Nearly 100 years ago radio stations were so new the owners didn’t know who was listening or where. Without the Internet or even many telephones gathering listener reports was spotty. Then the EKKO company hit on a stroke of genius: Radio EKKO Stamps and collector’s books to fill with them. Radio historian and electronics professor, Philip Mulivor, joins us to reveal the fascinating story of early radio listening, and keeping track of stations with EKKO stamps.
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Announcer: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 217, is brought to you by Lawo, maker of the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console - it's the radio console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface; and by the Axia Radius IP Audio console, easy to use and powerful under the hood, on the web at AxiaAudio.com.
Nearly 100 years ago, radio stations were so new, the owners didn't know who was listening or where. Then, the EKKO Company hit on a stroke of genius: Radio EKKO Stamps and collector's books to fill with them. Radio historian and electronics professor Philip Mulivor joins us to reveal the fascinating story of early radio listening and keeping track of stations with EKKO stamps.
Kirk: Hey, welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. It's time to do the show again. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. We're up to show number 217 now. I've been doing this over four years and having a blast doing it.This is the show where we talk about broadcast technology, radio; audio technology, mostly, and sometimes we delve off into little side things. We talk about towers now and then, or audio metering; who knows what. Wire? Maybe it's time to have [Phillip Lampon 01:17] on again. He's a pretty interesting guy.
So, in this show, we talk about radio technology, and we're going to take a look back in the past now at some broadcasting practices from way back when, so hang on.
Our show is brought to you by the folks at Lawo, makers of the new crystalCLEAR virtual audio console; and also brought to you by my friends at Axia, makers of the Axia Radius AoIP - Audio over IP - Audio console. We'll tell you more about those as the show goes on.
Let's bring in the best-dressed engineer in radio. He is in studio at the GFQ Network headquarters in Queens, New York; it's Chris Tobin. Hey, Chris.
Chris: Hello, Kirk. Yes, this just in - I'm in the Queens studio, and the temperature is rising. The air conditioning has failed and we're losing power, but we're okay.
Kirk: Is it like that every week?
Chris: I'm only kidding. It's summertime. We're getting ready. The first day of summer is what, in two days?
Kirk: I thought you were going to say, Captain, I cannot hold the temperature much longer.
Chris: Oh, that, too. That's going to come shortly. No, we're good. We're good. I'm just having a good time.
Kirk: Good deal. Chris, what's been happening - interesting in your life? Last week you were on top of another Manhattan skyscraper in a broadcast transmitter room and - well, other transmitter room. Anything else going on?
Chris: Yes, well, I was helping a broadcaster put in a 24 gigahertz IP radio link. They're actually putting two T1s on it with Ethernet. I was on 24 gigs, which is the unlicensed stuff, and they also have an 11 gig licensed IP radio link. So we were setting up from their studio - their backup transmitter facility on top of a building in Manhattan back to their studios in downtown Manhattan, so it was good.
It was funny because that morning the fog rolled in and all you can see was what just looked like a white canvas off the rooftop. So even though I should be seeing something known as the Empire State Building and Citicorp Building and others, it was just white. I could literally have done a stand-up with a camera and you could have done a key drop behind me. You would never know that I was 575 feet above the skyline. It was the wildest feeling.
Kirk: Wow. You didn't think to take a picture of that, did you?That would be pretty cool.
Chris: I took pictures of the mist as it started to break away, looking down at Times Square where they drop the ball, so you can actually - I do have a couple pictures.
Kirk: Oh, that would be [inaudible 03:34].
Chris: But taking a picture of the whiteness, the camera can't handle it, so it just looks like a white spot. But I did take pictures of the mist moving along, and you can see the changing of the street below. It was fun.
Kirk: So, if you're putting in a 20-some gig link and you can't actually eyeball the destination where you're pointing the antenna and maybe there's too much attenuation to get any signal at the other end, I don't know, how do you aim that thing?
Chris: Well, the neat thing with the new technology with most of these radio units now is they come in with built-in spectrum analyzers and diagnostic tools that are designed to look at the signal. They're encoded, so they know what the other end is supposed to look like. And you can actually get an audible sound, so the faster it beeps, the stronger the signal is, or you could look at the spectrum analyzer with a laptop that's built into the unit. So you can see the spectrum that you're working with and the carry where it should be.You can get pretty close and eyeball it and make it work. That's what we did. We actually could see the building at the far end, and we said, okay, we're roughly this far. The beam width of these antennas is very tight. I mean, it's pencil-thin, so you're either on or you're off, which is nice, and it worked. We got it linked up. It was about -35 dBm I think was the RSSI. It was really good. Nice and silent. Two T1s and about - I think it was a 100-megabit Ethernet on there as well.
Kirk: In microwave equipment like that, what's the difference in a T1 and the rest of the Ethernet?
Chris: It's just the way they encode it. It's still a traditional T1 coding, but it's part of the modulation scheme. They just carve out the proper protocols to make the T1 equipment work and just gives you the bandwidth 1.544 megabits and passes it on. So you can take your interplex shelf, your common practice interplex, plug it into the radio, and take your Cisco router and plug that into the radio, and you have yourself a nice backup link from your wired Telco issues.
