Using my old Android phone purely for FM radio

Samsung will be the next major phone manufacturer to enable the dormant FM chips in its devices. The FM chips will be switched on in Samsung’s “upcoming smartphone models,” which will allow users to listen to local radio stations.

via Samsung is the latest OEM to unlock FM chips in new phones | Ars Technica


This recent update is interesting to me at least because my current phone is a Samsung. Of course it means my current model won’t have its FM receiver unlocked (and, in fact, I’m not even sure the UK model has FM functionality, enabled or not).

When I first read a few years ago that most phones’ WiFi/Bluetooth chips also enabled FM reception, but that most manufacturers disable it in software, I was baffled. But I’d lived under this cloud of ignorance for many years and never questioned it.

Before my current Samsung, I had one, and then another newer, Motorola Moto G – cheap and cheerful – which both had FM radio apps built in. And great apps, too! Good reception (as always with smartphones, using the earphone cable as an antenna), and the software is simple yet robust. It covers the basics, like auto-scanning, presets, sleep timer, and even RDS display.

But it also has a really nicely-done record function which not only directly makes an MP3 of the station you’re tuned into (rather than, say, recording the speaker via the mic or something hideous), but also automatically inserts the frequency into the filename when it saves.

 

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The Motorola FM radio app makes for a great companion to pirate radio bandscans in a built-up area.

The presets/memory enables me to check for new stations I’ve not picked up yet, or to check on ones I’ve saved previously. Having a list of saved frequencies is great, and saving some as favourites makes it really easy to navigate a sea of potentially anonymous numbers.

The RDS enables me to get relatively quick station IDs with a decent enough signal (waiting for a twenty minute drum’n’bass mix to finish just on the off-chance the DJ actually name-checks the station is a bit beyond my levels of patience). And it turns out that pirate stations seem to love RDS – it’s rare I’ll find a station that doesn’t at least display the station ID. Some even post the show/DJ info, or a contact number/URL. There’s no easy way to export this data (not even copy and paste), but a quick screengrab will do in a pinch.

And, of course, the record function is fantastic for grabbing clear sample clips really easily. It lets me either record for 30-60 seconds to grab a reference clip, or I can even tune in, hit record, and leave it going with the screen off and audio on mute if I need a longer clip to grab a station ID.

It’s a bit of shame the recording function doesn’t have a buffer – quite often I’ll have heard a vital station ID or something else interesting and wasn’t recording. It’d be amazing to have a 5-second buffer for moments like that. Either way, the files are then saved on the device (or SD card, optionally), labelled and dated, and ready to be listened to on the device or exported to a computer/the web at a later date.

Anyway, now that I use my Samsung as my main phone, I held on to the old Motorola – and I’m glad I did. After a factory reset, and stripping off any unnecessary software (Moto phones run virtually stock Android, thankfully), the phone is a pretty decent pocket FM radio.

Running no other apps and living in airplane mode, the phone has a standby time measured in weeks rather than hours. And that’s if I choose to leave it on between sessions, which I do out of convenience, but could make it last month between charges if I needed to.

Of course it’s an overpowered/over-featured FM radio. But it’s one that lets me do some cool stuff, as well as make recordings, take screengrabs of RDS data, and make notes on the fly.

One next step would be to do some field tests – to compare the phone’s sensitivity with that of a ‘good’ FM receiver. Anecdotally, it certainly feels like the phone picks up a decent number of signals, locks onto them well, and performs pretty well. But until I’ve done some side-by-side tests, I can’t be sure. (Ironically, my ‘good’ FM receiver lacks both RDS and any recording function.)

Beyond that, I can also try again with the DVB-T dongle I’ve got for scanning other frequencies. But that necessitates some fiddly dongle/power/adapter compromises, as well as needed a more robust antenna. Simply using the phone as an FM radio with some cheap earphones and built in software is working brilliantly.

