Radio for Superpowers and the Super Stupid

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Here’s some more transmissions out of my grab bag of Hudson Valley reception that I started going through in the last post. Reception was solid and the ambient RF noise was quite low. I wish I had more time to receive when I was there. As I mentioned a couple posts ago, the growing political friction between the US and Russia was sure to bring back some flavor of the cold war to shortwave listening. And as you can hear in this first extended clip, that’s already happening.

Voice of Russia – 9480kHz 0206 UTC 08-28-08  62:38

(download)

It’s the Voice of Russia, otherwise known as “Radio Moscow” back in the Soviet Era. For thirty years, they’ve maintained a 24-hour English language radio service, with an emphasis on reaching North Americans. And in this hour or so of the Voice of Russia from late August, you hear news and opinion presented Radio Moscow style– with the leading headlines and featured commentaries focused on ongoing political and military differences with the US and NATO. Of course, the main points of contention are the recent conflicts in Georgia and the two provinces Russia has since sucked away.

And despite all the changes in Russia and the new mob glamor of Moscow, their international English language radio service almost sounds like it’s popped out of a time capsule buried decades ago. The news sounders are ancient, and the announcers all sound so disciplined, clipped and old fashioned. Listen to the political “analyst” who skewers the west in the “News and Views” segment. He has that cigarette-roasted-larynx sound I kind of miss on the radio. You just don’t hear that warm Pall Mall “voice of authority” in amplitude modulation much these days. The AM dial used to be full of that sound. Too bad those smokers don’t live a little longer.

I don’t know enough about hardware or physics to know why, but it seems to me that Radio Moscow (and now the Voice of Russia) has always had a particular “sound” to their signal– a particular texture to the radio waves as they come ashore here. And it seemed to be kind of a closed shop, without much more than a handful of announcers who seemed to stay on the air for decades. I think I recognize a couple from my Radio Moscow listening back in the 1980’s.

And lets face it, any government putting up the dough for an external broadcasting service has a direct hand in the news and information it presents. Typically the slant is subtle, and the news and editorial content is a mixed bag. However the vibe of the broadcasting here is much more like you would have heard in the Soviet era, with unmistakable defiance toward America. I suppose you could get so swallowed up in Putin’s soulful stare that you might just miss that breakaway province-size chip on his shoulder. 

Then in the middle of this hour is one of their many sprawling mythic Russian history/heritage features, of which the Voice of Russia seems to have an endless supply (Who knows how old they are? And I wonder if they’re still producing new ones?) As usual the classical music is thick the voices are rich. When the orchestra is really flying and the boomy baritone guy jumps in, it’s as high fidelity as you’re going to get from five thousand miles away. And when the music is dense on the signal like this, you can really hear the ghostly pulsing of the skywaves rushing in and falling back. This is shortwave radio, done in a traditional style. The way mom used to make it. If they didn’t mention websites and email addresses, you might think it was 1979.

However, right before this side of the tape ends, the ever-chipper Estelle Winters chimes in with an update on all the happenings in fun and fab Moscow (or something like that). Alas, it’s actually 2008 and she just doesn’t have that grumpy Soviet sound.

Voice of America – 7340kHz 0312UTC 08-28-08  18:10

(download)
                                           
Officially, the Voice of America is our country’s official propaganda channel on the shortwave dial. VOA fact, it started out as a division of the “Office of War Information” during World War II. Their original mission was to counter the worldwide presence of Nazi propaganda on shortwave (and later as a radio bulwark against the old “Iron Curtain” states). But these days the U.S. Government focuses specific foreign radio (and TV) services to states we don’t like so much (in their native language), like Radio Marti (for Cuba) and Radio Farda (for Iran). From what I’ve heard in recent years, the English language service of the Voice of America sounds rather dowdy and seems fairly apolitical these days (I wonder if their Russian service is more strident?). The presentation is a little dry and sparse, which is fine with me. But it does sound like there’s been some budget cuts over the last few years.

Of course the signal isn’t aimed our way, and the reception is somewhat hollow and fady considering the distance. The scratchy sound you hear in the beginning is me, adjusting the active antenna. It goes away… and comes back briefly as I try to clarify the signal a bit later. A better antenna or radio could have nulled out the other station bleeding in.

