Radio Radio

One of my favorite gifts this Christmas was a new shortwave radio. I’ve wanted one for years and just hadn’t taken the plunge. One night in the summer, Dave and I were online looking at radio models and he bought two of them, one for each of us. The new one replaces the monster I got when I was a kid (Montgomery Wards brand! We’re talking ancient!), which only kinda works now (though if I sprayed some tuner cleaner in the switches, they might be fine). The technology has gotten a bit smaller in the intervening decades:

Shortwave RadiosGrundig

I love the digital readout. Love, love, love it. It’s the one thing I’ve wanted all along. It doesn’t have the bands beyond the FM band that I had on the big radio, but I never got into listening to much of anything at those frequencies. It does have the longwave band, the one below AM, but it’s not used much in North America—certainly not for broadcast, but I think some airports still use it to broadcast tracking beacons.

So it’s a beautiful little radio and I’ve logged a lot of listening hours already. The only problem is … shortwave radio has changed a lot in the last few years. A lot of the big European broadcasters, as well as the Voice of America and Radio Canada International, no longer broadcast to North America! I’m not the only one who’s noticed (this also appeared in Wired in 2008). Apparently there’s this thing called the World Wide Web, and there’s webcasting, and … they switched from shortwave to the Internet to reach North America. No fade, no bleed from competing stations, always there. Where’s the fun in that? But it costs money to run big radio stations, and they’re in the business of disseminating info, not just running radio stations.

That’s a big disappointment. No BBC. No Radio Nederland. No Deutsche Welle. Not in English, as far as I can tell. They’re still broadcasting, but their antennas are mostly pointed to Africa and Asia. I can get a lot of Radio Havana Cuba, a lot of China Radio International, and a whole lot of American Christian talk radio. Well, talk-and-preach radio.

… I’ve been talking with Dave about setting up a humanist/science radio station on shortwave. Think it’ll fly? …

Anyway… I still enjoy the new radio. There are still some cool things to hear. Cuba and China have some good programming, actually, way better than 30 years ago when all they offered was obvious propaganda. And when all else fails, there are the soothing ticks and tones of WWV, the time station run by the U.S. National Instutite of Standards. (All time, all the time.)


About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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3 Responses to Radio Radio

  1. I have always wanted to learn more about shortwave radio. Should I still do it? I think I should, because as much as I love the internet, SW is way cooler and seems more fun (I used to have a radio that picked up in-range CB signals as well as regular FM/AM — not exactly SW, but a similar concept. I loved listening to all the truckers). For some reason I’ve never really searched for info about SW, so I don’t even know how expensive a hobby it is.

    Also, I’ve heard at least one Radio Canada International program on CBC1 on Sirius (the show was based in Newfoundland and Labrador, IIRC. [ETA: The show is The Maple Leaf Mailbag.] RCI also offers live internet streaming.

    • songdogmi says:

      I think SW is way cooler for this sort of thing, too, even though the signals are usually clearer on the Internet (though there could be dropouts due to rebuffering, so that would be a lot like shortwave fading, I guess). One could spend a lot of money on it but a basic radio is all you need, really, and those are between $40 and $100, I think. (I’m not supposed to know, of course, but I think mine was around $70.) The only other thing I can think of needing is some list of radio stations to look for, but there are websites for that like

      Maple Leaf Mailbag gets Scott Joplin running in my head for some reason. πŸ™‚

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