Sin, Static & Creepy America

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

I’ve been remiss in offering up another bandscan since I kicked off this blog a couple months ago. So, here’s another. When I go about trying to choose a tuning session to present and discuss here, I like to offer one that features some compelling English language content, a few interesting overseas broadcasts and hopefully not too much RF noise and interference. However, this particular scan is noisy, there’s no great DX catches and the content is kind of ridiculous. But as I was recording this, I couldn’t help thinking about how strange human beings really are. Shortwave listening can do that.

Because I live in a very RF polluted environment, I do most of my shortwave listening and DXing when I get out of town. And while there was less radio noise than home at the cabin in the Catskill Mountains where I recorded this, it was still less than ideal. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and after a meal of leftovers I set up my little recording setup and started roaming around the bands.

I will say one thing about shortwave radio– if you want to hear thoughtful opinions on current events and learn more about the world we live in, then you can find all that and more from broadcasts originating from places like Europe, Asia and Africa. But if you’re more interested in listening to religious intolerance, ignorant diatribes and the kind of entertainment only mental illness can provide, then tuning into one of the many shortwave transmissions originating from the United States will certainly suffice.

Besides the Voice of America (the U.S. international service) there’s a couple dozen or so privately owned shortwave stations in the states, many with multiple transmitters. I believe that all but two of these are owned and operated by Christian organizations. Most are brokered outfits– selling chunks of time to churches, groups and preachers to scold and beg and talk about the bible. And to be fair, as shortwave listening in America has declined so drastically these days, Christian programmers and their listeners are by far the most viable financial resource for these stations. WBCQ in Maine, with their handful of SW frequencies have heroically cobbled together a creative and entertaining secular programming and cool music shows on their schedules (mostly on the weekend on 7415kHz), but the bulk of their on-air roster is the same holy-roller nonsense you hear on most U.S. shortwave stations.

Here’s a little sample from WBCQ’s weekend lineup. This was recorded not long before the bandscan I’m posting here. It’s nine minutes of a relatively new program on WBCQ– Bluegrass State of Mind, hosted by your buddy "Hawkeye" Danny Haller. I’ve never heard this show before, but this guy sounds great and the music’s mighty fine.

WBCQ – Bluegrass State of Mind 11-23-07  23:35 UTC

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Besides WBCQ, there’s not much on U.S. shortwave that ain’t about Jesus. There’s a few DX shows and Glenn Hauser’s "World of Radio," on a number of stations, but the only other format that gets any real traction on American shortwave radio are the paranoia and patriotism talk shows. There’s quite a number of these programs. And although they come in a variety of flavors, the’re generally populist conspiracy based presentations invoking fear and vigilance. Some of these programs come from a distinctly Christian perspective. Some do not. However, none of them are anti-Christian. That wouldn’t be a good business model for shortwave broadcasting in America.

And if you’ve never listened to shortwave, the darkness and irrationality of shortwave radio paranoia is typically more stark and strange than what you might stumble upon on your AM radio. There’s an urgent novelty to millennial shortwave broadcasts from independent stations in this country. And it often makes me wonder whether I’m actually living in the future, or if I’m stuck in the middle of a poorly written dystopian novel.

Like the first bandscan I posted here, this is another amble through the 49 meter band– which is as close as shortwave gets to the reception dependability of the AM (medium wave) band here in the states. From around 5800 to 6300kHz, there’s almost always a lot of activity after dark. I rarely get anything farther than western Europe on this band. But it’s very popular for the Asian and European state broadcasters who relay their programming to North America via Canada and the Caribbean. But most significantly, it’s the most popular band for the sideshow barking of the evangelists, doomsayers and hellfire merchants of American shortwave radio.

49 Meter Band part 1 – Catskill Mountains, NY 11-24-07  00:17 UTC

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5755 – KAIJ – Texas, USA – Radio Liberty

As the host of one of shortwave’s many conspiratorial talk shows, Stanley Monteith is as cool, calm and collected as they get. However, you don’t hear much of old Doctor Stan in this clip. Just his female guest– an author and professional pessimist who’s name I wasn’t able to discern. Reception is kinda awful.

