Thursday, January 13, 2011

AM Radio

I'm sitting here in a hotel room in Riverton, Wyoming having just completed the 5.25 hour drive from Salt Lake City. Most of the drive was done in the dark and the skies were cloudy but not snowing. This all changed when I crossed the continental divide and began climbing up to South Pass (interestingly enough, you cross the continental divide long before the summit because there is a bit of a basin where the water flows neither to the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico) or the Pacific (Gulf of California)). I didn't expect the weather to be any different at the mountain pass, but the wind kicked up, it was snowing and it must have been well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (considering it is 1 degree here and I'm a few thousand feet lower in elevation).

As soon as the blowing snow started coming, I immediately couldn't see anything, not from the whiteout conditions, but because my car couldn't keep my windshield warm enough to keep the blowing snow from turning into ice on my windshield as soon as it hit. Luckily, the roads were generally pretty empty and I was able to find a place to pull over and defrost my window before continuing, although the problem never completely disappeared with the blowing snow.

I've always wondered why I-80 and other roads in Wyoming are often closed during snowstorms, because there never seems to be that much snow on the ground. Instead, what happens is that the snow blows so hard that you simply cannot see the road. I had no trouble seeing the marker posts on the side of the road, but the blowing snow made it virtually impossible to see the lines on the road. It was a beautiful sight, because the snow appears to just be flowing from one side of the road to the other. There is nothing that a snowplow can do in conditions like those. Luckily, as soon as I came down the mountain into Lander, the snow stopped and it was back to the beautiful, cold evening that it had been before.

I passed most of the time in the car listening to a biography of Albert Einstein, but I also passed the time trying to find the Jazz game on the AM radio. Instead, while driving on the plains of Wyoming, I was able to listen to radio broadcasts from Wisconsin x2, Illinois x3, Indiana, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado x4, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Southern California.

I was able to listen to the Spurs-Bucks game from Milwaukee or San Antonio, the Lobo game from Albuquerque, the Husker game in Lincoln, Northern Illinois, DePaul, Kansas State, Colorado State or Wyoming basketball games but not the Jazz. Go figure.

Back in the day, many AM radio stations were Clear Channel Stations where nobody else in the country was allowed to license the same frequency, which allowed the stations to increase their power after dark and thus reach audiences far away (Many stations still are clear channel stations, but radio stations further than 750 miles away are allowed to broadcast on the same frequency). Most of the stations that I was able to pick up from locations afar is because during the nighttime, the AM radio waves reflect off the ionosphere rather than dissipating out into outer space. The reflected wave can then be picked up much farther away than the daytime signal. Couple that with an increased transmission power and you can hear news from San Antonio, Los Angeles and Chicago in the middle of Wyoming during the early winter nights.


tysqui said...

PS: Apparently, I love commas...

Tim said...

That is a CRAZY drive, glad you got there ok. That is also crazy about AM radio, I had no idea.