Sunday, December 12, 2010

Moon Humor

The moon is waning. Are your feet wet? Do you need an umbrella?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thank You, Old Grey Lady!

The New York Times has added a wonderful new feature to its online
editions. Now no effort is necessary to increase your vocabulary. Click on an unknown word and a little bubble with a question mark appears. Click on the question mark and your word is instantly described by a database of The American Heritage Dictionary and Roget's New Thesaurus. What a wonderful gift to those who love language.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can You Kazoo?

Would you believe I was playing the kazoo on a 50 kilowatt clear channel radio station at 4:30 this morning? It was a duet with the guy on the left! Check out The Steve LeVeille Broadcast on WBZ 1030 weeknights from midnight until 5 am. Too early? Now you have no excuse! Steve LeVeille podcasts are now available at: Listen to the greatest show on earth!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fun for Fall!

Promises made and promises fulfilled. If you haven’t seen it yet, rush to The Broadway Theatre in Manhattan and catch this gem now! Time will run out at the end of the year when stars Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth move on to the next adventures in their careers. Here is the kind of Broadway show you’ll always remember, but just remember its run ends New Year’s Day!

This may be the perfect show. Burt Bacharach and Hal David composed hit after hit for the score. Two new songs have been added to this revival to boost Cheno’s unforgettable performance. Sean Hayes is simply amazing. He reminds me of Donald O’Connor at his peak – a physical and sharp-witted comedian who can sing and dance just as good as he wants.

Promises, Promises has been transformed into a modern tale for 2010 keeping all the best touches of the original show from the late 1960s. I’m old enough to remember both – and this revival could not be fresher. It’s funny and clever and will touch your heart. I saw it again last weekend and a woman behind me wept at the end (so romantic!) See it for yourself! I loved every minute of it.

Belle Chanteuse Canadienne

You could compare her with Diana Krall or Norah Jones, but she really is like no other. How often do you find someone who can embrace American standards and pop out a commercial hit without missing a beat? Nikki Yanofsky is the princess of silky melodies and lots and lots of fun. Watch her young career mature into possibly the most remarkable star of our generation.

I became aware of Nikki’s talents just before the Vancouver Olympics when Canada’s CTV staged a media blitz on her behalf. Nikki sang the Games’ anthem “I Believe” and represented her native land during the opening ceremonies flawlessly delivering ‘O Canada’ to the world. There she was, in a stunning red dress matching the Canadian flags all around her, before a billion people worldwide. As natural as can be, she performed with big smiles and enthusiasm to the delight of all.

This Spring, her debut solo album became a grand success in North America, Europe and along the Pacific Rim. Some of her most devout fans can be found in France and Japan. Nikki has been touring worldwide and will land in nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut at The Playhouse on Friday night, October 22nd. Expect to see me there!

I can’t get enough of her sound – a delight to my ears. If her album is not enough, you’ll find many, many clips on line. Really hooked? Nikki’s live concert special for PBS is now available on DVD. The fun is back in music again. Thanks, Nikki!

Head South

After a long winter, wouldn’t a trip to Brazil be refreshing (especially if you are searching for new love?) Next Easter, take a trip to Rio! (It will only cost about ten dollars!) Blue Sky Studios, most famous for the Ice Age trilogy featuring my buddy Scrat, is about to introduce us to a whole new world of feathered friends. Don’t forget to brush up on your samba moves! It’s filled with Brazilian song, dance and vision. Have a great trip!

You’ll meet Blu, a macaw from Minneapolis that decides to travel south of the equator searching for the last girl of his breed. Jewel lives in Rio de Janeiro and it’s a big town with big adventure. The two of them make terrific comedy flying through a brilliantly colored world in 3D. Come on! You don’t want to spend the rest of your life in a cage with just a mirror and a bell, do you? Come to Rio!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jupiter !

