Cadets have been fascinated with radio for years. Cadets built crystal sets in the 1920's. (right)
Cadet broadcasts from WMA date back to 1939 or earlier. (left) A game on the lower field is broadcast.
Most of the technology used in WMAS was developed by the 1930s.
Modern magnetic tape recording was an important exception.
Radio station WMAS dates back to 1957 or earlier. During my years at Western, WMAS was provisioned and run entirely by cadets. The school provided heat, power, and benign neglect. None of our faculty knew enough about electronics or broadcasting to give us help or guidance. We cadets were on our own.
The mixing console and transmitters were homebrewed. In those days, we couldn't get this sort of stuff from Radio Shack, Eico, or Heathkit.
The mixer console was loaned to us by Danny "Coyote" Howell '59, a WMAS participant for three years. The console was housed in a sloping panel crafted of thick steel with a large professional quality VU meter in the middle. The electronics inside the chassis were hard to get at. While working on the electronics "by braille" I touched the B+ wire, and the resulting shock induced a blue flash inside my head. I dropped the heavy case on my foot, which was worse.
I've built so many transmitters over the years I'm not sure which were used where. In my Wisconsin grade school days, I bummed old radios from the neighbors and converted some into transmitters. These transmitters simply fed audio into the grid cap of a 6A8 pentagrid converter and coupled the oscillator section of the variable condenser to the antenna. This could be heard 1/4 mile away. In 1958, an AC/DC radio I converted into a transmitter for the science fair blew a fuse in a previously unknown electrical panel at Lakewood Grade School. Our house cleaner unplugged everything in my bedroom before cleaning.
One transmitter we used at WMAS featured an oscillator tube feeding a screen grid modulated amplifier. I built it out of an old phonograph amplifier. It produced more output than commonly available "phono oscillators". It had a power transformer so hum was not much of a problem.
The WMAS FM transmitter was cobbled out of an old FM tuner. The tuner's AFC circuit applied the audio modulation.
The entire WMAS audio chain from record pickup to antenna was completely transformerless decades before transformerless circuits became audiophile chic. The signal was not passed through any processing device (i.e., compression, limiting, or equalization) at any time during production or broadcast. This was because we didn't have any of that equipment. We watched the VU meter and kept a hand on the pot.
The WMAS studios were located in the beautiful Fungus Room, an unused athletic locker room in the basement of D Barracks. The aerial was strung between D and C barracks.
The student newspaper carried a number of articles
about WMAS and Radio Free Moscow in 1960 and 1961.
The 45's mentioned above were borrowed from the merchants and recorded one after another on a reel of tape. Then I replaced the 45's in their sleeves, carefully reattached their labels, and returned them. This routine kept costs down, but restricted the flexibility of song selection because the songs had to be played in the sequence they were recorded. (We had but one recorder.) Some titles went stale faster than others.
WMAS beat WRPI (the licensed college stations of Rensselear Polytechnic Institute) to stereo broadcast by a few years - not bad for a high school station run entirely by the students, with no faculty support or supervision beyond worrying about us burning down the barracks. The FCC approved the FM stereo multiplex transmission standard in April, 1961. Commercial FM stereo multiplex broadcasting became commonplace later in the decade.
Reception at Monticello was never confirmed.
Col. Persing and my Father decided WMAS was consuming too much of my time, so I was "encouraged" to give up the radio station my senior year. Jim Young stepped up to the job as chronicled above.
A new station in nearby Wood River started broadcasting on OUR 590 KHz frequency. 590 had been the only reasonably quiet spot in the standard broadcast band. As I recall, we eventually retuned WMAS to 1610 or 1620, quiet frequencies used by flea powered roadside information systems and pirate broadcasters. The shorter wavelength gave us a more efficient radiation.
One fine day Col. Moore called us in to tell us the FCC had intercepted the WMAS signal and were not amused. Trembling with the fear of God and the Feds, Fish and I ditched the transmitter in the trash hut behind D Barracks the moment we left Charlie's office. That story did not find its way into the Shrapnel.
