Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mike Agranoff and The Ballad of the Sandman

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Sometimes, it's good to stir things up a little.

This episode has nothing to do with aviation, aerospace, jet fuel, or tearing up the sky. If you're in the mood for an aviation-related episode and don't want to listen to anything else, please skip this episode and pick us back up in January. If you're tuning in ffor the first time, my apologies. This really is an aviation and aerospace show and you can check out prior episodes for your aviation fix until the first new episode of 2007 comes out.

But we're going to change things up this time. Airspeed is about to pay an homage that the podsphere owes to a very special medium and a very special time.

Airspeed is finishing out a great first year. A year in which we've met lots of new people, flown in a lot in different aircraft, and realized the dream of the podsphere - Ordinary people making the closest thing they can to art and reaching out to touch other ordinary people.

If you're older - over 40 or so - and you lived close enough to a metropolitan area - and you had an FM radio receiver in the mid to late 1960s - and if you were very lucky - you had a front-row seat for one of the most magical times in all of media before or since. When FM radio reached its critical mass and a backwater of the electromagnetic spectrum leaped up and captured imaginations and expanded horizons.

By the 1960's AM radio was a homogenious morass of largely mediocre programming. Relatively few people had FM receivers and FM radio stations were relatively few and far between, so you pretty much listened to what was on AM or you didn't listen at all.

Then, in the mid to late 1960s, guys like Jonathan Schwartz on WNEW FM in New York City started playing eclectic but carefully-chosen music and put out programming of a kind that you just can't get on the radio any more. It wasn't long before the iron heels of the program directors homogenized the airwaves and turned FM into the stereo version of AM that continues through to today. But, for a short time, there was a renaissance on the airwaves.

Podcasting brings back a little bit of what it was like during those pioneering years. It's as though your radio dial has grown by thousands of stations and, if you look, you can find places in the podsphere that are as eclectic, entertaining, and inspiring as the airwaves were in the late 1960s.

All of which is by way of introduction of what you're about to hear.

This, by very special permission, is The Ballad of the Sandman by Mike Agranoff. Mike is a folk musician from New Jersey who plays a mean fingerstyle guitar, concertina, banjo, and ragtime piano and sings. I have seen him live at a library, in a church basement, and in a community center and he is the consummate journeyman purveyor of melodies, spoken word, and traditions new and old.

I heard this piece for the first time in 1998 or so on public radio in Detroit. Mike has been kind enough to perform this at every show that I have attended. He does it entirely from memory and with a conviction that puts you in the darkened studio of the narrator.

The airing of this piece around the end of the year has become a tradition on WION in Ionia, Michigan, where this podcast also airs as a radio show. And it's always a part of my listening around the same time. I hope that you will adopt it as your own as well.

So, without further ado, let's let the podsphere pay tribute to the magic of the radio - Magic that once was and magic that can be again.

Here's Mike Agranoff with The Ballad of the Sandman.


The Ballad of the Sandman, (c) by Mike Agranoff. Used by permission. Thanks, Mike!

Mike's website:

Mike's e-mail address:

Text of The Ballad of the Sandman:

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Airspeed Temporarily Off iTunes

No idea what's going on here, but it appears that Airspeed is temporarily off iTunes. Some problem with WebPasties, my former RSS provider (who supposedly forwarded the feed over to Libsyn) when I requested it. Thought I had left these giys for good, but they apparently still have some hooks into my feed.

Anyway, it's completely gone from iTunes. Crap!

I resubmitted the podcast to iTunes a moment ago, but it will likelytake a few days to re-populate. In the meantime, please stay subscribed or re-subscribe. I'll try to get this fixed.

- Steve

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Airspeed - Music (Part 2)

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Today we’re going to revisit one of the most important aspects of flying – And that’s the music you listen to while you do it!

Sure, there are more important things – like safety – but the fact remains that putting together the right soundtrack can make your flying even more inspiring. If you have an audio input to the intercom in the aircraft you fly or otherwise have a means of listening to music while you fly here's some music that you should consider adding to your playlist.

