Very 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 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 in this series 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 (download MP3 here)
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 1 (download MP3 here)
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 (download MP3 here)
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 1 (download MP3 here)
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 (download MP3 here)
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 2 (download MP3 here)
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 2 (download MP3 here)
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.