Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, reviewed by Jeff White on "Viva Miami" (WRMI, Radio Miami International). Presented with permission.
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As I mentioned the other day on this program, I began listening to shortwave radio in 1972, when I was a teenager in Indianapolis, Indiana. I've seen a lot of changes on the shortwave bands over the years since then, so I very much enjoyed reading a new book by Jerry Berg titled Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today. The book details, from a shortwave listener's standpoint, what happened on the shortwave broadcasting scene year-by-year and station-by-station, grouped by regions of the world. It was fascinating to look back over the past 36 years of shortwave activity that I witnessed personally. It brought back a lot of good memories of stations and programs that I heard, but I also learned a lot of things that I didn't already know. I mean nobody can keep up with everything that happens on shortwave, although Jerry Berg's book comes pretty close. But Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, as its name implies, also covers the period from the Second World War up until I started listening in 1972. So it was equally fascinating for me to learn about what happened on the shortwave spectrum before I took up the activity. For example, how many of you knew that the NBC Radio Network here in the U.S. once had an international shortwave service transmitting to several continents in multiple languages? CBS also had an international shortwave service, as did RCA. But these services never really made any significant money for the commercial radio networks, so most of them were very glad when the U.S. government took them over during World War II for transmitting U.S. propaganda. Most of them eventually became outlets for the Voice of America. And after the war, most of them were abandoned.
It was amazing to see how many stations that I had first heard in 1972 went on the air decades earlier and were still on the same frequencies when I started listening. Frequencies like 9009 kHz for Kol Israel and 6006 kHz for Radio Reloj in Costa Rica were classics that lasted for decades. And it was interesting to note how many stations around the world used odd frequencies like this, rather than standard 5 kHz increments that are more common today.
The history of shortwave broadcasting very much mirrors the political history of the post-war world. Whenever there was a war or a conflict, shortwave always played a role. The numerous civil wars in Africa have spawned dozens of opposition radio stations. They still do. Likewise with the political problems in Latin America, which have created innumerable clandestine broadcasters like Radio Venceremos in El Salvador, Radio Rebelde in Cuba, Radio 15 de Septiembre in Nicaragua, to mention just a few. Many of these stations became legitimate, legal stations as the political situation changed. Broadcasting on the Short Waves mentions many more Latin American opposition shortwave services, such as Russia's "Radio Magallanes" program beamed to Chile during the Pinochet regime, the BBC's special transmissions to the Falkland Islands during the Falklands war with Argentina, and President Jean Bertrand Aristide's "Radyo 16 Desanm" broadcasts to Haiti when he was in exile here in the United States. That service was broadcast, incidentally, right here via WRMI.
It was interesting to note all of the changes of names of countries over the years, which are usually reflected in shortwave station names too. For example, Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and Northern Rhodesia became Zambia. Egypt and Syria were once one country, then separated again. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Burma became Myanmar. And the two Congos had a series of name changes. African countries in general have had a great number of name changes since the Second World War, many of them related to their independence from colonial powers.
Of course the Cold War was perhaps the heyday of international broadcasting on shortwave. Governments poured millions -- probably billions -- of dollars into their external radio services for propaganda and prestige purposes. The Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and others transmitted in dozens of languages to the communist countries, while Radio Moscow, the Eastern European stations and Radio Peking pumped equal amounts of money into their own shortwave propaganda services, also in dozens of languages to all parts of the world. Jerry Berg examines in scholarly detail how the Cold War fueled a boom in shortwave, and how the boom burst after the Berlin Wall fell. Many stations no longer had a legitimate raison d'etre in the minds of government bureaucrats, so their budgets were cut, causing them to cancel language services, reduce hours of transmission and just plain close down in many cases.
Broadcasting on the Short Waves fills well over 400 pages, and it takes a bit of time and concentration to read because you have to absorb a lot of times, frequencies, transmitter powers and call letters. But that's the beauty of the book; it's an encyclopedia of detailed information about the post-war history of shortwave broadcasting in all parts of the world. I mean, where else could you read about stations like Dickson Norman's NDXE, the most widely-publicized shortwave station that never existed? The book is written primarily from the perspective of a North American shortwave listener and the stations he could hear from this locale -- not just the major government-run and religious stations, but also the domestic services that have broadcast on the tropical bands over the years. DXers in North America have always considered these tropical band stations to be primary targets for listening and QSL collecting. And speaking of QSLs, the book is chock full of pictures of QSL cards from many of the stations mentioned in its pages.