The Charterhouse

I was lucky enough to go on a visit to the Charterhouse last week. It was our annual staff training day – we tend to go to interesting and/or historical lumps of architecture, and this was a wonderful place to explore.

The Charterhouse opened to the public in January 2017, but its history goes back to the 14th century. The story is diverse and fascinating, and the fabric of the buildings themselves is very special. It’s a cliche, but it walking around the place absolutely feels like stepping back in time. If you can visit, I highly recommend taking a tour as the guide we had was knowledgeable and very engaging. We had a wonderful day.

 

Paintings of Amersham by Charles Paget Wade

When I was starting to get deeper into my research of Charles Paget Wade for my book on his life at Hampstead Garden Suburb, I quickly realised one thing: Wade didn’t keep a diary. Not everyone does. But it’s always a disappointment – a tiny one, anyway – to find out that someone I’m researching didn’t keep a diary.

With a diary to use in collaboration with other forms of biographical research, so much more can be gleaned about a person. Without a diary, letters often fill in the gaps, and this is true for Wade, and it’s a big part of why I went to Gloucester Archives (although the majority of the holdings are letters to Wade, not from him).

Wade did write memoirs in later life, which have been hugely helpful in discovering more about the enigmatic man himself. But retrospective recollections can often be misleading, so first-hand documents are always helpful. With Wade, we have a number of these, including receipts for a great many of the shopping trips he went on, picking up antiques around the country. Using these, I’ve been able to piece together journeys and timelines.

But perhaps the most helpful of these records have been Wade’s own drawings, paintings and illustrations. As a draughtsman, Wade very diligently noted the date on his work, usually with the year, and quite often with the date or even the location. Naturally some were done on-site and others later, from memory. But these records go a long way to filling in other blanks in his movements.

Wade’s architectural work was often exquisitely detailed, while his illustrations – a number of which were used for a children’s novel – are more artful and fantastical. Alongside these he also did paintings – some of real locations, and others of imaginary worlds.

Capture

Thanks to the National Trust’s staggering Collections database I was thrilled to discover that Wade had painted several scenes at the south Buckinghamshire market town of Amersham – my home town.

Whilst living at Hampstead Garden Suburb (1907-1919), Wade went on a number of travels and tours around England, visiting quaint villages, churches and pubs, as much to trawl the antiques shops as to use the vernacular architecture as inspiration for his own works, both built and imagined.

At Amersham, Wade’s eye was clearly drawn to the 17th century town hall as well as the Crown hotel opposite, one of a number of historic coaching inns that line the high street.

Having discovered that Wade had painted some scenes centring on these buildings, I was pleased to have the opportunity this weekend to try and photograph them from roughly the same perspective. Thankfully, Amersham’s old town has changed very little since Wade visited in 1907-8 and, despite my rough positioning, it’s not hard to see the same scenes that Wade found compelling enough to paint.

The paintings

The Crown

Crown Inn, Amershamby Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)
Crown Inn, Amersham. August 15 1909. With TA Lloyd
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
20170819_180837.jpg
Rear of The Crown Inn, Amersham, 19 August 2017

Market Hall

Market Hall, Amershamby Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)
Market Hall, Amersham. October 5 Sunday 1908 with A H Mottram
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
20170819_173536
Market Hall, Amersham, 19 August 2017

Church Street

View of Amersham with Clock Turret of Market Hall by Charles Paget Wade (Shortlands, Bromley, Kent 1883 - Evesham, Worcestershire 1956)
Aug 15.09, Amersham with T.A.L [T. A. Lloyd]
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
20170819_173657
Market Hall and The Crown from Church Street, 19 August 2017

Market Hall

LargeImageHandler (27)
The Little Sweet Shop, C Wade Inv August 1909
Snowshill Manor © National Trust
20170819_173153
Market Hall water pump, High Street, Amersham, 19 August 2017

The Radar Reader

I’ve not listened to any new music in ages, which means that my Spotify Release Radar has been slowly filling up with new tracks to check out. I tend to listen to podcasts when walking to or from work but there’s only so much of that a guy can take. So this morning I switched to Spotify, and I’m glad I did. Here are my HOT TAKES on some of the latest tracks.