Years ago, it was easy to laugh off shortwave crackpots and their fear of Communist infiltrators and water fluoridation. But paranoia just isn’t as funny as it used to be. On first listen, her concerns make a lot of sense– the dangers of data mining, our ongoing loss of privacy. Yet, when I hear dark talk shows like these programs I usually have the same experience– I’ll be following along, thinking– "jeez, I basically agree with almost all this scary shit"… up to the point where the host turns a corner and enters fantasyland. It could be some mumbo-jumbo about the anti-christ, a rant against the U.N., or some messed-up racist twist on current events (or the plans of the super secret lizard people). In this particular instance, I start shaking my head when the “scams” of global warming and the environmental movement are singled out as evil forces. But then she gets around to the root fear of many shortwave paranoids– depopulation.

In countries like Rwanda and Iraq, where over a million people have been slaughtered in recent years– depopulation has been a reality. But when you hear apocalyptic radio types use that word they’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill genocide. They’re talking about millions of pale-skinned types (specifically nice Christians Americans) getting wiped out. While this paranoia narrative may sound similar to what Republicans and other freaks are saying about Muslims and brown people in general, but the deep conspiracy crowd is usually anti-Bush, and often against the Iraq War. In their narrative, Bush and Cheney and their CEO pals are in league with the bad guys– the global elites (and perhaps the lizard people).

5810 – EWTN Alabama

I should make a confession. I’m not Catholic. Never have been. And when I do come across their religions broadcasts on the radio (usually EWTN on shortwave) I am almost always taken aback by how damn practical they are. The Catholic shows I’ve heard on relationships and sex are kind of amazing. Instead of the threats of fire and brimstone to scare you holy (or any of the protestant-style proselytizing), the hosts and priests and nuns on Catholic radio just try to help their flock follow the rules. Hell, they know you’re a sinner. They just want to make sure that you confess and atone for each moral crime, according their official book of penance. After all, it’s not easy to be good. And there’s a comfort of Catholicism. If you just screw everything up over the course of your life, just make that “act of perfect contrition” on your death bed, and you’ll get into heaven okay. Or at least it shouldl buy you a ticket for that scary purgatory waiting room place.

Again, this is just my interpretation. In practice I’m sure it’s a little different.

5810 – WHRI – World Harvest Radio

And what fresh hell is this? I guess this is one of the reasons I keep listening to shortwave– to hear bizarre America in all of it’s glory. This is as twisted as anything I’ve come on the radio in quite a while. Imagine you’ve picked up a preppy freshly scrubbed hooker, and once you get her up in the room all she wants to do is talk about "the father." That’s kind of what this sounds like. 

It appears to be some interlude between programs on the World Harvest Radio schedule. It features a perky young tart (accompanied by a noodling new-age guitar track) admonishing all of us sinners to shape up. Rather like a cross between a self-help tape and a phone sex commercial. All I can say, is this woman is selling some damn creepy bliss. “God will use you. God will use you,” she insists, followed by a sexy plastic Mmmmm-moan for Jesus.

By the way, World Harvest Radio originates in Indiana.

49 Meter Band part 2 – Catskill Mountains, NY 11-24-07  00:39 UTC

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6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

Sitting right in the middle of the popular 49 meter band with the round figure of six-oh-oh-oh, RHC has one of the most easily remembered frequencies in shortwave. From the eastern US, it’s always there at night. Usually clear. I believe they switch their English service on and off with their 6060 signal, and I’m never sure how that works. But here it’s Español, and a booming actuality of some man, from somewhere, saying something. And then I turn the station.

6005 – NHK Japan

I believe this is relayed from Sackville in eastern Canada. It’s sounds Japanese to me. Some energetic broadcasting.

6020 – Radio China International

Just as dependable as Cuba at 6000 and 6060, is China at 6020kHz at night. And often in English, as here. This broadcast is relayed from Albania or Canada. Unlike many western countries, China doesn’t seem to be cutting back on their international shortwave service. With relays all over the world broadcasting in many languages, China is still keeping shortwave radio alive as a viable global communication alternative. I guess they might as well. They’re making almost all the shortwave radios these days.

However, as much as they’re investing in transmitters and infrastructure, when I catch their English service it always sounds like they’re getting their announcers on the cheap. Not only are they not the most seasoned voices on the block, but as you can some hear many aren’t all that familiar with the English language itself.