Bear in mind that safety comes first. If the music results in any chance of discraction or a miscommunication or failure to give or receive a communication necessary for the safety of the flight, leave your music player at home. But if you can manage the volume of the player, not have to fumble with it when your should be doing other things (playlists are helpful here), and satisfy yourself as pilot in command that you can hear and be heard in the cockpit and at the controller’s workstation (such as by using a squelch or cutout feature like I use), by all means add a soundtrack to your flight.

Here’s what has been in my iPod while I fly.

Eric Johnson has a way with the Fender Statocaster that is unlike that of any other player. He's melodic and heavily jazz-influenced. Music from his Ah Via Musicom and Venus Isle albums got lots of airplay in the 1990s and he has toured with the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and recently hit the road with Sammy Hagar. This is All About You from Venus Isle. Note the arpeggios and underlying drive. Really good for high airwork.


(Buy Eric Johnson albums, DVDs, and other stuff at

I'd be really surprised if composer and conductor John Williams isn't a pilot. I promised myself that I would use the word "evocative" only once in this episode, and this is it. I put this on one of the first flight mixes I ever made and it was one of the first tunes that jumped off the CD player and became a soundtrack for what I was doing at the time. It was on short final at Lapeer in southeast Michigan. Nothing quite like Williams to swell up when you're locked in to approach and have your attitude and airspeed nailed.

This is, of course, Flying from E.T., The Extraterrestrial. Those who fly aircraft with yokes instead of sticks will have an easier time imagining that they're holding on to bicycle handlebars, but both should avoid the temptation to strap a milk craft to the cowling for your little buddy to ride in.

This version comes from John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra's album, The Classis Spielberg Scores.


(Buy the album at

No playlist is complete without some heavy metal. And there's none heavier than Iron Maiden. This is Aces High from 1984's Powerslave. Great driving metal groove and lyrics that tell a story of aerial combat in World War II.


(Buy the album at

Unless you count the diggery-doo, the English accordion, or the great highland bagpipes, there is probably no more technically ungainly instrument than the bassoon. It's four or five feet tall and has a double-reed that begs to sqwawk and evade the player's efforts to control it. There's an old joke that the definition of an optimist is a bassoon player with a pager.

Well, if there's one guy who can carry both a bassoon and a pager with confidence. He's Paul Hanson. Paul has taken the bassoon into jazz and other circles with amazing aplomb. He can out-sasxophone a saxophone and it all sounds completely organic. Ever run into one of those phases in your training when the controls seem to defy you, nothing goes the way it's supposed to, and you're constantly behind the aircraft? Usually right before you solo or right before get the hang of the landing flare or just before you start to nail your instrument approaches? This one is for you, my brothers and sisters.

Let Paul remind you of what can happen with even the most ungainly of hardware if you train hard and believe that the music will come. This is The Gold Coast from Voodoo Suite. It's in 7/4 and he's playing a bassoon and yet it sounds great. Yeah, your first full-procedure VOR approach is going to be ugly, but that's okay. Listen to how you'll feel on your 50th . . .


(Buy the album at

We started with one guitar god and we're going to end with another. When Sony went looking for a great song to use in its ads celebrading the 20th anniversary of the compact disc, it looked no further than Joe Satriani's Summer Song from his album, The Extremist. This is great music for whatever you want to do while listening to it. It has energized me in the wee hours studying for exams and it has caused more than a few oscillations over the speed limit out on the highway. Now I'm no A&P and this is largely unscientific, but I'll bet that, if you plug Summer Song into the intercom of your aircraft, you'll get two or three additional knots of airspeed. Airplanes love Joe Satriani! Sound crazy? Well, it's a lot cheaper than wheel fairings!

(Buy the album at

That's it for this installment of what should be cranking while you're turning and banking.

Got your own suggestions? E-mail us at Links to information about the artists and how to buy this music are on the blog at Although we might

As always, this is not flight instruction or a recommendation about how to operate an aircraft. Consult a qualified instructor, obey the regulations, and, above all, fly safely!

[Illustrative musical snippets used as permitted by 17 USC § 107 ( for criticism and comment and as otherwise permitted by applicable law.]