, under the initiative of Jerry Berg, the American shortwave station WWCR agreed to go silent for half an hour some years ago so that listeners could tune in to the temporary low powered transmitter on Madagascar off the coast of of Africa that was carrying local programming on behalf of Adventist World Radio.
(AWR Wavescan 99 via Adrian Peterson)