In a real way, this post finally begins to realize the intention of this series. I come to you after a number of recent safaris of shortwave listening, and now if you’ve got a few minutes to listen a humble radio travelogue is about to begin.
In other words, a couple weeks ago I had a chance to finally spend some quality evenings at my Brooklyn apartment with a couple of radios and logged what I found. And as usual, I recorded the results. Over the course of the next few posts in this blog series you’ll be able to hear some of these dial scans.
While I’d rather do this kind of listening far from the big city, that hasn’t been possible for me lately. So instead, I set up a listening station on my kitchen table, which is about as far from my computers and household electronics as I can get here. Yes, there was some residual RF– a bit of buzzing, and whirring and crackling from time to time, but I was pleasantly surprised how most stations really overcame the noise once I got a hold of them. But I do love the rural glory of hearing SILENCE between shortwave frequencies.
What makes this different from all my previous shortwave listening, is that for the first time I’m getting a real idea of where many of the foreign language broadcasts I find are actually coming from. I’ve enjoyed shortwave since I was a kid, but I’ve never seriously logged what I’ve heard, or spent much time trying to ID non-English broadcasts. Doing this blog series has given me a good reason to research the overall potential of shortwave listening. And it’s been interesting.
Again, I’d like to emphasize that I’m not a shortwave or DX expert, and I’m using relatively inexpensive equipment. Many of the stations I’ve logged here from faraway countries could have been heard by anybody with a radio that might cost as little as twenty or thirty bucks. The only real tricks to this is having a slow and steady grip on the tuning dial, listening carefully, and occasionally adjusting the whip antenna. And then all it takes is a little patience and curiosity to make it all happen.
I doubt there’s anything I heard during these sessions will impress any serious DXer’s out there. And while the experience and resources of a true enthusiast would make most of the discoveries I made during my dial scanning seem pretty commonplace, I still find receiving mainstream shortwave broadcasts from Europe, Asia and the Middle East pretty fascinating. And while I only speak English, I still find the formatics and technical aspects of the radio production worth a listen, and music itself transcends language anyway.
As I said in my first couple posts in these series, one of the things I that keeps me listening to shortwave is that compared to almost every other kind of broadcasting, it isn’t just about money. In fact, there’s almost no profit motive in most international shortwave broadcasting. Almost all the international stations you hear on shortwave are subsidized by governments, international organizations or (especially in the U.S.) religious groups. Unlike TV and the AM & FM bands, for the most part shortwave is not about providing content that will keep you listening between the commercials. It’s a raw lo-fi medium for spreading information, ideas and opinions.
Without the need to titillate and stimulate that is inherent in more capitalistic media, shortwave (and to a much lesser degree AM) radio gets right to the heart of spreading memes without all the hullabaloo and sideshow action. That said, whoever is paying for all that electricity, air talent and overhead to reach radio listeners around the world probably has an agenda. Even the BBC World Service, the gold standard in disseminating unbiased news to the world via shortwave, still caries the worldview of the western powers and Europe, and could be interpreted as a relic of the global caretaker mentality of the former British Empire and the subsequent British Commonwealth.
While the BBC of late has had it’s share of disputes with the government that funds it, there’s still an element of the centuries western grip on the dissemination of information around the world. And when you hear the news from Israel or Turkey or China you know you’re hearing facts and stories that are coming through the filter of the culture and government of that area of the world. But if you know a little bit about geopolitics that isn’t such a bit deal. You can decode the information with your own knowledge or understanding. To me, it beats the hell out of the news for profit model that has model that has poisoned mainstream American media.
Then there’s the religious broadcasters, mainly of the Christian persuasion. In this series I’ve bemoaned the fact that the U.S. shortwave scene is totally dominated by followers of Jesus and Mr. Almighty (and I’m never quite sure if they’re the same guy). And in the American tradition, some of these holy morons actually profit from their broadcasts by begging in the name of the cloud being. The sad fact is that most Americans don’t even know what shortwave broadcasting is, let alone listen to it. And like once thriving cities gone to decay and ghettoization the American shortwave bands are overrun with thugs and gangsters who have taken over. And Jesus is the godfather. Luckily, the rest of the world is different.
This post begins an excursion into the 49 meter band. This little section of the shortwave expanse includes the frequencies between 5950 and 6200 kHz. While shortwave covers almost 30 megahertz of space on the band, standard broadcasts are generally only found on a dozen or so little parcels within that range. And in the evening, the 49 meter band is the most crowded band out there. And this scan begins just before seven in the evening Eastern Time, prime time for international broadcasting to the U.S. After midnight, it would be overrun with bible bangers, but at hour they are only part of the mix. Thank god.