This is “Daybreak Africa,” a daily news-magazine program which typically is pretty heavy with news and issues on the African continent, but as the Democratic convention is coming to a close there’s a big focus here on what’s happening in Denver.

The U.S. Presidential election is big news around the world this time around, especially in Africa where many in the Sub-Saharan region feel a literal kinship with Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya. There’s a short feature from Senegal about how locals there view the U.S. election. The guy says he’s doubtful Americans would accept a President with African ancestry. Another man watches Obama speak a couple times a week on TV, and he thinks he’s both an eloquent speaker and a gentlemen. (Personally, I think the fact that our President for the last seven years is neither has everything to do with all the international interest in the election. Even more than Obama’s racial profile.) But of course, beyond the worldwide antipathy toward Bush and Cheney there’s a real excitement around the world that a member of an oppressed minority in America possibly getting the high office.

While VOA is official U.S. external radio service to the world, the unofficial (and much more prevalent) American radio services to the world comes from the vast number of Christian broadcasters, on both American soil and stationed around the world.

And while I’m there are a number of shortwave broadcasts from every continent featuring religious content, Christians far outnumber any belief system on American radio stations– local, national or international. And while it’s hard to begrudge “evangelists” (or whatever they are) from communicating or communing with their radio “flock,” there is an element of “fleecing” the weak and ignorant for money that’s distasteful (but hell, it works for public radio…). The really extra-creepy business about Christianity on the radio is the “missionary” factor. They’re out to convert everyone. Which is not only crass (if not gauche) in practice, but also a divisive mindset that is both anti-culture and anti-intellectual. And their mythology and anti-enlightenment rides atop the vast majority of short radio waves bouncing away from our continent into homes around the globe.

One of those afternoons upstate, I made a cup of coffee and turned on the shortwave radio and heard the following conversations. And maybe I’m more sensitive these days, but instead of chuckling off these two clowns, I found who the discussion both strange and depressing. So I started a tape, to share with you.

WWCR Nashville, TN – Warning with Jonathan Hansen 12160kHz 08-29-08  2028 UTC  7:34

(download)

This clip features a couple of these defacto ambassadors of U.S. intolerance. Although the host and his guest bemoan the loss of “Judeo-Christian values” in America, make no mistake about it, these guys are authoritarian WASP trash. Period. The use of the word “Judeo” may be a polite nod to the Jewish roots of Christianity, but they don’t like the Jews any more than they like Catholics or Buddhists or thinkers. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in their minds the best elements of Judaism just gradually begat the Bible Belt-style Protestant movement of the U.S. of A, thanks to Jesus and the Pilgrims (and that swell bible King James wrote…)

What you’re actually hearing here is a radio/TV show called “Warning.” The host– Jonathan Hansen, a bush league doomsday evangelist. Of course, he’d rather you just call him a prophet. And if Protestant prophesy is your game, you gotta get out there and call for the painful and messy end to humanity.

A strong cult of apocalypticism that runs through Protestant America. It’s bad enough that they can’t quit talking about blood and fear and martyrdom, but the fact that guys like this gets a constant hard on by talking and thinking about suffering all the time should tell you everything you need to know. Although it’s an old game (or fetish?), there’s something particularly American about this strange and viral brand of Christianity. It all dovetails with the isolated xenophobia of pale-Americans and their old-fashioned heartland jingoism. Ultimately is that special American spirit, that we’re just better than everybody else, especially if you’re a Christian. And you get extra points if you become a follower of a doomsday nutbag, like Hansen. (If you’re a glutton for punishment, you might wanna check out his website. However, he doesn’t call it "Warning" for nothing. Watch out. Hansen is out to "shake you with a shake that has never shaken you before!" Sounds a little shakey…)

And finally, notice that same paranoia about the coming New World Order I discussed in the last post. While it’s equally as dark as the new high-tech paranoia of Alex Jones disciples or the UFO/alien obsessed, the Christian fear of the New World Order is even more bizarre in that they actually looking forward to more wars and famines and natural disasters. Things just never quite bad enough for these folks, the want more DEATH until sweet Jesus steps out of the sky to save the day. Or is it that they float up in the sky to meet him? I can’t remember how that all works.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I think that the more you think about that garbage, the more you encourage them. Or perhaps get a little infected by the stupidity yourself. But the main thing, is that these people want to tribalize the world. The USA Jesus tribe versus everyone else: The foreigners. And the apostates and heathens and demons. And the Muslims. And especially all the brown people, everywhere.

