Twitters, tweets and hearing voices

Illustration by Joe Hughes

During the holidays we bought an Internet radio receiver, otherwise known as the poor man’s satellite radio. It’s a great little device. You just plug it in, a tiny gremlin that lives inside the radio detects a Wi-Fi signal and suddenly you can stream broadcasts from anywhere in the world.

The radio’s menu screen lists every music category imaginable from geriatric rock ’n’ roll (1950s rock) to techno pop. The talk radio menu offers everything from 24-hour conspiracy theory channels to NPR stations in markets so small they can only broadcast “Some Things Considered.”

While channel-surfing, we came across a station called Birdsong Radio. It’s a continuous loop of birdsongs. That’s it. Just birdsongs.

Occasionally the chirping, cooing and tweeting are interrupted by someone speaking in hushed tones, reminding us that we’re listening to Birdsong Radio. These interludes are so subtle you hardly notice them before they segue seamlessly into the gentle sounds of mourning doves, thrushes, finches and the drum solo from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

(I’m kidding about the drum solo.)

I was intrigued by the concept, so I did a little Internet research on Birdsong Radio. I found that, behind all that cheeping and twittering, lies a colorful history.

Ten years ago, a man named Quentin Howard was starting a classic FM radio station in England and broadcast an audio loop of birdsongs to test his transmitter. Just as we had discovered the birdsongs on our Internet radio during the holidays, thousands of Brits stumbled on Howard’s audio loop.

This started a buzz, which was further fueled by an on-air remark by well-know cricket commentator Brian Johnston. (Apparently this guy is England’s answer to Howard Cosell.) When it came time for Howard — Quentin, not Cosell — to launch his classic FM station, he squelched the birdsongs.

History repeated itself in 1999 and 2005, when Howard used his audio loop as an airtime placeholder for other broadcasting ventures. Listeners found the birdsongs relaxing and a refreshing alternative to the usual radio fare. After Howard pulled the plug on his birds in 2005, disappointed listeners mounted a letter-writing campaign demanding their return.

This is the sort of stuff of which legends are made. Some accounts estimated the number of listeners at 500,000. In a 2009 Guardian news article, Howard himself said he was skeptical of that figure. Regardless, he touted some of the legends on his Birdsong Radio Website. Among them were claims that prison staff and mothers had used the birdsongs to calm their respective charges and that employers played them in the office to increase productivity.

Some people claimed that curse words could be heard in the distance, but the recording was scrutinized and none were found. As far as I can tell, no one has claimed that playing the loop backwards reveals clues about Paul McCartney being killed in a car crash.

The Website also mentioned a devious use of the audio loop. There were reports of real estate agents using Birdsong Radio to create a false impression of birds singing outside the windows of houses they were showing.

Ironically, that’s why Howard made the recording in the first place, to create an audio illusion of rural serenity. In 1991, he recorded hours of birdsongs in his garden in Wiltshire, England. He remixed it into a 40-minute “audio soundscape” for a production of the play “When the Wind Blows.” The play is about an older couple in southeastern England muddling their way through the aftermath of nuclear war.

Apparently, Howard isn’t broadcasting his birdsongs these days, but you can download the audio loop for free at

It’s no substitute for the real thing. But, when the wind blows, it may have to suffice.

This piece was originally published as a column for the Greater Mohican Audubon Society newsletter.

You can’t get there from here if you don’t know what here and there are

Muskingum River, downstream of Dresden, Ohio

Years ago, I put together a guide to local geographical terms for my fellow reporters and the editors at the Ashland Times-Gazette.

I thought it might be a good idea to share it with fellow journalists from other publications, local tourism folks and the public in general because there is a lot of confusion about these things. (For some reason, I have taken it upon myself to become a storehouse of useless knowledge for such things.)

Eventually, I hope to put together a PDF with maps and photos. In the meantime, here is the text of my guide to Mohican Country geographical references in hard copy and — if I can pull it off — a downloadable PDF.