That's one of the reasons why the broadcaster was doing this was to get off of the Telco as a primary. Now, the Telco is backup. They've told me on many occasions they've received alarms for the Telco link having issues while the microwave IP link has been up and solid, and they've stayed on the air. So, word to the wise, start considering alternatives.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
We have a guest on the show today. I delayed bringing him on; I was finding out what was happening with Chris this week. Let's bring in Philip Mulivor. Philip is an author and electronics instructor in Cleveland, Ohio.
Philip, welcome in.
Philip: Thank you very much. Great to be here with you guys.
Kirk: We're glad to have you on. Philip, you showed up on my radar a couple of months ago with an article that you wrote in Radio World magazine. The article was called EKKO Stamps Recall 'The Miracle', and I thought, what do stamps have to do with radio?
First of all, Philip, tell us a little bit about yourself before we jump into the article and what some of your expertise is in. Tell us about Philip. What's interesting about you, and electronics and radio?
Philip: I'm the author of several non-fiction books on controversial subjects. I'm also an instructor of electronics at Remington College in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm also a firearms instructor and a couple other things.
I do occasionally write for Radio World magazine and I had the tremendous pleasure of preparing an article for them a couple months ago about EKKO stamps. I'm amazed at how many people have already heard of EKKO stamps. This is not a particularly new thing to a lot of people who have concerned themselves with early radio history. They are truly one of the most beautiful artifacts that we have left from the first days of commercial broadcast radio going back to the early- and mid-1920s. So, the Radio World article concerned this particular phenomenon called EKKO stamps.
Kirk: So, the article appeared back in the April 28th edition of Radio World. It's online if folks want to see it. We'll put a link to the article in the show notes. We've got an hour here, Philip, so we've got time to talk about what's in the article and probably go into more depth than what you had there.
EKKO stamps, you told me in a conversation earlier EKKO was the name of a company, and the stamps signify - well, they're like QSL cards. Tell us about what the impetus for doing this, for stations issuing a stamp?
Philip: It's really fascinating. In the very early days - and we have to go back to the early 1920s when the first commercial stations started to light up on the AM radio band - these stations had no way of understanding who was really listening, if anybody. It was a problem. They were trying to attract sponsors and support and they were trying to create a business model, but they were lacking the most important piece of information that a radio station can have, who's even listening?
So, it was a serious dilemma. The only way that they really had to keep in touch with listeners was postal mail. The early stations, as I'm sure you guys well know, they were under the correct impression that their signals were covering a huge tract of the United States, and in fact, they were. They were truly regional broadcast facilities, but they really had no way of quantifying their demographics, so they had to be very patient. They had to wait for letters to roll in, word-of-mouth, and try to form a picture of who their audience really was.
They struggled with this until along came the EKKO Company of Chicago. These guys were geniuses. They cooked up just a phenomenally creative idea. They printed very colorful stamps about the same size and about the same quality as a U.S. postage stamp. They made a beautiful design with a radio tower and an American eagle, and on these stamps they imprinted the call signs of some of the biggest AM broadcasters that were on the air at that time. Then, they went about selling these stamps to the broadcast stations and simultaneously sold stamp albums to the general public.
Kirk: So they salted both ends of the supply chain here?
Philip: Indeed they did. Hoping that this was a hobby that was going to catch on, they thought, okay, so this is now a perfect way for listeners to start providing some feedback. They were clever enough to provide with the stamp albums reception report forms. So if you wanted a stamp from a station that you heard, you needed to fill out a very simple reception report, mail it in to the station, and you would in turn receive a beautiful, colorful EKKO stamp to paste into your stamp album.
This caught on like magic; like wildfire. People began to collect, and for the first time, around 1924, 1925, these early broadcasters began to form an idea of who was really out there, and it was a major turning point.
I guess as a shortwave listener and a ham radio operator and a general radio guy, I also appreciate the fact that these were like the de facto first AM broadcast QSL cards. A hobby arose amongst DXers, and there were AM broadcast band DXers in the early 1920s. But I think the most important part of the phenomena was the information that commercial stations started to acquire through this.
Kirk: Sure. What pictures do we have? Are you ready to show us some pictures of any of these stamps or books?
Philip: Sure. I think there's some pictures that you guys can switch to. There we go. There's a beautiful picture of the EKKO stamp from WKY. One of the things that made these stamps so incredibly attractive was the color. They were printed in multiple colors, as you'll see in a moment if we're able to put some more of them up. You can go ahead. There's one in green. Actually, everybody's computer monitor is a little bit different, but in real life, these things are just beautiful, saturated, vibrant color and they were so attractive to own and to paste into your stamp album.
So, it was an important turning point. Eventually, we count over 800 AM radio stations that offered EKKO stamps; 800 different stations.
