Saturday, November 3, 2012

Left of the Dial

The Replacements put out the song Left of the Dial nearly thirty years ago (studio & live versions, lyrics here with some rumors as to their meaning).  More than anything else, this semi-love song seems to be about calling a girl in another band on pay phones and never quite being able to connect in the same town at the same time.  It has a great tone of "I'd be all wistful about this, but I'm too damn busy.  Will try again later." If you remember them, pay phones always had the handset hanging left of the dial.  Picked up with the left, did the coins and dial with the right.

With a title like this though, you can imagine that the phrase has taken on various liberal connotations, mostly around political radio shows and college radio.  OK, that's an obvious connection, and a catchy descriptive phrase.

But if you know this blog, you know this post can't stop here.  Listening to the song back in the day, when my stereo tuner had a slide rule scale marked off AM/FM, I always wondered "what the hell would I hear if I could just keep tuning this AM dial to the left?"  I mean, we know what's left of the FM dial (i.e., at lower frequencies): AM radio.  (Yes, that's correct, Rush Limbaugh (on AM radio) is to the left of NPR (on FM).)  But what is out there to the left of the AM dial?

The one word answer is Longwave.  What's it used for?  In Europe and north Africa, there's some broadcasting in part of the band, but there's not a lot of useable space there.  Here's a list of stations.  They're supposedly receivable in the U.S., but it takes a serious antenna, hundreds of feet long.  In North America, it's used for aircraft navigation beacons, some time signals, submarine coms, and LowFER experimental/hobby radio.

As some of you know, I recently spent some serious time on the sofa healing from my latest misadventures.  Out of sheer boredom and in possession of a compact radio that can pick up longwave, I dug around to hear what I could find.  Some awful racket around 300 kHz, probably a data transmission.  Lots of clear air.  Then suddenly at 221 kHz  '.... ...    .... ...   .... ...    .... ...'  ???  Translate... "HS    HS    HS    HS" in Morse code.  Huh.  So... type "HS 221 khz radio" into the search bar, and out pops a nav beacon listing page, complete with lat long coords.  Haul those coords back up to the search bar, and out comes.....

About 20 miles away and yeah, looks like a radio beacon station to me.  Didn't even have to drive up to there to check it out.

So back to the question, just what is left of the dial?  Apart from beacon stations in places like the outskirts of Kiln MS, not a hell of a lot.

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