Sometimes I think you’d have to be a compleat idiot to spend two weeks gallivanting around the country taping and photographing radio stations…but since you’re hanging out with us here at Toppy, presumably you’re just as crazed as we are.
This week, as I sit in a hotel room in Edgewood, Maryland after a ballgame (Aberdeen Ironbirds 4, Oneonta Tigers 2), we offer up the AM dial of Boise, Idaho – until now a near-complete black hole in the Toppy collection – and part 2 of our little guide to “How to do a Big Trip.”
If you’re going to visit a whole bunch of radio stations, good maps are essential. While driving around Washington, DC yesterday, I was reminded of how I did it in the bad old days (circa, oh, 1993) – I had coordinates of transmitter sites, but no computerized mapping yet, so I simply plotted all those coordinates on a sheet of graph paper, then matched up the sites I knew to a map and tried, best as I could, to figure out where the others would logically follow.
It’s gotten easier since then. For many years, I’ve depended on Bob Carpenter’s AMSTNS and TVFMSTNS programs, simple DOS applications that take the whole FCC database and spit out files that can work with DeLorme’s Street Atlas software (which has gotten worse through multiple “upgrades,” alas) or Google Earth. For finding individual US sites, Radio-Locator plots coordinates to Google Maps. I still use an older version of the DeLorme software, manually merging the AM and TV/FM data from the Carpenter programs and then adding studio locations and other points of interest by hand.
By the time the maps are starting to come together, it’s usually just a month or two before departure date, and that means booking hotels – we don’t like to stay too close to any high-power transmitter sites, so we can have a good shot at airchecking entire markets without overloading our receivers. And until the advent of DVD recorders with built-in DTV tuners (still hard to find most places, but Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stock a few Funai-masquerading-as-Magnavox models), it used to be important to find hotels that had the full local cable service, so we could aircheck all the TV signals in town. Now I tend to just set up an antenna and get the signals off-air, unless it’s someplace like New Columbia, PA, where you need cable to see anything at all.
The official travel agent of Big Trips is none other than Blaine, who’s come along on a few and assisted with all of them – checking hotel TV lineups by phone (a truly thankless task!) and finding bargain airfares, too. That just keeps getting harder and harder to do, by the way.
So that brings us to departure date. In next week’s installment, we’ll look at what happens when a Big Trip actually gets rolling…