Look to the right of the stunning full Harvest Moon and you will see what appears to be a large brilliant star. It is Jupiter at its brightest! Using a simple student telescope, you can easily see Jupiter's stripes and big red spot. Don't stop there! Clearly visible, off to the right of our biggest planet, you'll see two tiny spots. These are Jupiter's moons Ganymede and Callisto. (See Jim Lu's wonderful picture on the left.) Good eyes and telescopes can also see the moon Io just at the right edge of Jupiter itself. Looking for more fun? Slightly higher in the sky and off to the left you can find Uranus asking for your attention. Take a look at the brilliant Harvest Moon while you are at it. I never seem to grow old of looking at it's impact marks, craters and varied topography. What a show tonight!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mailbox Wars

Twice a year we declare war. Right before school begins and right after school ends, deep-rooted neighbors chase defiant teenagers. Save your bets. Deep into the night, when no one is watching, the damage will be done. Baseball bats raised and pickup trucks ready to ram, mailboxes will be falling fast. Battered, crushed or in pieces, disgusted homeowners will discover the result in the morning. Another battle has been lost, but there is hope.

Mailbox bashing really hits home to all that suffer it. I have a 98 year old neighbor who found her large mailbox bashed and tossed on her lawn. Her mailbox has been in place since about 1950 and still shows the names of former owners of her house – a legacy from decades and decades ago. It took me about two hours of body work and replacement mounting to return her box to service. She wants to know why someone would hate her so much. I tried to assure her the attack was not personal. Nice prank, guys.

According to The United States Postal Service: ‘It’s a criminal act that hurts our neighbors and our community. Mailboxes are protected by federal law, and crimes against them and the mail they contain are considered a federal offense. Violators can be fined or imprisoned for each act of vandalism.’

A Clint Eastwood approach comes to my mind: Inspired by his latest release, Gran Torino, I vision myself sitting every night with a large gauge shotgun on my front porch. I’m waiting for the mailbox bashers. They arrive, laughing and vulgar, ready to do their evil deed. I cock my shotgun, walk over and say ‘Make my day!” They fall to the ground, groveling and wetting themselves in disgrace. I hold my aim as I call 911. I know this is irrational thought. My anger reminds me of a children’s book by Mercer Mayer called ‘I Was So Mad!’ A cartoon character remains frustrated time and time again. Oh, I was so mad!

A good friend offered an alternate approach. Be indestructible. Purchase two mailboxes – one large and one standard size. Carefully take the door off the small one and position it inside the large one. Pour ready-mix concrete, like Sakrete, between the large and the small box and let dry and harden. Mount the box proudly on your post. They will never be able to dent it again! One of my neighbors took another approach (see the picture above.) Whatever works for you!

I’m too old for this stuff. I have much better things to do than spend time and money repairing basher outbursts. In my angry dreams, I want them captured. I want them stoned by their peers in the town square without trial. I want them to repair the damage. I know they will continue. Destroying the property of neighbors means nothing to them. I can only hope that they are someday recognized and caught. Keep half an ear on the outside of your home and keep a phone near your bed. We will catch them yet! It would make my day to add my name to those willing to prosecute them. Maybe my day will come.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All Things iPod

Not since the advent of FM radio, (remember radio?) has technology changed the way we listen to music like the Apple iPod. White earphones are everywhere and the era of purchasing music that you can hold in your hand is over. Music now arrives by download and it comes in a variety of style choices. One thing for sure: iPods are enormously popular and they’re here to stay.

From a technical point-of-view, an iPod is simply a fancy USB memory stick. (You might call them flash drives or jump drives.) The latest generation of iPods are particularly amazing – maybe even magical. They can entertain you with movies and music, tell the time and display your event calendars. Built-in pedometers can measure your walking and some of them even have FM radios (of course, they are linked to the Apple iTunes store!)

The heart and soul of iPods are actually in their host computers and not the little device in the palm of your hand. You do all your asset management, downloading, adjustments and set your preferences with your mothership computer (your desktop or laptop.) When you’re done, the iPod stores a transportable copy of the results. It truly is a hand-off!


An iPod can sound very, very good with professional headphones or connected to a superior quality sound system, but this is often not the case. I think my first AM-only transistor radio sounded better than iPod headphones. If you really want to reach new lows in fidelity, crank up your iPod and try using these ear buds as teeny tiny speakers. The only way you can get worse sound is to damage the mini-headphones and still use them – or go out and buy cheap knock-off ear buds. Physics hold back the fidelity. You need a good-sized transducer to produce good sound. Tiny headphones just don’t have it!