The female announcer is all jazzed up over the upcoming “high-level” Olympics Games in Beijing. And she’s not just worked up about the opening ceremonies and all those athletic performances, but apparently the security work and favorable press commentary promises to be very “high-level” too. All in all, they’re expecting a “high level Olympics with distinguishing features.” Me too. As well as a few distinguishing health events once some international athletes get their lungs full of the high level of Chinese toxins floating around.

6030 – Radio Marti

Propaganda broadcasts from America to Cuba, in Spanish. And that funny noise? The “Havana Gargle”– a burbling broadcast generated to prevent Cubans from hearing our propaganda.

6040 – Radio China International

In Chinese here. Male and female tag team announcers with tinkly piano at the end of this short clip.

6060 – Radio Habana Cuba

It’s Cuba, with worse than usual reception. But it’s a sonically interesting bit– Spanish announcer with odd-sounding Asian music splatter from another station (Do you hear some Yoko-style yodeling in there too?). Even if it doesn’t mean all that much, it’s rich aural eccentricities like this that keep shortwave radio interesting, as well as the psychodrama and the international reception possibilities.

6085 – Family Radio

Something about getting some religion and loading it on a canoe for some kind of missionary work. A lot of noise too.

That’s it for this bandscan. I promise the next hike up the dial will be another shortwave band, or perhaps a medium wave journey. These two chunks were not every thing I picked up on 49 meters, but is everything that seemed worth sharing. Believe me, you’re not missing much. And if you don’t usually turn the knobs on a shortwave set, let me assure you that the reception isn’t always as problematic and buzz-ridden as you hear in these archives. Then again, it can be much worse.

You don’t have to listen to the 49 meter band to know that the U.S.A. has a strange and superstitious dark side. But some of the crap you come across on that band sure does drive the point home. And sadly, shortwave signals still travel far beyond our borders. And this is what we broadcast to the world– our preoccupations with personal sins and lots of crackpot dogma. And thankfully, a little bluegrass.

 

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation – Part 12

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Brooklyn_air_kingWell, it’s been a frustrating week here at my little Brooklyn Radio HQ. The main reason is that AM & shortwave reception has been just TERRIBLE. To be honest, I haven’t really dug into the shortwave frequencies much over this last week or so, but several stations I expected to quickly find haven’t been there and others are barely readable. And I can tell you definitively that reception on the AM band has been really awful. Dependable clear channel stations across the dial from places like Louisville, Baltimore, Toronto and Charlotte have been sadly difficult to discern out of the noise. Then again, there also seems to be a number of competing stations stepping on these AM giants, and barely audible stations I’m not familiar with have been showing up at other spots on the dial too. As I’ve made clear, I’m no radio scientist and I’ve decided not to spend a bunch of hours researching what’s going on out there so I might seem to know what I’m talking about. But what I can tell you is that for the last week or two there’s been a BIG change in radio propagation out there on medium and shortwave, but I’m sure that will all change again soon. If you’re interested, there may be some information on what’s been happening in outer space that’s altering radio reception here and perhaps at a few of these links here as well.

Then again, this is what makes listening to SW and AM interesting and drives some listeners crazy as well. It’s unpredictable. When some dependable stations can’t be found, often others that are often impossible to hear can be received. It’s an old and sometimes unreliable technology. You’ve gotta love it somehow to participate, and here in the short attention span US of A you’re in a minority if you do. If you care, go ahead and celebrate yourself. By the way, I also found an interesting primer on shortwave listening this week on the web here. And this guy had an interesting DX blog that he seems Panda_dial1to have unfortunately abandoned which is still worth checking out. And here’s another interesting radio blog that someone sent me a link to as well.

The idea of this particular arc of blog posts has been to comb through the HF bands from my NYC home and attempt to ascertain the source of each frequency. Which brings me to my other big frustration– the research to make this happen.

