This past Saturday I celebrated Record Store Day by dropping in to the Numero Group’s pop-up store in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Numero is a record label specializing on archival re-releases of forgotten treasures, especially regional records from small labels from Cleveland to Belize. They hosted a one-day record store inside Stop Smiling press’ storefront where they also set up an unlicensed micropower radio station dubbed WTNG.
The station was set up right in the front window with a laptop and microphone driving a mixer, PA and small transmitter. The store was packed with crate diggers flipping through boxes of records. In addition to offering their own releases for sale, Numero also invited collectors and dealers offering up a deep catalog of reasonably priced soul, rock, R&B and jazz vinyl.
I got a chance to check out the station’s gear and talk to Michael who set up the station. An admitted beginner to broadcasting, he told me that he bought the station’s transmitter and antenna on eBay from sellers in China. I’ve noticed that in the last year or two there’s been a big influx of Chinese-made FM transmitters on the ‘bay, all looking like assembly-line manufactured electronics gear, rather than the hand-assembled limited production transmitters and kits that were the only thing available even just a few years ago.
WTNG was powered by a 15-watt model connected to a 5/8-wave antenna on the four-story building’s roof via a long run of off-the-shelf coaxial cable. Under ideal circumstances such a rig should be able to broadcast a few miles. However, with the long run of relatively lossy cable I only started hearing the station on my Android phone’s FM tuner about a half-mile away. Reception didn’t get consistently clear until about a quarter-mile from the transmitter. Now, using a better radio with a good antenna I’m sure the station could be received a little further away.
Along with the FM signal WTNG maintained a web stream of its broadcast for its 24-hour run of Numero group releases and other eclectic dusty tunes so those outside the limited transmission radius could still enjoy the station.
It was an unusually chilly April day with a lot of wind. I made a valiant attempt to record a video aircheck of WTNG from just outside the storefront, but the wind overwhelmed most of the sound from the radio:
Michael told me that the station plans to join Chicago rock band Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival this year, held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in June.
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