I don’t want to go so far as to say religion is a disease. I understand it’s often a comfort and traditions are important to people. But I am convinced that evangelical Christianity is most certainly a personality disorder, if not an outright mental illness. There’s an old adage that used to get a lot more play a few decades ago– "God is Love." Which makes me think of John Lennon, and that idea kind of made sense to me. A god who might be something like "love" seems a lot more reasonable than a higher power who’s just an ill-tempered sky geezer on a power trip. Or maybe I’ve been looking at all this wrong way– taking the phrase literally somehow instead of enjoying it’s full Orwellian flavor– War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength: God is Love. Got it. Maybe that’s what the pope was talking about.

So, let’s end this post on a high note, with some music.

7190 Tunisia RTV 0615 UTC 08–29-08

(download)

Here’s some Arabic music from the north coast of Africa, including a version of Happy Birthday in there somewhere. There’s some fading at one point and I try to adjust the antenna again, adding noise. Then the station comes back. It’s a half-million watts. Hard to stop this signal.

The reception is poor, and then OK again. The music is fine. And the best part? Mr. Hansen and his globetrotting missionary friend would surely dislike this show and this music.  And they’d rather you and I are perpetually unhappy– looking forward to death. So, I say– enjoy the music. Enjoy the noise. Enjoy life until death, for god’s sake. Get a clue.

And did you hear? Bill Maher has a new movie coming out.

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 21

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Porch_bright_1 This the final installment of the 31 meter band scan I began two weeks ago, recorded June 2, 2006. As I said before, it was a rewarding romp thorough one of the dozen or so allotted shortwave bands and seems to portend that there will be lots of eventful DXing to come with my new little shortwave portable (the Degen 1103).

People who know I blog about DXing think I must have a lot of radios at home. And I do, I suppose, compared to most people. Just looking about my room here, I  see over a dozen or so. And there’s certainly more than that tucked away as well. I’d guess that two thirds of them have shortwave, as well as AM and FM. To me, a radio isn’t all that special if I can’t turn in on and hear more than just local stations. Any radio does that.

But I’m not a big collector. I don’t have the space, money or time for that. In fact, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve gotten some decent receivers. I’ve almost always had at least a couple of radios that received shortwave around, but they were typically Radio Shack portables, or boomboxes with shortwave bands. You can certainly whet your appetite for shortwave and DXing with any number of nominal receivers, but without spending a lotta dough you can graduate up to a more sensitive set or two and be assured you’ll find some interesting signals from far over the horizon now and then. And I’ve had a lot of fun doing just that working on these blog posts over the last few months.

It’s time for me to take a little summer hiatus, but while I’m away I’ll be DXing out in the midwest, recording some reception to be posted here. I’m bringing a few radios and lots of batteries. And I’ll hope you can join me here again at that time. Meanwhile here’s most of the rest of that dial scan. It’s the high end of the 31 meter band, recorded the evening of June 2, starting where we left off last week. Here’s the first link… 

Segment 4-31 Meter Band (9805 to 9885 kHz)  32:07

(download)

9805 – VOA (relay from Morocco)

Unknown language. Arabic?

Rhc_logo 9820 – Radio Habana Cuba

In English, not nearly as clear as their broadcasts on 6000 kHz. News, like the Bush Administration bullying Chile to vote against Venezuela at the U.N.

9830 – Hrvatska Radio (Croatia)

Croation, I suppose.

9835 – BBC World Service?

I believe this is a from a relay in South Africa, broadcasting in Swahili. Something about Bird Flu (the H5N1 virus).

9845 – BBC World Service?

If I’m right, this is BBC broadcasting from Cyprus this time, in Arabic. Nice place for a relay to the Middle East. The sun never sets on those BBC relays.