Mermaidens – Give It Up

Mermaidens are great. While listening to this lush bit of anti-rock I had a lovely dream that they might come to London soon and play a few low-key shows before they get picked up by others. But what I really think will happen is they get some high-profile support slots and emerge onto our shores only when ready to play 1,000+ venues. Either way, they’re the next (or latest?) big thing to come from Wellington and they’re fantastic.

alt-J – Deadcrush (Spike Stent Mix)

I always forget to listen to alt-J. There are a number of issues I have with their aesthetic, but I can’t deny there’s something damn delicious about the lead vocals and their tight beats – so it stands to reason that a good remix really shows off these features.

The War On Drugs – Pain

I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to dad-rock when I listen to The War On Drugs, but I love them. I let their last album wash over me endlessly when it shuffled into my life and it’s just such a woozy, lovely sound that I can’t resist them.

Iggy Pop – Lust For Life (The Prodigy Remix)

Sure. Fine. A solid remix of a classic banger. Makes me feel like I’m listening to the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack. Hell, maybe this is on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack? I got bored towards the end. My main takeaway was: “Dear lord I’d love to hear the isolated vocals to Lust For Life…”

The Cribs – What Have You Done For me?

Thank goodness for The Cribs. A perennial favourite and the languorous vocals and fuzzy guitars just lift me up whenever I listen to them. This track is no different.

MxPx – They

MxPx have no right to be in this playlist – in the sense that I can’t believe they’re putting out new music nearly twenty years after I first happened upon them. Sure this track’s a bit political in a sort of post-American Idiot way but, shit, American Idiot was like fifteen years ago and farbeit from me to suggest we don’t need a bit of politics with our punk rock when we seem to be sleepwalking into all-out nuclear war. Really pleasantly surprised by how fresh this track sounds – and no I’m not about to Google the band’s ages.

Arcade Fire – Infinite Content

Just another step down the road to me wondering who the hell Arcade Fire even are any more. I heard the Abba one and now this weird parody of a tune comes on and I’m like SKIP. I have fond memories of seeing them in a church as a warm up for Neon Bible, the band slowly filing around the audience from the back, doing an a capella cover of Guns of Brixton. And now I realise that that was more than ten years ago and I just need to let it go and move on.

Lana Del Rey – Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems

One day I’ll sit down and listen to Lana Del Rey. Her voice is incredible. But I am in search of louder, faster things this morning.

Stereophonics – All In One Night

Stereophonics, huh? I thought their inclusion on my Release Radar was the result of a playful malgorithm but you and I both know that on tipsy listening sessions I’ll often be found blasting out Word Gets Around. But not this morning, Kelly. Back in your box.

Converge – Eve

Converge tho. Damn this is good. A lovely atmospheric build up and I can’t even listen to familiar Converge tracks without bracing myself for impact. This track doesn’t quite knock me off my feet – in a good, pleasantly surprising way. It has a good, brooding build-up and a really great release. This track is nearly eight minutes long, a fact which surprised me both times I listened to it this morning. So pleased to hear new Converge. Apparently this is the b-side of a new single so I’ll be checking that out.

Nine Inch Nails – Less Than

Another new release that I’ve been meaning to check out and… It’s good. It sounds like other NIN songs. I believe other tracks on the EP are heavier, which if true is a good mix. I’ll bang that on later as well. Trent Reznor is very prolific but I have zero problems with that.

The White Stripes – Love Potion #9 (Live)

This was weird. Not sure yet if it’s a Third Man re-release of some live bootlegs or some weird third-party thing. But it’s clearly an early live show and lordy Meg’s drums sound bad. And yet, and yet… Jack’s wailing guitar and infectious vocals… It’s that guitar sound that made us all feel in 2002 that you could just pick up a shitty guitar and amp and make it sound like Jack White. Until you try, fail, and realise he’s some kind of genius. But hearing this bootleg – even despite the quality of the recording and the drumming – reminded me what I loved about The White Stripes in the first place.

