Daily Archives: February 20, 2012

Radio China

Radio waves from North Korea are penetrating your body!
It’s true! And scores of other countries are in on the act. State and privately operated radio transmitters are sending out special radio signals designed to travel vast distances, across oceans and between continents.  Thankfully these waves are only floating out there for the enjoyment of listeners worldwide.  So take off the tinfoil helmets and relax.
I am talking about shortwave radio, also called world band radio, and it is a very engaging pastime.
It may be difficult now to imagine, but before  the Internet, we were fairly limited in our sources of information on current events. You had your major media outlets on TV and radio and newspapers, and that was more or less it. For news junkies and people interested in other cultures and music, shortwave radio was a fantastic source.  I can remember my brother and I sprawled out all over the floor with our G.I. Joes while my Pap would tune into the international BBC broadcast on his shortwave set.  I will never forget the BBC’s announcers’ formulaic delivery, heavy with grave formality.  It was soon forgotten as my Pap would set the dial to stations in South or Central America for a program of his beloved salsa. His love of Latin music overcame his staunch anti-communism when it came to music broadcasts from leftist regimes. Meanwhile, Cobra Commander would suffer the indignity of being gunned down to the beat of a fiery rumba.
Of course, a random encounter with a book in the stacks reintroduced me to shortwave. The Shortwave Listening Guidebook is a great primer for understanding how it all works.  Even I could understand the technical parts.
Passport to World Band Radio is a fantastic resource as well with tons of reviews and fun articles about broadcasters all over the world.
Why bother with radio? We all have the Internet right at our fingertips, endless news and entertainment.  But radio has a certain romantic, guerrilla quality that is appealing to me. In reality, most people on the earth don’t have easy access to the Internet, and most people don’t have smart phones. Not the workers at Foxconn, certainly. So shortwave and radio in general represents a medium of news and information with a real global reach.  And radio is different kind of experience.  The Internet is a whole big thing; you sit there before the altar and click click click. The radio is simply tuned in and goes on, leaving you free to work on something else.  Basic no-frills shortwave radios can be very inexpensive and of course, the programs are free.  And Google doesn’t know when you tune in or what you are listening to.  Don’t want to bother with the radio? A great deal of these international broadcasts can be found streaming online, anyway.
I have been listening to shortwave on a tiny, cheap, hand held receiver for a few weeks. It is great fun to slowly spin the dial, pausing to hear snippets of Spanish, Italian, Russian, Romanian, etc…  So far I have had the most luck tuning in to programs from China. The propaganda element has been lamentably absent. I haven’t learned anything about Mao or Marx or so much as a peep on collectivization.  In all seriousness, China Radio International is waging a global charm offensive, broadcasting in 60 different languages while shortwave programming from Europe and the U.S. has been declining.  Last week on one of their cultural programs, I learned about Uighur singing. Consider me charmed.  I still can’t get over the neat-o factor of the whole thing, working in my basement while a tiny plastic box powered by two AA batteries lets me listen in on the world. Awesome. And all from finding a book in the stacks I wasn’t looking for.


Filed under Uncategorized