Showing posts with label stereo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stereo. Show all posts

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How'd we stereo on radio before there was stereo radio?


The era of FM stereo radio began in June 1961, but the era of hi-fi stereo radio dates back to the 1950s.

But in the days before FM multiplex broadcasting, listening to stereo radio required two stations . . . and two radios, one AM and one FM. Or you could just buy a "binaural" AM-FM stereo tuner -- two dials, two tuning knobs, and in stereo mode, it would play AM and FM at the same time.

AM was on the left, FM on the right. (Unless, of course, it was the other way around. Or a complete free-for-all?)
 

What in the world would that have sounded like in, for instance, 1958? Let's take what we know about the capabilities of AM broadcasting and FM stations in the '50s, then see whether we can re-create the binaural AM-FM stereo experience.

It's November 1958. You're in Baton Rouge, La. It's 9 p.m. on a weeknight (Monday through Thursday), and you're in the mood to hear some WJBO "3-D" stereophonic sound on your new hi-fi setup.


ON YOUR NEW binaural high-fidelity tuner, your tune in 1150 on the AM dial. Left channel, check.

On the FM dial at 98.1 megacycles, you tune in WJBO's sister station, WBRL. Right channel, check.

Now it's time to sit back, relax and experience "music in three dimensions." For those of us back here in the future, the result sounds better than you would think.

Then again, so did AM radio in 1958. It's amazing what could be done with a wider AM bandwidth, owners who cared and well-engineered radios in listeners' homes.

I HOPE the following video demonstrates that, as I try to re-create what the WJBO-WBRL, AM-FM stereo pairing might have sounded like. I can't tell you how many times I redid this, trying to get the AM sound "right" . . . AM heard over excellent equipment, much better than what we're accustomed to today, from an era decades past.




I KEPT redoing this because I kept thinking, "No. This sounds too good. This can't be right."

And I kept saying this as someone who has a couple of AM-FM hi-fi tuners made in 1960 and knows that some amplitude-modulated stations, to this day, sound pretty decent on a true wideband tuner. This, despite the Federal Communications Commission -- in order to lessen interference and shoehorn more stations onto the dial three decades ago -- putting brick-wall limits on AM stations' frequency response out of the transmitter at 10 kHz.

A young person with good hearing can perceive frequencies up to 20 kHz.
 


But in 1958, many AM stations' transmitters had a frequency response almost as good as FM stations. FM's big advantage was in improved dynamic range, a lower noise floor and, as Steely Dan sang, "No static, no static at all."

Below is a rough representation of the frequency response of the "AM side" -- the left channel -- of the video above.


YOU'LL NOTE that I rolled off the low frequencies, just like a typical AM signal, then sharply rolled off the high end right below 15 kHz. I also bumped up the equalizer curve here and there to "sweeten" the sound a little, as an engineer would have done with even the rudimentary audio processing of the day. I tried not to overdo it. After all, I was worried that it sounded too good; I still wonder what I missed.

Too, the AM channel is more processed -- more compressed and a bit "louder" -- than the FM track. The reason? The easy answer is "That's what AM does."

The longer answer involves an attempt to, first, mimic the lesser dynamic range of AM broadcasting and, second, reflect that AM stations were much more heavily compressed and "hard-limited," because loudness equals distance and listenability on the noisy AM band.

Oh . . . I also added some "AM noise" to the "AM side" of the recording. Not too much, I hope, and not too little, either.

On the "FM side" of the soundtrack, I frankly worry that the audio may be too processed. Alternatively, however, if I were a chief engineer or a program director in 1958 and my AM-FM combo was going to dive into the "binaural stereo" thing . . . I'd want the FM side to match the AM side at least somewhat for loudness.

THAT'S IT for the technical and audio-geek minutiae. I doubt a normal person could stand much more.

Even if you're not a full-bore nerd like me, I hope you've still found a little fascination in this esoteric inquiry into one of the more forgotten aspects of hi-fi and broadcasting.

A phenomenon that births advertising like this (from 1959, after WBRL had changed call letters to WJBO-FM) -- not to mention a moniker like Soundascope Radio -- can't have been a total bust.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas 1962 . . . in full-fidelity FM stereo


Here, the tree stays up until Epiphany. We do things in the proper manner.

In that spirit, Revolution 21 presents Yuletide as it was heard in 1962 -- an hour and 19 minutes of Christmas Day programming in "full-fidelity FM stereo" on KQAL radio in Omaha. If you don't remember the 1960s, particularly FM radio in the early '60s, this will be a revelation to you.

Click for full-size version
This is not today's FM radio. This is . . . how shall we put it . . . laid back. Radio by grown-ups, you could say.

It's not all that slick. Technology was more difficult then. Records skipped, and there wasn't much money in FM in 1962. The money was over on AM, back when AM radio mattered. Really mattered.

In 1962 (in 1972, for that matter), FM was for dentist offices, your mom and dad and grandma and grandpa with their "elevator music" (look it up), and frequency modulation was for the "longhairs." No, not hippies. There weren't any yet -- "beatniks" were as counterculture as you got back then. The longhairs listened to classical music, and they were a lot more cultured than you and me.


