NASWA · North American Shortwave Association History

North American Shortwave Association History

(This article, written by long time club participant Don Jensen, was originally published in the Shortwave Center column of September, 2001, to mark NASWA’s 40th anniversary.)

Like Earth’s prehistory, the beginnings of the North American Shortwave Association must be pieced together from the club’s fossils, the scraps and fragments of evidence still available. There is, it seems, no complete collection of club bulletins. None of the original members are still active.

The first bulletin still available is numbered Vol. 1, No. 4, and is dated March 1, 1962. It is known that Vol. 1, No. 3 was published two months earlier in January. This suggests bulletins were nominally bi-monthly, and that Vol. 1, No. 1, was issued in September 1961. Also, membership renewals mentioned in later bulletins seem to confirm that the club began that month.

Although September 1961 is generally accepted as NASWA’s birthday, it should be noted that Vol. 2, No. 1, dated September 1962, refers to the club’s start as “a one page bulletin published two years ago.” While that may be erroneous, it is at least possible that it all began in the fall of 1960, with long intervals between publication of issues 1 and 3.

Originally the club was called the North American Short Wave Association (note the division of short wave into two words), abbreviated as NASA. It was headquartered in an obscure Canadian town called Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, which was the home of its now equally obscure founding president, Sterling D. Pike. Absolutely nothing is now known about Pike, who seemingly had resigned from any club leadership position by the fourth issue of the bulletin.

Pike was NASA member No. 1. Member No. 2 was Raymond LePointe of South Boston, Mass., who became the club’s first shortwave broadcast editor.

The fifth member on the membership roll was, appropriately, Richard D. Roll, a teenager from Hamburg, NY. He became the club’s secretary-treasurer, but within months had replaced Pike as president-editor-publisher. He remained at the head of NASA for about a year and a half.

In the late 1980s, Roll was tracked down, still living in the Hamburg, NY area. The middle aged ex club president was somewhat surprised to learn the North American Shortwave Association had survived for more than a quarter century since his departure, but he had lost any interest in radio decades earlier.

By the fifth edition of the club bulletin in May 1962, NASA had 44 members. Two new columns were begun that month, a Tape Swap/Card Swap feature hosted by member No. 33, an Altoona, PA listener named Bill Eddings, and a medium wave (called BCB, or Broadcast Band) section edited by John T. Arthur, member No. 22. Arthur would remain a member into the 1990s. Eddings went on to become one of the most important figures in the club’s history.

Apparently the fall of 1962 was a period of some confusion. Vol. 2, No. 1 (September), was the first bulletin published by mimeograph, replacing the purple ink of the spirit duplicator. With the next issue, NASA’s publication became a monthly, however the October 1962 issue also was numbered Vol. 2, No. 1. November’s issue was numbered Vol. 2, No. 2, but both December 1962 and January 1963 were marked Vol. 2, No. 3.

About this time, the club membership was growing by about 10 persons each issue. In October, Detlef Schuler of West Germany became the club’s first overseas member. By year’s end, NASA had 88 members. Members were paying $2.50 a year to belong to NASA in February 1963. Roll remained president and Edding’s column had been renamed the Friendship Corner, reflecting his always strong interest in promoting the social aspects of club activities.

In March 1963, Eddings announced a contest to name the NASA bulletin (it wasn’t until later that the “W” was inserted to NASWA, supposedly to prevent confusion with the space agency). The winner, he announced, would be awarded his choice of any three of the following: 100 club QSL cards, a club rubber stamp, 100 letterheads or a year’s free membership.

On the front page of the June 1962 bulletin, Eddings announced the winner:

“Quite a task it was to select the winning entry for the ‘Name the Bulletin’ contest which ended on May 1st…. (T)here were 43 entrants, and some sent in as many as ten suggestions. After the final tally, however, it was member Bill Harris who won all the marbles with his one and only entered suggestion: FRENDX.”

Harris, from South Wales in Great Britain, was the club’s second overseas member when he joined NASA in November 1962. He explained his suggestion: “We of NASA, via our bulletin, are efforting (sic) to promote friendship and at the same time pass along our reports, experiences, items, articles pertaining to DX. Therefore, FREND with an X added incorporated both Friendship and DX.” Harris never indicated why he chose the odd spelling, rather than a more logical choice of FRIENDX.

To this Eddings added: “And so ‘tis, fellow NASA members. Henceforth, our bulletin will be known by this name and for this reason.” The FRENDX name remained for more than 26 years, until it was retired in January 1990.

By June 1963, Eddings was the club’s executive editor and in charge of the bulletin contents. Roll, who had the mimeo machine, remained the publisher. But that ended the next month when Roll resigned. The total operation of NASA fell on the shoulders of Eddings, an easygoing, goodhearted, thin skinned fellow who found that he preferred running a club to actually tuning a shortwave radio. For him the switch in hobby emphasis was easy, though the work was long and hard.

