The first Triangle Total FM Guide was published by Dave Searls two years ago. It was, for Dave, a disaster. The experience of selling copies of the guide to area stereo shops, which, in turn, sold them to the public, was “too awful to explain . . . In the long run, what was to have cleared a couple of hundred bucks for me ended up costing me much time and life expectancy.”
Dave has updated the guide for this issue of THE SUN, and written a new introduction. He emphasizes, “This is the only one of its kind. Anywhere. As far as I know, almost nobody in the popular end of the radio of hi-fi business even acknowledges the ability of FM waves to go beyond the horizon. My discovery that they do is shared only by a few thousand hobbyists and some local folks who were enlightened by the first guide.”
In preparing this new version, Dave was helped by a fancy new Mitshubishi DA-FIO tuner, courtesy of Vickers. He also used his old KLH tuner and two different antennas, a Finco FM-5 and a Jerrold QFM-9, the latter also courtesy of Vickers.
Would you use a $15,000 Porsche just to haul groceries?
Then why would you use your FM tuner or stereo receiver just to get a few local stations?
If your answer is “because that’s all I can get,” you’re wrong. You can get more. Lots more. Would you believe well over 100 different stations? It’s true.
If your answer is “because that’s all I care to hear,” then you might like to know what you’re missing.
Right now I’ll turn on the FM set. We’ll start at the bottom of the dial and see what’s interesting.
At 88.1 we’ve got a geology course. At 88.5, some bluegrass. Progressive soul on 88.9. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony on 89.1. Hard rock on 89.3. A trans-sexual interview on 89.5. The Rev. Billy Something on 90.1. Silky jazz on 90.9. Some baroque stuff on 91.5. Further on up the dial is a choice of several more classical stations, some progressive rock, and the usual assortment of religion, country, top 40, and music to snore by. A lot of junk in there, for sure, but some gems too.
Those good stations come from places like Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Va., Charleston, S.C., and Warrenton, N.C. (Warrenton, by the way, plays jazz most of the time. I mention the station because you can get it even with an ordinary radio and few people seem to know it’s there. It’s called WVSP and it’s just below WUNC on the dial.)
All you need to get those stations is a directional outdoor antenna and a means to rotate it in appropriate directions. Good antennas start at about $25. Rotators start at about $35. You can skip the rotator and use your hand to turn the antenna’s supporting pole. That’s what I do. Your hand, of course, is free. The other hardware (lead-in wire, mounting brackets) varies in price. Sometimes you can get the whole setup for $50-$80. And sometimes you can just find some junk poles and wire in an abandoned house or in the woods, which is what I did.
Look at it this way. The air is an invisible stream of FM signals coming from stations up to 300 miles away. The local stations you can grab with ease. To get the Big Ones, you’ve got to use a net. The fact is, most people don’t know about that stream. They know about the TV stream, because you need an antenna for TV. But we grew up on AM, and all we needed for that was a radio. The only AM antennas we ever see are on cars. Who ever heard of a rooftop antenna for a radio? Well, FM has more in common with TV than AM, signalwise. In fact, the FM band is right between TV channels 6 and 7. If you’re near a channel 6 TV station, you’ll hear its audio right at the bottom of the FM dial, just below 88.
FM sets, however, are a lot better than TV’s at getting faint signals. In fact, if TV sets were as sensitive as FM radios, most of us would see a lot more TV stations; but TV’s don’t need to be They don’t compete on the basis of sensitivity. The TV sets with the best pictures are often among the least sensitive to weaker signals, and nobody knows the difference.
The FM story is different. FM sets compete strongly on specifications. The major hi-fi manufacturers have labored long and hard to engineer amazing improvements into their FM receiving products just to get a split-hair’s edge over competitor’s specifications. Those great specs sell tuners, receivers and radios. But when the sets get home, their fabulous performance capabilities rarely get put to use.
Even the cheapest FM tuners and receivers are pretty good. And some old ones are, too. I almost hate to admit that my setup includes a ten-year-old KLH tuner that has almost shameful specs by today’s standards. Yet that old turkey has thrilled me over the years by pulling in a total of over 400 different stations from my house in the woods near Chapel Hill.
How to use the guide
This guide is meant for people who have a reasonably good FM radio, tuner or receiver which is connected to a good rotatable outdoor antenna. With this arrangement you should be able to get most of the stations listed here, and probably a few more. If you live in Raleigh, the superstrong local stations and lower overall terrain will mean somewhat less range, but still dramatically better reception than you’ll get with the hunk of wire which is the standard antenna for most FM sets. Distortion will be much lower on local stations, too. Since each of the three triangle cities (I refuse to call Chapel Hill a village) is a different direction from each station’s transmitter, each city has a different listing to show where to point your antenna to get each station.