HERE, KQAL was for the longhairs and elevator-music lovers from its inception April 19, 1959. And in 1962, it was the only station in these parts broadcasting in that newfangled "FM multiplex stereo," which became a thing in June 1961 after its approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

But you'll hear from this recording that FM receivers (or multiplex adapters, which also used to be a thing) weren't as good as they would be . . . and a 54-year-old reel-to-reel tape probably doesn't sound quite as bright as it once did. And you'll hear that stations like KQAL, at 94.1 on your FM stereo dial, still were figuring out what to do with that extra channel of audio when the records weren't playing.

Sometimes it could get weird. Listen, and you'll hear what I mean. No, I will not spoil it for you.

Some day soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow

BUT THAT'S NOT what's important.

What's important is that this is the sound of Christmas in my 55-year-old head and my 55-year-old heart. It's the sound of the holidays when adults ran the world, and I was far from being one.

When I think of Christmas in our two-bedroom, one-bath house on Darryl Drive in Baton Rouge, La., this station from long ago in Omaha, where I now have lived far longer than I did in Louisiana, is pretty much what I hear. For the record, I also smell fruitcake, pecans and walnuts, fresh oranges, strong coffee, a huge spruce tree in the living room . . . and Bruce floor wax.


I hear and smell these things that are no more. The older I get, the more it happens.

With each passing year, there also are more and more "no mores." At Christmas, I see the loved ones who once filled my house and my life but are no more. I hear the voices long silent.

I remember a Christmas Day soundtrack that sounded kind of like this. As it turns out, my memories are in full-fidelity FM stereo, too.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Because I'm a geek . . .


. . . I get all excited about procuring a 1962 Pioneer FM multiplex stereo adapter to go along with my monophonic 1960 Voice of Music tuner.

I did have a pretty basic V-M multiplexer hooked up to it, but the Pioneer is sooooo much nicer. And better. And you can adjust the stereo separation -- cool!

I just lost you, didn't I? My wife's eyes glaze over at "FM stereo multiplexer."

But she did perk up  at ". . . and I got in on ebay for about $150 less than these things usually sell for."

Friday, November 09, 2012

An important reminder


Advanced pickups aren't just good in bars and nightclubs. They're absolutely crucial on phonographs.

That's why it's important not only to play your Miracle Surface long-playing records only on the best equipment, but to make sure you're playing your stereophonic albums on the right equipment.

















After all, an RCA "Living Stereo" LP with the advanced Miracle Surface is a terrible thing to waste.

This important hi-fi reminder comes to you courtesy of Revolution 21 and 3 Chords & the Truth.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The sound and the beauty


Leave it to me to be a hi-fi geek staring into the abyss of whole generations now come of age hearing the world as a low-bitrate MP3 through cheap earbuds connected to an iPod.

Yes, my generation had crappy transistor AM radios we listened to with cheap earphones. But we also had stereo systems with killer tuners, wall-shaking amplifiers and loudspeakers the size of a Smart car.

And before I yell at you to get off my lawn -- punk -- I'll just say that back then, FM sounded great, AM sounded really good, and most consumer audio allowed you to hear that. Not only that, some of our "stereos" or "hi-fis" were stunningly beautiful, even. Above is the REL "Precedent" FM tuner, circa 1954 . . . some seven years before my time, I hasten to add.

Some vintage-audio aficionados say the Precedent -- in all its monophonic glory -- was the best FM tuner ever made. I don't have the expertise (or experience of it ) to be able to say. But I do think it might have been the prettiest.

My trusty old Marantz 2226 receiver, though, surely has a place on the prettiest stereo gear list somewhere. I've had it since I was 16, and that's it at left . . . aglow in the dark.

Then again, I am an anachronism. I value the spectacle, and the experience, of hearing good music nearly as much as the music itself. IPods and MP3s have their place today, of course. But for me, they are a utilitarian concession -- not the crème de la crème of a generation rendered tin-eared by a utilitarian age.

For this relic of an age long past, alas, there is nothing left but to offer a futile protest against the times in which I must live --
non serviam. Now find a jazz station somewhere on FM and crank that tube amp up to 11 for me, will you?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Music in the night


The Voice of Music, circa 1960.

When in doubt, replace the weak 12AX7 tube in the add-on multiplex adapter, which is much less painful of a procedure than Saturday night's project -- changing all the dial lamps in a 35-year-old Marantz receiver. The music in stereo is a little sweeter now, just as the old Marantz shines like new for the first time in years.

This geek minute has been brought to you by black wingtips and white athletic socks. Additional funding for this program has been provided by pocket protectors . . . pocket protectors, because pens leak.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Heavy metal


Don't bother me.

It sounds like my childhood in here.

It sounds like heavy metal.

Now, by heavy metal, I do not mean Megadeth. I'm talking a sheet-metal chassis filled with vacuum tubes and wires that connect them to resistors and capacitors and all manner of normal-size things that won't fit on a computer chip.