Eddings had no money for the club, no mimeo on which to print FRENDX. The July and August issues were missed. On an emergency basis, member Don Erickson of California ran off the September issue on his mimeo. Pleas for funds to buy a mimeo were sounded and some dollars came in. Eddings added to the total from his own funds.

The November 1963 issue was the first FRENDX printed in Altoona on the new machine, which cost a total of $69.39, including tax and shipping. Eddings was delighted to report that there still was $42.75 in the treasury for things like paper, ink and postage to mail the next issue.

The author of this history joined NASA about this time.

FRENDX scarcely resembled today’s “magazine.” It was standard 8 by 11 size, no illustrations and with a much different content. NASA was a general club, then, with coverage of medium wave, ham band listening, something called Outer Space, edited by Army Sergeant Nick Vrettos, and a Friendship Corner, devoted to a hobby spin-off very popular in those days, exchanging SWL cards, sometimes called simply, cardswapping.

There were a few familiar features, though, a brief Logging Section, rarely more than two or three pages, the predecessor of our current Tropical and International Band Loggings, and something called Newsroom, which would evolve into Listener’s Notebook.

The former was edited by Robert Newhart, a young GI, who took over the listings from Eddings, the former compiler who admitted some members were complaining about his “errors.” Newhart later would have the distinction of editing the only column in a U.S. DX bulletin to featured at least some tips in Swedish for European readers. That, however, was in a bulletin other than FRENDX.

Aware that some other U.S. clubs were making an issue of club democracy, Eddings felt it was necessary to have an elected board of directors. However, members seemed much less concerned about voting. In June 1964, after six months of trying to elect a board of directors, Eddings announced the new BoD would be LaVoyd Kuney, John T. Arthur and Don Jensen. In 1965, a constitution was drafted, but was soon mostly forgotten. That year it cost just $3 for an annual membership.

The NASA headquarters, as described by Eddings, was a two room, two windowed apartment on the third floor of a building “on the other side of the tracks” in Altoona. Eddings, who had once been married and had a child with whom he had lost contact, always was especially kind and thoughtful to the younger members of the club. He worked as a bartender in an Altoona bowling alley and shared the small apartment with a frail elderly aunt, whom he helped support.

In a corner of one of his two rooms, Eddings worked, at least 40 hours a month, cranking out a bulletin on his mimeo and administering a club that had grown to over 200 members.

A new column called Shortwave Center was begun in November of 1964 with Eddings as its editor. It consisted mostly of members’ letters and short comments. Besides Eddings, the FRENDX editorial staff, as noted in the January 1965 issue, consisted of Joseph Fela, Jr., Richard Little, Alan Herrington and Larry Marshall. Other new features began showing up that year, notably short station articles and Scoreboard. There also were features about members and other well-known DXers, including “DXing Dean” August Balbi and “Space Buff” Louie Strober of Oregon, Strober became a director when Kuney resigned.

Doug Benson, a professional radio newsman in New York, later New Hampshire, became an active part of NASA operations and took over Newsroom from Luyster. He added a professional newsman’s touch, plus a bit of humor.

For about a half year in mid 1965, FRENDX ran a caption less cartoon, inviting members to send in their own suggested punch line. The prize was a transistor portable.

There was continuing concern in the hobby about inter club jealousy and squabbling. A desire to bring peace to the hobby led to the formation of the Association of North American Radio Clubs (ANARC) in 1964. But like the United Nations, upon which it was roughly patterned, it had no real power but hoped that reason and goodwill would promote peace. Initially, ANARC struggled to improve the relationship among the various clubs. In 1966, an observer in a national radio magazine wrote: “Despite the façade of friendliness… (the clubs) hate each other like poison!”

In a February 1966 FRENDX editorial, Eddings reluctantly agreed with that observation and urged a peaceful solution to the problems between clubs that stemmed from a competition to attract the most members.

“We need not see eye to eye to stand shoulder to shoulder,” Eddings wrote. He would editorialize on that theme many times over several years. And relative peace did come to the radio club scene in the next year or two. A key reason was that the various clubs found their own particular niches to fill, easing the competition for members.

Eddings, in a FRENDX editorial in October 1965, thought the future might be in the “coming age of ‘specialistic’ clubs.” But he wasn’t yet entirely convinced. “Are they needed? Can they succeed?” he asked. He promised, though, that if that was what members wanted, “that is the course we will take.” Seven months later the question of going “all–SW” was put to members.

Coverage of shortwave broadcasting was becoming more important in FRENDX. In 1965, the SW logging section grew from about three pages to five, then six, and even eight or more some months. But in November 1965, the small Scoreboard section had only five DXers with over 100 countries verified. The top score was 180 SWBC countries.