Boom boxes designed for iPods have not proved to be anything but loud. Few are worthy of serious listening. Most everything you listen to or watch on an iPod is digitally compressed, so it will never be full fidelity or full quality. Still, it’s a good trade-off. Did you ever think you could carry your entire music library and movies in the palm of your hand? Solve the problem. Use good headphones or hook up to your old stereo system. You are worth it! Your ears deserve it!

Your Personality Profile

iPods are also a very, very personal reflection of your taste in music and your personality in general. Would you really want other people to know what’s on your iPod? Do you have Alvin and the Chipmunks or other embarrassing guilty pleasures in your collection? Dating someone special? If you looked at their iPod, would your opinion change? What podcasts do they listen to? What artists dominate their music? What are their playlists like? Have they been able to find 1,500 or more ‘good’ songs that you like too? It really is like peering into someone’s psyche!

I thought I had a pretty big collection of music until I bought an iPod. My entire music library didn’t even come close to filling it up. Years later, I am still adding more and more material and trying to whittle down the clunkers in favor of the songs I really like. My iTunes music registry now has passed 5500 tunes. It would take over 15 days to play them all back to back. I still see room for improvement! Many more tunes need to be added and new artists are discovered all the time.

Your iTunes library can be derived from many sources. Initial entries usually originate from your CDs and those of friends. MP3 files are easy to trade through e-mail, iChat and AIM. Pulling additional material from YouTube and proxy sites is incredibly easy if you can handle varying quality. Public libraries have endless stacks of CDs especially rich in older archival material which might not be found elsewhere. If you are into music, building an iTunes library can become a passion that can last years. I also have great fun adding pictures and graphics to display while playing my songs. You can spend a lot of time with iTunes!

Radio is no longer a good source for music discovery. Stations only play songs that are painfully familiar. Even songs from the 80s are now 30 years old. That’s a really long time! If I find an artist I like, I research their influences and their universe of friends. The more you know, the deeper you’ll get and the more you’ll find. (Don’t forget MySpace Music and Amie Street.) It’s like digging for gold! Great gems are out there!

I don’t really care if a song is unknown if I really like it. Some of my absolute favorites will probably never be heard by the masses. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s been heavily promoted and marketed. Good music is good music! Also, don’t be afraid of leaving the country. There are great grooves being recorded all over the world ready for your experimentation.

Add podcasts, movies and video clips and the possibilities are endless. Why just listen to music when you can watch it too? I don’t really consider iPods as being gaming centers, but many people do. Even a little iPod Nano can keep you occupied with multimedia for extended periods of time while waiting for a plane or an appointment.

You’ve Got a Case!

If you have always been looking for the ultimate iPod carrying case, may I offer this simple solution: If you wear glasses, chances are that you have at least one hard-shell case for your spectacles that has never been used. An iPod Nano or Shuffle fits perfectly into clam-shell case for glasses and will prevent it from being crushed or scratched. I find the popular rubbery-plastic overlay cases for iPods have their merits, but if you are looking for a hard road case for your tunes, nothing beats an old case for glasses. One has kept my Nano looking new for years and has saved its life many more times than once.

I’ve Got Your Back

The iPod was first introduced in October of 2001. In the beginning, iTunes had a nasty habit of dropping everything you had added in one button press. Poof! Gone! I remember spending days loading a Classic, complete with individual pictures for each song instead of just album covers. One day, I made the fatal mistake and started iTunes fresh. It was all lost in a heartbeat. Thankfully, iTunes is now much improved. Each and every updated version has me shaking my head about some of the ‘refinements,’ but it continues to serve as an impressive database and storage solution for all your media.

Do yourself a favor: Removable storage is now very, very inexpensive. Periodically, save your entire iTunes folder to an external hard drive. Don’t let your life’s work slip through your fingers. (While you are at it, copy all your family pictures and anything else you value.) Archiving my iTunes now takes about an hour of patient waiting. It is a worthy investment! Should a hard-disk crash ruin my main laptop, I won’t be back to square one. I love music and it’s important to me. Back it up!