I'm talking an honest-to-God tube-type, hi-fi tuner . . . circa 1960, when FM was mono, not stereo, but you could buy this little box,
see? And when stereo did come to town, this "multiplexer"
(below) would set you up.


HI. I'm the Mighty Favog, and I'm a geekaholic. Hi, Favog!

Right now, I'm listening to the new/old Voice of Music tuner. No one will mistake it for state of the art. But the sound it produces could be mistaken for a certain Magnavox console, circa 1962. The one that lived in my childhood home.

It sounds quirky, but really warm. It also gets warm, thanks to the vacuum tubes, which fill the studio with a nostalgic aroma.

The old VM also is unforgiving. It hates rock stations that turn the processing up to 11. It really hates them. I can almost hear it saying,
"Back in my day. . . ."


BACK IN
its day, FM was for "good music." And like a good tuner of its time, the VM loves classical and jazz, enveloping the orchestration in an affectionate hug, then playfully tousling the music's long hair.

Which is a pun you might "get" if you're as old as I . . . and my Voice of Music tuner.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

House of hi-fi


You may be a geek if you get really excited over winning this in an eBay auction.

I am a geek, because the 1960 Voice of Music tuner (with an add-on FM multiplex adapter for that newfangled "stereo" thing) is mine. Mine! Mine! Mine! Because a radio isn't a real radio without vacuum tubes and Conelrad markers at 640 and 1240 on the AM dial.

There's only one purchase that could make me happier.


This.

But an opening bid of a little short of $1,000 is a lot more than a final purchase price of a little over $70. Champagne taste, etc., and so forth.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Happy are the ears that hear the Crown


There's a new monitor amp in town at 3 Chords & the Truth, and there's only one thing I really can say after getting it hooked up and going strong.


Long live the king!

My only regret is that you can't hear the Big Show as an uncompressed WAV file played on a Crown D-75A and a pair of vintage Electro-Voice Sentry 100A studio-monitor speakers. It sounds soooooo sweet.

There is no comparison to any consumer audio equipment that you're likely to find or be able to afford. I'd forgotten how spoiled you get having stuff like this in radio-station air studios and production rooms -- the old E-V studio speakers absolutely come alive when paired with the Crown amp. It's kind of breathtaking, actually.

Oh . . . I even built a little equipment rack for the Crown out of oak 1x4s, which I oiled up right nice to bring out the natural finish. Wait till I add the vintage '70s Pioneer tuner ($15 on eBay) that's on its way to Papa as I write.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hi-fi fries self in line of duty, once played the hits


This just in to the newsroom:
OMAHA, Neb. (INS) -- Harmon/Kardon 330C, the vintage stereo receiver deep into a second career as a monitor amp in a home production studio in this Midwestern metropolis, died in a cloud of ozone Saturday, with its right channel humming and the room stinking of toasted electronic components.

Harmon/Kardon 330C was 36 years old.

"Well, you had to figure this would happen sooner or later, using an old, second-hand receiver hours on end every day," said 3 Chords & the Truth host Mighty Favog. "I can't get mad about it; I think I got more than my $35 worth out of it over the past few years."

The dead receiver will be interred later in the week somewhere in a basement closet and will be exhumed for spare parts at a later date.

In a related development Saturday, 3 Chords & the Truth management announced that Crown 75-A -- a broadcast-industry standard monitor amplifier -- has been purchased as Harmon/Kardon's successor. Favog said it was time to call on pro equipment to do a real studio amp's job.

"Crown is the Cadillac of monitor amps," the aging program host slurred. "Those things were (unintelligible) built to go 24/7 in radio air studios, so it ought to (unintelligible) work here with no . . . problem."

The new 75-A, which Crown is discontinuing after decades of pro-audio popularity, was obtained from Broadcast Supply Worldwide for $399 -- a $622 discount from the list price as the merchant closes out its stock. Favog, somewhat distracted by the absence of Early Times from his coffee, added that he wanted to pay tribute to Harmon/Kardon for kicking the bucket at such an opportune moment.

Crown 75-A is slated to begin its studio duties sometime during the next two weeks.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Simply '70s: Dig the groovy sounds, man


This early-1970s TV commercial shows some Magnavox iPods docked for your home listening enjoyment.

Very stylish, no?


And this is a 1970 Magnavox Micromatic iPod undocked and ready to take with you wherever you go.

Young people back in my day were much stronger than today's youth, now more accustomed to toting around today's wimpy little iPod models.
Any questions?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Skip the eight-tracks, man



Here's the word, man! Don't take the $2.99 eight-tracks. They're. like, a total bad trip, man!

Grab the $1.57 LPs instead, man. Righteously cool choice, man!

I mean, that's my trip. You can do what you want, man. It's all groovy.

But I'd go for the LPs, man.

Dig you later.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Veni, vidi, geeky


Let us travel back to the early 1960s, when your Mighty Favog was but a sprite . . . and Americans still made stuff.

Sigh.