January 1966 brought the debut of Charlie Loudenboomer, a fictional character who would become a hobby fixture for years. Ol’ CL was a satirical columnist with a wicked pen, poking fun at the foibles and fakes in the hobby. He could be very funny, or fall flat; he was at times a boor, sometimes a bore, disliked by some, loved by others. He was a FRENDX exclusive, but was occasionally reprinted in other club bulletins. He never revealed his identity. Some readers spent years trying to figure out who Charlie really was. Many names were suggested. No one confessed. Some said they were just as happy not knowing.

Eddings, who presumably knew CL’s identity, initially expressed reservations. Loudenboomer sought confrontation, controversy, something with which Bill Eddings was never comfortable. But in time he became proud of CL, when other clubs praised the column as “best satire ever to appear in a club publication.” In later years, after Edding’s death, Loudenboomer’s columns reached subsequent FRENDX publishers via circuitous routes, apparently, and they maintained they did not know the real identity of their unusual columnist. Charlie’s subsequent departure from NASWA will be told later.

The April 1966 FRENDX promoted the first annual ANARC convention, which was scheduled for July 29 31 at the Muehlbach Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. The same bulletin also offered a special discount price on the 1966 WRTH for members: $3.80, a reduction from the cover price of $4.95.

By May 1966, FRENDX’s growing emphasis on SW broadcast listening had reached a point where the question of abandoning other aspects of the hobby, coverage of medium wave BCB, TV and FM, VHF/Space, cardswapping, etc., had to be faced. In May 1966, the question was put to the membership. Should the club devote its entire bulletin to SW and drop medium wave BCB, amateur radio, TV and FM and the rest? Members with other interests were offered a deal. They could switch to the all-medium wave club, International Radio Club of America (IRCA) or the broad-based Canadian DX Club (CDXC) for the remainder of their membership period, with fees to be paid by NASA, or they could get a cash refund.

About 70% of the membership voted, a surprisingly high response in any club election. The vote was 196 to 102 in favor of changing to an all SWBC club. The result, announced in July, 1966, was not really a surprise, but a few did complain that they were being exiled from a club they had long supported. But many who had voted against the change stayed on as members nonetheless.

The switch occurred in August 1966. Eddings announced “NASA Now New Era Club for SWBCers!” Membership in the new NASA cost four dollars a year. Two months later, the club completed five years of existence.

Don Jensen became shortwave editor, with Luyster and a Canadian member, Gregg Calkin (who went on to become a Canadian diplomat) as assistant editors. Calkin developed the QSL section. Soon the Log Section had its own editor, Texan Del Hirst. The section was now 10 to 12 pages long with many contributions. Dan Henderson took over as Newsroom editor. Bob Hill became contest editor/manager. Though still a mimeographed bulletin, FRENDX had taken on most of the features it would retain for at least two decades.

In late 1966, with the change to all SWBC coverage, the North American Shortwave Association also changed its initials from NASA to NASWA. Eddings said it was to prevent confusion with the National Aeronautics and Space Agency.

The switch to all shortwave broadcast coverage in FRENDX was a major one and would make NASWA not just another club, but a leader in the radio hobby world. It brought a number of changes to FRENDX. Feature articles took on a greater importance in Shortwave Center, along with interviews with radio related personalities beyond the confines of DXing: amateur radio operator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater; then Voice of America director and former TV anchorman John Chancellor; New York Times radio critic Jack Gould; William Halligan, head of the receiver manufacturer, Hallicrafters Co.

FRENDX included a regular ANARC report. That interclub organization had begun to turn from its original role as peacemaker in the hobby to one of aiding the individual listener by serving as a lobbyist with broadcasters and manufacturers. Two active ANARC committees were the Frequency Recommendation group, headed by Richard Wood, an active NASWA member who would also serve in executive and editorial posts in the club, and the Manufacturers Liaison Committee, initially chaired by well known shortwave author, the late C.M. Stanbury II.

Another new feature in FRENDX was the Flash Sheet, a collection of last minute tips compiled by veteran Indiana DXer, A.R. (Al) Niblack. Other editors would follow and, years later, as Update, it was published as a mid month supplement to FRENDX. Publication of this supplement ended in 1989, by which time weekly DX broadcasts and independent newsletters had largely taken over the functions it once served.

In general, the improved FRENDX, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, was the result of more input by section editors, who gained greater independence as their editorial roles were sorted out and expanded.

