This post features a few highlights from a few listening sessions from the second weekend in October of last year. I was holed up in an efficiency cottage south of Albany, and it was the last time I really had a few days to scan the bands. As I said before, when I get out of the city is when I try to listen to radio in a more meaningful fashion. For one, there’s more time without the interruptions and diversions of being home. But more importantly there’s less radio noise in lower population density areas which makes picking up distant stations more likely.
I’ve made a couple trips upstate since October, but each time I’ve stayed at a chain motel that seems to be impervious to radio waves. I assume under the concrete the damn thing was a steel building. I have actually featured radio I heard on those trips in this blog series, but if you must know the truth I recorded those listening sessions in a car sitting in the motel parking lot.
I know, I AM a geek. I kept envisioning a cop rolling up and wondering what I’m doing with a slightly exotic radio and a tape recorder out in a parking lot on a winter night. Probably receiving instructions from Al Qaeda...
Anyway, I didn’t really tune into anything especially amazing or unprecedented on that trip. Listening/recording sessions in years past have been more fruitful (and I hope to go through some of those tapes for future posts). But that weekend the noise level wasn't so bad, and the dial was full of voices. And I heard some interesting and disgusting radio, a little bit of which I will share with you here.
On part three of this series, a reader left a comment that he had been given a shortwave for Christmas, and was “kind of disappointed,” remarking that even late at night most of what he was able to pick up was “Christian stuff or Spanish language stations.” And that kind of thing can be a real problem for somebody who is curious about shortwave radio and tries listening to it for the first time.
For one thing, a majority of what you’ll hear moving across the dial (besides static from gadgets and wiring) is either not in English, or is some Christian garbage you wish was in an unfamiliar language. That’s because shortwave in America is mostly Christian propaganda, AND most of the rest of the world uses shortwave for information and entertainment, and most of the world's listeners aren’t native English speakers.
Let’s face it, if you know another langauge, or several of them, you’re at real advantage listening to shortwave. But If you’re a pathetic unilingual American like myself, you’re probably going to search out broadcasts in English. Although now and then I stop twisting the turing knob for a bit when I hear some Asian, Latin or African music I like. When the music's good, I’m not so concerned that I don’t know what hell they’re talking about. And while some of the major languages aren't so hard to identify (or at least I think I have a good idea of the region of origin). Here in New York, you hear a lot of languages and a lot of accents. But sometimes when I’m listening to shortwave I’ll stop at and listen and realize I don’t have A CLUE of what language it is or where it might be spoken. The BBC itself broadcasts in over thirty languages.
But the other thing about shortwave is that LATE at night is not necessarily the best time to DX shortwave, or listen to English Broadcasts. AM can be great for DXing late at night, but shortwave is better in the early evening for a number of reasons. Generally, that’s when a lot of international broadcasters “beam” their English broadcasts toward North America. By then it's getting dark in Europe and Africa, and it's when they assume people would be home and listening– from the dinner hour to the “prime-time” television part of the evening. While not as many countries spend time and money catering to American audiences as in the past (They know most Americans DON’T listen), there are still a number of (typically state-run) stations around the world who do broadcast in English for a few minutes to a few hours everyday. And most aren’t going to go all the effort and have the show run here in the middle of the night.
If you’re new to shortwave radio, or are thinking about messing around with one, the best thing to do is to spend some time on the internet doing some research. Read the experiences of other listeners, read reviews of the radios, and possible check out some stations that stream their programing. Not only that, but you might want to check out a number of sites that feature lists of English broadcasts from around the world. You probably won’t be able to receive most of them, but you’ll have an idea when and where to look on the dial.
Or you can just scan the dial, like I often do. While a digital reciever is good for finding specific frequencies, it’s much easier to find busy sections of the bands with by wheeling through with an analog tuner. Many digital radios do have automated scanning, but don’t depend on that dig out far away signals, and they stop on RF noise just as much in the city.
So, here’s a few clips from that weekend in October. I was listening with one of my favorite radios, my Panasonic RF-2200. It’s from the late 70's and it’s one of the best analog portables around. They regularly go for $200 or more on ebay. There’s a lot of ‘em out there, and it’s a workhorse that has amazing AM reception and great shortwave reception too.
Here’s a few clips that I found kind of sad. Sometimes a listening session ends up being more of an overview of what’s going on in the world, rather than a fishing trip you’ll brag about. And during this weekend, there were two disasters– an earthquake in Pakistan, and horrific mudslides in Guatamala. And it was just over a month since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. As Ken had mentioned in a recent post, if you throw in the Indian Ocean Tsunami from the end of the 2004, there was just a horror of natural disasters around the world within one year. And when things are bad around the world, the shortwave radio is still an important source for news, and perspectives on the news from countries and cultures around the world.
And speaking of disasters, shortwave is also a good way to hear a lot of good old fashioned American ignorance. Like in this first clip.
This is a fairly new show on WBCQ, one of the few stations (I think there’s one other one) that ISN’T a Christian outfit. However, they have to pay the bills one way or another. While there’s some cool programs on WBCQ, sadly there’s also been plenty of ignorance, hate and stupidity broadcast from their Maine transmitter over the last few years. Sometimes American shortwave is like the worst open-mic night on Earth.
