Listening 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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I first began listening to shortwave radio in 1972 as a junior high school student living in Indianapolis, Indiana. I discovered it by accident while tuning around on my parents' multiband portable radio with two shortwave bands on it. One night I heard Radio Deutsche Welle, coming all the way from Germany with a program in English. I was hooked. I started listening every day, and soon I also found Radio Prague, Radio Netherlands, HCJB, Radio Moscow, etc.
That was a fascinating time to be a shortwave listener -- right in the middle of the Cold War, when President Nixon made his historic visits to Russia and China. The idea that I could follow world events directly from where they were happening on a simple shortwave receiver was a thrill that was hard to explain to the average person in Indianapolis. Soon I was sending reception reports to these far-off lands and receiving QSL cards and many other items from places like Albania, China, Finland and Cuba, to mention only a few.
I'm sure many of you listening to me now have similar stories you could tell. And if so, you'll definitely be interested in a new book I received the other day called Listening on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today by well-known DXer Jerry Berg. This is a 400-page trip through the heydays of shortwave listening. The nostalgia is just overwhelming.
Jerry begins with a brief overview of pre-World War II shortwave history, then launches into an in-depth examination of the shortwave audience -- just who listens to this stuff and why. Are we a special breed, and how many of us are there? Research on this subject is scarce, but Jerry Berg summarizes some of what is available from station surveys, popularity polls, listener letters, shortwave club data and the like.
The story of shortwave listening and DX clubs, primarily in North America, occupies a full 100 pages of the book. While much of this information may not be of great interest to those who were not involved in organized DXing, for those of us who were members of one or more DX clubs over the years, this chapter will bring back all kinds of memories. The history of each major club is detailed -- and I mean detailed, right down to the columns which appeared in each club publication and the internal politics and colorful characters which made them so interesting. I found dozens of names of club officials and editors with whom I've had some kind of contact since 1972, bringing back lots of fond memories of friendships that in many cases have endured until today. I've met many of these people personally at shortwave conventions over the years, such as the annual ANARC or Association of North American Radio Clubs conventions that took place in a different part of the U.S. or Canada each year until 1990.
Sadly, many of these shortwave club personalities are no longer with us. But they'll always be remembered. People like Arthur Cushen of New Zealand, Richard Wood of Hawaii and many other places, and Larry Shewchuk of Canada. All of these people and many more were friends of mine. Larry Shewchuk, for example, was a top-notch radio journalist, as well as being a member of the Canadian International DX Club. Larry even contributed a few reports to my Radio Earth broadcasts in the 1980's.
But I'm reminiscing now, which I guess is one of the natural effects of reading Listening On the Short Waves, 1945 to Today. The extensive shortwave club chapter tells about the club publications, conventions, their high points and low points. In terms of membership, many of these clubs peaked in the 1970's and 1980's, and they have been declining -- or even ceasing to exist -- ever since, as the Internet has largely done away with the need for printed club bulletins. There is some examination of overseas DX clubs as well, although the focus is primarily on North America.
An additional 100 pages of Jerry's book looks at shortwave literature, such as shortwave listening columns in various electronic magazines and specialized shortwave listener magazines. These include well-known publications like Popular Electronics, Popular Communications and Monitoring Times, and less well-known but valiant efforts like Voices magazine from Finland. There is a detailed history of the venerable World Radio TV Handbook and the newer but very popular Passport to World Band Radio. Other books about shortwave listening are examined, such as How to Listen to the World, DXing According to NASWA and books dealing with shortwave equipment, propagation, pirates, clandestine stations, programming, etc. Dozens of publications are mentioned here -- lists of English-language broadcasts, The Danish Shortwave Club International's Tropical Bands Survey, Glenn Hauser's Review of International Broadcasting and DX Listening Digest, to name just a few. There's even a review of recordings about shortwave listening, such as Radio Canada International's Idents and Interval Signals tapes and Foreign Language Recognition Course, both of which have been resurrected recently and are now available on CD.
A shorter chapter in the book provides profiles of the top DX programs and other popular listener programs and clubs sponsored by shortwave stations. Who can forget Radio Australia's "DXers Calling," Radio Sweden's "Sweden Calling DXers," Radio Netherlands' "DX Juke Box" and "Media Network," the Swiss Shortwave Merry-Go-Round with "the Two Bobs" and Radio Canada International's "SWL Digest" hosted by one of the most popular shortwave personalities in the history of North America, Ian McFarland? And of course there was the "Happy Station" hosted by legendary broadcasters Eddie Startz and Tom Meyer. Some of these programs are still on the air, like HCJB's "DX Party Line," Adventist World Radio's "Wavescan" and Glenn Hauser's "World of Radio," all of which are broadcast here on WRMI.