In February 1967, Eddings reported that the club had been contacted by Radio Nederland’s Harry Van Gelder, who was seeking a North American member to tape a monthly DX news segment for the station. The following month, Eddings announced: “On recommendation of NASWA, Harry Van Gelder, Radio Nederland, has accepted and approved Glenn (Hauser) for this position.” Hauser would continue to tape these programs for many years. Under his successor, Jonathan Marks, these weekly DX shows became Radio Nederland’s popular but now defunct Media Network.

A candidate for election as member of the NASWA Board noted in early 1968, that FRENDX was well established as the “journal for DXers.” Though simply a casual comment at the time, that phrase, coincidentally, would be heard again two decades later in the renaming of the NASWA bulletin. The same candidate also noted that in the five years since he had joined the club, the number of members with 100 countries or more verified had multiplied five times to 25.

But was the casual listener, the SWL interested in programs, not DX, being overlooked? It would become an even greater concern later, but in 1968 it was beginning to worry Eddings.

He editorialized: “Within the ranks of SWBCers are those with particular interests which they consider to be the best, the more important, the most worthwhile. Some seek nothing but rare DX, some prefer to just SWL in general, others mainly quest QSLs. In cases, certain of these groups do not ‘recognize’ the others. They look down on them. This is,” Eddings concluded in his often unique writing style, “ungood.”

Bill Eddings loved to write homey little editorials in support of his view of the hobby, and people in general. His style had odd quirks, filled with coined words and slash marks. And sometimes he seemed to feel NASWA was growing beyond his understanding.

“I never was and I never claimed to be (a top DXer),” he wrote. “Somehow I hope to think I did a bit of good somehow…that in the days to come, there will be those who remember that NASWA… was once run by an obscure, humble OM who wanted nothing but friendship and goodwill between those he came to know as brothers…”

NASWA was continuing to grow in size to more than 500 members, a very large club in the 1970’s. Features section editors changed over time, Richard Wood, William Matthews, Ralph Perry, Al Sizer. Logging sections were headed by Del Hirst, Jerry Berg, Dan Ferguson, and in later years, by a number of others as the log was broken into component parts to ease the workload. After a brief discussion in early 1968, the loggings format was changed from a “by time” listing to a more DX-oriented “by frequency” approach.

Eddings’ workload grew with the membership. Later it was estimated that in many years of producing FRENDX bulletins by mimeograph, the executive editor publisher cranked the handle some 100,000 times. The administrative chores, including keeping track of subscriptions, increased. Then there was the labor of love for Bill Eddings, personally answering all the mail that arrived at the Altoona headquarters.

By the middle of 1969, FRENDX was containing pleas by Eddings for more volunteer help. By 1970, a career Navy man, Ed Shaw, stationed in California, then Norfolk, VA, was taking an increasing role in the production of FRENDX.

On Oct. 16, 1970, an overworked Eddings suffered a heart attack. Since the administration and production of the bulletin had been–at Eddings’ insistence–totally centralized at Altoona, club operations halted abruptly. There was no November 1970 FRENDX. But Shaw stepped in and published a December bulletin. Headquarters temporarily moved to Norfolk in January 1971, where the first two bulletins of that year were published. By March, Eddings had recovered sufficiently to resume operations, although Shaw became corresponding secretary, taking over much of the administrative burden. Eddings was happy to be back at the helm. NASWA seemingly had weathered a storm. Bill proclaimed himself recovered and feeling well. In July he scorned rumors that NASWA was about to merge with another club.

The longtime Newsroom column, mostly station schedule information, was expanded in content and renamed by its new editor, Dan Ferguson. At first called Listener’s Digest, it was soon modified to Listeners’ Notebook.

Just before Christmas 1971, however, Eddings returned to the hospital for surgery. In the December FRENDX, he repeated–for the last time–his traditional Christmas editorial, based on a favorite theme, an old timer passing along his knowledge and friendship to a beginner. It had been one of his pet topics and the same editorial had appeared annually for a number of years.

Publication again shifted to Shaw in Norfolk for the January and February 1972 issues, during Eddings’ hospitalization and recovery. In March 1972, Dan Ferguson became the FRENDX publisher and introduced a most important change. That issue was the first published by offset lithography, not mimeo, in the current booklet size. Costs were greater, but professional printing was the only way a major club could operate without putting an impossible load on a publisher. Eddings remained as editorial director, but never did return to active operation of the club, due to his health problems.

Ferguson had taken on the job of organizing the publication. But he found himself, in effect, running the club. An early discovery was that Eddings had been a poor business manager. The club, never a financial pillar of strength, was limping from month to month. It literally was necessary for new members to be enrolled each month in order to finance the publication of the next month’s bulletin. NASWA had a case of “walking bankruptcy.”

An immediate dues increase from $7 to $10 a year was instituted in April 1972. It helped and in time NASWA would become fiscally healthy.

