Saturday, August 3, 2013

Radio Roma Libera I (Radio Free Rome 1)

With the next few postings, I'm wandering a ways off of the 'Partigiano' thread to discuss my experiences setting up and operating a radio station to broadcast period programming during "March on Rome," a Mediterranean Theater of Operations WWII reenactment held at Ft. Stanton, NM during the last weekend in July.

My plan for MoR IV was to set up a low-power AM radio station to broadcast WWII era music, radio variety shows, and news programs during the event. All the participant "listeners" would have to do is bring an AM radio with them. Thankfully, this effort succeeded beyond my expectations.

The basis for the station is a low-power, no license transmitter called the "Talking House" (TH). This device is used by real estate agents to broadcast info about a house for sale to potential buyers sitting in their vehicle in front of the property. But the TH can be used for any legal purpose; it's not just for real estate sales.

The TH has internal storage for five minutes worth of audio, however it also has a 'line in' jack that allows it to accept an audio stream whose duration is limited only by the capabilities of the source device. For my station, I connected the TH input to the headphone jack of a laptop computer. The mp3 audio files came from a massive assortment of 1940s programming I purchased from an internet vendor - the performances are all considered to be in the public domain.

To impart maximum realism to the programming, I recorded voice 'time hacks', station identification (Armed Forces Radio Service, or A.F.R.S.), sign ons and sign offs, and a verbal statement explaining why occasional Nazi and Fascist material was being broadcast. Then, using audio editing software, I assembled the material into hour long blocks that opened with a time hack and station identification and saved each as a single mp3 file. The opening of the first hour's broadcast included the playing of reveille and the closing broadcast of each day included the playing of the National Anthem.

All that remained was to create a Playlist in Windows Media Player for each day and to place the appropriate mp3 files into each. From here it was a simple matter to start up the computer each day at the appointed time, launch Media Player, and double click the day's playlist...instant, and unattended radio programming. To get the word out, I printed daily program schedules to post in various locations around the camp. For a Forties feel, I printed the schedules on original, watermarked 'onion-skin' typing paper using a vintage looking typewriter font. Taking it a step further, only the first copy of each day's schedule was in black text, the other four copies were printed in a purple that to me made it look like carbon paper copies.

Axis music and propaganda programs were included three or four times a day using the subterfuge of signal drift; the scheduled program would drift off into the world of static and a German or Italian program would take it's place. Sometime before the end of the hour, the inattentive station engineer would notice the problem and quickly retune the equipment back to the A.F.R.S. program feed. To communicate this to listeners, the printed schedule was annotated during specific hours, explaining that 'atmospheric conditions' might permit competing programming from Axis transmitters to horn in on the A.F.R.S. frequency.

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