It is possible this incident had more to do with academic considerations than the FCC. Apparently a "Radio Free C Barracks" started up a year later, only to be shut down when Charlie claimed the FCC had intercepted that station.
We zapped almost everything about Western Military Academy, Army R.O.T.C., the cold war, Communism, press censorship, beatniks, Caesar's Latin, Hilgert's algebra, Lange's physics and chemistry, Fayma's diet table, the school laundry, Colonel Moore, and Spider Webber. With the possible exception of a reference to Major Lange's dental work ("Colonel Beaverus Physicus Klodovitch"), we did not personally denigrate any of Western's faculty.
Radio Free Moscow was a product of its times. The episodes were influenced by Mad Magazine, Cracked Magazine, and Radio Moscow. The alternation between male and female readers was inspired by Radio Moscow's cold war newscast format.
We weren't trying to change the world. We were just a bunch of teenagers having fun and trying to impress chicks. WMAS and Radio Free Moscow gave vent to our creative energies. Subtlety was a virtue we had not yet mastered.
18 Radio Free Moscow and Wisdom on the Loose episodes survive from the 1960-61 school year. They were recorded in the beautiful Fungus Room, deep below the pits of the Bedbug Barracks. We have not located any materials from the previous year's episodes.
Collecting information for this CD was a nostalgia trip. The Shrapnel articles shown above, archived letters to my father, assorted conversations, and an appointment book refreshed my memories.
It's been so long ago I can't remember everyone responsible for concocting these skits and their degrees of guilt. The shows were read from scripts with varying amounts of ad-libbing.
I did most of the scrounging for Miss Moss
announcers. Two of them were girlfriends of mine.
Pauline Dorman was Rob Bodkin's girl friend.
The rest were college speech students recruited from the
nearby Southern Illinois University campus.
Imagine what Radio Free Moscow would have been like
if WMA had drill babes `ala VMI and The Citadel ...
The Radio Free Moscow episodes were recorded when the mixing console and Miss Moss announcers were available. Most were recorded half track at 7.5 ips on a Webcor vacuum tube recorder similar to the one shown. This relic had a wide gap tape head that recorded a much wider frequency response than it could play back. Played on a modern wide range system, we can hear sounds on the tapes nobody heard when the episodes were produced and broadcast on WMAS. To recover the best possible sound, I restored my Parents' Sony 777s deck. The 777s has a half track playback head that matches the Radio Free Moscow tapes. The episodes were digitized on various computers beginning with a Turtle Beach Pinnacle or Creative Labs SB-16 on a Pentium 133 running Windows 95. Some episodes were redone using a Sony 766-2 deck and Soundblaster Live! card.
A "definitive" restoration was made recently using an Akai 4 channel (quadraphonic) deck. The left front and left rear channels were channeled to left and right stereo. Unedited copies of the two tapes are available at ftp.omen.com in the pub/misc directory. Some episodes sound better on the left channel, others on the right, and others using both. You can use these files to make your own RFM broadcasts!
Most of the episodes are provided on the audio CD, playable on a standard audio CD player. The audio track numbers are given in square brackets in the menu below.
Since the episodes are too long for all of them to fit on a single audio CD,
those not marked with
Digitizing the old RFM episodes and producing this CD was a learning experience in computerized audio editing, audio psychodynamics, HTML editing, Corel Draw, and multimedia CD creation, It took several iterations to get a satisfactory result.
I fixed some of the thunks and flubs using Cool Edit. Most of these edits are inaudible; careful listening will reveal a few. The painfully obvious hiccups are old tape splices I can't do anything about. I tended to leave flubs in if the resulting edit would have called attention to itself by disrupting the rhythm of locution or background sounds. Often it took several tries, using different cut points, to fix a flub without making the cut obvious. The editor's undo feature was quite useful when making these decisions.
Some of the flubs were intentionally left in when they contributed to the charm of these vintage productions. Enough flubs, thunks, hum, and pot noise zaps remain to remind us of the technology and techniques available to us in the early 60s.
These episodes were originally broadcast to small AM radios in the barracks. The audio quality varied from episode to episode. For the CD transfer I modified the audio dynamics for presentation on a modern wide range system. Otherwise, I have not used trick audio processing on the episodes beyond goosing the odd sound effect.
Record collector Phill Hill graciously lent me his copy of Skip Martin's Sounds and Songs from the Era of the Untouchables (Somerset stereo LP P-12900). This music is used in Episodes 5 and 6. It was mentioned in the November 10 Shrapnel article. It's a shame this music has not been released on CD.
The skit Suites Monkibus. ends with The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa. In 1961 I used Sousa's rousing march because it was loud and brash and rather familiar. It provided a comic contrast to Miss Moss's sexy romantic commentary. While transferring this episode to computer, I went through a musical odyssey in selecting a replacement stereo recording. I even contemplated using different music in its place.After all that, I decided to stay with the same Sousa march I used in 1961. Out of the dozen or so Stars and Stripes Forever recordings in my CD collection, I first picked the 1956 Mercury "Living Presence" recording by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble. This famous recording of the original Sousa score has been reissued on CD. At first I was going to jump directly to the last stanza to get the loudest bang, but even that change seemed to affect the mood of the episode. So I started the March at the beginning, just as it was broadcast in 1961. Telarc have released a new Stars and Stripes Forever performance. Dr. Fennell used the same Sousa arrangement, but different tempos and balances give this new digital recording a decidedly different flavor. This version appears in the introductory audio track.
I came across yet another version of Stars and Stripes Forever, this one orchestrated by the legendary Leopold Stokowski (Salute to Democracy EMI Classics CDC 7 54539 2). I like the start of this version the best of all. To save space I only used the introduction to the March. The toe-tapping good cheer of Stoki's swinging arrangement more than makes up for the slight loss in satirical bite. Besides, Stoki strikes me as the sort of bloke who might have enjoyed helping us put together Radio Free Moscow. (Click here to hear the entire march!)
The short intro and ending clips were assembled from various episodes, extensively edited, and jazzed up with stereo and sound processing tricks. Check them out with headphones or a wide range quadraphonic sound system with a serious subwoofer. (If available, use MATRIX decoding.) Imagine what we miscreant cadets would have done with these toys!
Judy Odke and Sheryl Myers were speech students at nearby Southern Illinois University. The identities of some of the various Miss Moss announcers are guesses based on recollection and contemporaneous documents.
was a friend of Chuck Forsberg.
was a student at Alton Senior High School,
married to Rob Bodkin.
This picture was taken at the 1961 Military Ball, where she was queen.
Sally was a friend of Chuck Forsberg. The picture on the right was taken at the 1961 Junior Prom, computer enhanced from a 2 cm wide strip on page 75 of the 1962 Recall. Nobody noticed who was in the picture until we got the yearbooks back from the printer the next year.
The one from Alton is quite notorious locally; she is the superintendent's babysitter (Col. Jackson's). and also sits for Maj C. B. Jackson. She used to sit for Captain Sutton, but lately she has developed a dislike for his little boy (name of Dennis the Menace?). It follows that, naturally, the kids know about the affair and the results are quite interesting. I sit on the table next to Col. Jackson's table, and every time she sits for him she will cast a sweet smile my way. This, of course, is not without accompaniment by the kids. Susie Jackson has idly remarked that "she likes me". She also has accused me of kissing Sally in the Uptown Theater -and Col. Jackson probably knows all by now. -Letter to my Father, early 1961. (We did kiss, months later, but not in the finger bowl.)
Maybe "quite notorious" was not the best choice of words. Perhaps "familiar" would have been better ... One thing you may not know, and it could be a contributing factor. He has become acquainted with a young lady not too far from the school. I believe he sees her from time to time but we don't know how much. You might check him on that point for us. -Letter from my Father to Col. Persing, Feb 3 1961.
