My mother tells the tale. When I was a baby, it was near impossible to get me to go back to sleep after my midnight feeding. Now being a parent, I understand this dark void that overtakes you when exhaustion grips your very sense of being and the child in your arms simply will not sleep. But a few times when my mother would regale this motherhood battle story, an interesting detail would be included and it has always stuck with me.
"I'd listen to the radio," she'd say, "and at that hour of the night, I got a very interesting station from North Carolina." I'd always remembered this strange detail and it's left me with a sort of awe that the now antiquated science of radio could, in the wee small hours when the whole wide world was fast asleep, circumvented the ionosphere and sent an exhausted lady in Long Island a distant, mysterious message.
I only bring this up now because inexplicably, I've bought myself a world band radio: a Grundig G8 Traveller II. I'd owned a world band radio once before. It was a gift from a girlfriend (really, why would a girlfriend give this as a gift? But who cares - it was clairvoyant in a way.) I'd no clue what to make of the thing when I got it but I soon fell in love with the meditative practice of putting on headphones and getting lost in its orchestra of frequencies. I brought this first radio with me when I moved to NYC in 1994 but two months after I moved in, my apartment was robbed. Almost everything I owned (which wasn't much) was stolen, this radio included.
And now, sixteen years later, I have finally replaced the world band radio with this Grundig G8. I suppose I can best describe listening to shortwave radio as casting a net. You may get Radio Bulgaria or Voice of Croatia. You may get Radio Havana. You may get China Radio International or Radio Taiwan International. You may get a crazy redneck broadcasting from a bunker in Kentucky. You don't know what you will get, but you will get something.
The logical question follows - why listen to shortwave radio when essentially any radio station can now be accessed on the web? This is a valid question. I suppose it all boils down to this: whatever you want to find is on the internet. You create wishes and then you seek solutions, often picking through a choice of solutions that best aligns with your initial expectations.
- With shortwave DX'ing (and that means 'dialing' - new lingo I've learned), you don't know what it is you're looking for. You have to give in to the calming, patient process of moving through the kilohertz. You'll come upon something. Maybe it's a ham radio operator in Ontario. Maybe it's Deutcshe Welle. You have to figure this out. The internet exists to spoonfeed you exactly what it is that you want. Shortwave has now come forward as a place where you don't want anything, you just seek for the sake of seeking.
- Amid the fuzz something may come through. Is it just the cold mechanical ping of data transference or is it a voice? For me, I get lost in the numerology of frequencies - which are active during the day? Which ones do I track at night? There are infinite points of data to memorize and my mind finds this calming. Though I am in the safe confines of my home, I am hashing through the ether, seeking out some form of answer to the age-old question that has plagued man since he first emerged from the cave to look out at the stars - 'is there anybody out there?'