NASWA Journal Columns · Listener’s Library, May 1999

T.J. “Skip” Arey N2EI • P.O. Box 236 • Beverly, NJ 08010 tjarey◊tjarey.com

Listener’s Library, May 1999

Most folks in NASWA know the name Jerry Berg. There are only a handful of folks who rightfully deserve the title of Grandmaster in the shortwave hobby and any such list would include Jerry with little argument from any corner. I was very excited when I heard that Jerry had a new book out. I was equally excited when I heard that John Herkimer wanted to share his thoughts about it.

[ Cover of On the Short Waves ]

On The Short Waves, 1923-1945:
Broadcast Listening in the Pioneer Days of Radio

by Jerome S. Berg
280 pages
$42.50
McFarland & Co., Inc.
Box 611
Jefferson, NC 28640
1-800-253-2187
http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
ISBN 0-7864-0506-6

Reviewed by John C. Herkimer

When well-known hobbyist Jerry Berg formed the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications (CPRV) in 1986, his mission was to rescue those QSL collections that would otherwise be lost for the benefit of radio historians and interested hobbyists. As donated collections were received and examined, however, another story began to emerge: the origins and development of shortwave broadcasting and, equally important, the radio listening hobby.

On the Short Waves is the definitive story of the birth of shortwave radio, inspired by those QSL collections and the dedicated hobbyists who chased distant signals in the night. Even though the author suggests the book is a “first telling of a much richer story,” it digs deep into a chapter of radio history of which very little is known. On the Short Waves successfully captures the thrill and mystery of the early days of radio through meticulous research, colorful anecdotes, and beautiful illustrations.

The book is divided into three time periods. “The Early Days” takes the reader back to the very beginnings of radio and the first “wireless” experiments. The author explores the work of inventors and experimenters like Guglielmo Marconi, Dr. Lee De Forest, Edwin H. Armstrong, and Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad (whose station, KDKA, is generally acknowledged to be the first nonexperimental broadcast station).

As the technology moved from experimenters to large corporations, more stations began to appear and with it a growing number of listeners discovered the thrill and competition of chasing long distance reception (DX). The listening hobby was born. The section concludes with the first experiments in the U.S. “on the short waves” (and, again, the honor of being first went to Conrad’s KDKA) and the eventual acceptance of shortwave as a credible medium for news and entertainment.

Shortwave’s golden era takes center stage in “Shortwave Comes of Age: The 1930s.” The section begins with a detailed, by-continent examination of shortwave activity in the 1930’s. As a bonus, the section features many reproductions of QSLs from the CPRV archives which were the inspiration for the book. Another chapter describes the little-known private U.S. stations that operated widely in the 1930s (before World War II, all international shortwave broadcasting from the U.S. was in private hands, before eventually closing down or being absorbed by the government-controlled Voice of America).

It was also during this period that familiar radio manufacturers such as Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, and National began producing shortwave sets for the consumer market. If you are interested in vintage receivers, you’ll particularly enjoy the chapter on the equipment of the 1930s and the many reproductions of radio advertising from the period.

Publications devoted to the growing listening hobby were in full force during the 1930s. Among those examined are Hugo Gernsback’s Radio News and Short Wave Craft, Radex (considered by many to be the finest DX publication of its time), and the numerous call books and radio logs produced at the time. Not surprisingly, radio clubs also began to emerge where listeners could share information and boast about long distance DX. Among the clubs discussed are the Newark News Radio Club, National Radio Club, Universal Radio DX Club, and the International Short Wave Club. The section concludes with a look at the history and tradition of QSLs and station memorabilia of the era, including Ekko stamps.

Finally, the book concludes with “The War Years: 1940-1945” and the important role of shortwave during World War II. The section discusses the intense battles that were being played out on the airwaves, notably between Britain and the Reich, and the numerous black clandestines operated by all sides (but most effectively by the British). Official monitoring activities are also discussed and the creation of the famed BBC Monitoring Service and the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service. Military broadcasting also emerged during the war and the author examines the early years of the Armed Forces Radio Service and Britain’s Forces Broadcasting Service.

No discussion of wartime broadcasting would be complete without a profile of the “traitors” who attempted to discourage their fellow countrymen through radio. We are given a glimpse into the colorful (but often tragic) propaganda voices such as Lord Haw Haw, Axis Sally, Ezra Pound, and Tokyo Rose.

With the war raging, the shortwave hobby fell into decline. Equipment manufacturers concentrated on the war effort, many hobbyists were in the military and radio clubs were forced to cut back publication. The final chapter takes a look at the shortwave hobby during that period, including the changes and improvements in receiver design brought on by the war.

On the Short Waves is an important, ground breaking book that should take a prominent place in every DX library (the illustrations alone are worth the price of the book). It can be purchased from the publisher, McFarland & Co., Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, by mail, phone, FAX or on the web (it is not available from the author). The price is $42.50, plus shipping and handling ($4 for 1st book, $.75 each additional; international orders including Canadian, $6 for 1st book, $1.50 each additional, U.S. funds only). Orders can be charged to your VISA, MasterCard, AMEX or Discover card. For detailed ordering instructions, see the McFarland website at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or call the publisher (in the U.S.) at 1-800-253-2187, FAX 336-246-5018. On the Short Waves is also available from other major Internet booksellers, including these: Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waterstone’s.

(Webmasters’ note: pay no attention to the notices on these sites’ pages that the book either hasn’t been published or will take 3-5 weeks to get. When I ordered my copy from Barnes & Noble’s web site, it showed up in three days, which says that the distributors have the book in their warehouses, but the web sites haven’t been updated to reflect that yet.)

Well, we know with the move toward summer the static crashes will limit our listening and give us more opportunities to crack the books. Stay tuned to Listeners Library for the latest in great radio reading.

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