Victim of wavelength.

I’ve gone through several alarm clocks since I moved to Blacksburg. I like ones that have a radio, such that I can wake up to NPR’s Morning Edition. (Because my bedroom is downstairs in this two-level apartment, that’s all that these radios have been good for, as opposed to just flipping on the radio and listening.) The problem has been that I can’t pick up WVTF, which is odd, because they’re funded in no small part by Virginia Tech, right here in Blacksburg, and they’re headquartered just half an hour north, in Roanoke. Instead, I pick up WUVT, the college radio station. Not just on WVTF’s frequency, but all the way up and dial. I pick up WUVT on at least a half dozen stations. Now, I like WUVT — like any decent college station, they play equal parts truly fabulous music and absolute garbage. But when I wake up, I want to listen to Morning Edition.

Assuming that the problem was my alarm clock, I replaced it. No difference. I tried listening in my car and my sister’s car while parked outside by buiding. No dice. My sister got me a radio with a far larger antenna for Christmas, and I tried that. I still get WUVT on a half dozen stations on this new radio, but, at last, I get WVTF.

Curious, I e-mailed an engineer at WVTF who happens to be the station manager of WUVT as well. He and I exchanged some e-mail as he asked for specifics about the problem. His conclusion is really interesting:

Re: larger antenna — actually, since the wavelength at 89.1 is longer than at 90.7, you’re better off to pick up ‘VTF.

As for your AC-powered radios, there may sill be hope. A lot of those will couple with the power cord (a convenient 36″) to and use that as an antenna. I know that some of UVT’s signal gets into the power system (I’m assuming you’re on Tech Electric), and the synchronous AM rides in and takes over “every other station on the band”. Sometimes you can take some ferrite chokes available at Radio Shack and block out some of that AM. Give it a shot.

Make sure your aerial is away from electrical conduits/wire runs in walls. That also seems to help.

The optimum set-up I’ve found is to get a radio with an external antenna input and hook up a folded dipole to it. In your case, this should be done near a window facing north or east.

Those cheap alarm clocks were using the power cord as the antenna, and the fact that I’m on Virginia Tech’s power network means that WUVT’s signal is carried directly-like through the grid. Fascinating!

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »