Tag Archives: Radio History

Guest commentary: Nothing is so constant as change

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who shares the following guest post:


Nothing is so constant as change

by Jerome van der Linden

Those of us who have had an interest in broadcasting over many years realize pretty soon that technology is constantly changing. The following relates to the situation where I live in Australia, but I suspect similar things are occurring in other parts of the world, and serve as a constant reminder that we live in a world of change.

When we were in our teens, we had radios that would tune AM and one or more shortwave bands. Hence many of us first heard interstate medium wave stations, and realised that signals there travelled further during darkness hours. Then we switched to SW1 or SW2 and often heard nothing. But persistence paid off and soon we were listening to stations that were in other countries! And when we connected a long wire to the antenna terminal signals improved dramatically. Wasn’t that amazing?

Somewhere in the 70s (I think) our TV stations brought in colour and that too was an amazing change to experience.

Then – somewhat belatedly for us in Australia – FM radio came along and gee the quality of the audio was outstanding! Even my late father was surprised by the clarity with which he could now listen to classical music on our nationwide dedicated ABC Classic FM station. FM also brought with it the introduction of “Community Radio” stations and in more recent years many other types of broadcasters.

Satellite TV came to us in the form of Foxtel: carrying so many different channels it was bewildering. When I realized that the events of 9-11 were telecast live on BBC World (and others), I too decided we should have Foxtel, as I have always been a “news nerd”.

By the late 1990s – having seen a hey day in probably the 60s and 70s – shortwave listening was rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and only hobbyists listened to SW: I remember being asked by another passenger when I was on a South Pacific cruise, what was that I was listening with out on deck? Was it some kind of computer? No, it was just a Sony SW55, and I was listening to Radio Australia.

Then, probably 5 years ago in Australia DAB+ radio was introduced, and whereas we previously had a choice of perhaps 10 to 15 AM & FM radio stations to tune to, suddenly we had a choice of these same stations on DAB radio (in major cities only), PLUS another 10 or 15! We have a phenomenal choice of what to listen to. From a technical view it was amazing to think that all the signals were coming from only one or two transmitters. For those of us with some technical interest it was for a while inconceivable that each station would not have its own transmitter.

Meanwhile, our TV systems have also become digitized in the last couple of years. Not just do we have perhaps three different channels for each commercial network, so 3 commercial networks are now providing probably 9 different programs. On top of that the Government broadcasters (ABC & SBS) have provided not just at least 3 TV channels each, but each of their numerous ­radio services is now also available on every TV set (eg BBC World Service is available 24/7).

About the same time, with higher internet speeds (ie better data transfers) being available, TV services and radio services are increasingly being streamed into our homes and to our mobile devices, with radio Apps promising they’re “free”, when in fact they do incur a data transfer impact/cost in whatever Internet plan one may have available. Many of the older generation probably don’t even realize what streaming video or sound means, but I think the younger generation is catching on.

Now, to my horror, my favourite DAB music station (“Buddha”) has been making announcements on air saying that the DAB service will be terminated from September 1st, and if I want to continue listening, I must tune in using that Company’s own “LiSTNR” app! Does this mean that listening to what comes over the ether will be a thing of the past? Will we be obliged to pay $x per annum to use a company’s streaming app just to be able to listen to their programs? Whatever is the world coming to?

Our country is, I suspect, very well catered for in terms of media services, and I wonder if we’ve done that too well. I also fear though, that those of us trying to push for reintroduction of shortwave services for remote Northern Territory areas (where streaming apps are a non sense), and for Australia to again broadcast into Pacific territories, may be fighting an uphill battle.

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From Raw Crystal to Crystal Oscillator: Crystals go to War in 1943

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark (AE2EA), who shares the following AWA video about crystal production during WWII:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Thank you so much for sharing this, Mark. I posted the original film of this a few years ago, but it appears that the YouTube account has been deleted. I’m grateful the Antique Wireless Association has published this. Thank you for the tip!

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Fun with “The Radio Boys”

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Back in April of this year (2022), I accidentally discovered The Radio Boys series of books, many of which are available for free if you have an Amazon Kindle.