Cornershop – Brimful of Asha (Avenue Strings Remix)

Well this was nice. I wonder how many ‘official’ remixes of this song exist? This remix seems to lack vocals – which weirdly works for such a familiar song as they continue in your head all the same. The guitars sound lovely and distinct and it left me wondering how they sound on the original, kind of like the aborted Noel Gallagher remix(es?) that emerged last year.

Shortwave DX log for evening of Monday 17 July 2017

Logged via Tecsun PL-380 in NW London (currently UTC+1) via long wire antenna.

I’m still getting to grips with SINPO ratings and this Android app for logging; until now I’ve used a notebook and pen and rather fuzzier ratings like ‘fair but some interference’. But the app provides a decent, fast, offline schedule lookup, and the built-in logging function does 90% of what I would want it to.


5970Khz 1752 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in GERMAN from CERRIK. SINPO = 54343.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 1938KM from transmitter at Cerrik. Local time: 1852.

7325Khz 1752 17 JUL – BBC (UNITED KINGDOM)  in DARI from KRANJI. SINPO = 32111.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 10840KM from transmitter at Kranji. Local time: 1852.

7445Khz 1751 17 JUL – BBC (UNITED KINGDOM)  in ENGLISH from TALATA VOLONONDRY. SINPO = 32222.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 9030KM from transmitter at Talata Volonondry. Local time: 1851.

7540Khz 1750 17 JUL – VOA DEEWA RADIO (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)  in PASHTO from UDON THANI. SINPO = 32232.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 9370KM from transmitter at Udon Thani. Local time: 1850.

9310Khz 1750 17 JUL – VOA DEEWA RADIO (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)  in PASHTO from UDON THANI. SINPO = 22121.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 9370KM from transmitter at Udon Thani. Local time: 1850.

9355Khz 1750 17 JUL – RADIO FREE ASIA (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)  in MANDARIN from SAIPAN/AGINGAN POINT (IBB). SINPO = 43343.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 11911KM from transmitter at Saipan/Agingan Point (IBB). Local time: 1850.

9400Khz 1749 17 JUL – BIBLE VOICE (UNITED KINGDOM)  in PERSIAN from SOFIA-KOSTINBROD. SINPO = 44333.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 2027KM from transmitter at Sofia-Kostinbrod. Local time: 1849.

9450Khz 1748 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in HAUSSA  from KASHI (KASHGAR) (XINJIANG). SINPO = 43233.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 5807KM from transmitter at Kashi (Kashgar) (Xinjiang). Local time: 1848.

9500Khz 1748 17 JUL – RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA)  in ROMANIAN from GALBENI. SINPO = 55555.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 2015KM from transmitter at Galbeni. Local time: 1848.

9650Khz 1748 17 JUL – RADIO GUINEE (GUINEA)  in FRENCH. SINPO = 22212.  Received at London, United Kingdom. Local time: 1848.

9555Khz 1747 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in ARABIC from CERRIK. SINPO = 44444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 1938KM from transmitter at Cerrik. Local time: 1847.

9660Khz 1746 17 JUL – RADIO VATICANA (VATICAN CITY STATE)  in ENGLISH from TALATA VOLONONDRY. SINPO = 33323.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 9030KM from transmitter at Talata Volonondry. Local time: 1846.

9730Khz 1745 17 JUL – VOICE OF VIETNAM (VIETNAM)  in VIETNAMESE from HANOI-SONTAY. SINPO = 33333.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 9205KM from transmitter at Hanoi-Sontay. Local time: 1845.

9770Khz 1745 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in CANTONESE from XIAN-XIANYANG (SHAANXI). SINPO = 32232.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 8259KM from transmitter at Xian-Xianyang (Shaanxi). Local time: 1845.

