Now Out: Mediageek Zine #2

It made its debut at the Allied Media Conference, where a lucky 16 or so got their hands on the first copies, and now it’s available to everyone: mediageek zine #2.
This new issue contains the following articles:

Zining on the Cheap, by Low Hug Editrix Aj Michel – Chock full of hints and tips for getting your zine put together cheaply but with style and quality.
Lomo Me, Lomo You – I Am not a Photographer – My musings on a pile of cheap plastic cameras from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, along with ideas for taking pics on the cheap.
Evolution of a Radiogeek – Reflections on my first moments as a boy on the radio, using a Radio Shack kit and spool of wire (preview this article below).
Pirate Radio Across the Nation, by John Anderson of – John provides an incredibly comprehensive overview of the unlicensed microbroadcasting scene in the US, region by region. This article alone is worth the cost of the ‘zine, because data this rich and organized isn’t available anywhere else.
Read Pirate Radio – Collected reviews of books on topic of pirate radio, including reviews of: Pirate Radio Stations, by Andrew Yoder; 40 Watts from Nowhere, by Sue Carpenter; Access to the Airwaves, by Allan H. Weiner; Seizing the Airwaves, edited by Ron Sakolsky and Stephen Dunifer.

Like I did with mediageek #1, I’ll give you a teaser piece here for free, click MORE below to read Evolution of a Radiogeek.

mediageek zine #2 is available for $3 post-paid, currently via the mail only. Send well concealed cash or money order to:
Paul Riismandel
P.O. Box 2102
Champaign, IL 61825-2102

I will post the full zine here in electronic form once this printing is sold out. However, given that zine #1 is still not yet sold out, I wouldn’t hold my breath. So, send the three clams already.

Evolution of a Radiogeek
by Paul Riismandel
from mediageek zine #2

I was a weird kid, always playing with radios and other electronic devices. I drove my mother crazy many Saturday mornings coming home from garage sales with 20-year-old 25 cent transistor radios and $1 record players that I insisted worked fine, despite controls that crackled loudly every time you touched them and the smell of a dozen musty basements. And that was before I took them apart.

Nevertheless, my parents indulged my electronic curiosity, at least within the limits of their tolerance. In order to stem the tide of half-functioning ancient radios piling up, I suppose, my parents bought me a series of toy electronics kits, also at garage sales.

If you’ve never seen one of these kits, they’re intended to introduce kids to basic electronics, kind of like how chemistry sets introduce kids to making water turn blue and the wonder of mild acids. I don’t think kids these days get the same wide variety of toxic and flammable substances that kids in the 60s and 70s did — what with safety and lawsuit concerns, and not wanting to introduce children to the marvelous power of ammonium nitrate until they’re old enough for military service. Of course, I had a chemistry set, too, at some point in my childhood, but, perhaps lucky for some, but unlucky for others, radio would be my bomb.

These electronics kits were usually named something like 1001-in-1 electronic projects. What it actually was composed of was a bunch of basic electronic components, transistors, resistors, relays and the like, mounted to a plastic board. Each component was attached to a little spring that stuck up from the board. The kit came equipped with a pile of wires in different colors corresponding to their length. To make something useful out of this thing you connected wires from one component to another in some particular sequence.

Of course, the key to making anything that actually functioned was in the instruction book, which outlined such cool stuff as burglar alarms and Morse code generators. I’m still not sure what a nine year old kid in his bedroom needs a Morse code generator for, since the kit didn’t also include a way to communicate with ships or Soviet spies, but I built it and happily beep-beep-beep-beeeeeeeeped for an afternoon.

I’m pretty sure that by age ten I had made most of the simpler projects in the instructional manuals, but there was one project above all that stimulated my interest — a radio transmitter. I remember this project being a little more complex than most. Lots more connections and even some fairly precise tuning.

Initially I put off building the transmitter, daunted by the long list of instructions — I thought it would take days to complete. But I couldn’t get the idea of having my own radio transmitter out of my head.

Every since I’d been old enough to work a tape recorder and a record player I had been playing DJ, making tapes of myself emulating the DJs I heard on the great New York AM top 40 stations like WNBC, and the significantly less slick jocks on the few stations local to my mid-Jersey Shore home of Toms River. I even recorded commercials off these stations to insert into my programs to make them sound more like real radio.

I’d torture my little brother, who was about three, by putting a an extension speaker wired to the tape player in his room and calling it “cable radio.” Even at his young age, he wasn’t buying it — so my proposed billing rate of 25 cents a week never took hold either.

And, come to think of it, to this day I still haven’t made any actual money off of doing radio.

But with this radio transmitter kit built out of bargain-basement surplus electronics, plastic and little wires and springs, I could stop making shows just for myself, and entertain the whole neighborhood. I’d been practicing, so I imagined scores of neighborhood kids listening in and calling me with requests.

I decided that I had to rise to the challenge and build the transmitter, no matter how many afternoons it would take.

Actually, I don’t remember it taking all that long to actually assemble the transmitter project. Either I’d become practiced enough at securing little wires into springs with acuity, or my eager anticipation collapsed the passage of time. In any event, once I’d finished basic construction I wasn’t quite yet done. I would need a good fresh battery and an antenna.

The instruction manual had very stern warnings that the transmitter was designed to only work with about 3 volts of power, like you’d get from two AA batteries and that the FCC put stiff limits on how big your antenna could be. The antenna was a long piece of wire, but was to be absolutely no longer than 8 feet in total. The way the instructions made it sound, if I decided to get ambitions and tack on another 6 inches of wire, I’d have the federales at my front door in no time.