My broadcasting at WMA began my first year, unsing a signal generator to jam radio stations. My floor chief claimed he was caught listening to his radio when my activities caused his radio to "jump off the table" just as the Study Hall monitor walked past his room.
Just before graduation a closely guarded secret got out as the seniors passed out their name cards. My middle name is "Alton", the same as the unglorious city that hosted Western. After that, the lower school cadets in my company addressed me as "Alton", not Forsberg or Chuck.
I got an amateur radio license and later a 1st Class Radiotelephone
license that was good for
weekend and summer work during college.
My carrer has been in data communications hardware and software,
but I still have an interest in radio and radio broadcasting.
Virgil was my roommate in a first floor C barracks
room near the Commandant's office.
We experimented with a neon sign transformer
powering a Jacob's Ladder and
zapping vines and spiders off the window screen.
We made loud zapping sounds and ozone with Leyden jar capacitors.
Jim went on to a professional carrer in broadcasting,
building a number of AM and FM stations,
and became Director of Engineering for Cleveland Public Radio.
Please send corrections or additions to email@example.com
Alfred E. Neuman drawing from Mad Magazine CDROM. Drill girl graphic from the American Spectator 12/96 cover.
For various and sundry reasons, radio station WMAS needed a studio phone line. Since cadets were not allowed to have telephones, we put an unauthorized extension on Major Bresson's athletic director's office telephone line. Major Bresson's biology classroom/office was adjacent to the WMAS studio in the basement of D barracks, separated by a closed boor.
We used the WMAS studio line carefully to avoid detection. When Carol Brooks recorded her segments for Episode 6, I added noises from a shortwave radio to disguise the fact that we had used a phone patch on an unauthorized line instead of a studio recording. We never gave out the phone number because Major Bresson might answer the phone if someone called at the wrong time. We never made long distance calls which would appear on the school's phone bill and arouse suspicion.
At the 2007 all class reunion Conrad Kirby '63 recounted how he once called his parents collect from the WMA studio line. He told the operator he was calling from the barracks. The operator knew better and reported the call to Charlie. Charlie called Conrad into his office to ask about the call. This never got back to any of us at WMAS, perhaps because Charlie assumed the call was made from the classroom.
I don't know if Col. Moore ever caught on to our illicit phone extension. He never confronted us about it. Spider doesn't remember it. Neither did Charlie Jackson, who indulged in an unauthorized extension phone when he was a cadet.
Bob Webber and I discussed Col. Moore and the WMAS studio line in October 1996. Bob mentioned that he and Major Bresson once worked on the phone line in Major Bresson's office, but there was no recollection of identifying a tap on the line. Bob and I discussed Charlie's investigative techniques and decided that if Charlie had known about the phone extension he would have lowered the boom on it. My recollection of the WMAS phone episode was that the extension was functional, or at least in place, until we removed it ourselves out of paranoia. Perhaps we disrupted Major Bresson's line when we removed our extension ...
The WMAS studio line was not the only illicit phone caper at WMA. Charlie (Major C.B.) Jackson recalls he had an illicit phone when he was a cadet in the 30's.
For the cadets billeted in the room diagonally above Col. Persing's office, the nearby presence of a live phone line was too much to resist. One dark night we strung a pair of invisibly thin wires out the window. We did not spend much time outside because we didn't wish to be caught messing with the school's phone lines. We did not get a solid connection to Persing's phone line, so we tried welding the connection by zapping the wire with high voltage from a neon sign transformer. If Spider had been watching carefully he would have seen small bits of lightning dancing up and down the north face of the Administration building. We never did get a good connection to the phone line. Perhaps it was just as well, we were spared any temptation to eavesdrop.
The pay phone in A Barracks and the local central office afforded another opportunity for phone hacking. So many calls had been made to Monticello (girls' school) that the local exchange switch would sometimes stick on the Monti exchange. After some experimentation I determined that free calls could be made to Monti by dialing the last several digits. I also worked out a procedure to clear this condition when I wanted to call a girlfriend in Alton.