Sunday, 27 September 2015

Shortwave broadcasting and QSL cards.

Few people are fortunate to be able to turn a hobby into a career. When I started listening to shortwave radio in the early 1980s, I never knew that I would one day be writing books and articles about international broadcasting. I progressed from listening on my father's wonderful 1950s Bakelite with glowing green valves and a wonderful bass hum that grew louder as the set warmed up (this radio now has pride of place in my office) to a Russian Vega Selena 215.

By the end of the 1980s I upgraded again. This time, I wanted a digital set so I could key in the frequencies of stations that were printed in the wonderful World Radio and TV Handbook. My parents bought me a Saisho SW5000.

As I started to travel on fieldwork for my PhD, I bought a small portable shortwave receiver. I continued to listen when I went to Caversham Park where I used the wonderful BBC Written Archives Centre; to Kew when I spent time at the Public Records Office; to Taiwan; and then to Washington DC. I always enjoyed listening overseas in anticipation of all the new stations I would access.
During the Gulf War of 1991 I hooked up my Saisho to a tape recorder and recorded hours of broadcasts (from the Voice of America, Kol Israel, and the BBC World Service)  for Phil Taylor who was writing his book, War and the Media. I had seen my name in print before: I had articles published in Shortwave Magazine and in various newspapers, but nothing matched the thrill of seeing my name in Phil's book, thanking me for undertaking this work for him. 

I recently corresponded with David Jackson, former Director of the Voice of America. I told him of my excitement when, during PhD fieldwork in Washington DC in 1993, I took the VoA tour. Like the classic class nerd I threw my hand up at every opportunity to ask and answer questions. David made reference the VoA QSL cards, and this reminded me of the hours I spent listening through the crackle of faint transmissions at all hours of the night and writing reception reports for the stations. I sent these in the post, and weeks, sometimes months later, the station would acknowledge my report with a QSL card and other souvenirs (stickers, magazines, books). I found my collection for the late 1980s and though I would share my QSLs in this blog. 

QSL is international radio language for "Please verify". 

This part of my collection represents the closing of an era. With the rise of the internet and the ability to listen to radio stations from all over the world on a computer or tablet, the age of shortwave has largely passed. Yet there is still something romantic about turning a dial at 3am and listening eagerly through the crackle to hear which station one is listening to (oh no, not Radio Moscow again!). Those were the days ... The collection also a reminder of another era in international politics, with the Soviet Union represented by Radio Moscow World Service, sending me pictures and stamps of Lenin; with Radio Prague Czechoslovakia responding to an essay I wrote them about Marxism by sending me books about Czech foreign policy. While still at school in the  mid-1980s I wrote an article for Shortwave Magazine called 'What is the role of the shortwave radio in international politics?'  In 1994 I completed my PhD, supervised by Phil Taylor, entitled 'Nation Unto Nation: The BBC and VoA in International Politics, 1956-64'. This was subsequently published as Radio Diplomacy and Propaganda (Macmillan, 1996).   

Radio Austria International, June and July 1988 

Radio HCJB The Voice of the Andes, Ecuador, June and July 1988: "Thank you for your letter  to Salados Amigos"

Top: Radio Prague, Czechoslovakia, July 1987.
Bottom: Radio RSA, The Voice of South Africa: 'The Bokmakierie. Here the bokmakierie is feeding its young. A species easily identified by its familiar call and beautiful plumage'
Top: Radio RSA, The Voice of South Africa, July 1988 'Johannesburg - a dynamic city founded on gold, soars into the future'
Bottom: Radio Kuwait, July and August 1987 'Agriculture in Kuwait'
Radio Australia, August 1987. 'The Koala, a familiar symbol of Australia,is found in the south-east and north of the country.' 

Top: All India Radio External Services, October 1987. 'Gate Keeper to India, Sabha Ellora'
Bottom: The Voice of Vietnam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam), July 1988
The Voice of America, February 1987: Top: 'The White House on a wintry evening in Washington DC. US Presidents and their families have lived here since 1800.'
Bottom: 'The VOA newsroom in Washington DC where news from all over the world is compiled and prepared'

Top: Voice of America, March 1987: 'One of the new VoA studios in Washington DC where broadcasts in 42 languages originate'
Bottom: Radio Polonia, Poland, March 1989. 'The station you listened to is Warsaw' 

The Voice of Vietnam, Xmas 1988; Season's Greetings

Radio Prague, Xmas 1988: 'With best wishes for a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year'
Radio Moscow World Service,June 1989: 'Dear Mr Rawnsley. Thank you for writing to us and taking part in the listeners' forum dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the International Service of Radio Moscow. Please accept our small souvenir - a set of post cards and Soviet stamps. We hope you will like them. We are glad to hear more from our listeners, so if you have any suggestions, questions and requests, you are welcome.'

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Unfortunately, only the envelope is in the collection. I wonder what was included?

Kol Israel, Israel Radio International: 'You have a friend at Kol Israel'.


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