Now, what you're seeing here is also quite interesting. Eventually, there were competitors, like with any good product and with any truly successful venture, somebody comes along pretty quickly to imitate. So these were stamps that were produced by radio stations themselves. They decided, well, you know, we don't necessarily have to buy stamps from the EKKO stamp company. We can create our own, and that's what you're seeing there.
Another major competitor, and I don't think you have pictures, so I'll try to be very clever with the way I hold this up, these are...
Kirk: There you go, there you go.
Philip: I'm sorry, let me...
Kirk: It's hard to do it all backwards.
Philip: It is, it is. These are called Bryant stamps; Bryant, and Bryant was the first major competitor of the EKKO stamp company. They came along and they tried to eat the EKKO stamp company's lunch, so to speak.
Kirk: I'll bet you EKKO didn't send a Christmas card to the Bryant Company.
Philip: What's amusing is that radio stations that left the EKKO stamp album - let me put that a different way. Radio stations that purchased Bryant stamps were cut out of future editions of the EKKO stamp album. The EKKO Company was jealous and resentful, I suppose, and they discontinued even creating a space in their stamp album for the stations that defected to the Bryant stamps. So there was competition, there was a little drama, and there was a little of what you would expect when there's a phenomenally successful product and then along comes a serious competitor to that product. It was very interesting stuff.
Kirk: So I guess EKKO and perhaps Bryant, too, they had to decide which stations were going to go into the album, because that was the other half of the equation here, right?
Philip: Yes, yes, that's true. I think at first, the EKKO stamp company took some big chances. They just started printing up stamps with call signs, and then they approached the stations and they tried to sell the stamps and sell the albums simultaneously. But it really didn't take very long for this whole thing to catch on. In less than a year, the thing was up and running, off the ground, people were collecting, and there were magazine articles being written within the first year. There was a huge magazine at the time called Radio News. I think perhaps you have a picture online of this. There it is.
Kirk: Oh, yeah. And look who the editor is there.
Philip: Yeah, that's exactly right.
Kirk: Hugo Gernsback. Didn't he have - I know I've read other magazines where Hugo Gernsback was the editor or the publisher.
Philip: Absolutely. I think he had what you could almost call a publishing empire going. But Radio News was the radio hobbyist magazine of the day. It appealed to DXers, it appealed to builders, designers and listeners. If you had even the slightest technical interest in radio, that was your magazine.
I think the February 1925 issue is what you just saw, and the cover was devoted to the EKKO stamp phenomena, which was barely a year old at the time. So this thing caught on like crazy.
It was such an interesting project because it only did good; there was really no downside. All it did is create interest in radio and it created a tremendous bond between listeners and the first AM-radio broadcast stations. You have to remember, at the time, stamp collecting as a separate hobby was very, very popular, and what the EKKO stamp company did was find a way to combine this new, incredibly exciting, almost unbelievable activity of listening to the radio with a hobby that many people already enjoyed and were committed and involved in. They kind of melded those two activities together, and I think that's another reason why it was so incredibly popular. Everybody just came out ahead with EKKO stamps. It was something to behold at the time.
Kirk: I'm going to ask Chris Tobin to take over the interview process here; my computer just needs to get rebooted, so I'm going to be gone for about two minutes while that happens.
This is absolutely fascinating and I want to see where this goes. I'm curious to know, in the end - so maybe hold off for a minute while I reboot - about what eventually precipitated the demise of these kinds of stamps. So, you guys carry on. I'll be right back.
Chris: Fair enough. So, you're talking stamps. Back in the day, stamp collecting was big. When I was a kid, I had several stamp albums, so I can appreciate this. Move forward to today. What would you say would be the equivalent - radio has sort of done itself in - but what would be the equivalent for people getting into the listening of radio who are fascinated? What do you think would be the stamp of today, since we don't have stamps, we don't have stamp collectors, and we've got other methods of associating ourselves with our favorites?
Philip: Well, Chris, I have to tell you right off the bat that in my opinion, the question that you're asking is the most important thing that we can address. Why? Because the EKKO stamp project created an incredible level of excitement and an incredible relationship between listeners and the radio station. There was a bonding and relationship that is almost impossible to find today.
So when I look back - I mean, I like radio history, but to me, the idea is to learn from radio history and take away from some of the early ideas things that might be able to help us today, especially in the often-struggling AM market. Some segments of that market are struggling more seriously than others. Some are perhaps not struggling at all, but AM in general, let's face it, we could use whatever we can get our hands on.
So, this is such a huge question that you're asking. How can we recreate that phenomenal excitement between the radio station and the listener? What could be today's EKKO stamp? And how do we bring back the emotionally - I mean, listen, it was an emotionally-charged bond between the listeners and the broadcasters. I don't think that we've seen quite that type of relationship since the EKKO stamp phenomena and since the early days of commercial broadcasting. So, I don't know. I mean, I don't know exactly what the answer is, but my instincts tell me to look to the past, and particularly look to the EKKO stamp project to try to find an answer to your question.
Chris: Fair enough. I couldn't agree with you more. It's a fascinating historical look back into the business. And many businesses have a similar historical background, whether you're in chemistry or mechanics, but we're just talking radio, TV, and broadcasting.
