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01/28/2005 Archived Entry: "Why shortwave radio?"
After my last blog entry, a reader inquired why shortwave radio interests me, and why someone would want to get a shortwave radio. I addressed the latter question briefly in a blog posting last September. Perhaps that was too brief, and at the risk of repeating myself, I should elaborate.
Basically, I think that everyone should develop alternative news sources. We receive some of the U.S. television media via satellite, and it's astonishing to me how blinkered, superficial, and subservient it has become. You get a very different "take", and a lot more actual information, from foreign news sources. And in North America there are only two ways to get those sources -- via the Internet, or via shortwave radio. (I suppose you could subscribe to foreign news magazines, but few are in English, and you'd be weeks behind the times.)
Internet is faster, more "information rich," and more accessible to most people, and it is where I get most of my international coverage. But there are some outlets that don't have an Internet news presence (Radio China and Radio Havana spring to mind). And in many ways the Internet is easier to obstruct -- e.g. when Al-Jazeera first offered an English language service, and succumbed to denial-of-service attacks. I prefer to have a news medium that can't be easily censored by the authorities. Or tapped. Even though the FBI is retiring the Carnivore system, it's only because they have more effective ways to monitor what web pages you're viewing.
With radio, it is very difficult for the authorities to discover what you're hearing -- it's technically possible, but basically they have to park a monitoring van near your home, which is somewhat visible, and expensive to do on a large scale. Shortwave broadcasts can be jammed, but again, it's impractical to jam all of them all the time, and rather obvious when they do.
Plus, there's a lot to be said for a communications medium that requires very little infrastructure -- no phone line, no satellite dish -- only power, and that can come from batteries, solar panels, generators, or even automobiles. Certainly the victims of the Asian tsunami have discovered this truth, as amateur radio operators were often the only communications to outlying areas.
Finally, to answer the first question: I've been a shortwave listener since my high-school days in rural Forgotonia, where the nearest cinema was 45 minutes' drive away, and personal computing (and the Internet) weren't even imagined. I think it's fun.
P.S. One thing I've never been is systematic about my SWL'ing. I really should keep a log. Here's what we heard last night while looking for news:
0015Z 9,570 kHz S7, strong & clear China Radio International
0045Z 7,325 kHz S9, strong & clear Radio Austria International
0100Z 6,005 kHz S9+30, very strong China Radio International