A few additions to the FRENDX staff that spring and summer included Larry Magne as editor of the loggings section, and later, a clandestine column. Shaw created a popular question and answer column that kept him in close touch with the membership. Shaw shared Eddings’ conviction that NASWA had a teaching job where younger members were concerned.

Although well aware of Edding’s health problems, the membership was surprised and shocked to read in the September 1972 FRENDX that he had died on August 23, at the age of 51.

Like all of us, he was not without his faults. But Eddings had accomplished a very great deal in building an insignificant hobby club into perhaps the best example of its kind in the world. He had put much of himself into NASWA along the way, not the least of which was his time, well over a normal work week, some 60 hours of his “spare time” each month for more than a decade.

He was proud of the result, but he always had a tinge of regret because the complexity that came with success diminished the small club folksiness he relished. But even as NASWA grew and improved in quality, he tenaciously had insisted that the personal touch of friendliness remain regardless of the number of members.

A fitting eulogy was a line from a poem that must have been one of his favorites, since he printed it three times in FRENDX between 1964 and 1968:

“And when, in time, it be willed that I must leave, let me then deserve to hear my friends say, a Mighty Tree has fallen.”

Dan Ferguson had not sought the No. 1 job in NASWA. He’d signed on only as publisher of FRENDX. But upon Bill Eddings’ death, the entire job, including that of chief editor and administrator, was his. On his watch, FRENDX became a slicker looking publication, offset printed, sometimes with illustrations, with better and more varied features than in the past.

In 1973, other names began showing up in the pages of FRENDX. Mac Leonhardt and Jerry Lineback took on editing chores of Log Report sections. Glenn Hauser began a relatively short lived column devoted to tuning harmonic signals.

Membership continued to grow. Indeed, the increased costs of a printed bulletin almost made growth a necessity. Members ranged in age from their teens–there was even a 10 year old member–to their retirement years. Some were like Jack Jones, who returned to the hobby in the 1970s, after an absence of nearly 40 years. He penned a FRENDX article called, “I Remember When.”

Shaw and Charlie Wooten served as Shortwave Center editors in 1974. For over four years in the early 70s, Larry Magne wrote a unique column covering clandestine stations, probably the first of its kind.

It was an era of hobby boosterism. Many SWLs felt that what was needed was to promote the hobby, to tell non DXers about the fun of the whole thing. Some set up displays in supermarkets and libraries, showing QSLs from exotic lands to whomever seemed interested. Others sought publicity via their local radio or TV station. One-time ANARC executive secretary Al Reynolds wrote a feature for FRENDX called, “The SWL As His Own Publicity Man.”

It was generally accepted that promoting the hobby was the right thing to do. We wanted more people to know and share the joys of shortwave listening. We didn’t realize that there could be too much of a good thing. But that’s what happened in Japan in the mid 70s. A brushfire like SWL boom, a phenomenon similar to the U.S. CB craze, brought millions to the hobby of listening–and collecting QSLs. The QSL quest, though, so burdened many of the international broadcasting stations, that they were forced to severely cut back their verification efforts. The Japanese SWL boom was just a fad and faded within several years.

A plus, however, was that the huge, though short lived, mania prompted Japanese receiver manufacturers to design and construct a wide variety of new SW receivers, in all price ranges. Before this “Boom,” U.S. SWLs had few new receivers to choose from. Old line American manufacturers like Hammarlund, Hallicrafters and National had either gone out of business or stopped making equipment suitable for hobbyists. Names like Panasonic and Sony soon became well known to North American shortwave listeners.

But as NASWA moved into 1975, a new era was beginning. The first step was taken in March, when Mac Leonhardt became “coordinator” of the editorial staff. This was followed in May by Ferguson’s decision to turn the club over to new hands. Leonhardt’s duties were expanded.

Mac became the club administrator, largely responsible for operations of a club that had grown to nearly 1,000 members. Alan Mayer of Illinois assumed the other half of the job, that of publisher.

There were editorial changes ahead. Hauser replaced Dan Jamison as Listeners’ Notebook editor, a post he retained for more than a dozen years. Linebach took over Shortwave Center from Wooten. That column, which over the years had grown in importance as the feature article department of FRENDX, continued, subsequently under the editorship of John Herkimer, until the mid 1980s.

Bill Oliver began editing the QSL section, but was replaced in late 1977 by Sam Barto. Also in 1975, after nearly a decade of editing the Flash Sheet, Al Niblack stepped aside. The mid month supplement continued for years after that, edited, in turn, by Ralph Perry, John Moritz, Tom Alleman and Bob Hill.

A new guidebook, DXing According to NASWA, compiled by Shaw, first came out in the fall of 1975. It went through a number of printings and was a useful beginner’s guide for more than a decade.