I have to say, as a kid growing up in the New York City area, we had many very powerhouse AM stations: WABC, WMCA, WHN, and a few others, and I can recall the association the neighborhood kids had with the local radio stations and what we would do and where we would go to listen and watch what they would do. And, you know, the popular stuff with the Beatles and others, you all read about it and you know that radio stations were quite involved, but there was more to it. There were neighborhoods that would do stuff. WABC was one of those stations that really capitalized on what we'll call today social media engagement, where you could actually shut down portions of a city because of the turnout from the listeners; the response. The radio station would suggest, and then people would just run with it.
For instance, there was an incident in Central Park where they were voting for the principal of the year; it's in one of the books by Rick Sklar. It's a popular - there's a few airchecks out there that talk about it. And one of the things that it did was it brought out so many people. The turnout was way beyond what they thought could possibly happen. They couldn't control it. But yet, it worked. Things happened, people loved it, and schools became part of a community. And this is - you're talking 1960s, 1970s. By today's standards, nobody would even believe it.
So the EKKO stamps, the Bryant stamps, the time period was stamp collecting, so they worked it together. Move forward, we have social media today with whether it's a smartphone, a computer, or a tablet, but yet, radio doesn't seem to have learned to follow that same pattern, or at least they claim they can't figure it out. I don't know. I'm fascinated by your article and the stamp collecting concept.
Some of those radio stations that are listed on your article I actually worked at, so it's actually fun to see that and go, wow, I worked for that station and they had stamps back in the day before I was even born. Cool. I wish there was an answer. The question just came to me because in working with my nieces and nephews and going to visit and watching how they interact with technology, how they use it, and where they get their music and where they get their news and sports, or just information in general, and it has nothing to do with the broadcast business at all. It's like, zero, despite what the major broadcast groups would tell you, but it's zero.
Philip: Yeah. I see it with my own kids. It's very true, and I think it's just generally true. But there must be a way to recreate this kind of bond and excitement. I'm a listener to this program; I'm a fan, and I've heard you say many times the focus is on content. I happen to agree wholeheartedly that it must start and end with content. People are willing to listen to a little bit of noise. They don't necessarily need a pristine signal, but if there's content there, they're going to be listening. You know, I listen to one of my favorite AM radio talk shows on a 1962 transistor radio. You can imagine what that sounds like. It's full of static, but I don't really care that much. I'm listening to the program; I'm there for the content. Not to get too far off the subject, but I've always appreciated your remarks on radio content. I think it begins and ends with content.Anyway, the stamps worked well in 1924. I don't know if that would be the model to try again today. The early broadcasters, they had a big problem. They didn't have Facebook, they didn't have Nielsen ratings, they barely had phones, and people certainly were not calling radio stations long distance on the telephone. So they had a really tough time keeping track of who their audience was, and these stamps solved a huge problem there.
And you know what? They're still around. You can find them on eBay. I've been very fortunate to run into some beautiful examples for my own collection. I do not have a large collection of EKKO stamps, but I've picked and chosen when they've become available, and they really are a pleasure to collect and hold in your hand. You really feel connected to the early days of radio. They are such a spectacular artifact from that period of time.
Kirk: Hey, guys, I want to remind our viewers and listeners you're watching or listening to This Week in Radio Tech, episode number 217. I'm Kirk Harnack, along with Chris Tobin and our guest, Philip Mulivor, who is telling us about a piece of radio history that I knew nothing about, and it turns out it's a real niche now for collectors, but it was a big deal back in the 1920s and 1930s. We'll continue talking to Philip here in just a moment.
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All right, we're talking with Philip Mulivor about some radio history, and we've been talking about the EKKO stamps. Philip, I've got a couple more questions about these things. Chris Tobin is with us, too. He's in the studio in Queens. Chris, you just butt right in anytime. There he is. You just butt right in anytime, buddy, if you've got a question or a follow-up.
I want to know - I wonder how EKKO decided which stations would be in the book? Did they sell the station on it first? I guess they would before the station got into the books that they distributed to end users, to listeners, because you wouldn't want to advertise a station for free. EKKO had to go sign all these stations up, and then start printing books, right?
Philip: Well, the answer to your question, I'm afraid, is nobody knows as far as I can tell. In the course of writing the Radio World story, I had a chance to talk to some pretty well-known radio historians and stamp collectors; experts. Nobody seems to know exactly what the sales process was for the first EKKO stamps. Several people told me that there's really no evidence to suggest that they did anything except print up the stamps and then peddle them to some of the early broadcasters.
For sure, nothing happened until about 1922. In that year, we went from about 50 - and I'm using round numbers, but pretty close - about 50 stations - actually, looking down at my notes, 67 commercial AM stations to over 500 in one year. That was 1922. So that was when the folks at EKKO started formulating this idea. But how they chose those first early adapters is a question that has been lost in history, I think, Kirk.
Kirk: Well, I guess maybe they were trying to salt the market there, so maybe they gave a few away; you go to the station and you get them to buy on the idea.