These days the established shortwave bands have expanded a bit, and you find broadcasts before and after the official allotment for each band on the radio dial. In this post, the last station logged (Radio Tirana in Albania) is actually just past the high end of the 49 meter band (6200 kHz). I also logged a number of frequencies after that, however I spent WAY too many hours last night attempting to identify several stations and found nothing on the might internet that could assist me in any way. The radio I was using, the BCL-2000 is a single conversion receiver infamous for picking up distorted or weakened “images” of more powerful frequencies on erroneous spots on the dial. However, I’ve only experienced this problem in an obvious way on the AM dial, and I’m not sure if I could pick up a series of these images in a row on shortwave. So, if any of you more experienced SW listeners could assist me in getting an idea of what I might have picked up Wednesday night, March 1 between 7 and 8 p.m. EST at 6250 or 6295 (in Spanish), or 6375 (unknown language), 6415 (German), and 6555 (English probably from the U.S.) please send me an email here, or post a comment on this post. Any information or ideas would be greatly appreciated. And in general, please correct me if I’ve Shortwave_receiver_schematic_1made some dumb error in my logging in this post. While I do the best I can, I’m an amateur at best and I’m not ashamed to get a little guidance from better informed radio folks. Again, you can email me here.

Anyway, here’s the rest of the 49 meter band scan recording from early evening 03-01-06 recorded here in NYC with my BCL-2000. I’m just using the whip antenna it came with and the recording is unedited. Nothing astounding here, just a typical night on the 49 meter band that almost anybody in the eastern U.S. could have picked up with an inexpensive shortwave set that evening. Unless I get some further elucidation on the frequencies I mentioned in the previous paragraph I’ll go on to another shortwave band next week.

Segment 2-49 Meter Band (5920 to 6215 kHz) 03-01-06  17:40

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Dw_logo 6075 – Deutsche Welle

Broadcasting in German, from Germany. They also broadcast from seven different relay sites around the world, and in many languages. It’s the news, apparently talking about our fearless leader visiting India.

6085 – WYFR (Family Radio)

Another one of those Christian wastes of bandspace on the shortwave dial, broadcasting from Florida USA. All you get here is a snippet of churchy singing. Hallelujah, amen and all that.

Scott_eyes_1 6090 – The Carribean Beacon (on the island of Anguilla)

It’s Dr. Gene Scott, who you can almost ALWAYS find on shortwave, usually on a few frequencies. Which is quite a feat considering he’s not really alive these days.

Actually, Dr. Scott just left the planet last year, and for a few months I was hearing a woman (which I believe was his most recent wife, Melissa Pastore) continuing his… ah, work on the radio. But lately, it seems that his organization has decided to carry on his worldwide ministry with recordings of the wacky old guy himself. Going through the dial at night, you can hear Scott hale and hearty on one frequency, and croaky and near death on another. From the grave Dr. Scott is still shouting at his listeners to “GET ON THE PHONE!” and pledge him some dough.

And hell, nobody could really replace Gene Scott, not even his porn star turned evangelist widow. When he wasn’t talkin’ about the lord and savior, he might lecture for a while about UFO’s or discuss the mysteries of the pyramids at Giza (Just LOOK at his website, where you’ll find no reference to his death either). Besides being a bit of a crackpot who made his living sapping cash from his followers, he was also a loud-mouthed vulgar hard drinking "man’s man" kind of guy, and at times a rather likable one in some strange way. If you’re not familiar with Dr. Scott, here’s some flavor…

Nice, eh? You can read more anecdotes about Mr. Scott that were posted in his memory here ,here and here. More Gene Scott blogging and links can be found here, and more clips from his TV show are available at this site. Werner Herzog did an excellent documentary on Dr. Scott back in 1980 (the above clip is from that film), and is worth searching out if you’re in the mood for Gene’s particular brand of spirituality.

And although I’ve gone on here at length about Dr. Scott’s career, the clip of him in this scan is woefully short (a half minute) and in very poor fidelity. I’m not even sure what he’s talking about. Sorry. I heard him SO often on shortwave, and over the last few years he had taken to droning on and on more than shouting and misbehaving in any real entertaining fashion. My general habit has been to keep scanning when I come across his voice on the dial, and that’s what happened here. I’m sure I have a some more compelling radio recordings of Dr. Scott around here somewhere.When and if I find one I’ll try to post it here. He was an interesting character.

6100 – Radio Canada International

It’s French. Something about television.

Ascension_bbc_relay 6110 – BBC World Service

Broadcasting from their relay at Ascension Island in South Atlantic. Language unknown (to me).  Strange reverb on this one.