By the end of 1975, the membership fee for NASWA was $13 annually and membership was approaching 1,200. With so large a membership, and a correspondingly large treasury, it seemed that the club needed a real constitution that reflected the needs of a substantial and growing organization. A new club charter was drafted and was approved by a 10:1 membership vote. It vested control of NASWA in a three member board, which was later amended to five members.

With the coming of 1977, some problems developed within NASWA. Basically three matters, serious but unrelated to each other, came to a head about the same time. The first involved NASWA’s satirical columnist, the anonymous Charlie Loudenboomer.

Some months before, in January 1976, Leonhardt, responding to some criticism of the outspoken Loudenboomer, defended the column, saying “FRENDX would not be the same without CL.” But just over a year later, CL would be banished from the bulletin. The reason was that Loudenboomer had written a broad and not too kind parody of a “pat me on the back” autobiographical article that a member from Idaho had written for FRENDX a few months earlier. The parodied member was irate at being the target of CL’s wicked pen, and, before resigning from the club, angrily protested to headquarters. An unbridled Loudenboomer, whose identity was not even known to the headquarters staff, had to go.

Loudenboomer fans rallied to his defense. There was an attempt to reach an accommodation, but CL, by then, had “vanished,” allegedly, it was later said, to “a hidden monastery in Tibet.” In subsequent years, a scattered few Loudenboomer columns, some new, some older reprints, appeared in FRENDX. But ol’ CL, as he liked to refer to himself, never was identified and never returned to regular column writing.

The second issue in early 1977 stemmed from a set of editorial guidelines offered by Shaw, a member of the executive council. They had been prompted by the appearance of some “four letter words” and frank commentary by some members in a Listeners’ Notebook featurette called, “In My Opinion.” Shaw spearheaded an effort to rein in some of the independence of sub-editors and columnists.

Several of them responded negatively to what they viewed as dictatorial control. A compromise eventually led to a purge of offensive language from FRENDX pages but the sub editors retained substantial freedom in choosing the content of their columns.

The third issue was one that had been brewing a long while. It centered on a difference of opinion between an old guard of hard-core DXers and a growing number of newer members who were more attuned to listening to shortwave programs rather than hunting for rare and hard to hear DX targets and verifying their catches.

The traditional view, promoted almost as a matter of faith in the club for years, was that shortwave listeners (SWLs) were just inexperienced DXers, and that with time and training, any SWL could and should be converted into a DX fanatic.

What was becoming painfully evident in the late 1970s, however, was that there were many NASWA members who had no interest in the traditional goal of tuning in some weak, fluttery SW station broadcasting in some foreign language. They didn’t give a hoot for collecting QSLs. They preferred program listening. These were not just inexperienced or incomplete DXers. They just had a different focus and motivation.

There were many, perhaps the majority, who found both the DXing and SWLing phases of the hobby interesting. But among some of longtime DXers there developed a feeling of alienation from the club they’d known so long. There was, for several years at least, a certain degree of “dropping out,” a diminishing interest in supporting NASWA, even if the disaffected did not actually drop their memberships.

Though this alienation of serious DXers in the late 1970s was perhaps not as apparent to the casual reader of FRENDX as were the Loudenboomer and editorial guidelines controversies, it did cast a chill over club operations at least into the early 1980s.

Eventually, though, the dust settled and as NASWA marked its 20th year of operations, a healing process was underway. A new tolerance developed among members, who seemingly were more willing to accept and support those whose interests and approaches to the listening hobby were different from their own. There seemed to be room in NASWA to pursue individual approaches to the hobby, but also to work cooperatively in areas of mutual interest. As the club moved into its third decade, Bill Eddings’ motto, “Unity and Friendship” seemed again to apply.

Beginning in 1978, Bill Oliver had assumed some of Mac Leonhardt’s publishing burden. He was named publisher and managing editor, later executive editor, while Leonhardt retained the business and financial duties for the club.

From 1978 to 1980, NASWA membership increased sharply from 1,500 to 2,000. By January 1981, the club had over 2,100 members, its high water mark. Dues then were $16 and the annual operating expenses totaled more than $32,000.

If parody is the mark of having become an institution, NASWA also reached that status in 1981, with the private publication and sale of a humorous spoof of the club’s bulletin. A group in Pennsylvania published a 36 page booklet called BLANDX. NASWA members, by their purchases, proved they were able and willing to laugh at themselves. BLANDX returned with new editions at several times during the subsequent years.

It was an indication of things to come when, in 1983, a headquarters note announced the existence of a new shortwave related computer bulletin board. But it would be years before NASWA seriously joined the Computer Age.

In 1984, Mac Leonhardt, in failing health, retired from his post as NASWA business manager. Sometime later he passed away.