These books, I believe, are intended for young adults, and, in my mind, they very much resemble The Hardy Boys series of books: a group of high school friends have adventures and discover the wonders of radio together. Think “The Hardy Boys go all-in for radio,” and you have the right idea.

If you are looking for sophisticated plots, deep character development, and a lyrical turn of phrase, you will be disappointed. But if you a looking for a light-hearted adventure with deep enthusiasm for radio, I think you will be pleased.

But what makes these books really cool is that they were written and copyrighted 100 years ago, in the early 1920s. Yes, some of the language and attitudes are somewhat antiquated, but what is fascinating is the window they offer on radio a century ago.

My knowledge of radio history is very limited, but it is my understanding that radio was just beginning to be popular in American culture in the early 1920s, The Radio Boys books reflect this. The first book, The Radio Boys’ First Wireless Or Winning the Ferberton Prize, gives fairly detailed instructions for making your own radio receiver with materials you could get (in the early 1920s) from the local hardware store.

At various points in the books, The Radio Boys extol the virtues of radio: people could hear concerts in the comfort of their own homes or listen to baseball games; if there were radios in cars, travelers could keep track of weather reports; it was a novelty when a minister broadcast the church service; college professors could broadcast their lectures, and so forth. I find the books offer a charming perspective on what we take for granted today.

And, if you have an Amazon Kindle, many of The Radio Boys books are available at no cost.

Click here to check out some of The Radio Boys titles on Amazon.com.

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Radio Waves: DRM Part of BBC Story, Antennas and Smith Charts, Shortwave “Hot Debate,” Carrington Event, and “Deep Freeze”

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!


DRM Is Part of the BBC World Service Story (Radio World)

The iconic broadcaster has been supportive of the standard for over 20 years

The author is chairman of the DRM Consortium. Her commentaries appear regularly at radioworld.com.

Our old friend James Careless studiously ignores DRM once more in his well-researched, but to our minds incomplete article “BBC World Service Turns 90” in the March 30 issue.

As an ex-BBC senior manager, I would like to complete the story now that the hectic NAB Show is over.

Having lived through and experienced at close quarters the decision to reduce the BBC shortwave about 20 years ago, I can confirm that the BBC World Service decision to cut back on its shortwave footprint — especially in North America, where reliable, easy-to-receive daily broadcasts ceased — has generated much listener unhappiness over the years.

In hindsight, the decision was probably right, especially in view of the many rebroadcasting deals with public FM and medium-wave stations in the U.S. (and later other parts of the world like Africa and Europe) that would carry news and programs of interest to the wide public.

But BBC World Service in its long history never underestimated the great advantages of shortwave: wide coverage, excellent audio in some important and populous key BBC markets (like Nigeria) and the anonymity of shortwave, an essential attribute in countries with undemocratic regimes.

BBC World Service still enjoys today about 40 million listeners worldwide nowadays. [Continue reading…]

The Magic of Antennas (Nuts & Volts)

If you really want to know what makes any wireless application work, it is the antenna. Most people working with wireless — radio to those of you who prefer that term — tend to take antennas for granted. It is just something you have to add on to a wireless application at the last minute. Well, boy, do I have news for you. Without a good antenna, radio just doesn’t work too well. In this age of store/online-bought shortwave receivers, scanners, and amateur radio transceivers, your main job in getting your money’s worth out of these high-ticket purchases is to invest a little bit more and put up a really good antenna. In this article, I want to summarize some of the most common types and make you aware of what an antenna really is and how it works.

TRANSDUCER TO THE ETHER
In every wireless application, there is a transmitter and a receiver. They communicate via free space or what is often called the ether. At the transmitter, a radio signal is developed and then amplified to a specific power level. Then it is connected to an antenna. The antenna is the physical “thing” that converts the voltage from the transmitter into a radio signal. The radio signal is launched from the antenna toward the receiver.