So I very dutifully followed these instructions and precisely measured 8 feet of thin wire — well at least as precisely as a ten-year old can do with a plastic ruler. Then I scotch taped the wire to the ceiling of my bedroom, figuring that higher was better, and that using the roof would probably get my kit taken away.

To get sound into the transmitter you used the crystal earphone that also doubled as a microphone. A crystal mic represents the height of 1910 engineering, and so the fidelity was just shy of a Fisher Price walkie-talkie. I connected the mic then the batteries and I was on the air, or so I had to believe.

For proof I turned on one of my best radios and tuned around the AM dial near where I thought I was broadcasting and listened for something. Tapping on the microphone provided enough sound that I could find the signal, and it sounded pretty clear, which it should have, considering the receiver was about eight feet directly below the antenna.

Of course, then, I was faced with a dilemma — you’re on the air, what are you going to put on? I hadn’t actually planned a show, since I’d been mostly preoccupied with getting the kit actually assembled. I think I did a quick station ID, I don’t remember the call letters I chose, and set the microphone in front of the speaker to my record player. I had a decent sized record collection for a ten-year old kid, but I’m not sure what record i chose to play first.

It might seem strange to some people, but the question of what to put on the air was really secondary to the fact that i was actually on the air. The first record may have been my treasured LP of the K-Tel collection “Goofy Greats” or maybe my library-discharged copy of “Abbey Road,” I honestly don’t recall.

After the careful application of more scotch tape to keep the microphone in place — it seems my parents always had at least a gross of the stuff tucked away at any time — I thought I should find out how far my stations would go. This required a portable transistor radio and my bike — a fine blue banana seat Huffy. Just outside my window in the driveway I could get the signal pretty clear, so I hopped on the bike with the radio in one hand.

And I was good for maybe 100 feet. Which is about 10 seconds of riding for your average one-speed Huffy.

At the edge of the signal’s reception, where static was mostly outperforming my transmitter, I pushed my bike backwards a few feet as the signal got better. My excitement at actually broadcasting was tempered by the stark reality of the limits of the 1001-in-1 kit transmitter. It was yardcasting, not broadcasting.

But, I thought, maybe the signal is better in the other direction. In order to verify, I dismounted from the bike, perhaps so the harsh pain of reality would set in just a little slower, and walked up the street in the opposite direction.

Maybe 125 feet later, my radio emitted only static.

However, i wasn’t defeated. I knew that it must be those stupid rules in the instruction manual that were holding me back. I went back to my room and powered down, and then set about a search for a 9-volt battery and more wire. There wasn’t much more than 8 feet of wire included in the kit, and it seemed like it would take forever to connect all the little lengths of interconnect wire to make a longer antenna. So off i went to my Dad’s storehouse of batteries and junk to see what I could find.

I’m was lucky that my Dad was always pretty patient with my tinkering, with an amazing willingness to haul me to Radio Shack to try and explain to the often bemused salesman exactly what component I was looking for to finish a project. About half the time I knew what I was talking about, and the other half my reach was truly exceeding my grasp. However, only about a quarter of the time was the Rat Shack salesguy able or willing to actually help.

Dad was also very tolerant of my rifling though his crap to bolster my supplies. So a roll of unlabeled wire and a relatively fresh 9-volt battery were easily obtained.

Looking at the impotent 8-foot antenna taped to my bedroom ceiling, I thought that having the antenna inside was probably not helping, since I could usually improve my radio reception when I stuck the antenna out the window.. Thus I thought it would be better to move the transmitter closer to the window and hang the wire antenna out to the ground, which would be a good distance since I was on the second floor. I also figured out that I could get the wire through the screen without opening it out, since I would surely catch hell if I opened the screen.

I don’t think it took very long to get around 15 feet of wire out the window and get the 9-volt battery attached. Again, I powered on and put the microphone up to the record player. Then off on my bike with the radio, eager to take a long ride listening to my station.

I rode the first 100 feet so slow I could barely stay upright, but the signal stayed strong and clear, bolstering my confidence to speed up to stable speed. I got all the way down the block to the entrance of the park at the end of my street and the signal was still there, so I headed up the street in the other direction.

I breathlessly arrived at the top of the street at the corner of a much busier street and the signal was still there. Not exactly strong hi-fidelity, but I could still hear it, and hear my record about to end. Victory.

On subsequent days I would realize that the signal didn’t extend much beyond my block, but that was still much better than only broadcasting to the squirrels in the front yard apple tree. I made several other modifications to extend my signal range using more batteries, more wire and other more voodoo-like techniques, but I don’t think things every got beyond a couple of blocks.

Still, I was pretty satisfied in my transmitter, and broadcasted on and off for most of that Summer, being careful to reel in my ever-longer antenna when i was done so that my Mom wouldn’t find out I was hanging things out the window. The FCC never visited my station, and I was never really able to convince any neighborhood kids to tune in, since they’d rather play wiffleball than strain their ears to listen to my faint little AM station.

I’d go on to make many other broadcasting attempts until my teen years when girls became a lot more interesting. I don’t think I ever constructed anything more powerful than a box full of Mister Microphones, but that really didn’t matter. I got bitten by the bug and in twenty-three years, I still haven’t recovered.

Even now I still tune throughout the staticky, empty spaces of the radio dial looking for some stray signal that might be a sound-sender broadcasting an iPod to a home stereo or some kid pushing an electronics kit to its limit. When I find them, I promise not to turn them in.