9855 – The Voice of America? (from Morocco)

In Arabic? It’s a male announcer, and another station with a female announcer (which I believe is a bleed over from the Voice of Russia just 5kHz up the dial) stomping on this signal, as well as an obnoxious buzz washing over the whole mess.

9860 – The Voice of Russia

Russia_piano This is Russia’s English service. Old fashioned radio, Eastern European style. Some former Soviet bloc countries, Russia in particular, are very TRADITIONAL with their English language international service. Many of the announcers I hear now, were on the air a couple of decades ago, including the narrator of the historic tale included here.

He’s talking about OLD Russian history, Ivan the Terrible and the 13th century, all embellished with rich and historic musical interludes.

9865 – The Voice of America (from Morocco again)

Arabic pop music, I guess. Nice. Although it’s not easy to hear VOA broadcasts in the U.S., it’s obvious they’re out there, broadcasting in languages like Arabic.

9880 – The Voice of Russia (From Armenia)

In English. Now it’s a narrative on the 4th century Russia with another announcer. Not sure if this is the same thing as we just heard on 9865.

9885 – VOA (From Botswana)

In English this time. In a “Today in History” moment Tony Collins brags about U.S. space walking. Funny isn’t it. The Russians dig many centuries deep into history to position themselves on international radio. The U.S. brags about their 1960’s scientific prowess.

And here’s the second MP3 for this post:

Segment 5-31 Meter Band (9905 to 9970kHz) 06-03-06  24:59

(download)

9905 – Radio Nile

Sudan Wow. A clandestine broadcast from Madagascar, in English! Not rock solid clear, but solid reception from the other side of the globe. This is actually a morning show in East Africa, specifically aimed at Sudan.

How to they have such a whopping signal? Funding. Formerly “Radio Voice of Hope” , Radio Nile is a broadcast service largely (if not entirely) funded by the Dutch government and a couple of Christian groups who actually seem to be interested in helping the underdogs, and promoting peace and democracy (unlike some of their U.S. counterparts). It’s run by the “New Sudan Council of Churches” in support of the southern rebels (mostly black), opposed to the official Sudanese government in the north (where the population is largely Arabic and Muslim).

The accents are thick, some of it is not in English and the reception throbs a bit, but it’s interesting listening if you give it some attention. In between reggae and African music the male and female hosts (passionately) discuss the ongoing civil war, religion and African and global politics.

I don’t know enough about the political situation in and around Sudan to say all that much about it, but with shortwave you can hear directly from concerned parties who are directly affected by the suffering and injustice. In Africa, shortwave is alive and well. And the ability to pick up a broadcast in English, from a third world country over eight thousand miles away via the radio is still damn compelling to me. It’s the kind of thing that makes me power up my shortwave radios again and again. And that’s why there’s well over twenty minutes of Radio Nile on this recording.

Unity, equality, progress…

9915 – Radio Sultanate of Oman

Female announcer. Arabic, I think. Again, a strong signal from far away.

Rtrf_logo 9925 – Radio Television Belgium French

Unknown language. Male announcer.

9970 – Radio Television Belgium French

Same service. French this time. A whimsical whistling pop number, a female announcer, then a bad pop song.    

                  

That’s it. The end of a three week exploration into a couple of hours of traversing just one of the shortwave bands. I thought there was a lot there.

And thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 14

Monday, April 3rd, 2006

Brooklyn_window_1 This entry ends a four-post arc in this series offering a station by station breakdown of 49 and 41 meter (shortwave) band reception in Brooklyn March 1, 2006. The recording offered here features the second half of the 41 meter band, a very active segment of the alloted shortwave frequencies for international broadcasting, from just after 8:30 until around 9 p.m. EST (about 0133 to 0220 UTC). The radio I’m using is the cute and inexpensive BCL-2000, an occasionally drifty receiver with “image” issues, which happens to offer analog tuning with digital readout of frequency. Nothing fancy.

As far as the real world a month later, I’ve had rather a hectic week and the only significant time I’ve had to concentrate on shortwave or DXing has been spent reviewing the aircheck for this post. However, I can say that in my brief dips into radio reception around here that the difficulties I’ve had receiving many of the monster AM clear channel stations has returned to normal over the last week or so. And shortwave reception seems to be pretty good too.

