Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Early Radio Memories (3)

Listening to radio stations which broadcast from exotic places was not simply a matter of hearing a diversity of programmes in a host of languages; it was also about obtaining proof from those stations that you had actually heard them.  This involves submitting a reception report via the mail, hence the need for overseas postage and occasionally (for smaller, third world stations) an enclosed International Reply Coupon.  Having listened to, for example, Radio New Zealand, the DXer (a new, proper noun!) would write up a report that included date and time, frequency tuned, quality of reception, programme details and the equipment used.  It would then be posted to the station in the hope that a verification card or letter would be received. This was known (is known) as the QSL, from the Q code beloved of ham radio operators the world over, meaning that the message has been confirmed.  Often these took weeks, even months to arrive, but the opening of the envelope on arrival was always a moment of pleasure!

Sometimes it was a simple, signed postcard.  Occasionally there would arrive a large envelope stuffed with goodies!  The larger broadcasters liked to do this, and I received pennants and magazines from Moscow and Havana, as well as posters from Peking and a copy of Mao Tse-tung’s “Little Red Book.”  (This would live next to my poster of Che Guevara!)

Short wave was a wonderful place in those days, for we were still emerging from the chilliest part of the Cold War. Apart from the BBC and the Voice of America, the big three broadcasters, all Marxist-Maoist in nature, were Radio Moscow, Radio Peking and surprising Albania.  Radio Tirana not only punched above its weight, it also developed the reputation of producing the dullest and most sonorous programming!

All this was, to a teenager, exotic and appealing.  Britain in the early 1970s was rather dull and grey with low horizons and sometimes even lower expectations, but pulling on a pair of headphones changed all of that.  There was a different world out there!

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