Category Archives: Radio History

Radio Hats of Yore

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ed, who writes:

Hey Thomas, if you haven’t already covered this in the SWLing Post, this might be worth mentioning:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/radio-hat-1931-1949-man-from-mars

TURNS OUT, LISTENING TO PODCASTS on your morning commute is nothing new. In 1931, the British cinemagazine Pathetone Weekly—which documented odd fashion trends during its run from 1930 to 1941—premiered a new invention: the Radio Hat.

In it, a man waiting for the bus decides to listen to the radio—via his straw hat, from which two large antennas poke out.

As a Pathetone Weekly title card read: “They say there’s nothing new under the sun—this little French idea to while away the bus waits, must surely be!”

According to an August 1930 issue of Modern Mechanix, a Berlin engineer invented the hat, which allowed its wearer to “listen to the Sunday sermon while motoring or playing golf, get the stock market returns at the ball game, or get the benefit of the daily dozen while on the way to work by merely tuning in.”

[Continue reading…]

The video link in the article to a 1930’s British cinemagazine Pathetone Weekly­-which documented odd fashion trends during its run from 1930 to 1941­-shows a fascinating demonstration of the Radio Hat, which was way ahead of its time!

Click here to view on YouTube.

Very cool! Thank you for sharing, Ed. I love how the radio hat is so conspicuous–hey, I’d wear it!

Cold War Broadcasting: Two articles feature RFE & Radio Liberty

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andrea Borgnino, who shares the following article from the website Journalism Is Not A Crime:

From Propaganda to Journalism: How Radio Free Europe Pierced the Iron Curtain

The end of the Second World War signaled the beginning of an information war in Europe. As the military alliance between the Soviet Union and its main western allies — the United States and Britain — came to an end, the USSR backed small communist parties that asserted ever-tighter control over much of Eastern Europe.

Speaking in Fulton, Missouri in March 1946, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned of an “Iron Curtain” of totalitarian control sealing off half the continent. His speech heralded the beginning of an ideological “cold war” that would last for more than 40 years, a struggle in which citizens of the eastern camp were only meant to hear one side of the argument.

“We talk about the Iron Curtain as a physical barrier, but it was also an information curtain,” says A. Ross Johnson, a former director of Radio Free Europe and author of a history of RFE and its companion station, Radio Liberty, which broadcast into the Soviet Union. “All the communist regimes saw control of information as a key to their rule.”

Continue reading…

An SWLing Post contributor also recently shared the following PDF article by A. Ross Johnson for the Wilson Center. Here’s the summary:

To Monitor and be Monitored– Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty during the Cold War

Monitoring of Soviet bloc radios was an important input to Radio Free and Radio Liberty broadcasts during the Cold War. RFE and RL also monitored the official print media and interviewed refugees and travelers. Soviet bloc officials in turn monitored RFE, RL, and other Western broadcasts (while jamming their transmissions) to inform themselves and to counter what they viewed as “ideological subversion.” On both sides, monitoring informed media policy.

RFE and RL monitored their radio audiences through listener letters and extensive travel
surveys, while the Communist authorities monitored those audiences through secret police
informants and secret internal polling. Both approaches were second-best efforts at survey
research but in retrospect provided reasonably accurate indicators of the audience for RFE, RL, and other Western broadcasters.

Click here to download the full Wilson Center article as a PDF.

If you’re interested in Cold War broadcasting, I would also encourage you to check out Richard Cummings’ blog, Cold War Radio Vignettes.

How to safely archive QSLs, postcards, photos, and printed memorabilia

Recently, an SWLing Post reader asked this simple question:

“If you were me, would you laminate a super-rare QSL card?”

The short answer–?  Please don’t!

Never laminate a QSL card, photo, page or postcard

You should never apply heat-seal or adhesive (cold) seal lamination to a QSL card or any other paper memorabilia if your ultimate goal is to protect and archive it.

Why?  Doesn’t lamination, for example, make your card impervious to moisture (and spilled coffee)?  Sort of.  So that makes it safe for the long term, doesn’t it? Well…not exactly.

These forms of lamination, over time, basically destroy printed media. In the short term, laminating your cards can look great, and will keep some of the coffee off (though it may still seep in the sides); in the long term, however, the (petroleum-based) plastic can “off gas,” causing a detrimental chemical reaction with the media it attempts to protect.  Plastic can also be acidic.  Coupled with the lamination heat (or the adhesive, in the case of cold-seal lamination) these processes can actually speed up the aging process “causing progressive deterioration and eventual embrittlement,” according to one archiving source.

I feel fairly passionate about this because, during my undergraduate studies, I worked for my university archives department where I was taught (by an excellent and knowledgeable archivist) to handle, document, index, and preserve sensitive documents, books, photos, cards, slides and other forms of media (known in the trade as “ephemera”).  Many times, we’d receive important documents or photos from donors who had laminated them, believing they were archiving these items for future generations. Alas, we saw the results of the lamination damage first-hand:  decades-old items that had been heat-laminated were separating and clouding up, often tearing apart the item inside. Our head archivist likened laminating to a self-destruct mechanism.

