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"On the Short Waves, 1923-1945"

Reviewed by Douglas A. Boyd, Professor of Communications, University of Kentucky, in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol., 76, No. 4 (Winter 1999), p. 784. Reprinted with permission.

Hobbyists and other nonacademics have written books about international communication that have proven to be useful to researchers and students alike.  This is one of those books.  The author, a long-time shortwave radio listener, is president of the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications, the purpose of which is to collect and preserve the cards and letters stations send to listeners to verify reception reports.  These cards are known as QSL cards--the telegraph term meaning to acknowledge receipt.  Examples of these cards and letters from stations all over the world in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, in addition to magazine and newspaper ads for shortwave radios, are generously reprinted throughout the book, making it especially interesting while providing a type of almost unique documentation.

On the Short Waves, 1923-1945 is presented in eleven chapters within three parts:  "The Early Days," "Shortwave Comes of Age:  The 1930s," and "The War Years:  1940-1945."  The three chapters in Part I--"Broadcasting Roots," "Distance," and "The Arrival of Shortwave"--offer readers a variety of information about early radio pioneers that defined the shortwave bands through early experimentation.  Thus, one is reminded here of such internationally known experimenters as Marconi, Fessenden, De Forest, and Conrad, but more important, readers are treated to memories of listeners who built and purchased ready-made receivers capable of mediumwave and shortwave reception.

Part II consists of six chapters that span the most important decade of radio's development in the first half of the twentieth century, the 1930s.  Chapter 3 is reserved for developments in the United States, and Chapter 4 does a solid job of reviewing shortwave developments in the rest of the world.  It would have been easy just to concentrate on Europe--where the author covers the obvious pioneer stations in the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, and France--but Berg also covers shortwave stations in Australia, China, Japan, Latin America, and Africa.  Chpater 5, a fifteen-page review of the United States, pays particular attention to the private shortwave stations, most operated by the major networks and broadcasters, that were eventually leased by the government after America declared war on Japan and Germany and became the transmission base for the Voice of America.  Chapter 6 describes the development, manufacture, and sale of receivers capable of shortwave reception.  For the history buff, reprints of ads in various magazine advertising help readers recall a world of shortwave reception before the introduction of the word digital.

Given my interests, I rushed through chapter 7, "The Popular Shortwave Press," and Chapter 8, "Organizing," the latter dealing with the shortwave listening clubs that emerged during the 1930s.  Due to the author's interest in verifications, readers will find chapter 9 both detailed and full of examples of verification cards and letters from locations ranging from a station in Coffeyville, Kansas, to the BBC.

There are many books and articles about radio broadcasting during World war II, but chapter 10, "Stations and Voices of War," and chapter 11, "Listening in Wartime," are especially of interest to those who seek a brief review of this fascinating, and some will argue crucial, period of long-distance radio broadcasting.  Although not exclusively so, a great deal of chapter 12 is correctly devoted to attempts--including clandestine stations--by Germany to reach the rest of Europe and North America with a message, and conversely Allied efforts to broadcast to Germany.  The final chapter reviews some of the receivers and those audiences that for recreation or security listened to far-off stations for the first half of the 1940s.

For some well-informed rteaders, the history may not be sufficiently detailed.  However, what is provided is well written and clearly presented.  The analysis could only have been done by someone like Berg who understands both the importance and historical context of the period of time when people listened to and enjoyed a type of radio listening that today seldom takes place in the Western world.