9840Khz 1745 17 JUL – VOICE OF TURKEY (TURKEY)  in GERMAN from EMIRLER. SINPO = 54444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 2866KM from transmitter at Emirler. Local time: 1845.

9850Khz 1745 17 JUL – IRIB VOICE OF I.R.IRAN (IRAN)  in GERMAN from SIRJAN. SINPO = 23332.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 5171KM from transmitter at Sirjan. Local time: 1845.

11610Khz 1744 17 JUL – DEUTSCHE WELLE (GERMANY)  in FRENCH from MEYERTON. SINPO = 32232.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 9062KM from transmitter at Meyerton. Local time: 1844.

11650Khz 1744 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in ESPERANTO from XIAN-XIANYANG (SHAANXI). SINPO = 34332.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 8259KM from transmitter at Xian-Xianyang (Shaanxi). Local time: 1844.

11725Khz 1744 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in ARABIC from CERRIK. SINPO = 44444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 1938KM from transmitter at Cerrik. Local time: 1844.

11810Khz 1743 17 JUL – RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA)  in ENGLISH from TIGANESTI. SINPO = 55455.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 2097KM from transmitter at Tiganesti. Local time: 1843.

11875Khz 1743 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in RUSSIAN from URUMQI (XINJIANG, CRI). SINPO = 54444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 6159KM from transmitter at Urumqi (Xinjiang, CRI). Local time: 1843.

11965Khz 1743 17 JUL – IRIB VOICE OF I.R.IRAN (IRAN)  in SWAHILI from KAMALABAD. SINPO = 44444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 4419KM from transmitter at Kamalabad. Local time: 1843.

11975Khz 1742 17 JUL – RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA)  in ROMANIAN from GALBENI. SINPO = 44332.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 2015KM from transmitter at Galbeni. Local time: 1842.

12025Khz 1742 17 JUL – ALL INDIA RADIO GOS (INDIA)  in MALAYALAM from PANAJI (GOA). SINPO = 33322.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 7565KM from transmitter at Panaji (Goa). Local time: 1842.

13640Khz 1741 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in RUSSIAN from URUMQI (XINJIANG, CRI). SINPO = 43333.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 6159KM from transmitter at Urumqi (Xinjiang, CRI). Local time: 1841.

13760Khz 1741 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in ENGLISH from KASHI (KASHGAR) (XINJIANG). SINPO = 54554.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 5807KM from transmitter at Kashi (Kashgar) (Xinjiang). Local time: 1841.

13790Khz 1740 17 JUL – CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA)  in ARABIC from KASHI (KASHGAR) (XINJIANG). SINPO = 52333.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 5807KM from transmitter at Kashi (Kashgar) (Xinjiang). Local time: 1840.

15140Khz 1740 17 JUL – RADIO SULTANATE OMAN (OMAN)  in ARABIC from THUMRAIT. SINPO = 32222.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 6031KM from transmitter at Thumrait. Local time: 1840.

15205Khz 1740 17 JUL – BSKSA HOLY QURAN (SAUDI ARABIA)  in ARABIC from RIYADH. SINPO = 54444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 4955KM from transmitter at Riyadh. Local time: 1840.

15400Khz 1740 17 JUL – BBC (UNITED KINGDOM)  in ENGLISH from ASCENSION ISLAND. SINPO = 53343.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 6684KM from transmitter at Ascension Island. Local time: 1840.

15435Khz 1739 17 JUL – BSKSA 1 (SAUDI ARABIA)  in ARABIC from RIYADH. SINPO = 44444.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 4955KM from transmitter at Riyadh. Local time: 1839.

15580Khz 1739 17 JUL – VOICE OF AMERICA (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)  in ENGLISH from MOPENG HILL. SINPO = 32232.  Received at London, United Kingdom, 8536KM from transmitter at Mopeng Hill. Local time: 1839.