This dial scan was recorded Wednesday March 1 on my BCL-2000 (a radio I discussed in detail in this post). What I really like about his radio is that it has analog tuning which allows you to tweak the tuning by microscopic increments AND displays a digital readout of the frequency so you can truly track where you are on the dial. And while years ago I would have had to subscribe to newsletters and buy books to track my way through the shortwave savannah, these days the resources of the mighty internet are enough to guide anyone through the roving packs of shortwave broadcasts out there. By the way, if anyone reading this discovers that I have mistaken one station for another in this post, please do send me an email and I’ll check it out. And if you like, I’ll credit you for correcting me as well.
So, this is part one of this foray into the 49 meter band that I’m offering you. I’m dividing the audio segments that accompany this post into 10 frequency captures. In general, I stay on each station as long as it happened to be interesting to me at the time. These particular scans are in real time, no edits. It will give you an idea of how crowded the 49 meter band actually is each evening.
I welcome questions and comments at my email address here. But if your input might benefit other readers I’d appreciate if you left them as comments on this post. If topics here interest you, but you’ve not come across this blog series before, I invite you to check out the other posts in this series here. All posts have accompanying audio.
Lastly, let me say none of this is easy listening. There’s static, funny noises and foreign languages. But what you will get, that you might not discern if you’re not an experienced shortwave listener, is a feel for what can actually be heard if you take the time to figure out what you’re receiving on a shortwave radio. The difference here is that I’ve done the work for you. You know, these radio waves are all around you every day. All you have to do is tune in…
Segment 1-49 Meter Band (5920 to 6215 kHz) 03-01-06 16:05
And it starts with the inherent RF noise of listening from a home in Brooklyn. And you hear different aspects of that intermittently during these recordings. All frequencies listed are in kilohertz.
It’s some churchy singing either way. Besides broadcasting on a number of frequencies, the Fundamental Broadcasting Network have a couple of stations of their own, including WTJC (Working Till Jesus Comes) at 9370 kHz and WBOH (Worldwide Beacon Of Hope) at 5920 kHz. How about starting a station called KJTY? (Keep Jesus To Yourself) Take a look at the some of the handsome Caucasians who host programs on the FBN network here.
5930 – Radio Prague (probably)
Faint. Not English.
5950 – Radio Taiwan International
It’s the on the hour fanfare for Radio Taiwan. Dramatic and clear, and not in English. Radio Canada International runs a relay complex in Sackville, New Brunswick. International Broadcasters who have a real jones to get their signal to North America rent time on their huge 250 thousand watt transmitters. Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and China and others all pony up the dough to relay their international broadcasts to America via this facility.
5975 BBC World Service
The news in English. Bush in India, working out nuke deal with India and messing up the world in general. I believe this broadcast originates from a relay on the island of Antigua in the Carribean.
5990 – China Radio International
Spanish language programming to America, probably relayed from Canada. China broadcasting in Spanish to the Americas makes a lot of sense on many levels.
6000 – Radio Habana Cuba
In Spanish. Some lively conversation and laughter.
6005 – China Radio International (probably)
In a Chinese language, I believe.
6020 – Chinese Radio International
CRI again this time in English, again coming from the Canadian relay. The news, rather dryly read. Listen to the positioning statement after the news headlines– “Working to bridge the cultural gap. Narrowing the differences day by day. From China for the world, this is CRI.” You wouldn’t imagine that this broadcast is froom an oppressive regime that squelches internal dissent and has no real democratic infrastructure. Doesn’t it seem like the deeper the U.S. and China get into this hopelessly entangled financial synergy that our governments are becoming more and more alike in their behavior? Just a thought.
When “News And Reports” resumes after the headlines, you immediately begin to notice that the U.S. government under the Bush regime doesn’t escape criticism on Chinese international radio. There’s a pointed reference here to the futile search for Bin Laden, and a snarky comment about Bush only spending four hours on the ground in his unannounced visit to Afghanistan. While the rhetoric isn’t nearly as contentious as the cold war era, the Chinese government continues to challenge and question American policy and supremacy with their official news services. If you really want to get the flavor of how dozens of commie shortwave outlets used to slam ol’ Uncle Sam, you can still hear the same old-fashioned hostility (in English) on Radio Habana Cuba every night.
6040 – China Radio International.
In Chinese, from the Sackville relay again. Do you notice a trend here?
6055 – Radio Espana
In English, it’s the international radio service of Spain. News. Maoist upheaval in Nepal. Cats spreading Bird Flu. And it seems that concerns of “homeland” terrorism and illegal immigration are endemic to Spain as well. Then we go on to a cultural program for a moment– “Spain-Day By Day.” Let’s hear some music…
More next week. Thanks for listening.
(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)