The book begins with an overview of shortwave broadcasting, including profiles of some of the major stations and sections about domestic shortwave broadcasting, religious broadcasters, private shortwave broadcasting in the United States, clandestine and pirate stations. Berg explains the complicated process of shortwave frequency allocation and management, the development of relay stations, jamming on shortwave, the failed attempt to move to the single sideband mode, and the promise of DRM, digital shortwave broadcasting. He talks about the changes in the post-Soviet era at both the communist broadcasters and Western stations. The overview chapter concludes with an examination of relays and the privatization of many stations' transmission facilities in recent years. Many of these facilities sell relay airtime to numerous stations and to smaller programmers who could not afford to put a station of their own on the air. The relay craze has led to some very strange bedfellows, such as Canada relaying Vietnam, Switzerland relaying China, Russia relaying the Netherlands, and Lithuania relaying Iran.
After the year-by-year summary of shortwave activity, which takes up the great bulk of Broadcasting on the Short Waves, Jerry Berg concludes with a chapter about "The Changing Shortwave Environment."看 He talks about the proliferation of shortwave broadcasting during the Cold War, the gradual decline in domestic broadcasting on the tropical bands, and the tremendous cuts in shortwave station budgets since the end of the Cold War that have led to the downsizing or elimination of many long-time shortwave broadcasters. Berg says that the reasons for the decline in shortwave broadcasting and listening include not only the end of the Cold War, but the introduction of private domestic broadcasting in many countries which gave listeners less reason to seek foreign stations for alternative programming, and the development of new technologies such as the Internet, cable TV, satellite and FM radio, all of which compete with shortwave for the listener's attention. He says that while some think Digital Radio Mondiale, or DRM, will lead to a renaissance in shortwave broadcasting, the lack of DRM receivers and programming still cast doubts on the success of this initiative. Says Berg:看 "Even if DRM proves successful and is able to compete with other media on audio quality, it seems clear that, absent a doomsday event that severs telephone cables and satellite channels or otherwise untethers the world from the international communication vehicles on which it increasingly relies, shortwave broadcasting will remain a specialized function, serving ever smaller audiences."
Berg notes that shortwave is often at its best during political, economic or military crises, such as the Gulf War and the Asian tsunami. Shortwave may continue to play an important role in times of crisis, although that "will not by itself justify the maintenance of major shortwave broadcasting infrastructures in individual countries."
It's obvious that Jerry Berg loves shortwave. But he's realistic about the medium's future. He writes:看 "While among shortwave enthusiasts there will always be hope for a resurgence of shortwave broadcasting, the absence of a shortwave constituency in most countries, the retirement of shortwave-savvy personnel, competing budgetary priorities, the march of other technologies, competition from national broadcasters, and other factors . . . make this an unlikely possibility."看
While all of this is true, if you look at frequency allocations, the shortwave bands are still overcrowded and it's hard to find a clear frequency if you don't go out of band. I think shortwave still has a lot of life left in it, even though some of the major players may be changing. So as a shortwave broadcaster, I am a bit more optimistic about the future of the medium. And I suspect that, as a shortwave listener, maybe you are too. Unless, of course, you're listening to me on our Internet webcast!
But one thing is for sure. The magic of shortwave is still there. As Jerry Berg writes, ". . . after all the changes in the shortwave landscape, it is still the magic of pulling a distant signal out of the air and connecting with a far away place that makes shortwave unique, and not replicable by the new media."
You can order Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, as well as Jery Berg's companion volume, Listening on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, from the publisher at www.mcfarlandpub.com. It's also available from Internet booksellers like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, and at Universal Radio's website. For complete information about the book, see Jerry Berg's own website, www.ontheshortwaves.com.
Thanks for listening to "Viva Miami."看 I'm Jeff White.