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"On the Short Waves, 1923-1945"

Reviewed by Paul J. McLane, Editor, Radio World, "The Newspaper for Radio Managers and Engineers" http://www.rwonline.com July 19, 2000, p. 4.  Reprinted with permission.

Radio and shortwave buffs will love this recent book from Jerome S. Berg.  --  Berg Goes On the Short Waves"

I love books.

Among my recent reading adventures are "Audition," by Michael Shurtleff; "1898:  The Birth of the American Century," by David Traxel; "The Witches," by Roald Dahl; "The Year 1000:  What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium," from Robert Lacey and Danny Danzinger; "The Light of Falling Stars" by J. Robert Lennon; "Why People Believe Weird Things," by Michael Shermer; "Harry Potter," by J. K. Rowling; "The Club Dumas," from Arturo Perez Reverte; "Calendar," by David Ewing Duncan; and "Silent Running:  My Years on a WWII Attack Submarine," by James F. Calvert.

Books are tumbling off the shelves in my home, books are beginning to stack up on my bedroom floor and live in the back seat of my car.

Among the more interesting is "On the Short Waves," published by McFarland & Co., which tells the history of this important system of communication through 1945.

Author Jerome S. Berg believes the story of shortwave broadcasting has been told only in small pieces or by authors who failed to emphasize the listeners who actually tuned in.

"Shortwave broadcasting gave birth to a special aspect of the radio listening culture that survives to this day:  a body of enthusiastic shortwave listeners--some who tune the bands to enjoy the programming, and others whose main interest is DX, or long-distance reception pursued mainly for the thrill of the hunt," he writes.

"The purpose of this book is to relate the story of the rise of shortwave broadcasting and the listener community that was attracted to it."

He succeeds in marvelous fashion.

Berg, a Massachusetts attorney and member of the Executive Council of the North American Shortwave Association, discusses many aspects of SW:  its early days, its roots in AM broadcasting, its maturing process in the 1930s, shortwave in the United States and its role in the war years of the 1940s.

Radio history buffs will enjoy this hardcover.  I loved the black and white illustrations, and couldn't stop flipping through.

Berg gives us pages and pages of studio and tower photos, licenses, QSLs and promotional brochures from early AM stations.  He reprints receiver ads and samples of publications like The Dialist, The Globe Circler, Radio Guide and Radio Digest.

The intriguing topic of verifications merits a chapter, and Berg knows this material well; he is chair of the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications.

The founding of Voice of America is here.  We read about broadcasters like W8XAL, the shortwave outlet for WLW programs, and about PCJ in the Netherlands, still a presence today.

People had an intense relationship with their radios back then, as Berg demonstrates through editorial cartoons, poems and elegies.

One Shakespeare-inspired QSL from Jack D. Rhea and Lee Baker of Kickapoo Prairie Broadcasting station KICK (AM) in Springfield, Mo., was written in 1950.  Their response to distant listeners began:


To verify or not to verify, that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in your mind to suffer
Wondering of your outrageous fortune in hearing our call
Or for us to take arms against a sea of reports, and
By verifying, deplete them?


Reached by phone at his law office, Berg told me that this is his first book, "almost a lark, really."  The history is detailed and well documented.  If the law gig ever dries up, he has a second calling.

I only wish he had devoted as much energy to describing the medium today.  His story concludes with WWII, at what Berg calls "the end of the beginning of shortwave broadcasting."

Shortwave may not be what it was, and even Berg says it is in decline today.  But SW remains an important part of the global communication landscape.  At the recent NAB2000 convention, Adil Mina, an executive of Continental Electronics Corp., told me, "Satellites fail.  The Internet can be stopped.  Shortwave is today the only way you can send a message and be sure no one can censor it, no one can stop it."

Perhaps Berg can be persuaded to take on the challenge of describing the current role of shortwave.  Meanwhile, buy this one for the radio buff in your life, or for yourself.

Call McFarland & Co. in North Carolina at (800) 253-2187.  The cost is $46.50 including shipping.

Tell me about your own favorite radio books at pmclane@imaspub.com or write to the address on the inside last page.