Look to the Future

As time goes by, iPod technology will continue to improve. More and more features are bound to be added. For example, the latest fifth generation of Nano brought back the bass response lost a couple of years ago due to the need for component miniaturization. I look forward to the day when compressed music and video formats will not be necessary. Beyond the technology, iPods have restored the world’s interest and passion for music – especially independent music. Posted on-line, a digital song file can be included instantly to anyone’s library. Start-up bands and solo performers now have opportunity to be heard and succeed via millions of iPods worldwide. Ready to be heard? We are listening! Thanks, iPod!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lessons Learned

The experience of life changes greatly when you become handicapped. I lost the use of my right leg for four months due to a skiing accident. I also aggravated my bad back further reducing my mobility. I entered a new world that required grand adaptation and produced frustration. Life is not easy when you do not have a full spectrum of physical resources.

I could not walk without crutches. I could not bend over very easily. I could not drive or wash or go to the bathroom as I used to. Dropping something on the floor was a disaster. Reaching for an object high or low presented big problems. Going up long flights of stairs was impossible. Venturing out to the store or the library now became tasks I’d ask other people to do.

The world became much smaller. Several steps from my home-base bed to the bathroom were an unpleasant challenging journey. I would first have to garner the strength to sit up and then boost myself up onto my crutches. I was very cognizant of my balance. If you suddenly sway back or forward, you might crash and bruise. I always wore shorts to make undressing possible. Each and every move required deciding what my next hand hold would be.

Washing came after the first few weeks. Since I could not rely on both legs, I developed a method of leaning on my elbows and washing myself with a bath towel. A large white plastic cup brought water over my head so I could wash my hair. My feet were especially hard to reach and clean. This required assistance. Graceful I was not. The day I became full weight bearing and could finally take a shower was a triumph.

I could no longer control my destiny. Trips to and from physical therapy had to be handled by my very patient wife. The library became a place where I could order things but then would have to patiently wait until someone else could pick them up. Even small things, like getting something off the shelf, would require a request of another. It was frustrating, depressing and demeaning.

Food also became an issue. I could not stand long enough to cook. If I dropped a crutch, I would have to slowly hop and lean to retrieve it. On a couple of sorry occasions, I had to crawl dragging my body on the floor. What a horrible fate. I remember, early on, being very hungry nearly constantly. I would have muffins on the side of my bed during overnights for a quick snack that required no mobility. If my dog ate my muffin, it would be a long night.

I listened to a lot of radio; more than I could ever imagine. National Public Radio, our treasure, was a good companion. My old pal, Steve LeVeille, hosts a talk show overnight on WBZ 1030 AM from Boston. I had nights where I would listen for his full five hours and then some. Television has become simply unwatchable except for re-runs of M.A.S.H and Cheers. My timing was excellent in one respect. I got to see every minute of the Vancouver Olympics.

Deep concentration was not possible for long periods of time. I became quickly distracted by discomfort, boredom or pain. I read in short passages. My writing came to a standstill. Days were very long. Often, I would start with several hours of physical therapy followed by a short lunch and then sleep. I would work out two or three hours a day at home. I’d have dinner and then feel restless until dawn. I slept poorly waking many times at night. Being awake and sitting quietly in the dark became a regular passage daily.

I also developed a tough hide receiving well-wishers comments. One old friend remarked: "You know, we are at the age where sometimes we won't completely recover from serious injuries like that." Thanks for the words of encouragement! I had to pinch myself to remember to find new compassion in what I said if our roles were reversed - if I were making the comments. People who are struggling are very sensitive to words. Kindness amplifies. Harsh truth sometimes bites.

Physical therapy was a pivotal event that required great stamina. My early morning visits would last as long as four hours. I would endure difficult exercises with lasting repetition. My therapists did incredible work that produced amazing results. They had one not-so-simple task: Teach me to walk again. There was a time where it was hard to believe that I ever would. I lost all musculature in my leg and especially around my knee. After months of work, my first steps were worthy of a bad TV movie. It was the first light at the end of the tunnel.

I was blessed with good fortune. I knew, after months of hard work and patience, I would be whole again. What if I didn’t repair? What if this became the way of life I would always have? I became very aware of handicap parking spots and handicap access in buildings. Ramps, lifts or elevators are essential for feeling equal with the rest of humanity. How important these installations truly are. Now I understand why.

