Home | Back to Reviews

"On the Short Waves, 1923-1945"

Reviewed by Radio Netherlands, and posted in text form on their website at http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/booklist/html/sw1923-1945.html  You can also hear this review presented on air, along with an interview of the author, in the June 17, 1999 edition of "Media Network."  It may be found at http://www.wrn.org/ondemand/ Reprinted with permission.

Jerry Berg is a well-known and highly respected short wave listener.  He is on the Executive Council of the North American Shortwave Association (NASWA) and is chairperson of the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications.  He is also the author of this case bound book (7 x 10) which tells the story of shortwave broadcasting from the earliest days up to the end of World War II.  It's surprising that nobody has tackled this subject in depth before.  Probably the reason is the difficulty of finding relevant material.  But researching information must be second nature to Jerry Berg, as he's an attorney by profession.  Even so, what he has managed to put together is very impressive.

As soon as you pick up this book it screams "quality" at you. Beautifully printed and bound by a traditional specialist publisher, it's one of the few publications about shortwave listening that would not look out of place on a coffee table.  Indeed, because of the richness of the many illustrations (photos, QSL cards, advertisements and extracts from magazines) and the wealth of anecdotes, it's a book you will keep wanting to browse through.  The only disappointment is that the illustrations are not in colour, but given the high cost of colour printing, that would have forced the price up considerably.

The narrative is divided into three main sections, each with several chapters.  The first section deals with the early days of shortwave broadcasting in the 1920's.  In those days, people were still amazed that they could hear broadcasts from thousands of miles away, so the names of receivers reflected that--for example, National Radio's "Thrill Box."  It makes the modern trend of using model numbers sound positively dull by comparison.

As early as 1922, radio was proving to be a problem in family relationships, but it wasn't always the male of the family who spent hours between the headphones.  A distraught husband wrote to radio station WEAF that they had "practically finished breaking up a happy home because his wife refused to clean or cook--even bathe the baby while the station was broadcasting.  There's no doubting what he thought the woman's role should be!

The second section of the book is entitled "Shortwave Radio Comes of Age and deals with the 1930's."  By now, more and more countries were coming on the air.  It's interesting to see a QSL card from HCJB in Ecuador, dating back to 1935.  Radio Netherlands, of course, still hadn't been invented, but Holland was represented by station PCJ in Huizen, on which Eddie Startz used to present his famous Happy Station show.  In those days, the station was operated by the Philips Radio Laboratories based in Eindhoven, and was officially classed as experimental.

A whole chapter is devoted to the popular shortwave press, and another to listeners' clubs, with the emphasis on North America, but no less fascinating for readers elsewhere.  We were interested to see that in 1935 you could purchase the Philco Radio Atlas of the World for the enormous sum of 50 cents!  The caption says it combined maps with time and frequency information--in other words, an antecedent of the World Radio TV Handbook.

One of the magazines mentioned is a publication called The Official Short Wave Listener.  Unlike many of the magazines of the time, which tended to concentrate on the technical aspects, The Official Short Wave Listener emphasized programme content.  We're intrigued by the title of one feature article called Short-Wave Beauties from Holland.  What could that have been about?  Sadly, the magazine only lasted for seven issues. Subsequent attempts to produce programme-oriented monthly publications on a commercial basis have all met the same fate.

The third major section covers the years of World War II, and for many people this will be the most fascinating of all, as it features the black propaganda stations operated by both sides.  Some have been well documented, such as the New British Broadcasting Station run by the German Büro Concordia.  Its head was Willliam Joyce, better known as Lord Haw Haw.  The Germans also ran stations intended for North American listeners, such as Radio Debunk, which described itself as "the Voice of All Free America" and claimed to be operating from the midwest.  In fact, it was operating from Bremen in Germany.

The British had their equivalent stations, such as Radio Atlantik which went on the air in February 1943 and broadcast to the German armed forces 24 hours a day.  Then there was the famous "Gustav Siegfried Eins" which was, as we now know, intended to highlight divisions between Nazi party leaders and the German military.

But what about the ordinary American shortwave listener during the war years?  There's a chapter explaining what everyday listening was like, with examples of the receivers used.  There are also a few paragraphs describing how short wave listeners were able to monitor and relay prisoner-of-war messages.

Throughout the book, copious use is made of footnotes, which are explained in a section at the back.  There's also a reading list for those who want to do further research--although many of the sources mentioned are long since out of print, and a trip to the library will be necessary.  There's also a comprehensive index.  These appendices are indicative of the care which has gone into writing the book.  It should also be noted that Jerry Berg is generous in crediting those who helped him along the way.

Every so often, there comes a publication which is so unique and so outstanding that you know instantly it will become a classic.  This is one such publication.  To sum it up in a single word: masterpiece.

[This review was compiled by the staff of "Media Network," the English language communications programme broadcast by Radio Netherlands.  The review was done independently of the author and publisher.  Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with either and provides the information above in good faith.]