Take away? Lamination is a very bad idea for the long-term protection of any print media.

How to archive a QSL card––or any document, for that matter

Archival sleeves come in all forms. This one holds four cards and fits in a three ring binder.

Fortunately, there are effective (and fairly affordable) ways to properly archive and organize your QSL card collection, as well as other sentimental and/or valuable ephemera.

Look for archival transparent sleeves supplied to libraries. These are generally made of polyethylene, mylar/polyester, or another transparent archival material that passes the Photographic Activity Test (PAT).

In short: If you find an archival sleeve, from a reputable seller that passes the P.A.T. test, you’ll know it’s safe.

Archival products are acid-free, lignan-free, and chemical softener-free, thus should not interact or bind with the media you’re preserving as non-acid-free items are prone to do. With anything I wish to archive, I go with archival quality all the way.

For example, I make sure not only the clear sleeves or pages are archival, but that the binder or box containing the items are acid-free and of archival quality, as well. Any labels I use are archival, as well . That may seem like overkill to many, but it’s just what an archivist would do!

Storage of the media is also important; you don’t want to put your cards in archival sleeves and then leave them in a damp shed or shack where moisture can become trapped between your card and the encapsulating archival sleeve; mold could still develop.  So a dry, somewhat temperature-controlled environment is key.  Generally speaking, keeping ephemera indoors where you live may be a better option.

Sources of Archival Materials

A simple acid-free box can store hundreds of QSL cards in archival sleeves sleeves.

Archival products are more expensive than standard office products, but they’re worth it. Make sure you’re purchasing the best quality you can afford. Two of my favorite suppliers are Gaylord Archival and Light Impressions, though there are many other reputable ones out there.

Amazon and eBay offer sources of archival quality products, as well, and pricing can be more competitive than either of the retailers I’ve listed above.

As for myself,  I only buy archival products from retailers that specialize in them. Both Light Impressions and Gaylord Archival have helpful staff you can call on the phone. They’ll help you find the best material for the preservation of your collection of QSL cards or whatever else you may want to protect.

I’d rather support Light Impressions with my purchase knowing that their standards are strict and their reputation rides on their products meeting strict archival standards. If you’re going to pay for something to protect your memorabilia, I say, go for quality!

And in the meantime…give the heat lamination a miss.

Good luck with your long-term archiving!  And don’t forget to share those rare QSL cards with us here.

Lowell Thomas: “The Forgotten Man Who Transformed Journalism”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Patalon, who shares the following story from The Smithsonian:

The Forgotten Man Who Transformed Journalism in America

Lowell Thomas was the first host of a TV broadcast news program, and adopted a number of other new technologies to make his mark in the 20th century

By the time Lowell Thomas turned 25, he’d already worked as a journalist, earned multiple degrees, and found a place on the faculty at Princeton University. But seizing a rare opportunity during World War I changed him from youthful overachiever to media heavyweight. During that conflict he met T.E. Lawrence, soon-to-be famous as “Lawrence of Arabia”—and Thomas played a large part in giving Lawrence that fame. The encounter launched Thomas into the media stratosphere with a groundbreaking multimedia presentation that captivated millions.

But while Lawrence’s work ended abruptly with his untimely death, Thomas went on to live a long, remarkable life. He traveled Europe, the Middle East, India, Afghanistan, New Guinea and Tibet, even meeting the Dalai Lama. He made fans out of Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill and led a prolific career in the news, making reports by print, radio, and TV—and reshaping them all into more formal, serious mediums.

Yet for a man with such a hyperbolic life, his legacy has been largely forgotten. Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at New York University, set out to remedy that lapse in public memory with his new biography, The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism. Smithsonian.com talked with Stephens about his book, and why Thomas still matters today. […]

Click here to continue reading the full article at The Smithsonian online.

Many thanks for sharing this, Bill! What a fascinating fellow.

The R-902 (XE-2)/PRD: Ed’s flea market mystery radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Edward Ganshirt, who writes:

This radio followed me home from a flea market and I am trying to find out what it’s mission was.

I think it is a surveillance radio from the Vietnam era because of it’s low serial number #7 R-902 (XE-2)/PRD.

I can’t seem to find anything on it. It tunes from 96 to 404 MHz FM AM CW is battery powered and is totally waterproof (this would be the radio to take white water rafting) .

I would like a schematic or manual for it.

Does anyone in SWL world know anything about it?

Wow! I’m afraid I would have taken that heavy metal home with me too, Edward! And it’s waterproof? What a bonus! 🙂 Actually, I imagine since it’s waterproof, the internals are likely well-preserved.

Post readers: If you can shed some light on this model R-902, please comment. If you have a service manual or schematic, I’m sure Ed would appreciate a link/copy!