Reviewed by Bart Lee. ©1999 John V. Terrey.
First published in Antique Radio Classified,
September 1999, and at the A.R.C. website, http://www.antiqueradio.com/bookrev1_09-99.html
Radio on short wavelengths opened up the world. Commercial interests exploited the discoveries by the amateurs in the early 1920s that wavelengths under 200 meters could girdle the globe. The broadcasting craze of the 1920s featured a desire to hear distant stations--DX. The shortwaves on which stations began to broadcast in the late 1920s and early 1930s made worldwide DX a nightly event. Like local broadcasting before it, the shortwave broadcasting of the 1930s generated an enormous enthusiasm.
Jerry Berg has now chronicled the history of that phenomenon. We owe him a debt of gratitude. He has written a very good book indeed -- On the Short Waves, 1923-1945. Everyone who has ever tuned a dial above 1600 kc ought to buy it. You'll like it.
On the Short Waves tells the story, not only of broadcasting, but of shortwave listening as well. Jerry quotes Hugo Gernsback in 1926, "I cannot imagine any greater thrill than that which comes when I listen, as I often do, to a station thousands of miles away. It is the greatest triumph yet achieved by mind over matter."
Jerry tells who the broadcasters were, and in the increasingly tense 1930s, what they were trying to do. He provides great detail on the listeners as well, not only the hobbyists and casual listeners, but also the World War II volunteers who monitored tirelessly for news of prisoners of war in order to notify their families.
The book distills station histories, equipment, publications, ephemera (e.g. QSL cards and EKKO stamps), personalities, clubs, and events of the world into 272 pages of well written and superbly illustrated text with scholarly notes and a thorough index. Outstanding as it is as a source of historical material, the book is even better for enjoyable reading by anyone with an interest in radio, its powers and its development. Not until the coming of the worldwide Web on the Internet has a technology had so much impact on the world of nations.
Shortwave radio, as Jerry tells the story, made us all internationalists because it brought the voices of the world -- unedited, unmediated, and unspun -- directly into our homes. They came, not only into our "radio rooms," however modest, but also into our living rooms. We could hear the world and make up our own minds about what we heard. DX took on meaning, and the book lays it out. To this day, a shortwave radio provides an unmatched ear to the world, and we should be thankful to Jerry for telling its history so well.
But what of an encore? A compact disk with this story, and with accompanying audio and illustrations in color? A coffee-table book with color illustrations updated to the 1990s? A second volume -- 1945-1995, The Cold War in the Ether? If Jerry does any of these, you may be assured that they will be of high quality -- equal to that of this book.
On the Short Waves, 1923-1945 is available for $42.50, plus $4 ($6 foreign) shipping, in a 280-page, 7-1/2" x 10-1/4" hardcover format, from the publisher McFarland & Co., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640. Orders: 1-800-253-2187; Fax: 336-246-5018; www.mcfarlandpub.com. It is also available from other booksellers.
Note: I am personally indebted to Jerry Berg for my presentations on shortwave radio history at recent AWA conventions. (Bart Lee, 327 Filbert Steps, San Francisco, CA 94133)