The middle 1980s saw club administration, editing and publishing concentrated at Levittown, Pennsylvania, with Bill Oliver’s workload weighing more heavily on him. The hobby was changing too, it seems. Though it emerged gradually, it was becoming apparent that the club membership was “greying.” The average age of members was increasing. Fewer teenagers, traditionally the entrance point for new radio hobbyists, were joining the club.

One reason suggested was the computer. Younger people, who in earlier years might have turned their technical interests toward radio, were attracted by computer technology. Perhaps, too, it was suggested, costs were pricing teenagers out of club membership. Increased postage and production costs resulted in a dues increase to $18 a year in January 1988, to $23 in 1990.

But, perhaps, NASWA needed to take a long hard look at itself. While other clubs were losing membership too, a few seemed to be gaining and growing. When NASWA’s membership had declined to about 1,100, the executive council decided that something must be done to respond to Oliver’s urgent pleas for help in producing FRENDX each month. At the council’s encouragement, two Virginia DXers, R. Charles “Chuck” Rippel and Dr. Harold Cones, came forward to help. In October 1988, Rippel was named executive director, and Cones became editor-in-chief. Oliver continued as publisher.

Things began happening again. An active membership promotion was instituted. The numbers turned around. With the 1990-1991 Middle Eastern crisis and Desert Storm Gulf war, many Americans rediscovered shortwave radio and NASWA’s membership climbed, at least for a time, to about 1,700.

NASWA got a new and now familiar logo, designed by Guy Atkins. Kevin Atkins, not related to Guy, and John Bryant offered design help for the club’s monthly bulletin, which was unveiled in January 1990.

But it was more than just a “new look.” It was a whole new approach, beginning with the publication name: The Journal Of The North American Shortwave Association, or simply, The Journal.

Rippel explained: “Webster’s defines journal…as an account of events, a record of proceedings, a periodical.” And members can rely upon The Journal to “define, present and record those events and articles pertinent to the hobby.”

The old title, FRENDX was retired–mercifully, according to some. But others were not so sure. One longtime member wondered in print if the traditional elements of unity and friendship, “have been forgotten in the rush to modernize.”

However, Cones later would note that a major reason behind the move to “modernize” was the realization that the old NASWA needed to strengthen its “feeling of club” which included those very elements of unity and friendship. Columns of members’ musings and personality profiles were added or strengthened.

But there was more. The new bulletin name, which would evolve into The NASWA Journal, was reminiscent of academic publications. The title was intended to convey that the bulletin also had become more professional in content and approach. Serious scholarship was evident in a series of articles by Bryant and David M. Clark, who reported their groundbreaking studies of propagation on the lower Tropical shortwave bands.

Initially, the academic image was further projected by The Journal’s stark front page, which initially offered little more than a blank page with title, month and year of publication. After about a year and a half members were complaining that it had become “boring” and made it difficult to tell “one month from the next.” Starting in January 1992, illustrations and improved graphics brought welcomed relief to the cover.

The Journal had new columns, reflecting changing interests and expanded coverage of neglected subject areas. Computerized typesetting helped the appearance but with a variety of different typefaces employed, the bulletin at first lacked a unified “look.” Thanks largely to the efforts of Ralph Brandi, a highly attractive design, making effective use of graphics and some photographs, evolved over time.

The loggings sections, traditionally the most important segment of the monthly bulletin, began a slow contraction as more and more serious DXers came to rely on other, speedier means of exchanging the latest DX tips. This competition came from weekly or semi-monthly newsletters and, later, from specialized websites and email exchanges. In the bulletin makeover, the four loggings sections, A through D, grouped by frequency, became just two, Tropical Bands Loggings, covering the lower SW frequencies, and International Bands Loggings, covering the upper ranges of the SW spectrum.

The start of the 1990s saw the resignation of Rippel, with Bob Brown replacing him as executive director, assisted by Kris Field. Brown, a Pennsylvanian, lived reasonably close to Oliver, once again centralizing club editorial, publishing and administrative operations for the first time since Eddings had run NASA as a one-man-show from his Altoona apartment.

The Company Store was inaugurated, a service selling club-related merchandise, from logo-marked sweatshirts and coffee mugs to reprints of feature articles from bulletin archives. Its first manager was Rich D’Angelo, who later would assume responsibility for NASWA’s awards program from its longtime director, John “Kap” Kapinos.

A 1990 survey showed that the membership of the club was 97 percent male, three percent female. While women always have been active and important participants in all aspects of club activities, shortwave listening, for reasons never satisfactorily explained, continues to be primarily a male interest.

The average NASWA member in 1990 was a 42-year-old man who had been a shortwave listener for 19 years. Only 39 percent of the membership owned a computer. That would change significantly over the next several years.