A radio signal is the combination of a magnetic field and an electric field. Recall that a magnetic field is generated any time a current flows in a conductor. It is that invisible force field that can attract metal objects and cause compass needles to move. An electric field is another type of invisible force field that appears between conductors across which a voltage is applied. You have experienced an electric field if you have ever built up a charge by shuffling your feet across a carpet then touching something metal … zaaapp. A charged capacitor encloses an electric field between its plates.

Anyway, a radio wave is just a combination of the electric and magnetic fields at a right angle to one another. We call this an electromagnetic wave. This is what the antenna produces. It translates the voltage of the signal to be transmitted into these fields. The pair of fields are launched into space by the antenna, at which time they propagate at the speed of light through space (300,000,000 meters per second or about 186,000 miles per second). The two fields hang together and in effect, support and regenerate one another along the way. [Continue reading…]

Smith Chart Fundamentals (Nuts & Volts)

The Smith Chart is one of the most useful tools in radio communications, but it is often misunderstood. The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the basics of the Smith Chart. After reading this, you will have a better understanding of impedance matching and VSWR — common parameters in a radio station.

THE INVENTOR
The Smith Chart was invented by Phillip Smith, who was born in Lexington, MA on April 29, 1905. Smith attended Tufts College and was an active amateur radio operator with the callsign 1ANB. In 1928, he joined Bell Labs, where he became involved in the design of antennas for commercial AM broadcasting. Although Smith did a great deal of work with antennas, his expertise and passion focused on transmission lines. He relished the problem of matching the transmission line to the antenna; a component he considered matched the line to space. Continue reading

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Video: “The Glory Days of Shortwave Radio”

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

Hi Thomas, this video just popped for me on YouTube. I searched the SWLing Post and didn’t find it, it’s not new so maybe you missed it.

Thank you, Adi. I’m almost positive I’ve posted this one before–but if I have it’s been so long it should be re-posted! A wonderful nostalgia trip! Thanks for sharing.

Click here to view on YouTube.

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Radio Waves: RNZ & TVNZ Merging, Tech Keeping Ukrainians in Touch, Solar Storms Documentary, and Aspidistra

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!


RNZ and TVNZ to merge (RadioInfo)

New Zealand’s Minister for Broadcasting and Media Kris Faafoi has announced the government’s decision to create a new public media entity by merging RNZ and TVNZ.

According to Faafoi, ensuring New Zealanders continue to have access to reliable, trusted, independent information and local content sits at the heart of the decision.

“The public media sector is extremely important to New Zealanders in providing them with high quality, independent, timely and relevant media content,” Faafoi said.

“But we know the media landscape is changing and the sector is having to adapt to increased competition, changing audience demands and ways of accessing media, falling revenue, and new and emerging digital platforms. We need public media which is responsive to these changes and can flourish.

“RNZ and TVNZ are each trying to adjust to the challenges, but our current public media system, and the legislation it’s based on, is focused on radio and television.

“New Zealanders are among some of the most adaptive audiences when it comes to accessing content in different ways; like their phones rather than television and radio, and from internet-based platforms. We must be sure our public media can adapt to those audience changes, as well as other challenges that media will face in the future.”

“The new public media entity will be built on the best of both RNZ and TVNZ, which will initially become subsidiaries of the new organisation. It will continue to provide what existing audiences value, such as RNZ Concert, as well as better reaching those groups who aren’t currently well served; such as our various ethnic communities and cultures,” Faafoi said[…]

Read more at: https://radioinfo.com.au/news/rnz-and-tvnz-to-merge/ © RadioInfo Australia

Technologies old and new keep Ukrainians in touch with the world (The Economist)

Battery radios and satellite internet both have jobs to do

In communist Eastern Europe a shortwave radio was a vital piece of equipment for anyone wanting to stay ahead of the censors. Stations such as the bbc World Service, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcast news, entertainment and rock-and-roll across the Iron Curtain.

After the cold war ended, shortwave radios gave way to television and the internet, and the broadcasts were wound down. But on March 3rd, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the bbc announced their return. The World Service has begun nightly news broadcasts into Ukraine and parts of Russia (see map). Continue reading

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