There are lots of different formats, and many are hard to categorize; but I’ve made an attempt in the listings to at least approximate what each station broadcasts most of the time. Some of the listings may be inaccurate in this regard, not only because stations frequently change formats, but because I can’t bear to listen to some of these stations for very long.
Reception is generally better in the summer months than in other seasons. Warm, air-stagnant summer mornings and post-midnight hours favor the more distant stations, like the ones in Charleston, Washington and Norfolk. Stations like those in Philadelphia only come in when closer stations have gone off the air. FM reception conditions vary a lot (though not as much as AM), so I’ve made an effort to show every station you might possibly get.
Sometimes there is rapid on-and-off fading on the more distant stations. This is due to signal reflections off airplanes. Some FM sets are more troubled by this than others. There are two ways to deal with the problem: (1) wait for it to go away; (2) get a tuner or receiver with a really good muting system (this cuts off the sound when the signal gets noise and discreetly turns it back on again when trouble is past). If you have any questions just write to me c/o THE SUN, Box 732, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
These are in Megahertz (MHz), cleverly allocated in the USA so that no channel ends in an even number. Most FM sets show even channels. So if your receiver, say, has little marks every .2 MHZ on the dial (as with 88, then 4 little increments, 89), the stations should all be between the marks. Easy, huh?
Stations are only required to announce their call letters once an hour. So lots of them will identify as “Q94” or “X89” or the like. One station’s call I never discovered, so I listed the “98 rock” instead.
Actual strength is a product of both watts and antenna height at a station’s transmitter. These numbers will give you an idea of comparative strength. They refer to the computed distance of fringe reception from the transmitter. Look at it this way. Medium power is around 70; Strong begins at about 80; Very strong is 95 and up; Weak is below 46; Very weak is below 30.
This tells you what approximate compass direction to aim your antenna (by hand or rotator) to best get the station. Listings are for Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.
This is an approximation of what I think each station’s format is. They may disagree, if they care. I don’t. The purpose here is to help you sort the interesting from the ordinary.
|pr||progressive rock||bu||bluegrass, folk|
|or||oldies rock||ar||album rock|
|mor||middle of the road||ez||easy listening|
|x||to be changed|
You won’t get all these stations; some are easier than others. I made an effort to list all the stations that deliver a listenable signal into some of the Triangle some of the time.
|88.9||WVPR||82||WSW||WSW||WSW||Rock Hill, SC||p/e/cl/j|
|89.5||WETS||106||W||W||W||Johnson City, Tn||cl/p/j/e|
|90.1||WCCE||33||ESE||S||WSW||Buies Creek NC||sr/cl/|
|91.7||( )||84||WSW||WSW||WSW||Charlotte, NC||p/cl/j/cm|
|91.9||WGTS||56||NNE||NNE||NNE||Takoma Pk, MD||p/cl/r|
|WRSV||33||E||E||E||Rocky Mount NC||sr|
|( )||46||N||N||N||Charlottesville VA|
|WBBO||43||WSW||WSW||WSW||Forest City, NC||mor|
|93.7||WMYK||87||ENE||ENE||ENE||Elizabeth City NC||ar/pr|
|95.5||WHPE||80||W||W||W||High Point, NC||r|
|( )||45||E||E||E||Plymouth, NC||co|
|97.5||WJLC||59||N||N||NNW||South Boston, VA||or/pr|
|99.5||WMFR||55||W||W||W||High Point NC||mor|
|WSCQ||46||SW||SW||SW||W. Columbia, SC||n|
|100.3||WGLD||76||W||W||W||High Point, NC||ez|
|WKQZ||45||S||S||S||Myrtle Beach, SC||sr|
|( )||86||ESE||ESE||ESE||New Bern, NC|
|WOLC||73||NE||NE||NE||Princess Anne, MD|
|WBOC||71||NE||NE||NE||Ocean City, MD||ez|
|WKSM||38||S||S||S||Tabor City, NC||ex|
|WSHV||42||NE||NE||NNE||South Hill, VA||mor|
|106.5||WSFL||85||ESE||ESE||ESE||Bridgeton-New Bern, NC||sr|
|106.9||WMIT||107||W||W||W||Mt. Mitchell, NC||r/cl|