You mentioned earlier that they didn't have Nielsen or Arbitron; they didn't have write-in diaries; they didn't have anything like this. This was a brand-new, nascent industry, and the industry didn't even know how far their signal went for sure or where it could be received.
I want to touch on that for a second. It's really interesting. Imagine it's 1925, and, I don't know, there were some stations that - there were some spark gap transmitters, I guess, people running ham radio operators. They were kind of splattering all over the band, but we didn't have all these things that cause interference on the AM band. They didn't have very many radio stations. They certainly didn't have thousands like we have now, all of them sharing frequencies with somebody. They didn't have compact fluorescent lights, they didn't have LEDs, they didn't have computers, and they didn't have so much electrical wiring going around up and down streets. Not every house was wired. So I would imagine that the environment for receiving radio stations was far different and that with a station of just 250 or 500 watts, it could be received for a long, long way. Of course, the receivers maybe weren't as good, either, but maybe the antennas were better.
Give us your view on some of those pluses and minuses and how far stations might have expected to go back then.
Philip: Oh, 100%. These first stations were regional, semi- national, quasi-national broadcasters. They covered huge tracts of the United States. And of course, the more power, the better. They did very, very well, and when they started receiving responses back from EKKO stamp collectors - there's accounts of surprise amongst broadcasters. They started to draw maps and understand who and where some of their listeners were.
But yes, you're 100% right. It's just an historical fact that these early stations functioned both technically and commercially as regional, semi-national broadcasters. They covered huge parts of the country. I mean, listen, with 180 meters in the AM broadcast band at nighttime, particularly in the winter, you can do very, very well, as any ham operator understands. You can do very, very well. So they had people listening all over the place.
It was very exciting, and of course, this was the beginning of the AM DXing hobby, as well. You have to remember, the unparalleled thrill of listening to a radio station a state or two away, this had never happened before in the history of the human race. It was magic, it was truly unbelievable, it was worthy of a souvenir, and people wanted that souvenir. They wanted something to commemorate the breathtaking experience that they just went through of being in Kansas and tuning in a station in South Carolina. It was phenomenal. Can you imagine the excitement of collecting these and being among the first collectors of some of these stamps? It would have been wonderful.
Kirk: You know, I came into radio I guess in the early- or mid-1970s as a kid, tuning in stations on my Radio Shack Flavoradio. Who knows what I had? It was some little transistor radio. I had a five-tube radio, actually, in my bed. The mattress wasn't quite as long as the bunk bed that my dad built, so there was this space of about 8 or 10 inches or so where the radio would sit. So I would have this thing on late at night listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater and tuning around the dial. Of course, I listened to WLS in Chicago. My dad would listen to WBBM. This was from Kansas, as a matter of fact. And how exciting to do that, although I never thought of QSL cards or reception reports. I guess maybe we were kind of beyond that.
As an engineer, I would occasionally get reception reports from some of the bigger AM stations that I worked at, and a couple smaller ones, too. It's a little hard for me to put my mind in the space of somebody in the 1920s or 1930s, enjoying this new hobby and tuning in stations that were far away, you know, many days' travel, even by train several days' travel, to get somewhere, and yet, you could tune them in and hear these people, hear these voices, and hear music live. That's an experience that kids today just aren't going to know.
Philip: Yeah, it's very, very hard for us to put ourselves in the position of the first radio listeners. We've become so desensitized. The miracle of radio has become so commonplace and so ubiquitous that we really have to struggle as hard as we can to imagine what it was like.
People in the early 1920s, many families sold valuable possessions, including their icebox, in order to purchase the first wireless set. That's what radio meant. It was so unbelievable, it was so magic, and it was even frightening to some people. People would sell household goods that they generally needed to run a house in order to buy that first radio, and that's what it meant. It was just like magic, and EKKO stamps are of course a very, very big part of that.
You had asked earlier how did it all came to an end. Well, the stock market crash of 1929 brought in of course the Great Depression that continued well into the 1930s. That pretty much ended the EKKO stamp phenomena.
Usually, when people would send in their reception reports in order to get their stamp in return, they'd send in $0.10 along with the reception report to cover the return postage. Those days were gone in the 1930s with the Great Depression. People weren't throwing dimes around for hobbies anymore. So that pretty much snuffed out the whole EKKO stamp craze.
There was a little resurgence when the economy got back on its feet. People started collecting, and there were a couple imitators of the EKKO stamps in the 1930s, but by then, radio was of course much more accepted, much more commonplace, and a little bit of the thrill was gone by then, and so EKKO stamps never regained their initial incredible excitement.
Kirk: I noticed that in your article in Radio World you mentioned that these sell on eBay, $5 to $10 for a stamp, and that a half- filled EKKO book had sold for $4,700. Does anybody have a fully- filled book? Have you heard of that?