One morning, I was being dropped off at physical therapy somewhat worried about slipping, with my crutches, in the snow. Two chatty ladies, cozily sitting in a big, white luxurious SUV, occupied the convenient handicap spot having their coffee and using their cell phones. I had to limp many more steps uphill to reach the entrance of the therapy center. I waved my crutches at them in anger. They looked guilty as if they had just been busted. Hopefully, they learned a lesson.

I’m still coping and adapting to my inabilities. I put my shoes up on a counter every night to be assured that I’ll be able to reach them in the early morning as I get ready for work. I always have Advil and aspirin available for pain control. I constantly calculate what I can reach or achieve. I’m much less shy about asking for help.

I have a great new respect to all who thrive in spite of handicaps. They are strong willed, brave and resilient. They inspire me to do better, to be thoughtful of everyone around me and to be very thankful for all the capacities I have. I woke up this morning. I could walk, talk, see and hear. Now, more than ever, I am truly thankful.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bush Tree? Tree Bush!

The world - renowned bush tree of Port Austin, Michigan
continues to grow unabated!

Deaf Dogs OK

Monday, June 14, 2010

House Guests

Please support Guiding Eyes for the Blind, 361 Route 164 in Patterson, New York.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Hoot

Where did they go ?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring is Here!

You know Spring is here when the lawn service arrives!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Crutches! Foiled again!

I have become plant life. I can’t really move on my own, yet I need to be fed and watered daily. My ability to do things is extremely limited. A no-glory skiing accident transformed me for the next ten weeks into a rehabilitating crutch-dependent cripple. Just call me ‘Hop-along Karl!’

Disaster struck early on a Saturday night. At the end of a very easy run, my right ski hit a patch of slushy snow and twisted my right knee out about 90 degrees. No ligament damage occurred, but I did smash one side of my tibial plateau pretty nicely. I walked out of my bindings! I didn’t even fall! I skied down the rest of the run and then hopped to my mini-van and eventually made it home. After seeing my CAT scans and MRIs, I am amazed at the power of my adrenalin!

A week later, I left The Hospital for Special Surgery with a plate and several screws more than I arrived with. Now I must adapt and learn to walk again. This requires great thought and agility. The basic things we most take for granted sometimes can become the most precious. How humble injury can make you. Thank God that you woke up this morning and that you can breathe and walk and eat by yourself. How helpless you feel when these freedoms are taken away!

With surgery sutures, you can’t shower anymore. You learn new techniques to wash yourself, to shampoo your hair, to brush your teeth and shave all without the balance of one leg. I have a new appreciation for my elbows and how much they can offer during my morning ritual. Any point of balance becomes a valuable asset. I am very proud that I can still maintain reasonable dignity with some autonomy. My best advice: Don’t get old!

Of course, theatrical elements are included as part of the experience. My favorite is the one I like to call “The Big Crash.” This is when you lose balance on your crutches and head south really fast. People around you will hear the loud bang followed closely by some vulgar expletive and some repositioning of crutches. Warning: They will very often yelp themselves and run to save you. Now, don’t you feel stupid?

I’m getting better at this skill. If you need to crash, crash against something solid or, even better, crash into a hallway corner or a solid wall. You’ll gain much better support! Crashing into flimsy closet doors or other tentative objects is just not polite (or effective!)

Crutches are also useful as extension devices to control or grab things at a distance. Manipulation of light switches become no problem. Getting a blanket over an uncovered toe? Easy! Crutches make great air guitars, too, but reserve those moments when you have privacy and you are really, really bored!

How do you spend your weeks in asylum? One passive method is the use of a Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) device. In my case, my bad leg rests in on a mechanical contraption driven by a fractional horsepower motor. Using an ingenious high-tech control box, I can adjust the speed and degree my knee will bend. Place your heel in the fuzzy cloth boot and away you go for hours at a time. CPM machines are a gift. They keep your wounded extremities flexible and help you increase your range of motion. Have a nice ride on a daily basis!

