Monday, April 09, 2007

Van Allen Belt

When I first heard Christian rock blaring from my NPR station, I thought someone had changed the frequency. That afternoon, I called the Memphis-based station, left a message on their voicemail about "something strange happening to my NPR station." Later that day, I got a return call from the station: "I just got your message about Christian rock. It's too complicated to explain on a voicemail, so please call my direct line and I'll tell you happened to your BBC programs..." Apparently, the market for NPR and the BBC in Senatobia/Dyersburg has dwindled to about three of us and in light of that, the mother Memphis station sold their satellite to a Christian rock station. The good news is that the Paducah station, which carries This American Life (and thankfully not Calling all Pets )is going digital this week; they should have a stronger signal that just might reach the southeast Lowlands.

Back in the glory days of radio, big cities had Clear Channel stations, AM stations with super-powerful coverage at night. Radio waves would bounce off the Van Allen belt and people in southeast Missouri could listen to live jazz broadcast out of a New York City nightclub. Now, with so many frequencies broadcasting, the power of any one station has been toned down so as not to interfere with other frequencies.

With the sun setting later each day, early programs like American Experience and Washington Week in Review aren't available. First, we thought it was the leafy trees blocking the signal. I accused a certain sycamore's big leaves for impeding my viewing of Wimbledon and most of the World Cup, but I was reminded of the Van Allen belt. The sun's radiation disrupts the atmosphere during the daytime, but at night, signals are clear, stronger because of the doughnut-shaped field of electricity.

It's probably pledge week for a lot of NPR affiliates. When they plead, over and over, "how would you feel if you woke up and there wasn't NPR? Morning Edition? All Things Considered?" be mindful that it really stinks. Maybe if I had donated more to the little Senatobia station, I just might have NPR tonight.

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