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"On the Short Waves, 1923-1945"

Reviewed by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations, Adventist World Radio, Indianapolis, IN.  Transcribed from the AWR "Wavescan" edition for the week of April 18, 1999. Reprinted with permission.

Just published is a beautiful new book by the noted Jerry Berg under the title "On the Short Waves, 1923-1945." The entire contents of this remarkable new book may prove very interesting reading, from the front cover, depicting early radio listeners, right through to the back, presenting a brief overview of this handsome volume. This 280 page book begins at the beginning with a brief preview of the very origins of wireless. It then progresses through the early events, and then the early years of shortwave broadcasting, up until the climactic end of World War II. The engrossing text is amply illustrated with long-forgotten photographs, QSL-cards and even magazine advertisements from yesteryear.

Let's take an in-depth view now of this entire volume. "On the Short Waves" is divided up into three major sections: the first, "The Early Days," second, "Short Wave Comes of Age," and the third part is "The War Years." In addition, at the end of the 11 fascinating chapters are four compilations that also do make for some interesting reading. These assemblages present the conclusion, chapter notes, reading list and then the index. Usually the end notes in any book are characterless and basically uninteresting--sort of adocumentation of necessary facts. But here, the author, Jerry Berg, has presented really quite interesting and really readable information.

In a flowing, readable style, Jerry presents the early events with the interesting anecdotes of the early wireless pioneers and inventors. This section is illustrated with the reproduction of a QSL letter signed by radio inventor Edwin Armstrong verifying reception of his experimental FM station, W2XMN. Also pictured is a 1904 postcard view of the Marconi wireless station located at Wellfleet on coastal Massachusetts. Prominent at the beginning of the radio broadcasting scene was the station, of course, KDKA, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, with Dr. Frank Conrad at the controls. It's generally conceded that the radio broadcasting era began with this station, and shortwave broadcasting had its origins at this time also. Among the illustrations for this era is a 1923 QSL letter with the photo verifying the reception of KDKA.

In the pioneer days of radio broadcasting the overriding factor was distance, abbreviated these days to "DX." Stations wanted as many listeners as possible over a great distance as possible. Listeners enjoyed this feature also, and many radio magazines featured articles and advertisements demonstrating that a particular station had been heard widely, even in countries in other parts of the world. In those days, no station was on the air 24 hours, and this gave listeners the opportunity of hearing distant stations in other countries.

Humor entered the picture in those days, with radio cartoons in magazines, on postcards and in poetry. At the very beginning of radio experimentation, Marconi had unknowingly experimented with electrical transmissions on what we would now call the shortwave frequencies. At his work at Westinghouse, Dr. Frank Conrad of KDKA frequently relayed the programming of the medium wave KDKA on his own amateur transmitter under the callsign 8XK. In subsequent developments, he established an artificial shortwave relay of a station KDKA under the callsign 8XS. This unit was used in a transcontinental rebroadcasting system located at Pittsburg in Pennslyvania, Hastings, Nebraska, and Oakland in California. These rebroadcasts were also relayed by local stations in England, continental Europe, Latin America, South Africa and in Australia. Check the exotic QSLs that are listed in this section--there is KFKX, Nebraska; WGY, Schenectady; and KDKA, Pittsburg.

At this stage, special broadcasts to the Arctic Circle in northern Canada and Greenland were on the air regularly for isolated officials in those pioneer areas. There were experiments to broadcast from a submarine, and expeditions in the jungles of South America and the snowy wastelands of the South Pole.

Shortwave broadcasting escalated during the 1930s, with a proliferation of stations in many areas around the world. Noteworthy in this area were the legendary PCJ in Holland, station G5SW as the forerunner of the BBC World Service, gospel station HCJB in Ecuador, and three A.W.A. stations in Australia, and numerous stations in all of the Americas. Notable also were the exotic island stations. There was ZJV and VPD2 in Fiji, and the original ship station, VK9MI in Australian waters.

One entire chapter covers the shortwave radio scene in the United sates, with the story of each of the nostalgic stations of that era. You can read about the stations established by the big radio companies, such as Westinghouse, General Electric, NBC and Crosley, and with such nostalgic callsigns as W8XK, W2XAF, W3XAL and even WLW. Illustrations here include coverage maps, early photographs, and, of course, rare QSL cards.

One chapter focusses on shortwave radio reception, or DXing as it is known, and radio receivers of that era. Another chapter presents the story of radio programming on the air at the time, and magazines of the era with Gernsback as a prominent publisher. Included also are the magazines published by the radio clubs of the time.

Another chapter that you will really enjoy is under the one word title, "Verifications." QSLs grew from a double source, that is, the amateur radio world and applause cards, commending particular radio programs. Numerousillustrations present such stations as the early broadcasters in Cuba,American medium wave stations, the BBC in London, and some of the Latin American stations. You can read also about the now memorable EKKO stamps. The final major area presents a worldwide story of shortwave broadcasting during World War II, with the shortwave scene in Germany, England, Japan and then the United States. Among the QSLs that are portrayed in this section are cards from Germany, Italy, the Middle East, and in Africa.

"On the Short Waves" is such a fascinating book--and there's a lot more in it than we can present in this brief review--as soon as a copy arrived at our Indianapolis office, our DX editor, Adrian Peterson, dropped all other activity, scanned it through just to revel in its contents, and he writes that he found it so interesting that he went back and read the book through, this time in full detail--and I have no doubts of that.

The author, Jerry Berg, is a competent attorney and a DXer, an international radio monitor of high standing throughout the world. He builds the contents of this book from the wealth of his own long standing personal experience in the world of international radio monitoring, and he also serves the radio world as the chairperson of the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications. He also has accumulated and preserved a large museum collection of worldwide QSL cards.

This book, "On the Short Waves," will appeal to many areas of reading. For the older reader this book will bring back half forgotten memories of the olden days of radio. The younger listener will discover the interesting backgrounds of the shortwave stations that he enjoys today, and it will be of interest also to historians, researchers and general readers. Radio clubs and public libraries will probably also want to get a copy.

"On the Short Waves" is published by McFarland & Co., at Box 611, Jefferson, NC , U.S.A., 28640. In North America, you can call them on the phone on what's known as a toll free number, it's 1-800-253-2187. If you'd like their Internet address, it's www.mcfarlandpub.com. The book is available from a large number of book chains, such as Borders and Barnes & Noble--if you really put your mind to it you'll probably find this book. Thanks also, Jerry Berg, for such a remarkable and readable book, and one wonders if we're going to have other books from you in coming years.