Compiled by IRV OSLIN

Black Fork of the Mohican River — Originates west of Mansfield near Walker Lake Road, flows north through Shelby before turning east then south. Portions in Richland and Ashland counties. It is impounded by Charles Mill Dam. Downstream of the dam, Black Fork flows under Ohio 603 and Ohio 39, through Perrysville and Loudonville (including the liveries south of the village Ohio 3). The Native American village of Greentown was located on the stretch between Rocky Fork and Perrysville, downstream of County Road 1075. Rocky Fork of the Mohican River flows into Black Fork downstream from Charles Mill Dam. Rocky Fork flows down from Mansfield. Rocky Fork flows under Ohio 603 between Ohio 95 and Ohio 39.
Charles Mill Dam — Impounds Black Fork of the Mohican River south of Mifflin.
Charles Mill Lake — Not to be confused with Charles Mill Dam. The lake is the body of water behind the dam. Note, Charles Mill Lake and Charles Mill Lake Park are managed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. The dam is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is NOT Charles Mill Reservoir, as some call it.
Charles Mill Lake Park — A Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District-run park on the shores of Charles Mill Lake. Note, the campground, marina and beach are in Ashland County. The western half of the lake and Eagle Point Campground (on Ohio 430) are in Richland County.
Cinnamon Lake — The lake itself is an impoundment of Muddy Fork of the Mohican River. The privately run residential community surrounding it is the third-largest in the county after the City of Ashland and Loudonville.
Clear Fork of the Mohican River — Sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Clear Fork River or the Clearfork. This branch of the Mohican River originates west of Mansfield. It is impounded at the Clear Fork Reservoir in Richland County and again at Pleasant Hill Lake. Clear Fork passes through Clear Fork Gorge in the Mohican-Memorial State Forest, under the covered bridge and past both Mohican State Park campgrounds. It flows into Black Fork south of Loudonville to become the main body of the Mohican River.
continental divide — The divide between the Lake Erie and Ohio River watersheds, part of which passes through northern Ashland County. This is not the Continental Divide; it is a continental divide and therefore not capitalized. (The Continental Divide runs from Alaska to Mexico, mostly along the Rocky Mountains.)
Lake Fork of the Mohican River — The last fork to flow into the mainstream. Muddy Fork and Jerome Fork of the Mohican River join about two miles upstream of the Mohicanville Dam to form Lake Fork.
Mohican Juvenile Correctional Facility — Located in the Mohican-Memorial State Forest (not Mohican State Park as has been mistakenly stated in some stories). The postal address is Loudonville. (This facility has closed.)
Mohican-Memorial State Forest — Not to be confused with Mohican State Park. The forest covers about 5,000 acres on both sides of Clear Fork of the Mohican River and includes Clear Fork Gorge, the fire tower, the covered bridge and Lyons Falls. The forest is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry.
Mohican River — The main body of the Mohican River is formed at the confluence of Black Fork of the Mohican River and Clear Fork of the Mohican River, south of Loudonville and east of Mohican State Park. Lake Fork of the Mohican River flows into the main body further downstream, near Spellacy. Clear Fork, Black Fork and Lake Fork are the major forks of the Mohican River. They are parts of the river nonetheless and should not be referred to as the Clear Fork River, the Black Fork River or Lake Fork River. The same is true of the Mohican River’s three minor forks: Rocky, Jerome and Muddy. When the Mohican River joins the Kokosing, it becomes the Walhonding River. The Muskingum River is formed by the confluence of the Walhonding and Tuscarawas rivers in Coshocton. It all ends up in the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It’s all part of the Muskingum River Watershed.
Mohican State Park — A state park with camping facilities and rental cabins. The main campground is on Ohio 3 south of Loudonville. The primitive camping area is accessed through the Mohican-Memorial State Forest by way of Ohio 97 or County Road 3006. The primitive campground is just downstream of the covered bridge over Clear Fork of the Mohican River. Although the park is contiguous to Mohican-Memorial State Forest, it is a separate entity.
Pleasant Hill Dam — Impounds Clear Fork of the Mohican River at County Road 3006, south of Perrysville. It features the Morning Glory Spillway, not the “Glory Hole Spillway” as one of our writers once referred to it.
Pleasant Hill Lake — The body of water impounded by Pleasant Hill Dam. As is the case with Charles Mill Lake and Dam, the lake and park are managed by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and the dam is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. NOT Pleasant Hill Reservoir. (Further upstream, there is a Clear Fork Reservoir in Richland County.)
Pleasant Hill Lake Park — Run by MWCD, Pleasant Hill Lake Park has essentially the same amenities as Charles Mill Lake Park. It also straddles Ashland and Richland counties.

Note: Contrary to at least one account published in our paper and elsewhere, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) does NOT cover 20 percent of the state. The Muskingum Watershed drains 20 percent of Ohio’s surface water. (The Mohican River watershed is part of it.) MWCD, which is classified as a political subdivision, covers 16,000 acres of water and 38,000 acres of land.


A few tips on how to deal with snake oil salesmen

Why is it that spinmeisters defending pernicious business practices insist on trotting out the argument that anyone who uses the product cannot criticize the process used to produce it? I heard a variation on this yesterday in which a man defending his right to allow fracking on his land implied that anyone who cooks with natural gas can’t criticize the practice.

Well, let’s say we find out the Ford Motor Company is making leather car seats out of the hides of Appalachian children. Are we not entitled to be outraged just because we happen to drive a Ford product?

There’s another argument industry hacks love to use and I’ll give you an example. On January 1, a couple of shills from an organization called Energy in Depth, a front group for the gas and oil industry,* dragged a bunch of goons into an informational session on fracking at a Bellville church. (I hear they recently showed up at a similar function in northeastern Ohio as well.)  This was an obvious attempt to disrupt and intimidate. One of the goons blurted out something to the effect that, “If you haven’t worked on an oil rig, you don’t know anything about fracking.”

Which is like saying that, unless you’re a proctologist, you don’t know an asshole when you see one.