Philip: I've heard rumors that there's a couple complete albums, but nobody seems to be sharing that very readily. I've talked to a couple of eBay vendors who specialize in EKKO stamps, and they have large collections of their own. One guy had an album about half-full for about $5,000, as you mentioned. You can pick up a very common EKKO stamp from a station that printed gazillions of them for $10. The rarer ones, where a station may have only issued a very few, you're going to pay several hundred dollars for one stamp. It just depends what the call sign is on that particular stamp.
Kirk: I've got a couple more things we're going to talk about, including teaching electronics in this day and age and how that goes on, because that's your full-time vocation, an electronics professor and instructor. What would you like to wrap up with, if anything, about the EKKO stamp notion?
Philip: Oh, I appreciate being able to share my interest in that it's such an interesting piece of radio history and it's such a pleasure to be able to share it with everybody that watches This Week in Radio Tech. For the ham operators out there, which is probably quite a sizable percentage of the viewers, I wonder if they remember this thing. Let me try to be clever, here.
Kirk: Oh, amateur radio $0.05 stamp, U.S. postage, yeah?
Philip: Yeah. This was the only U.S. postage stamp honoring amateur radio, and that came along in the 1960s, long, long after the EKKO stamp phenomena. But that, too, is a collector's item now.
Kirk: The $0.05 stamp is - the amateur radio $0.05 stamp?
Kirk: Interesting. We're going to take another quick break and hear from another one of our sponsors. You're watching, by the way, This Week in Radio Tech, episode 217, with Philip Mulivor as our guest. Chris Tobin is with us in studio in Queens, New York. We're going to be talking with Philip for the last few minutes of the show about his career as an electronics professor, and how it's the same or how it's different nowadays. That's going to be pretty interesting.
Our show is brought to you in part by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR Virtual Radio console. This is a very interesting idea. The console itself, the part that you deal with, the part that you touch, well, it's a touchscreen. In fact, it's an HP PC that has a multi-touch touchscreen. You can actually touch several faders. It's a 10-touch screen. You can touch several faders at once and move them up or down, several buttons up or down at once. I don't know how often a person might need to. When I was a disk jockey, I had trouble with one hand, let alone several, but if you need to operate several faders at once, you can do that.
The DSP engine for the Lawo crystalCLEAR is a one-rack unit device. It goes in a rack. It doesn't even have to be nearby because the two are connected by Ethernet. There's an application for the console running on the computer and it tells the mixing engine what to do, what to mix together.
There are a lot of functionality and features. As I mentioned, there is the multi-touch-enabled mixing control and a very intuitive GUI, graphical user interface, optimized for fast- paced radio workflows. In many ways, the screen only shows you what you need to see to do the job at the time.
It has three stereo mixing groups, Program one, program two, and Record, like so many consoles do; integrated CUE, or prefader level feature that has metering; programmable SCENE presets that you can recall every detail on, including mic processing, setups, mix-minuses, and things like that. It does have stereo PPM meters, Euro and U.S. operating modes for fader start or a button start, and a large time-of-day clock synchronized with the NTP server.
It supports guests with talkback so you can talk back to a guest in studio or out of studio, and a PANIC button clears any changes to the current SCENE. If you say, whoa, I think I pushed a wrong button here, I need to get back, just touch that one button and there you can go. 24 sources are available, 8 can be simultaneously active on this, and there's also advanced DSP for microphone and external audio processing.
If you want more information about this console, it's going to be shipping soon. We had Michael Dosch, the Director of Virtual Radio Projects for Lawo, he was our guest a couple shows back. He explained that they showed this at NAB. It's almost ready to ship.
If you want more information on it, I would go to their website at lawo.com. It's a German name, a German company. I've met the owner, Philipp Lawo. Check it out, lawo.com. If you browse there from the U.S., you will get the English version of the website and you can read all about the crystalCLEAR Virtual Mixing console. It's a good console, very interesting. I would check it out if you're interested.
There's also a video that Mike Dosch has of operating the console where he gives it a good demo. Thanks to Lawo for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
We've got a few minutes left, about 10. Chris Tobin, are you still with us? Do you have any follow-up questions about all this stamp business?
Chris: Yeah. The stamp business, I was just mentioning to Andrew here in the studio, when you were talking about why it disappeared and why it isn't something today, I was just joking with Andrew saying, you know, it's interesting, when I was a kid, things were such that, wow, you can do this, you can do that, and it was just amazing, the amazement of it all, just like the EKKO stamps and DXing a radio station and saying, wow, I'm listening to somebody talk to me six states away. This is amazing.
Fast forward to today, and if I was to tell you that I've taken this size object, this cup that I'm holding, and say it's 24 centimeters square, I put it into a payload and launch it into orbit to do a low satellite amateur thing, most people today in this room go, that's nice, and move on. Thirty years ago, if I told you I put this little object into orbit, you'd be like, what? And I'd probably create an international incident. But today, technology, as I hold this iconic symbol of a smartphone with a little apple on the back, people expect it. If I told you this thing makes espresso coffee, you're like, cool, can I do it? Not, how is that possible? Like, okay, can I get one? Again, 30 years ago, if I told you this square little device can make espresso coffee, you'd be like, whoa, wait a minute. I need to look into this.