Not being a Blackberry or iPhone/iTouch person, there is only so much time I can spend on the Internet. At only a couple of weeks into this debacle, I have now looked up and researched every person I have ever known, cared about or seen in a movie. My e-mails get answered with blazing speed. I enter into dialogues with friends about all sorts of cerebral thoughts. You experience an entirely new outlook on life. It’s very interesting!

Another plus: Plenty of time to read. I am catching up on all sorts of literature I have always wanted to read or re-read. I have discovered some remarkable new technologies to study. I have time to experiment with authors I have never enjoyed before. I have time to write for myself! It could be a lot worse!

After you get past the initial despair, anger, and resignment and settle in, it is good for your soul to think about the positive things that occurred after this major event. I had a great conversation with my cardiologist about the meaning of life and other metaphysical matters. Through amazing coincidence, I met some old friends I haven’t seen in decades. I’ve solidified casual acquaintances into life-long friendships. My conversations have brought me much closer to all the people in my life. I see my family continually (a remarkable and wonderful blessing on its own!) I have had time to think and feel somehow blessed that I am still here and with everyone that I love. What more could you ask?

So, the journey begins. April is not that far away! They tell me I will walk again and I’ll be doing everything I can to get there. I’m used to long drives across America. I have patience! Wish me well!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I've Got the Blues!

Bad Joke: What do you get when Tinkerbelle has a wild night out with The Blue Man Group? An Avatar!

Worse Joke: What may be the biggest grossing movie of all time? Avatar!

It’s 20th Century Fox that should get an award! Never in the history of American pop culture has something so light become something so heavy. If my twelve year old daughter can call all the shots ahead of time, there’s not much plot. Everyone’s seen motion tracking of computer graphics before (even if they are tall and blue!) Never has hype gone so high! All hail hype!

Avatar is a lot of things. It’s long. It’s really long. Long? Let’s just say it’s endless! It’s secretly a comedy. In one ending scene, the lead insane military bad guy (representing the entire human race) rightly envisions the Avatars as Viet Cong flashbacks from his youth. He will kill, kill, kill, kill them and never ever die! Stephen Lang should get an award for playing the undeniable Colonel Quaritch with a straight face. His annihilation of the Avatar race will be the fodder of parody for generations!

There isn’t a whole lot more to like. Sigourney Weaver plays Sigourney Weaver again. (Where is Melanie Griffith when you need her?) George Lucas has nothing to worry about when it comes to amazing portals to fantasy worlds. With a zillion dollar budget, they couldn’t get anything better than a minimalist coffin made from injected plastic to transport you to the land of blue? I need some good electrodes and lightning ladders, guys!

Can anything save the Avatar world? Oh, my little blue meanie, there is l-o-v-e. Of course, at least one human falls in love with an Avatar and converts to Avartism. (Oy Vey!) Doesn’t everyone look good in blue (with Polynesian ornamentation?) Spoiler: After all the groom’s doubts are gone, ‘I Got the Blues’ lives happily ever after with the indigo girl. Time to roll the credits! (Even they last twenty minutes!)

If you have to see this misguided epic, pay the extra $3 and see it in 3D (even better – IMAX 3D!) This way, you’ll have silly black rimmed glasses to wear with your friends at Applebee’s after the movie is over. Come on! You need to have some fun tonight! I can’t wait for the sequel: ‘Neytiri Gets The Blues’ shot entirely in Chicago featuring Buddy Guy as the bride’s father.

There’s no sense in my attempts of dissuasion. I know you are going to see this movie. Just go when you are really tired and need a long nap. You won’t miss anything in the first eight reels and you’ll feel like you have accomplished something! There you are: This is Avatar! Oh me, oh my. Why? Why? Why?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hunting Pirates

Back in the early 1970s, the FCC mandated that broadcasters could no longer simulcast their AM stations on FM, so wild experimentation began. FM became a new and popular medium filled with free-form radio. Many young broadcasters suddenly had the opportunity to be on the air and create an all-new listening experience! Somebody was listening, right? Great adventure awaited!