A fairly extensive chapter of "Listening On the Short Waves" reviews the shortwave receivers that have been on the market in North America since World War II. Some of the technical details and specifications may go over the heads of laymen like myself, but long-time shortwave listeners will certainly recall classic receivers like the Hammarlund HQ-180, the Drake SW-4A, the Realistic DX-150, the Yaesu FRG-7, the Kenwood R-1000, the Barlow-Wadley XCR-30, and of course the Zenith Trans-Oceanic. They're all mentioned and reviewed here, along with even the original sales prices. The history of shortwave receivers is traced by the type of radio -- such as desktop and portable -- and by decade. Many of us will remember sophisticated receivers with bandspread dials which still left you almost guessing at which frequency you were on. Newer radios like the Sony ICF-2001 and the Grundig Yacht Boy 400 offered digital readout, which revolutionized shortwave listening and made it more accessible to the less technically-inclined.
Listening On the Short Waves then moves on to the topic of QSLing -- the process of sending reception reports to shortwave stations and obtaining verification cards from them. Jerry provides a historical overview of station QSL policies, crafty methods that listeners have used to get QSL's out of recalcitrant stations, QSL contests and awards, and a list of publications with more detailed QSL information. Jerry Berg, incidentally, is Chairman of the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications, which has collected more than 40,000 QSL's from stations around the world that are archived at the Library of American Broadcasting at the University of Maryland.
No book about shortwave listening would be complete without a brief look at the role computers have played since they became accessible to the average person in North America. Shortwave club editors were suddenly able to prepare their columns and the entire publications with word processing programs. Listeners could keep lists of their station loggings on computer and it became easier for them to prepare reception reports which were very professional. Computer bulletin board systems and online services such as CompuServe allowed listeners and broadcasters alike to share tons of information and databases, and this expanded exponentially with the increasing availability of the Internet in the late 1990's. Now listeners can get instant schedule and program information for most any shortwave station in the world online -- not to mention the ability to send reception reports and to communicate amongst themselves via e-mail. Online DX newsletters have replaced many printed club bulletins, and the clubs that have survived now generally have at least some presence on the Internet.
Jerry Berg concludes that while in many ways shortwave listening is every bit as fascinating and exotic as it was back in the beginning, "to listeners it is clear that shortwave broadcasting has been on the wane for some time." Of course this is written from the viewpoint of a North American DXer, and shortwave is still very much alive and kicking in many other parts of the world. I would even argue that shortwave is still a significant niche market in North America. There's no question that many stations have reduced or eliminated their shortwave transmissions to North America in recent years, but there's a real question as to whether they have done so because of declining listenership, or whether their listenership may have declined because they discontinued the broadcasts. Indeed, Berg cites Bob Zanotti, formerly of Swiss Radio International, as saying that "decision-making on the future of shortwave is in the hands of theoreticians and technocrats rather than broadcasting professionals, and that has led to a denigration of shortwave and the premature promotion of alternatives that cannot serve the large audiences that are routinely within shortwave's reach."
But that takes us into the subject of broadcasting on shortwave, and that's precisely the title of Jerry Berg's other new book, Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, which is another 400 pages or so. I can't wait to begin reading that one, and we'll have a review of it here on "Viva Miami" in the near future.
With a price tag of $65, Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today isn't cheap. But I can guarantee you that you won't find all of this wealth of information in one place anywhere else on earth -- not even on the Internet. And it's presented in a sturdy and attractive hardbound volume with an abundance of photographs that will definitely give you shortwave nostalgia. The book is published by McFarland (no relation to Ian McFarland of Radio Canada International!), and you can get more information and ordering details on the web at www.mcfarlandpub.com. There are chapter-by-chapter titles and descriptions on Jerry Berg's own website, www.ontheshortwaves.com. The book is also available from Universal Radio, amazon.com.and other Internet booksellers.
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Shortwave broadcasting has a long history. In his first book, On the Short Waves, 1923 to 1945, Jerry Berg covered shortwave's early years. Now, in two new books, he has brought the story current. Listening on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, describes the shortwave audience, and the clubs, literature, DX programs, receivers and QSLs that were at the heart of organized shortwave listening. The companion volume, Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, contains a year-by-year account of what was heard on the international and tropical bands over the last 60-plus years. The books are fully illustrated, and will be of interest to long time listeners and shortwave historians alike. For more information, go to www.ontheshortwaves.com; that's www.ontheshort waves.com ("ontheshortwaves" is one word).