Archive for April, 2008

Long Live Short-Wave!

Saturday, April 12th, 2008
Thirty years ago, listening to shortwave radio wasn’t such a eccentric thing to do. It was still the easiest way to keep up with the rest of the world. And more significantly, it was the primary way countries on each side of the cold war communicated their propaganda to the common folk on the other side of that “iron curtain.” For people out in the arctic, the desert, or in some African village or out on a mountainside, a shortwave was a necessity. And for us in the west it was a geeky guy’s delight– tuning in distant lands from the dark caves of our bedrooms.

Yes, shortwave was still a lot of fun in 1979 when the album I’m offering here was released. It’s called “Long Live Shortwave!,” and it’s a full LP by British pop music producer (and shortwave radio fan) Mitch Murray.

Long Live Shortwave! side A  28:20

(download)

Obviously Mitch spent some time on this project, including composing a disco theme (with a morse code intro!) called “Toys For Big Boys,” which opens and closes the album. Side one features the voice of Mr. Murray himself tempting listeners with the power and possibilities of shortwave radio listening– not just tuning in news, music and dramas from around the world, but also eavesdropping on amateur radio enthusiasts and signals from outer space.

Then it gets a little technical for some, breaking down the science of radio a bit and explaining the shortwave broadcast bands. If you don’t already know some of this stuff, your eyes might glaze over. But don’t worry, the funky disco music returns now and then to keep you alert. And not only that, but Murray provided a little booklet if you care to follow along. Here’s a scan of that booklet for you here, and here. And I also have both sides of the J-card for you (which includes some liner notes) right here, and also here. (And dig the subtitle: "At last! A superb album devoted to DXing.")

There’s actually quite a bit of information on shortwave listening on side one and really not much is out of date. The science remains the same. Antenna information and propagation science are explained briefly, and you may learn something if you like. In fact, side one is really dedicated more toward the shortwave hobbyist rather than the casual listener. But that’s probably why a guy might have this at the time– to learn something. Side one ends with longtime BBC personality, Henry Hatch, who had been DXing since the hobby really began. He offers a charming DX pep talk and some good advice for the hobbyist. I like the way he emphasizes on how weak the signals are after traveling around the world and how they need the utmost care and attention upon arrival. Makes you wanna warm some milk for the poor things.

And as I would, Hatch advises you to record your DX sessions on cassette.

Long Live Shortwave! side B  25:25

(download)

Side two is a twenty-five minute time capsule sampling the sound of shortwave radio at the dawn of the 1980’s. A bit of a nostalgia trip for old DXers. It’s a cavalcade of more than thirty ID’s and identifying (or interval) signals from shortwave broadcasters around the world. Thrill to the sound of the Radio Moscow once again and listen to plenty of baritone announcers and hokey period production music.

When I heard the sound of Deutsche Welle’s interval signal on this tape I thought, “Wow, it still sounds just the same”… and then I remembered that only within the last year the German shortwave service cut off their English broadcasts to North America. Probably won’t be hearing that again on the radio anytime soon. And then I just got pissed off all over again about all the western countries turning their backs on North American listeners. And that’s a big difference between shortwave listeners today and the polyester pants crowd who might have picked up a copy of this album a few decades ago. Their shortwave radios had a lot more voices speaking in English. And despite wearing more sensible trousers, we are not quite as happy today.

That’s it for this quick post. I hope you enjoy this DXing artifact from the 1970’s. I just got my hands on this thing, and my first thought was to share it here with you. And please don’t be alarmed by the lo-fi audio issues with the disco intro section of each side. I was only able to find this album as a cassette tape, and it appears to have been slightly munched in another player. The sound quality improves markedly after the first minute or so on each side.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ll be back soon with one of these posts I have in the pipeline right now. Of course, there’s more radio from the past coming your way with part two of that 1988 road trip, and I’m right in the middle of an extended exposition on the perplexing and tangled state of progressive talk radio in the middle of this big and brutal election year.

As always, it’s good to hear from you. Thanks for listening.