The growing importance of email and the Internet to NASWA members was noted in a 1994 issue of The Journal, with an introductory article offering an explanation of the then three leading Internet service providers, CompuServe, America Online and GEnie.

In August of that year, D’Angelo replaced Bob Brown as NASWA executive director, with Brown remaining as managing editor and a member of the club’s Executive Council, a post he still holds. Brown left the editor’s chair in January 1995. Cones returned to that post and continues to serve as managing editor.

At the start of the decade, the North American SW Association had transformed from a 1960’s type radio club to the “NASWA for the Nineties.” Five years later, it conducted a second membership survey, taking another “look in the mirror.”

The face of the average listener that looked back from the reflecting glass had grown older still. In 1995, statistically speaking, the typical member was a man, 45 to 55 years old. This average Joe Listener had been tuning shortwave stations for about 25 years in 1995. In recent years, he’d taken advantage of improvements in radio equipment, owning an average of two receivers, to which he listened an average of 12.8 hours a week.

In 1995, membership dues increased from $25, but has held steady at $26 to the present. Not so the membership totals, which like the listening hobby in general, declined throughout the decade of the “90s.” In 40 years, NASWA had grown from five members in 1961 to about 600 members in 1971, and more than 2,100 in 1981. The “80’s” saw a decline, then a recovery to about 1,700 in 1991. Since then membership has declined to about 850 today.

While NASWA, in name and origins, is a radio club in which Canada traditionally has been an important partner, a disappointing trend in recent years has been a major loss of Canadian members. In 2001 there are only 18 Canadians on the membership roll. In the late 1970s there were as many as 140. One factor may be the exchange rate; in the past the Canadian dollar was worth more than its American counterpart. Currently it is worth about 55 cents U.S. Another likely reason is the strength of Canadian-based radio clubs.

Numbers, while important, do not necessarily reflect the vitality of a club. NASWA, in terms of the quality of its monthly bulletins, the services it offers and the support returned by its members, remains a recognized leader among the world’s radio listening hobby clubs!

In January 1996, NASWA moved into the 21st Century, five years before the old century actually ended, with inauguration of its NASWeb site on the Internet. A searchable database of logging reports was added to this site in August 2000, and NASWA’s Country List, accepted worldwide as the DXer’s “standard,” went on-line in December 2000. Brandi, the club’s desktop publishing expert, is the webmaster.

But for a majority of the club’s membership, an electronic “magazine” would not take the place of a traditional bulletin. There was never a doubt that The NASWA Journal would continue in its “hardcopy-on-paper” format. In January 2000, Brandi gave the publication a second and updated redesign.

As NASWA marks its 40th birthday in 2001, it owes much to the tireless work of a small handful of chief executives who, one after another during the early years before today’s more structured organization, almost single-handedly carried on the task of producing a high quality monthly bulletin. This list, of course, includes Bill Eddings, followed by Ed Shaw, Dan Ferguson, Mac Leonhardt and Bill Oliver.

Oliver continues his work today as publisher and business manager. D’Angelo remains NASWA’s executive director, and others currently part of the management team include Cones, Brandi, Brown, Fred Kohlbrenner, who has served in several editorial posts, and Jerry Berg, a veteran NASWA member and former longtime loggings editor.

Current sub-editors with 10 or more years of service include Sam Barto, Wallace Treibel, Sheryl Paszkiewicz, Jerry Lineback, Tom Sundstrom and Richard Cuff. Barto has edited the QSL Report for 23 consecutive years; Treibel has been a loggings editor since April 1984; Paszkiewicz since 1988. Lineback has been an editor, off and on, since the 1970s. Sundstrom began his editorial service in 1986, and Cuff signed on in 1990.

Over the decades, there have been scores, perhaps several hundred others who have served NASWA in various capacities. Because of space limitations, it has not been possible to name most of them in this history. Nonetheless, their efforts, past and present, are no less appreciated by all NASWA members.

No one knows what the future will hold for the hobby of shortwave listening. But whatever that future, odds are strong that the North American Shortwave Association will remain an important part of it.

–Don Jensen


(About The Author–Don Jensen began DXing in 1947, when, at the age of 11, he was introduced to the SW listening hobby by his father, a sometimes “bootleg” ham. He was associated with NASWA in editorial, administrative and committee activities for some 38 years, longer than any other active member. In 1964, he founded and was first executive secretary of the Association of North American Radio Clubs (ANARC). From 1969 to 1989 he published and edited the Numero Uno DX weekly. He formerly was the editor of Communications World magazine and had been a freelance writer since 1963, his DXing columns last appearing in the former Popular Electronics in 1999. He also had regular SW features aired on various DX programs around the world. Jensen was a retired newspaperman and lived in Kenosha, WI.  He passed away in 2013.)

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