6135 – Deutsche Welle

In in German again. However, this time it’s coming from one of their relay sites in Portugal. Coming in clearly. Talking about Bosnia-Herzegovina…

6145 – NHK (Japan’s world service)

In English. Just the sound of this intrigued me right away. The sunny naivety of this woman at first made me think I was tuning into another Christian broadcast, but I was wrong. It’s the last episode of a monthly feature on Japan’s shortwave service– “Love and Hope For the Children.”

Agnes_chan You hear just the beginning of this feature, introduced by Agnes Chan of UNICEF. Lots of reverb and sweetness. It’s all about flowers in your heart. It would be easy to cynical or turn on the irony receptor when you hear somebody so earnestly discuss the concerns about children around the world in trouble. I mean, when you hear a politician invoke the concerns of children you KNOW there’s an ulterior agenda. However, despite Ms. Chan’s almost unbearable sweetness, the topic is quite serious. There are many children all over the world in horrible circumstances. Yet, when I hear her say on the radio that it’s nice to see me again and thanking me for listening to this “show” over the whole year, I have to wonder why she either wasn’t coached on the realities of radio, or utilized on this series as a guest instead of a presenter. Nonetheless, she’s more real than just about anyone you’ll hear here in the USA. And that’s a good thing, to me.

6165 – Radio Netherlands

Dutch_royal_feud A review of the news and the beginning of a documentary in English. Radio Netherlands is a comprehensive international service in the mold of the BBC World Service. I’ve heard some great documentaries on shortwave (in English!) from Radio Netherlands over the years. They’re impressive, and one of the few international broadcasters that still make shortwave listening an informative and pleasant pastime.

Before the documentary on ethnic prejudice kicks in, they’re discussing a new scandal in the Dutch royal family. Apparently, a “princess” has returned to the fold after making secret tape recordings of conversations and arguments with the queen and apologized for making them. It all sounds rather seedy and a bit sad. As an American, I have a hard time understanding why some western democracies continue to embrace “royal” families and give a rat’s ass about what they say or do. In general, I’m all for tradition, but the ongoing narratives concerning kings, queens, princes and princesses seem so irrelevant and lacking in news value that I gotta wonder why anybody cares.

Rnamazonia_1 6180  – Radio Nacional Amazonia (Brazil)?

This is a bit of mess, but adjusting the antenna I believe I’m receiving some domestic shortwave from Brazil. Some singing here. It sure ain’t English. Very faint, by the way.

Radio_tirana 6215 – Radio Tirana (Albania)

From what I can tell, this is a broadcast in Albanian from Albania. I recently read a rumor online that Radio Tirana was getting rid of their English broadcasts on shortwave. I hope that’s not true. Albania, we need you!– in some small Balkan way.

Other posts in this series can be found here.

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 3

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

Rf2200_2Very few Americans listen to shortwave radio these days.Except for a brief popularity of including shortwave bands on late 70′s and early 80′s boomboxes, almost no general purpose radios sold in America receive shortwave. If you’re interested in hearing shortwave radio you need to go out and purchase a special receiver just for that purpose. However, before the rise of the FM band in the 1960′s, shortwave was a standard feature on many everyday radios in the U.S. Around the world shortwave radio remains a viable and important part of the media landscape. In some African countries almost every home has a shortwave receiver of some kind. And in many European and Asian countries well over half of the homes have a radio with shortwave band coverage.

Before satellite communications and the internet, the only way regular folks could hear broadcasts from around the world was shortwave radio. While AM (or medium wave) broadcasts reach a radius of hundreds of miles at night by bouncing of the ionosphere, with shortwave the effect is greatly increased and signals may travel thousands of miles, and even around the world. It’s not all that difficult to pick up international broadcasts from Australia and New Zealand here in the U.S.

Unfortunately, most of the shortwave stations now operating in the United States are Christian propaganda outlets (although some do feature some non-religious broadcasting on their schedules). However internationally, shortwave remains an important source for news, information and Sackville_towers_1 cultural features. Many countries (including the U.S.) have state run international radio networks that broadcast in many languages. And although there are fewer than there used to be, many are still operating powerful transmitters that can be heard broadcasting English language programs that reach North America..