My earliest memories of FM were received via my family’s first TV set. My Dad brought home a Pilot 15 inch black and white TV back in 1950. Connected to a classic V-beam antenna in our attic, it featured continuous tuning in three bands: VHF low (channels 2 through 6), VHF high (channels 7 through 13) and FM. This TV was my only connection to FM radio when I started listening around 1966. It was primitive, but it opened a whole new world of radio!

The very first New York City station to enter this new world was WOR-FM or simply OR-FM. Their lead personality was the legendary Scott Muni who later went on to rule the roost at WNEW-FM. NEW-FM had a lock on rock radio for years and years. If you were into radio, you wanted to be a high-profile DJ like Muni. With very limited amounts of jobs available at local stations and no public access to the airwaves, many, many people entered the fray by setting up personal radio stations of their own.

Personal broadcasting, without a license, was, of course, illegal. Pirate stations often waited until late night when professional stations would sign off (and FCC inspectors were sound asleep) to go on the air. The New York City Board of Education station, WNYE on 91.5 MHz, signed off nightly around 10 pm. From ten until dawn, this frequency was alive with pirates. 87.9, one frequency below the bottom of the American FM band, also served as roost to many pirates. Any open frequency was an invitation to go on the air!

Pirates followed irregular schedules and often switched broadcast frequencies to avoid being caught. It seemed like the FCC was always listening. FCC busts would occur regularly, sometimes arriving at your door during the daytime when your station was not even on the air. News of a bust would travel fast: All unofficial stations would disappear for weeks until the heat was off.

Pirate programming varied from highly distorted incongruous nonsense to quite professional stereo broadcasts with phone-in request lines and jingle packages. Obscene and randy records were often aired and much of the DJ chatter was of a personal nature towards local friends. It was harmless and innovative. Many stations had quite a following. I remember one station, operating in lower Manhattan, claiming to not only moving from night to night but actually broadcasting mobile from time to time to avert being caught.

Many of my friends and I were great fans of pirate radio and budding radio nerds ourselves. We had begun on Citizen’s Band. Our first move to the dark side was realizing that if you swapped the receive and transmit crystals on a Lafayette walkie-talkie set for Channel 10 you would find yourself on a Civil Air Patrol channel (26.620 MHz.) Unlike CB, this frequency was crystal clear and we could talk to each other much, much farther instead of fighting the continuous drone of CB heterodynes. One day, a booming voice came to us on 26.620 yelling “Hey, who are you kids?” We were never really good with authority!

Some of us built little FM transmitter kits made by companies like EICO. One or two of my pals actually went legit and became licensed radio amateurs. Some of their ham radio transmitters found their way down to 1620 kHz (at the very top of the AM band) broadcasting from time to time to impress local girlfriends and mates. All of our experimentation was minor league using, at best, small battery-powered microphone mixers or simply microphones aimed at stereo speakers. We were all fascinated by ‘the big boys’ with powerful transmitters and fancy equipment.

Late at night, we would listen and listen and listen. I kept a pencil and paper log of who I had heard and when. Stations would come and go and you never knew what you would hear. Things became really interesting after we became old enough to go to college. Some of us managed to get our own cars, or borrow our parent’s. Our first move would be installing FM converters (typically the Audiovox variety) that would opening up factory-installed AM pushbutton car radios to the new world of FM.

Having FM in the car was the beginning of a new sport: FM pirate hunting. For excitement and adventure, it could not be beat! The first step would be listening carefully to your target. Chances are they would make references to local high schools, colleges or other landmarks. Find a friend or two, hop into a car with FM radio and start driving! Armed with a good street map book of New York City, you could localize the pirate in quick stead.

The real fun was locating the exact location and obtaining verification. I had an Antenna Specialists FM antenna booster wired to my car’s FM converter. This device served dual purpose. I could really pull in DX, like Channel 6 audio on 87.75 MHz, when it was on. Turned off, the amplifier module acted as a useful attenuator pad for traveling in Manhattan where field strength was enormous. It also helped greatly when locating pirates.

My friends and I did not have anything that would qualify as authentic radio location equipment. Along with my souped-up FM car converter, we would use a very simple hand-held FM transistor radio to continue to localize when you were close to the target station. We would ride around making circle after circle around blocks in a neighborhood until we had a really good idea of where the signal was unstoppable. It took a little time, but we always had results.

Hot on the trail, we would park our car and set out on foot. Every roof top and garage would be viewed and studied during a slow walk around the neighborhood. Most often, a very new-looking omni-directional crossed dipole or two would be seen as the signal became powerful. Discovery was always sweet. Our method of verification was clever. We would drive our car to the front of the suspect house and wait for the homebrew DJ to open his microphone. If we could hear our car horn beep over the air, we knew we had found our catch! QSL!

Time and time again we would hunt down pirates for our own amusement. Finally, I decided to take it to the next step! I had a summer job in a public library’s reference room. I learned how to research nearly anything, including telephone numbers! In the days before the Internet, a huge volume was published in the New York City area called Cole’s Directory. This was a meticulous cross-reference of the standard telephone directory by phone number and address. What a wonderful reference material!

One particular pirate really snagged my interest. An inventive guy named Tony had built a great sounding station in his home in Springfield Gardens, a modest neighborhood of small one-family houses in southeastern Queens. He had a great sounding station and a lot of equipment and he was in stereo. This was a big deal back in 1970. Some of the ‘real’ stations did not have stereo!

We triangulated Tony and found he was using a five-element Yagi antenna. The car horn test verified our catch. He must have been using a reasonable amount of power because he could be heard over a huge area for miles and miles around. We wondered why he decided on a directional antenna and then it occurred to us that he was aiming towards Manhattan to maximize his audience. We had his address and he gave a phone number over-the-air for requests. Cole’s Directory? Here I come!

I now had his full name and verified his address. Even better, we had a second telephone number for his house. Friday night came and we waited for him to go back on the air and there he was. It was time for fun! His broadcast got going and he finally called out for requests and listener comments. I called his other house telephone number and I could hear the phone ring over the air. He answered immediately putting a record on the air. Tony’s request line did not ring over the air, but his house phone did. I had entered the belly of the beast!

“Hi, Tony? Jeez, I love your station. What kind of a transmitter and stereo generator do you have? Man, it sounds great!” Response: “WHO IS THIS? HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER?” Check and checkmate! The station immediately went off the air and we laughed until we cried. Oh, did we make this poor soul paranoid! We might as well have been formal FCC inspectors. It was weeks before we heard him on the air again. By then, we suspect, he thought the heat was off!

The FCC were celebrities on their own. Inspectors Judah Mansbach and Al Zimny were very well known within the New York City pirate community. These were the men in the bad suits who would knock on your door when you were about to be busted. They were the personification of all evil and authority seizing your equipment and delivering your summons. These were people you did not want to meet in person.

Adding to their notoriety, many pirates also worked in legitimate broadcasting and would encounter Mr. Zimny and Mr. Mansbach as they inspected licensed facilities. This would be a double heart-stopper for those engineers that led double lives! They were tough inspectors. Every wire needed to be in place and every FCC commandment had to be met. Those who did not comply received citations hard to explain to upper management.

Some people grew to know the FCC more than others. Most notable was the dynamic duo: Al Weiner and J.P. Ferraro. Prolific broadcasters, Al and J.P. pushed the limit many times and actually found themselves locked up briefly. Later, this team (along with a pack of followers) became legendary by building a radio station aboard the good ship Sarah and broadcasting from the open seas off Long Island’s south shore. Their adventures even made the front page of The New York Times!

Much later, in the 1990s, Al and J.P. eventually went legitimate. J.P Ferraro now manages a delightful and eccentric AM station in the mid-Hudson valley: WHVW 950 AM. Al built an impressive international shortwave station, WBCQ in Monticello, Maine, broadcasting on several frequencies daily. Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it’s been!

To this day, a pirate broadcaster pops up from time to time and the urge to hunt grabs me again. You never forget how much fun it can be, but now I am armed with tight-pattern long Yagi antennas, radios with signal meters and useful attenuator switch boxes all packed into a mini-van with lots of room for gear. Unlike an amateur radio fox hunt with short transmission lengths, FM pirates just stay on and on. An easier catch you’ll never find! My only request: Put on some good tunes while I am hunting you down! My advice to casual listeners: Just keep tuning! You don’t know what you might hear! Radio Free Peekskill might be on right now!