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Friday, October 11, 2019

Hospital Radio

Image: Sheffield Hospital Radio

It was an American idea that became a British institution that is almost completely unheard of in America. And one of the most overlooked ways radio has been used.

Most Americans don't know this. But in the UK, hospitals have their own radio stations. They are managed and staffed by volunteers, are operated around the clock and provide music and reading services to hospital patients and staff.

Image: CartoonStock
They are transmitted through AM/FM carrier current signals via the hospital wiring system, or more frequently today, direct cable (channel 1 on UK Hospedia systems) and could be heard in the surrounding area of the hospital. And many stream to the world.

Image: iTunes/Apple
And hospital radio has existed even before the dawn of modern radio broadcasting.

The idea for hospital radio was conceived at an American military hospital in Paris near the end of World War I. They found that radio would be an efficient way to deliver news and music directly to bedsides to help recovering soldiers. But the war ended before this could be set up. However, the equipment and idea was taken to Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington D.C. in 1919 where a station did operate. But it is unknown for how long, what the call sign was, all the necessary details.

Hospital radio in the UK underwent an expansion after World War II with more hospitals starting more radio stations. They're almost like mascots for their respective hospitals. And some of the best international promotion these hospitals could ever have.

UK hospital radio stations play a very wide variety of pop music, depending on each particular station, of course heavy on British content. Often spinning those awesome lost British pop oldies of the 1950s to the '80s we missed over here in the States because American record labels didn't distribute and/or radio stations overlooked or ignored them.

UK hospital radio stations even have their own organization HBA which is like the NAB for American radio stations.

But why hasn't hospital radio become a thing in America?

That's a tricky question. It's probably been suggested before, but aside from the Walter Reed General Hospital station, there are no hospital radio stations in America. I may be wrong, but I have looked everywhere. There were a few US hospital CATV system channels, mostly with health videos in the 1980s and '90s. But no radio stations.

The other thing is that American hospital stays are generally shorter than in the UK. You could have surgery one day and be at home the next whereas in the UK, you might stay a little longer, just to be safe.

But I think ultimately, there was no real need. Unlike the UK, the US had more higher powered radio stations outside the most populated areas than the UK. Second, by the 1950s, as US hospitals campuses were becoming sprawling developments, I'm sure some doctors and medical staff who have visited the UK were inspired by the idea. Music is a healer, But the funding, staffing, technical and programming parts were probably more than could be sorted out and/or what their hospital budgets allowed.

A brief listing of some UK hospital radio stations online:

Hospital Radio Plymouth

Hospital Radio Reading

York Hospital Radio

Hospital Radio Crawley

Canterbury Hospital Radio

Hospital Radio Basingstoke

Hospital Radio Colchester

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Portable And Car Audio Demonstration Cassettes

In the early days of portable cassette machines, late 1960s and early 1970s cassette decks often came with demonstration tapes. These were mostly public domain songs, such as "Little Brown Jug" and "Michael Row The Boat Ashore" or specially composed material, often with the second side blank for the customer or purchaser to test the recorder with. But several manufacturers from National/Panasonic, Sanyo and Sony made these cassettes.

Listen here
Below is a later '70s version, featuring a disco rendition of Mozart's 40th Symphony.

Listen here
Most Sanyo as well as other makes of portables had cheap top control mechanisms, which required the cassette to be loaded upside down. So Sanyo issued their '70s demonstration cassettes with upside down labels, a practice rarely used outside of children's tapes (the Fisher Price, Superscope Storyteller and Teddy Ruxpin cassettes all had upside down labels.)

Listen here
Listen here All images above: Internet Archive

By the 1980s, the focus shifted from '60s J-Pop renditions of "Red River Valley" to exciting ambient stereo sound with personal cassette players like the Sony Walkman.

As the 1980s rolled on, fewer electronics manufacturers were including demonstration cassettes with their portable decks. But there was one sector of the electronics market that not only embraced the demonstration cassette, but almost made it a science; The car stereo sector.

The GM Delco/Bose car audio systems were especially ambitious. They were the gold standard of 1980s car audio and their demonstration cassettes often came on premium normal or chrome tape. The music selections were varied, but mostly non-rock.

These auto demonstration cassettes were also made by Ford for their car stereos. The heyday of the car stereo demonstration cassette ended as CDs had began to become the audiophile standard and the last car stereo demonstration cassettes were made in the 1990s.

1992 Chrysler Audio System. Image:: eBay

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Pluto TV

Imagine a digital cable/satellite type TV service with channels and shows you’ve never seen before with a great selection of movies that you can take with you and watch anywhere you have an internet connection. And (the sweet part), it’s actually free.

Welcome to Pluto TV. Available on your computer at Pluto TV and on Roku, Android and iOS apps. As well as your Playstation/XBox

Pluto TV is a cord-cutter’s dream. Hundreds of channels, some with programming you’ve never seen before, or haven’t seen in years or even decades. There’s dozens of movie channels in every genre, from documentaries to horror. Sports channels, news channels, and music channels, including digital audio-only channels in genres from Jazz (Cool Ch. 982.) Classic R&B (Pure Soul, Ch, 978) Adult Standards (Ratpack Ch. 974) Hair Metal (The Strip, Ch. 971), etc.

But Pluto isn’t like Comcast (there are caveats.) First, Pluto doesn’t offer your local TV channels. Second, some of the news programming, such as the CNN and the NBC News Pluto channels aren’t live. This won’t do for a hardcore breaking news junkie like me. But if you’re just a casual news watcher, it should be fine. The stories and shows are usually from earlier in the day on the CNN and NBC feeds. There are live feeds of Cheddar and the suspicious RT America. The other thing is a strong high-speed internet connection is vital to the Pluto experience.

