Tuesday 2 April 2024

Listening without Prejudice

Whilst this blog predominantly focuses on my memories of free radio from the 1990s, I would never have come to know of the existence of 'pirate' shortwave operators if it had not have been for first listening to 'legit' broadcasters from overseas. 

It would be around March 1989, as a 12-year old, when I started tuning around on a National Panasonic receiver brought back from the Middle East. The distant but accessible voices of, for example, HCJB Ecuador, Radio Australia, WCSN, Radio Pyongyang, BRT (Belgium) and many, many others soon became an essential part of my everyday, even at such a young age. Indeed, when I began writing to all of the above and countless others, I would rarely be disappointed with what would arrive in the mail, at a time when shortwave broadcasters used the medium as a way to publicise their respective countries, and to some extent promulgate differing political and religious ideologies. 

It was therefore only through my regular 'tuning around' that I chanced upon Radio 48, Ozone Radio International, and Live Wire Radio one Sunday morning in October 1990, something which ended up changing my listening habits for good. 

There was always something fascinating about hearing professional sounding radio that wasn't financially underpinned by a national government or religious denomination, where many kilowatts and broadcast towers were replaced by low power operations using rudimentary antennas, often from spare bedrooms or out in the field. This strand of shortwave listening firmly put the word 'hobby' and achieving technical mastery at the forefront of operators' minds, and was therefore very different to what I previously enjoyed from the likes of BRT's listener and DX programme, as well as Tom Meyer and Jonathan Marks on Radio Netherlands. Although it wasn't, all of a sudden conventional shortwave broadcasting seemed staid and rigid, compared to freestyling and unfettered pirate operators. 

Another pre-pirate favourite was Arnie Coro's DXers Unlimited programme on Radio Havana; I also bagged a QSL for Radio Berlin International's final broadcast prior to German reunification. This is an excellent, if somewhat bijou depository of International Radio Station Memories

So, I hear you ask, why was it not possible to enjoy both sides of the shortwave coin? There was nothing to say that I couldn't, but by this time as an impressionable youth barely into his teenage years, there was always going to be something more trendy and rebellious about hearing, and corresponding with, those technically breaking the law. As someone who is now in his late 40s, it is not easy to remember exactly why my attentions dramatically shifted, but free radio operators became to feel like familiar friends, to a point where their absence on the bands would be keenly felt. 

Nowadays, when it is pointed out to me that to stop listening to shortwave altogether is irrational, I would say that it very much depends on what floats your boat. As my passion for free radio died when life away from radio became more interesting, it also coincided with many of my favourite stations calling it a day. This blog has publicly stated that I have all but given up listening to a free radio scene which has inevitably become a shadow of its former self, although I will still tune in when I know that certain operators will be active, for example the Xenon Transmitting Company(XTC). This does not amount to throwing my toys out of the pram, but an acknowledgment of what previously 'did it for me' no longer existing. 

It was unfortunate that XTC was wiped out yesterday by a very powerful transmitter just 10 KHz away, despite the band being otherwise empty. Check before you switch on maybe, at least if you have any respect for others. That of course is by no means a given. It is with no little irony that as soon as XTC moved 5 KHz down the band, that the rogue operator switched off from the offending channel...

Those with long memories will have fond recollections of April Fools Days from times past on shortwave. Be it the Voice of the Leek, or merciless ribbing of fellow operators of the time, such vignettes of humour are fondly remembered. Nevertheless, here's one for wee guy Jack:

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Listening without Prejudice

Whilst this blog predominantly focuses on my memories of free radio from the 1990s, I would never have come to know of the existence of '...