Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shortwave Still Works, Part I

The other day I came across my old copy of The Complete Shortwave Listener's Handbook by Hank Bennett, long out of print, and spent a few minutes leafing through its pages.  Once upon a time shortwave radio really was the information superhighway, and if you followed it, you were very much in the know on world events, a bit ahead of everyone.

Reading the part of the book that introduced individual stations, I marvelled at the broadcasters who are gone, or mostly gone from the shortwaves.  Swiss Radio International.  Armed Forces Radio. The venerable BBC World Service.  Old friends I've spent hours with over the years.

Mostly a sense of nostalgia.  But also one of loss, as there was (and still is) a never-ending thrill over hearing a radio signal over the air from thousands of miles away.  As much of a fan as I am of web radio, it still doesn't have the magic of analog.

Yet looking through that book, it occurred to me that there still is shortwave radio to be heard, if one wants to take the trouble.  It isn't as plentiful, or as easy as it used to be (due to a variety of factors) but shortwave radio still works.

So, in the coming months I'll dust off the old shortwave sets and see what's out there to be hear.  And post about it here.

First off is a station that I think of as so near, and yet so far.  CBC Radio established a few shortwave outlets decades ago to provide service to Canada's hinterlands.   CKZU from Vancouver is one such station.  Located in Vancouver (about 150 miles from here) it is relatively low power (500 watts, per the World Radio TV Handbook) and beams CBC Radio One to rural British Columbia.   It used to be a regular visitor here in the Pacific Northwest; when I first came to Seattle in the late 1980s it put in a better signal than its CBU 690 KHz mediumwave counterpart.  But thanks to growing electrical noise and interference levels, it is rarer and rarer, and signals aren't nearly as strong as they used to be.

Here's the station on a recent tune-in during October 2011.

Not the best of signals, but listenable, at least with headphones.

I don't know why, but it makes me more optimistic about the world to know that I can still turn on my shortwave receiver and reach out to hear the world.  I don't do it as much as I used to, but maybe it's time I went on a little rediscovery tour.

I hope you'll join me in my quest to rediscover the shortwave dial.


shortwavemusic said...

Looking forward to it!

Michael said...

Great start to your series! I have similar fond memories. BBC, VOA and Deutsche Welle's Africa services used to come in loud and strong during local lunchtime- I used to make a sandwich and sit on my porch and listen to the public health alerts, regional news and, on the half hour, African music somedays on VOA. Then at night I would be amazed by the plethora of signals during North American primetime, then I would listen to Radio Australia as I headed off the bed. If I had insomnia, I would try to tune in the distinctive kookaburra sign-on of Radio New Zealand. Man, I miss those days.


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DX-er said...

Shortwave is still the most important communication tool in Africa, South Asia, the Pacific and all other teritories, situated on the tropics and the Equator.