That's what's changed. As an electronics teacher, I'm sure the students you're working with, you probably encounter some that have that curiosity factor. When I was a kid, you had the Lafayette Radio Electronics wooden box with the springs that you'd attach the semiconductors to, and before that, you had the Heathkit with the vacuum tubes or valves, and it stirred the imagination. Today, fast forward and you have, what, SPICE programs that sort of do all the work for you, and you really lose that foundation of the PN junction and the transistor and what really goes on, or a diode and why does a diode only go in one direction?
Back when I was a kid in school, you'd sit there and blow it up and explode a little glass diode and go, what did I do wrong? Today, you do it in software and say, oh, okay, try it again; reset. Maybe I'm wrong, but you as an electronics professor would know and see the students. Do you see that difference today compared to say when you and I and Kirk and others were in our youth? Not that we're not in our youth now.
Philip: Well, I'll tell you, yeah, I see exactly what you're describing. People are so desensitized to amazing technology. If you've been fortunate enough to live to my age, you've been through lots of technology development and you have some perspective. I mean, I can look back on the transistor radio. That's my point of reference. That was pretty high tech when I was 10 years old. I thought that was really awesomely cool. So, yes, Chris, I see exactly what you're describing.
What I also see - and this is tough - is a blurring in many college students' minds of what's real and what's not. So, they see technology in movies, on TV, and whatever entertainment and media that they watch, and not all of it is real. Some of it is fiction; it's entertainment, and there is an astonishing blur in the minds of many students - of my students, at least - of what's real technology and what really hasn't actually been invented yet. That's what I'm seeing. So, it's a little shocking.
Chris: I understand that, because I will tell you, when I was a kid watching sci-fi, and I'm a very avid sci-fi fan, there were things I would watch and go, wow, that's amazing. We can do that? Then I would go to the library and try and research it and discover whether it was true or not. Fast forward to my nieces and nephews, when I talk to them about stuff, they just assume, well, that's real. That's it, that's what it is. And I'm like, no, you do realize that you can't do that. That doesn't exist. Oh, no, no. It's in the movies. I'm like, wow. So, yeah, I can appreciate that.
It's just fascinating. You're right, the lines are blurred. I have met several folks, recently actually, talking to a couple of students at a college about technologies and doing certain things, and some of the questions they came up with and what they thought was possible, I would agree with you, I would sit there and go, okay, that is definitely something out of the movies. That's a Gene Roddenberry moment. That's not reality.
Philip: Exactly. I know, it's amazing, isn't it? It's quite startling and a little bit embarrassing when it happens because it's sometimes difficult to tell somebody that - after all, these are 20, 21, 22 year-old grown men and women, it's sometimes difficult to have to explain to them that, no, that's not real yet.
But we live in a world where the lines are increasingly blurred and technology is moving so fast, you know, one day something is not real and the next month it actually is. So we've got that, too. But it's fascinating.
I think teaching electronics at the college level definitely isn't getting any easier, but I think it's also not getting any easier to teach at any level. It's a drastically different world. Attention spans, yes, it's true, are much shorter I think today than they have been, so teachers have their work cut out for them. But at the same time, it's a wonderful, challenging job, too. If you like electronics, you get to talk about the thing you like all day long. That's pretty cool.
Kirk: I've been wanting to ask this question for a while, Philip, and that is, I know we certainly used to begin with Ohm's law and how resistors and capacitors work, and tune circuits and transistors and all of that, and as an electronics instructor, do we still start there? Because it used to be that if you started there, it wasn't a long trip to circuits that were modern for the day, like back in the 1970s. If you look at a schematic of a playback amplifier for a tape recorder or a cart machine, to put it in a broadcast sense, it wasn't that complicated. Now, anything you touch or open is full of large- scale integration electronics. Do we have to know what a capacitor does at this point? What's important to teach to students in electronics?
Philip: Well, I think the programs that exist around the country today in the electronic technology flavor, in other words, programs that lead to an Associate's Degree in electronics technology - engineering programs I'm not as familiar with - but the two-year technology programs are strikingly similar to what they were 25 and 30 years ago. There's usually a course in DC fundamentals, followed by AC, followed by a third course that's like an introduction to semiconductors, and then a fourth course in digital electronics, Boolean algebra, the fundamentals of gates, flip-flops, and simple digital circuits. So really, not that much has changed in these programs in the last 20 years, and that's good. It's not a bad thing.
The idea is that if you're going to go out there and troubleshoot and be flexible, be agile, to be able to work in a number of different jobs that might come your way as your first job offer, it's a good thing to be able to do some simple troubleshooting to the component level. It's a good idea to have a rudimentary understanding of electronics theory. So yeah, nowadays we swap boards and everything is modular and a lot of repairs are done that way, but some aren't, so we continue to prepare students in a very similar way that we always have.