The movie channels are mostly 2nd tier films, but still entertaining. (I watched What’s Eating Gilbert Grape for the first time since 1993.) The thing here is most Pluto channel programming - including the on demand movies, have commercials.

There’s food channels, home improvement channels, some religious and a wide selection of sports channels (I’m not a huge sports fan, so I’m guessing the boxing matches at 3am aren’t live either.) Several all comedy, geek, Latinx and children’s programming channels are offered as well.

But if it’s HBO, Showtime and Cinemax you’re looking for, that’s not here. But the Pluto movie channels are acceptable, but the commercial break transitions are a tad jarring. However, the film returns to the last few seconds of the last scene prior to the break. So that helps as you’re running to the kitchen for the bag of chips.

The channels are laid out on a standard digital grid with current/upcoming programming listed. On Roku at first glance, you couldn’t distinguish this from your average cable/satellite grid.

Some of Pluto’s more unique channels:

Ch. 007 Pluto 007 - All classic James Bond films in random order.

Ch. 591 THC (The High Channel) - If you’re into the cannabis lifestyle, THC is your TV. It’s programmed for today’s modern stoner.

Ch. 597 SLOW TV - If you ever fantasized being a Norwegian train engineer, this channel is heaven. 24 hours a day, it’s the cab view of a Norwegian locomotive along the rails of Norway. And that’s it. 24/7.

It’s a nifty sub-cable system if you already have cable. And a decent alternative if you’re off the cord. But the fact you can take Pluto anywhere on your smartphone, tablet, gaming or PC computer makes it a must have in periods of boredom. Just surfing around Pluto is fun. Enjoy!

Monday, October 07, 2019

Mystery Food: Deep Sea Finger Lobster

What was this?

I saw this 1977 Sizzler ad on Pinterest and it gave me a flashback to this 1983 commercial.

I’m not an expert at seafood (I’m actually allergic to it and I'm also revolted by the smell.) But even back then, this sounded suspicious. Because I have never heard of this type of lobster before. Ever.

And I’ve never heard of it since. So what was it? Lobsters shaped like an obscene gesture?

My first hunch then and the one I still hold now was baby lobsters. The inevitable trawler bycatch that wouldn’t satisfy any serious hardcore lobster lover. But served in quantity with a mouthwatering new name and target it to trendy young adults? New menu item.

So I did some research. And this is what I came up with under “Deep Sea Finger Lobster”: Nothing.

No scientific Latin name, no sub-species listing. No taxology of any kind.

As far as I know, they were only sold at Sizzler restaurants. However some have mentioned other places where this was available.

Any clues?

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Those Little $30 Chinese Tablet/Netbook Computers: Are They Worth It?

Photo: eBay
You've probably seen these little 7" inch Android tablets with sleek keyboard cases that resemble '80s/'90s day planners on eBay or Amazon. You can also buy these tablets on their own without keyboards for around $30 and they come in different colors. But we're going to try out the keyboard case and to really put this to the test, write this entire post on it.

Screenshots are real easy. Just press the Print Screen button, no extra apps needed.

First, this does have functioning apps and does work. It is the right size for your backpack or large handbag and setting/booting it up takes about the same time. This handles YouTube playback respectably well. There's no touchpad or mouse, so most selecting is done onscreen with your fingers. If your demands are very basic, Google oriented and simple, this does work on that level.
But I ran a few more performance tests on it with a screen recorder app to test speed and multimedia performance.

In spite of it's Q88 quad-core chipset, at 512 MB of RAM, this is not very fast at multitasking. It can stream internet radio through VLC while working with the most of the non-video apps. It also handles TuneIn reliably through it's app while surfing the Firefox, Twitter, Facebook, Google Docs and Gmail apps. The screen recorder app's audio input comes from the built in condenser mic, so whatever sounds are around you as you record from the display will be caught on the resulting video (in my case, the bedroom fan.) The volume on the video was set at max (as your ringing ears can tell you.) The sound comes from a tiny monaural button speaker on the rear of the tablet, so it isn't very loud from an average listening perspective.

Second, the screen at 7'' wide is an issue for me as my ability to read fine print requires me to carry a magnifying glass. You could stretch out the display with your fingers, but finding the sweet spot between readability and screen size can be a challenge on some web versions of news sites.

The keyboard case was of particular interest to me as my big clumsy fingers are especially problematic with touch-screen keyboards and while a larger size, some keys (such as the " ') key is located at the bottom of the keyboard. The keys also require a firm press each to enter, so I still end up peck-typing, but the keyboard real estate area is larger.

You can buy these with keyboards or without. And the other good thing is when these tablets die (usually in about three years), you can replace them while keeping the case. If you enable Google Drive for backups, your work can be saved when you change tablets.

Compared to my standard desktop, I probably would not write another post directly on this thing again. But it is good for making middle of the night drafts with Google Docs. But it's too slow for serious school and office work.

As a serious student/office computer, you'd be better off with a real netbook/laptop. But if you just need a simple electronic day planner (the Google Calendar app does a great job) that does a little more, this may fit the bill. 

Friday, September 06, 2019

"Ruby Tuesday" Freakout Guitars (Spin-O-Rama,1967)

Freakout!!: The Great New Guitar Sounds Freakout Guitars (Spin-O-Rama, 1967)

This super-cheesy whammy-bar fueled version of the Rolling Stones classic has always been a personal guilty pleasure of mine. In fact both sides of this album are worth a listen (it's department store budget albums like this one that also have some of the most kickass talk-over music for your community LPFM radio show.)

I think this was as close to a psychedelic album as Spin-O-Rama Records ever got.