I didn’t make out the name of the host of “Creation Nation,” but it doesn’t seem that important. But you have to wonder what inspires this character do a whole show about how much he and the good lord really hate homos. And what is that accent? Philly? Sounds to me like a guy who might have made a wreck of his life and then "found" Jesus. Or maybe he’s just an extremely closeted self-hating kind of person. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Creation Nation” is where “intelligent minds meets intelligent design.” And how does that happen? Well, it’s simple. He tells you “what immorality is like, and how not to follow it.” In fact everything he says is simple. He’s a simple man. And hey if this guys nasal recitation of passages from Leviticus does inspire any homosexuals to turn away from their abominable misdirected lifestyle, all they have to do is say out loud: “Jesus I’m a sinner.. Forgive me, make me new again,” and crap like that and POOF that queer desire is gone forever. Christianity is SO easy.
And then, in a compassionate moment he asks his listeners to pray for the non-listeners, you know, the whole world. But he wants us to especially pray for the hurricane victims and the “old people who are going to freeze this winter” because they can’t afford heating oil. He doesn’t mention if the prayers will warm them up any, but maybe a few more will get into heaven or something.
And remember, this station is heard around the world. It’s SO sad that there are the types of Americans who's words reach thousands of miles beyond our borders. Why? Well, time on WBCQ is quite affordable (cheap!) from what I’ve heard. Hey, if YOU want to put together some worldwide radio yourself, call up Allan Weiner! (Former radio pirate and the boss over at WBCQ) If a bunch of fans of WFMU bought time on WBCQ the shortwave landscape in this country would be noticeably improved. AND you can sell advertising! What the hell. Think about it. You could even make money. Change the world! The possibilities are endless.
(I have no financial interest in WBCQ)
The reception here is a little noisy, but it’s the best I could get at the time. There was a bit of antenna adjusting going on.
After Katrina, 18 Louisiana stations, and one shortwave station in South Carolina formed a temporary network to serve the region during a time of trouble and inform the region and the world what was going on after the disaster. (Based at WWL the big news/talk station in New Orleans, The United Broadcasters Of New Orleans ceased to exist November 4.) It was a unique response to a crisis, and highlights what real radio (as compared to satellite services and internet streaming) can still do better than any other form of broadcasting– provide real service to a region of the world.
I heard quite a bit of that weekend over shortwave, and here’s one segment of that. A lot of what I heard was talk hosts fielding calls from hurricane victims with questions about what to do, and callers telling their stories of personal loss. For example, a woman in this clip complains about how she doesn’t know what to do with the 2 cars, an SUV and a boat that washed up in her yard.
And there’s plenty of disaster public service announcments warning people about the dangers of mold and poisonous flood waters, and information about how they can be reunited with their house pets.
The hosts are in good cheer here for the most part, and their New Orleans accents are authentic and somehow reassuring. While New Orleans culture and spirit won’t be killed by all this, the city is crippled for many years and will NEVER be the same.
Af the very end I turn to an adjacent Catholic broadcast talking about some Catholic energy bubbling over at an Louisiana evacuation center after Katrina. Amen.
Smarmy. That’s the best word I can think of. Smug, glib, and just in general somebody who thinks he’s far more intelligent than he really is. Not that he’s not good at what he does, up to a point. I just find him consistantly repulsive, and not a deep thinker. Thankfully, no stations in the NYC market carry his spew lately.
This is creepy radio. Apparently, Beck had asked on the air for somebody who tortures for a living to call in and talk about it. I believe this clip starts pretty early in a call from “Mitch” (which he eventually says is a pseudonym) who claims to be an “intelligence officer” who has tortured people on behalf of the U.S. government for three decades.
Is he for real? I’m not sure. Could be an act, or worse. Might be telling the truth. But the matter of fact manner in which he discusses blowing out eardrums with a high pressure hose and drilling on live teeth is enough to make you depressed, if not ill. Whether it's a put-on or not, "Mitch" is a convincing immoral asshole. A perfect fit for the Glenn Beck program.
Obviously titillated by the gruesome topic at hand, Beck tries not to giggle too much while making jokes and lobbing softball questions at Mitch to assist him in justifying his theoretically sickening career. Beck says he was put off by the miscreant behavior of U.S. soldiers and contractors at Abu Gharib. Not that all the torture was so bad, but he was offended by all that “kid stuff.” (Perhaps those pyramids of naked prisoners reminded him of his high school days or something.) According to Beck, if we’re going submit people to cruel and unusual punishment, we should get “pros” to do it. You don’t want some amateur blasting out eardrums incorrectly. Somebody might get hurt.
By the way, this was a Saturday late night re-broadcast of a Friday morning show (which was discussed on this page at Media Matters For America) broadcast on WPHT-AM in Philadelphia. Late at night there are actually very few right-wing shows on the air. Which is a relief. (And the world IS a better place since whiney and miserable Steve Malzberg lost his overnight gig on WABC.) However, a few stations replay daytime Republican propaganda talk shows overnight-- because they’re too damn cheap to hire a real person to fill that slot.
That’s all for now. And hey, think about putting on your own shortwave radio show. The world needs you!
Thanks for listening.
(Other posts in this series can be found here)