Reviewed by Harold Sellers. This review is from the August 1999 edition of the Ontario DX Association bulletin, "DX Ontario." Reprinted with permission.
"The story of AM broadcasting has been told many times,
as has the story of amateur radio . . . To the extent that the
shortwave broadcasting story has been told at all, it has been
done in either very small pieces or with an emphasis unrelated
to what should be its main focus the listeners who actually
"The purpose of this book is to relate the story of the rise of shortwave broadcasting and the listener community that was attracted to it."
Thus states author Jerry Berg in the Preface of his new book.
On the Short Waves is an exciting book for those of us who either personally experienced the early days of radio or feel a connection to those days simply because we got into the DX hobby during its golden years. Through his interpretations, the choice of quotations and the use of illustrations, Berg has done an excellent job of taking the reader back to the origins and first decades of short wave radio.
Chapter 1, Broadcasting Roots, essentially takes us from the first experiments in radio up to the starting point in the bookís title, 1923. You read about Marconi, spark-gap transmitters, and pioneer broadcast stations.
As Jerry says, in the early days of radio, everyone was a DXer. Chapter 2, titled "Distance," gives a fascinating description of the origins of our hobby, with quotes and recollections. The chapter covers early achievements of long distance mediumwave DX, and stories of the first DXers and how they kept scores of the number of stations heard. The early days of radio were similar to computers in more recent history. Designs changed quickly making todayís purchase quickly obsolete.
Chapter 3, The Arrival of Shortwave, explores the first uses of the medium. For broadcasting, in the U.S., SW frequencies were used to relay one mediumwave station's signal to another, distant MWer, which then rebroadcast it. For example, KFKX, Nebraska, rebroadcasting KDKA Pittsburg. As SW receivers became more available, listeners began to tune in to the SW broadcasts themselves.
SW broadcasting (and DXing) caught on in the 1930s. Despite some predictions that it would replace MW broadcasting, this of course never happened.
Chapter 4, Stations of the 1930s, gives a roundup of the continents and areas of the world, and the popular stations in each. Many familiar names, with pictures and QSLs, from our early listening or that we've read about before.
Chapter 5, Shortwave Broadcasting in the United States: The development of SW broadcasting in the U.S. deserves a full chapter because of the extent of it, as well as it's historical significance. One subject covered, that most of us may not be familiar with, was how much SW broadcasting was directed towards Latin America. It was a very important target for U.S. broadcasters. This chapter also describes the origins of the Voice of America as a series of programs before it became a station in its own right.
Chapter 6, Reception, begins the indepth look at our DX hobby. Did you know that some early DXers obviously those of better financial means recorded reception reports onto phonograph disks?! The chapter includes a review of receivers of the 30s and how well they worked, as claimed by the manufacturers and as reviewed by the listeners. Our cover illustration comes from this chapter.
Chapter 7, The Popular Shortwave Press, does a great job of summarizing the numerous magazines and booklets that were published for the radio listener. Some had short lives, while others had long lives forming the roots for todayís publications.
Chapter 8, Organizing, details the many clubs that existed between the 20's and the outbreak of World War II. Just like the magazines, some were not around very long! But, others, such as the Newark News Radio Club had exceptionally long lives. Had you heard of the Canadian DX Relay or the International DXers Alliance?
Chapter 9, Verifications, begins with a look at the first cards issued by stations, which were actually called "applause cards." This term referred to the program comments that stations wanted from. Berg traces the first QSLs back to amateur radio in 1915. We all know how popular they became amongst DXers and Berg has illustrated the entire book liberally with them.
Chapter 10, Stations and Voice of War, and Chapter 11, Listening in Wartime, bring us up to 1945. Propaganda had its origins in the pre-war and early war years as Britain and Germany aired competing voices. The voices of occupied nations were replaced by those of the occupiers. Those countries still free of Axis occupation had the challenge to deliver truth or at least their side of events to people who had lost their own broadcasters. We read of some famous people who played key roles in those years, and even beyond; such as Eddie Startz. Other topics look into official wartime monitoring, listening for prisoner-of-war messages, military broadcasting, clandestine broadcasting, "shortwave traitors," and more.
In his Conclusion, Berg says "The mid-1940s marked the end of the beginning of shortwave broadcasting." Just about everything was different after the war and I'm sure this means there will be another book coming from Jerry Berg in the next few years, looking at the post-War shortwave scene.
I can hardly wait!
Let's conclude with some technical and logistical details about On the Short Waves. This is a book of excellent construction: hardcover, securely bound, quality paper, quality printing, and crisp, clear pictures and illustrations.
The book (ISBN 0-7864-0506-6) is 7"x10" in size, hardback, 280 pages, and includes endnotes, a list of additional readings and an index. It contains over 150 illustrations of memorabilia from shortwave's early days, including many QSLs.
On the Short Waves can be purchased from the publisher, McFarland & Co., Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, by mail, phone, FAX or on the web (it is not available from the author). The price is US$42.50, plus shipping and handling (US$4 for 1st book, $.75 each additional; international orders, including Canadian, US$6 for 1st book, $1.50 each additional, U.S. funds only). Orders can be charged to VISA, MasterCard, AMEX or Discover cards. For detailed ordering instructions, see the McFarland website at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or call them (in N.Am) at 1-800-253-2187, FAX 336-246-5018. It is also available from other major Internet booksellers. We hope to receive a few copies at ODXA Mail Order as well, so check with Mail Order Manager John Houghton, firstname.lastname@example.org or (905)571-6489.