Kirk: I agree with you completely. People have to understand the fundamentals. They can't just, you know, somebody has got to design these circuits and somebody still has to design RF circuits, not just with maybe the large-size components that we used to use, but now there's so much stripline technology. If you look inside a cell phone as to what constitutes the antenna and a matching circuit that goes between the radio or the diplexer in there and the antenna, all that stuff is - I think it's harder now than ever before, but still, it follows the same laws of physics to get the job done.
I think it's just amazing where we are, and yeah, you've got to start out learning. It just seems like it's so much farther now between the introduction to DC and the introduction to AC electronics and where you have to go to design stuff that's useful in today's world than it used to be. It seemed like 20, 30 years ago, it was a shorter walk to that point where you were designing stuff useful for that period's technology. Am I wrong about that?
Philip: No, I think you're 100% right. I think that's exactly right. There is a big disconnect between the fundamentals and what you might have to end up dealing with. Of course that's true. But what do you teach if you're going to design a two-year program or an 18-month Associate's Degree program in electronics technology? You're going to want to make sure that you teach the fundamentals of fundamental circuit analysis, and for that matter, how to make a good solder joint, safety in electronics, and basic troubleshooting skills. Those are all things that are the same today as they were 30 years ago. Soldering hasn't changed much. Yeah, we have surface-mount technology, and that's a specialty, but you have to start somewhere. I think this is true of many fields. If you look at many technology programs, the fundamentals are still taught and emphasized, and we try to prepare these guys as best we can.
Kirk: I imagine it's quite a challenge. What's the interest level nowadays in electronics? Are people still going into that field much?
Philip: Yeah, I think we have a pretty vibrant program at my college. We don't seem to have any shortage of students. There are people that come to school and find out that it's really not their cup of tea, but yeah, I'd say these two-year electronics programs are going very strong.
Kirk: I imagine a certain number of those graduates then go on to higher levels of electronics learning, and a few go into working for, who knows, Samsung, Texas Instruments, Intel, Marconi, Ericsson, and designing really powerful stuff, but it's a long way to go.
Philip: I'm hoping we get a few new broadcast engineers out of it. I think the radio engineer population is aging; there's no question about that. We're going to have to replace ourselves, so I try to do my best to interest my students in broadcast technology. You know, we do the best we can, and if a teacher is excited and interested in their subject, it rubs off. It spreads.
Kirk: Oh, yeah. Apparently you are, and I'm glad for that. Hey, broadcast engineering still has one benefit that nobody else has, and that's free concert tickets. Well, sometimes.
Hey, Chris, any follow-up? We're about out of time.
Chris: No, no, I think all the points have been touched, and I couldn't agree more. The more excited you are, the better the students will turn out, that's for sure. I've seen that on a couple of occasions. But boy, how times have changed from when I was enjoying things on the radio and TV and now where we are today.
Kirk: Philip, there's a question that a broadcast engineering friend of mine - he's in charge of hiring and firing engineers, that's one of his job duties - and he's got a question that he asks applicants to see if they really actually got it or not. And the question is to what impedance antenna would you connect the output of a 50 ohm broadcast transmitter to get the most efficiency? And he would be totally surprised that the vast majority of students have absolutely no idea.
Philip: I'm a big believer in the SBE certification program, 100%. I promote this to my students because the questions on those tests are real practical, real-world, real-life broadcast engineer questions, just like the one you just gave. I think that's probably the single best thing that a guy who's interested in broadcast engineering can do for themselves is prepare for those tests and take as many of those certifications as they possibly can.
And by the way, you guys are responsible for interesting me in one of those certifications. You had Mark Mueller on the show a while back, and he is such an incredibly intelligent and awesome guy and he knows so much about AM directional arrays, he inspired me to read up on that subject and get interested.
Kirk: Good deal. I remember that show with Mark, and AM directional is still something that baffles me just a little bit. I can go deal with them, but I sure couldn't design one for you. That's great. I'm glad you got that certification, and thanks to Mark Mueller for inspiring that.
Hey, guys, we've got to go. Philip Mulivor, thank you so much for joining us and telling us about this history of EKKO stamps and then a bit about modern education in electronics. I appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
Philip: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the program.
Kirk: And live in studio, Chris. Chris, are you still there?
Chris: I'm still here, yes, absolutely.
Kirk: Chris Tobin, thank you for being with us on This Week in Radio Tech. I appreciate your participation as well. Thanks again, buddy.
Chris: My pleasure. It's always a good time.
Kirk: Our show has been brought to you by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR Audio console from them, it's the one with the touchscreen; and also by Axia and the Axia Radius Audio console, an Audio over IP console. Check them both out on the web, lawo.com and axiaaudio.com.
We're going to have another show next week, and coming up on a future show, you might remember him from a previous show, Skip Pizzi is going to be joining us within the next couple of weeks. We'll have him on the show and plenty more interesting guests.
Thanks for tuning in and watching. Thanks for subscribing; that's a great way to go ahead and get the podcast downloaded to your device, whatever that is. Tell your friends about us, This Week in Radio Tech. You can see us at thisweekinradiotech.com or gfqnetwork.com.
All right, thanks to Andrew Zarian, also at the network headquarters, for producing the show. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye.