Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why you really need a couple of good shortwave radio sets.

I've been avoiding commenting on the Zimmerman Trial down in Florida.  My personal opinion is that the whole thing was trumped up for political reasons, and the initial decisions of the local police chief (who was fired subsequently) and the local prosecutor were correct. Revelations since the trial that MSNBC and CNN edited tapes to conceal the context of statements and cast Zimmerman as a racist have only exacerbated that belief on my part.

But there's an aspect of that whole putrid affair that impacts on preparedness planning, and that's the issue of how you get your news.

Fox News is conservative, while ABC, NBC and CBS , BBC America, CNN, MSNBC et al are virulently left wing. You absolutely can't trust what you hear from the likes of Piers Morgan or the other talking heads on those types of networks.

But it would be nice to get some news that didn't have a particular slant to it, where simple facts were reported and you were left to draw your own conclusions. I like to listen to radio broadcasts from overseas or adjacent countries. Not that they don't have their slant, but it's usually not as pronounced as American news broadcasts. On something like the Zimmerman Trial,  even Radio Beijing and Radio Havana have been pretty neutral. The one outfit you want to avoid is the BBC World Service, which is rabidly anti-American and puts the behavior of Radio Moscow during the cold war to shame. If you ever watched the BBC series MI-5 on Public Television and listened to them running down Americans as murderers and imperialists, then "you ain't seen nothing yet" until you listen to their editorials and news programs on BBC World Service.

On the other hand, Canada and Germany both have good english language programs, and there are a number of  other good national broadcasts in english you can pick up regularly.

It's important to note that radio isn't like television.  With television, you turn on the channel and it's always there, and always the same TNT, CMT or whatever. Not so with radio.  Shortwave broadcasts usually last a few hours on a certain frequency, and that's it. You have to get a schedule guide for the broadcasts you want to hear, which you can do on line with no difficulty. Frequencies change over the year, because shortwave frequencies propagate differently at different times of the year, so the broadcasters choose the frequencies from the propagation tables that will "bounce" their signal from the transmission site into the target area.

I started listening to short wave in the mid 1970's, because I was often in locations where there was no Armed Forces Radio Television network. If you had a shortwave set, even if you were in the middle of the ocean, you could still keep up with events. Things have changed a lot since then, but I find it as useful as ever.

Shortwave sets come in all sizes, shapes and capabilities.  You can get a big expensive set with all the bells and whistles,  a medium priced set that will let you listen to the major broadcasters and the HAM's, and a cheap little pocket set that costs around ten dollars and is only good for major broadcasters. If things ever go sour and you need an alternate news source because there is no internet or television operational at the time, I can't think of a better way to go.


  1. I have had the same experience as Matt. I tried for a long while to listen to foreign broadcasts in English and about the only one that ever seemed to follow it's schedule that I could pick up was the one out of Cuba. Oh and one of the Chinese broadcasts I was able to get regularly. Most of the others I would look at the schedule chart and take a stab at them and..... nothing :(

    Otherwise it was US religious broadcasts all the time.

    It was very frustrating actually so I finally gave up.

  2. Matt, I messed up. I tried to take out the "comment removed by author" notification, and it got your revised comment as well. Can you please repost it? Sorry, blogger has some quirks now that it didn't have last time around.

    1. HA! luckily it was still saved in the copy and paste function.


      Harry, I've recently picked up a couple of sets lately, one a new and one, an old Zenith Vacuum set (Thanks, Stephen, it's just like yours)

      I've picked up a few stations, here and there on the new one with just a long wire attached to the back. Mostly just some religious stuff and once, a rebroadcast of Alex Jones....

      I'm sure once I get a proper antenna up it will pick up more.

    2. I'm sure if you have a good long wire antenna (which you can make from some speaker wire and a couple of plastic spoons, if need be) you'll be able to get the best national broadcasts. I don't have a vacuum tube set but I am keeping my eye peeled. I forget which one of his novels it was, but J.W. Rawles gave a good run down on the vacuum sets in one of his books. I didn't know Stephen had one, but I shouldn't be surprised. He's pretty much on top of the game.

    3. I've got a long spool of wire, just hadn't gotten it up yet.

      Stephen, just like you, has been a good source of info. All you gotta do is just read and look at the photos.

    4. That antenna will make a big difference. They make some little coiled wire electronically tunable antennas for people who live in cities and can't string a long wire, but they don't work nearly as well as a good long wire antenna.

  3. It might have been your antenna system, P.P. If you are just using the whip on the set you probably won't be able to pick all of them up even though they are out there when and where they are supposed to be. The antenna is really important. The best place I know of to get either long wire antenna or electronically tunable antenna is the Crane catalog. It's free if you go to their website. And it's also true that sometimes they change their broadcast schedules. I keep a hand written log in a journal of the listing time I put in and that helps me stay up to speed.

  4. I watch the BBC news when convenient. I watch because they actually talk about Europe, Africa, Asia and everything outside the US. The ramblings about America I ignore.

    My shortwave set is a Grundig 350DL. When bored I like to fire it up then listen to the news from different places like Lebanon, Russia, China, Eastern Europe, NZ or Cuba.

    1. I can watch BBC America's world news, it's their BBC World Service that is so violently anti-American. Fortunately they are broke now and are mostly an internet news agency these days.

      Grundig is top fight. I can never get NZ or Australia, and only rarely KOL Israel. I am not sure if it is topographic issues here in the mountain location, or technical. I imagine if I wanted to get out there and string a specially cut long wire for their freqs I could do a little better.