Oh, and one other thing I wanted to pass on before getting right to the audio for this post. I ran into a Usenet thread in the rec.radio.shortwave group that might be of interest to some readers of this series. First contact with a shortwave radio can be a frustrating and/or disappointing experience. The reason people with an interest in shortwave radio spend so much time Yb400 researching propagation and frequencies (as well as actually logging reception), is because getting to know your way around the shortwave bands and scoring difficult to receive broadcasts is sort of a craft, a sport, even an art. But as I’ve repeatedly said, if you have a decent radio and follow some basic rules you won’t always be disappointed, and eventually you could be amazed. Rather than go into all the problems with location, interference, propagation and radios in general, you might want to take a look at this Usenet discussion. It’s launched by an earnest and diligent newbie who has just purchased a Grundig Yacht Boy YB-400 (a fairly inexpensive Chinese-made digital portable) and was NOT having a rewarding shortwave radio experience up in his New England condo. And in this thread (over 70 messages long) all sorts of savvy shortwave listeners offer tips, suggestions and personal experiences that cover almost all of the main points of what it takes to get a little performance out of a shortwave radio. Recommended.

Geographic_map_of_usenet_sites That said, I didn’t read every post in this thread, but from what I looked at most of the posts seemed informative and constructive. Rec.radio.shortwave, and the radio discussion groups in general on Usenet, are sadly prone to inane flame wars and childish off-topic garbage these days. Yet I still find this shortwave newsgroup to be a decent source for news and information. However, it’s not uncommon to see a reasonable discussion in that group turn worthless after one dopey post.

Speaking of that, I won’t ramble any longer. Here’s the other half of the 41 meter band-scan offered last week. Nothing as sonically pleasant as the Turkish music I featured, and there’s a number of nearly non-existent broadcasts in the mix on this recording. But it is unedited reception. It’s really what you might have heard that night on your own radio in the northeast U.S., except I’m the one who chose when to turn the dial.

Segment 2-41 Meter Band (7305 to 7545 kHz) 03-01-06

(download)

7305 – Vatican Radio

Holy stuff I’m sure. Sounded like Italian to me at first. But that’s kind of what Spanish with a heavy Italian accents sounds like when it’s a rather faint buzzy radio signal.

Lybie 7320 – Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting & BBC from Cyprus (unknown language)

Here’s an interesting accidental collage– emotional and frothy Arabic on top of a steadfast BBC newsreader. From all the handwringing I’d guess the Libyan broadcast is of a religious nature. The BBC fellow is very hard to read, but I do hear the word "Iraq" in there somewhere. The BBC signal is from a relay on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, while the Libyan broadcast is being relayed from central France.

7335 – Vatican Radio

Very faint, some language, again sounds like an Italian accent, VERY faint with Brooklyn RF taking its toll. Lots of buzz. Imagine you have a all sorts of tech tools to eliminate much of the inherent noise and gradually pull in a crappy signal like this and turn it into something cogent and you have an idea of what raw reception a serious DXer might contend with to log some distance or exotic catch.

Radio_prague_studio 7345 – Radio Prague

Rather faint, but present. Female newsreader. I believe might be Spanish with a Czech accent. Something about Californica. Fanfare right before I move up the dial.

7390 – Voice of Russia

Very difficult read, unknown language, slight buzz, thick whine. If you’re not annoyed by listening to this low-volume indistinct human voice within a wavering noise envelope like this (and could potentially have some interest in the nature of the content) then maybe you should pick up a shortwave radio, if you don’t already own one.                  

7400 – Radio Bulgaria

Nice and clear compared to what you just heard, although there is another distant broadcast chewing on the edges of this reception. Male and then a female speaking in an unknown language, and then a mediocre pop song kicks in.

Mic_of_america 7405 – Voice of America (from Greenville, NC)

This is the news in “Special English," a tradition on VOA. What’s special about it? It’s headlines read at slow pace and with a limited vocabulary. I assume this is somewhat similar to what the morning briefing for Mr. Bush might sound like.