While in future posts I may talk about some of the more obscure and annoying broadcasts out there (as well as a possible disscussion or two about the receivers themselves), this post will just include the audio from a few stations I picked up Christmas night twisting the knob on my Sony ICF-7600A up in the Hudson Valley. I wouldn’t call any of this DXing. Except for The Voice of Russia, all the radio I’ve archived here originated from the North American region. For example, the Chinese and Japanese programs captured here were broadcast from relay transmitters located in Sackville, New Brunswick.

Almost any shortwave radio worth anything (away from noisy electronics and city RF) should be able to copy these stations late at night here on the east coast. These broadcasts were received after 11 p.m. locally on the 49 meter band (5.9 to 6.2 MHz), which along with the 41 meter band (7.1 to 7.35 MHz) are usually the busiest shortwave bands at night.

So, if you listen to these MP3 samples, you get an idea what it might have been like if you had turned to your shortwave the other night for your media intake, instead of cable TV or the internet. What’s left out? All the damn Bible bangers spewing ignorance and fables across the dial. When they’re not humorous, it’s just plain sad.

1. China Radio International  17:58  

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The host (Paul James) is a Canadian. It’s not uncommon for international broadcasters to hire native speakers for their foreign language service. It’s “People in the Know,” a news-magazine program featuring some reflection here on the Bali bombings and the anniversary of the tsunami catastrophe one year ago.

In general, CRI broadcasts are almost always quite cheerful. You NEVER hear anything critical of the Chinese government or their policies on CRI. And although there is some criticism of the U.S. from time to time, it’s nothing like the cold war days when the international broadcasters of the west and the communist countries would incessantly criticize “the enemy” (each other). It was more exciting…

2. NHK Radio Japan pt 1  7:23

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The news– more on the anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami. And there was a major train derailment in Japan. Apparently North Korea has been abducting Japanese folks to cause trouble and make some money, and Japan is not happy about it. And for the first time in a long time, the economy in Japan is looking up.

3. Radio Habana Cuba  11:25

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Here, the cold war continues. The absurd and decades old U.S. government animosity toward Cuba makes every day at Radio Habana Cuba another day of heavy criticism of American policy. The Iraq War and the inhumanity of the Bush Administration gives them plenty to talk about. Here you hear Radio Habana get their kicks in, denouncing the recent revelations regarding the NSA spying on American citizens and the U.S. torturing “enemy combatants” on Cuban soil at Guantanamo. Special guest star in this recording– Fidel Castro.

4. Voice of America pt 1  6:57

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It’s the home team. The is a VOA broadcast aimed at English speakers in Africa, where it’s morning. Unlike any other country, the U.S. sponsored radio network is not allowed to broadcast directly to American citizens. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t eavesdrop on what we’re beaming overseas.

It’s news and weather. African weather. The news– looking back at the hurricane disasters on the Gulf Coast on the U.S. There’s a promo for a show called “Only in America” where they might talk about such typically American topics like “fast food” or “grizzly bears.” Sounds a like a damn cute program.

What you’re hearing is how America presents itself to ordinary Africans, at least ones who speak English.

5. Voice of Russia  16:38

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Back during the cold war, when this was “Radio Moscow,” it was so much more fun. Like China, Russia’s shortwave broadcasts are much friendlier these days. In this recording you get the heartwarming reflections of a cosmonaut, talking about what it’s like to hang out and fool around inside a space station.

6. NHK Radio Japan pt 2  3:58

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A Japanese professor talking about how you can turn your television into a super-duper internet device– one to many to many communications. Will the future be a communication wonderland, or an information maelstrom? As if cell phones hadn’t already caused enough problems.

7. Voice of America pt 2  16:16

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A snippet of official U.S. propaganda, a short bio of Harry Truman, a bit about Kwanza and then “Daybreak Africa” a thirty minute BBC/NPR-like news magazine on issues and politics of the African continent. The bumper music is a bit more lively than NPR.

If these samples of shortwave interest you, but you don’t have a shortwave radio, you might want to check out “The Shortwave Report.” It’s a half-hour weekly radio show that compiles news and features from major shortwave broadcasts around the world. You can download them right here. It’s a nice service.

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)