Actually, the headlines in this segment are all concerning labor and economic issues in Latin America, the assumed target for the this broadcast.

7415  – WBCQ (Nothing…)

Here that silence! While there’s no discernable noise at 7415, there’s not any WBCQ Either. And that’s what I’ve been able to hear from WBCQ in Maine at this time on almost any given night for months now, which is a big disappointment. When 7415 powers up in the afternoon I can usually pick them up here in the city as before, but after dark “The Planet” has been MIA.

I’ve heard second-hand that the folks at WBCQ have said that their 7415 signal “hops” around the country and reception from further away has been much better than it has been here in the Northeast and Midwest. If somebody from the WBCQ posse, or just a more knowledable radio mind, can clear up what’s going on with 7415 lately, I’d like to know. Some of the more interesting shows on all of U.S. shortwave run on this frequency.

7475 Voice of Greece

Some ouzo drenched song stylings, in a mournful manner. And then an announcer…

7500 Radio Bulgaria

That thick whine, and some VERY quiet music and then a female announcer becomes more distinct. Unknown language, which I assume is Bulgarian but I don’t know. Another broadcast splatters in, not much else.

The_king 7505 – KTBN  Salt Lake City, UT

Now, for some real drama. Actually, it’s a documentary on one of one of the most famous military operations of post WWII era, "Operation Thunderbolt,” the 1976 Israeli hostage rescue mission at the Entebbe airport in Uganda.

Actually, KTBN is just mainly an audio feed from the “Trinity Broadcasting Network,” the biggest Christian TV network in the U.S. And do you think this is a regular feature on hostage rescues on TBN? Not likely.

While the Entebbe raid was a brave and incredible effort to save lives, to many it was armed conflict at its finest. And when you consider that it was also a major historical victory against a band of terrorists that had little if any international repercussions, you can see why the retelling of this harrowing and successful mission might also be a propaganda tool to bolster support for the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

7520 – WYFR (Worldwide Family Radio)

Very faint, which is fine as far as I’m concerned.

7545 – KOL Israel

Kol In Hebrew. Years ago I recall hearing quite a bit of English language programming from Israel, but in my casual listening over the last few years I don’t think I’ve heard much more than news headlines in English from Israel.

And the reception of this station kicks in with music. Which brings me to this observation. Sometimes, you can still get the gist of a the lyrics of a pop song without understanding a word of the language used. Here’s a possible case in point.

There seems to be an urgent narrative element to the song that begins this sampling of KOL. It’s my guess this is a story song, a hurrah to some brave Israeli person, town, or the country itself–. Something rousing with flutes!

Although this song is a much catchier tune, it reminds me of “The Ballad of Roger Young,” a right-wing folk song about a soldier who sacrifices his life to save his buddies, which I was forced to sing in elementary school. I seem to recall some screed about the glories of the Vietnam War attached to it by the music teacher as well.

I have a couple of Israeli albums I’ve found in thrift stores with songs celebrating the Six Day War that they sound quite a bit like this song. Then again, forgetting context I can imagine that it’s Yma Sumac belting out some seafaring theme song on a ship in a 50’s South Pacific action-adventure flick. If anybody who speaks Hebrew could enlighten me on the lyrics of this song, or the general content of this clip from Israel, I’m certainly curious.

Yma After the epic “yo-ho-ho” anthem, there’s some chatting, another rousing number, then more talk and the cheerful windup of the program with outro music. Then I believe there’s a several promos for some upcoming features, which sound very similar to advertising. Some fast paced productions, obviously promoting or selling something.

This ends this little review of the 41 meter band, including a few stations on either side of its official boundaries. Questions and comments can be left on this post, if appropriate, or you can send me an email. Other posts in this radio blog series can be found here. I’m very interested in corrections and translations, as well as general feedback.

Next week? Back to the AM dial I think. And in future posts I may just cherry pick a bunch of shortwave band-scans I’ve made here in Brooklyn with my old Zenith Transoceanic over the last few years, or maybe I’ll think of something else to talk about in the meantime. If you have any ideas, email me.

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  

(download)

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

(download)

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

(download)

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

(download)

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

(download)

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

(download)

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

(download)

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.)