WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

Goodbye, Radio Prague, Radio Slovakia International, Radio Sweden (on shortwave)...

Once, as a teenager growing up in the late 1960' and early 1970's, international shortwave broadcasting was truly my window to the world.

Often while doing homework, I'd have Radio Netherlands, Swiss Radio International, Radio Sweden, Radio RSA, Deutsche Welle, Radio Canada, the BBC World Service, or even the Voice of America playing in the background.

I sent letters with questions to various international broadcasters; heard my letters read on-the-air, and I was absolutely hooked.

Indeed, shortwave radio listening was not that unusual in those days. I knew several other kids in our middle class neighborhood who listened to international stations, and even sent reception reports for Q.S.L. verification cards.

The nearest Allied Radio store carried a full shelf (or shelves) of shortwave receivers. Allied became Allied Radio Shack, then Radio Shack, now simply The Shack. At least through the 1980's, the stores stocked a number of shortwave receivers.

More than school, shortwave broadcasting stoked my interest in global affairs and fed my appetite for international news.

Listening to Radio R.S.A. from South Africa in the late 1960's, I found it necessary to research apartheid and the history of southern Africa.

Listening to (then) Radio Moscow, Radio Peking, and the various eastern European broadcasters, I began to closely follow the Cold War.

Listening to Kol Israel, Radio Cairo, Saudi Arabian Broadcasting, etc., I developed an interest in the Middle-East.

Well... you get the idea.

Fast-forward to the new millennium:

Shortwave radio has faded from the public consciousness, to be replaced by newer technologies.

And various international broadcasters have been shedding their English-language broadcasting to North America, or even shortwave entirely.

Partly this reflects the omnipresence of the internet and other new communications; partly this reflects budget crunching and belt-tightening.

Interestingly, some East Asian broadcasters - led by China Radio International in Beijing - have exponentially increased their shortwave broadcasting. This reflects not only the shift of economic power to that part of the world, but the realization that many people in developing countries still don't have regular access to the Internet.

But quite apart from targeting the developing world, China Radio International is still spending tons of money on English-language broadcasting, both on shortwave and satellite TV.

For my routine casual listening, I've mostly listened to European broadcasters, plus Radio Canada International and Radio Australia.

So a few years ago, it was quite distressing to witness the end of Radio Netherlands', Deutsche Welle's, and Swiss Radio International's English language broadcasts to North America. (Although I can still pick up Radio Netherlands and Deutsche Welle broadcasting in English to other target zones!)

But now... two of my absolute favorites are leaving shortwave, if NOT the internet. Radio Sweden did so October 31st Radio Prague, the external service of Czech Radio, will say goodbye to shortwave January 31st. Radio Slovakia International is also leaving shortwave.

I have fond memories of Radio Sweden's Nordic news, its DX program, and more. Many years of listening to Radio Sweden prepared me well for my reporting visit to Sweden in 1988, just before the Swedish King and Queen came to Delaware on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Swedish--Finnish colonization of the Delaware Valley.

But Radio Prague's farewell from shortwave represents, for me, the ultimate blow. Even during those dark Cold War days, Radio Prague showed a certain "spark" missing from other Eastern bloc broadcasters. I particularly remember listening during those surreal exciting days of the Prague Spring 1968, and then just before the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

After the Soviet-led invasion imposed its gloom on Czechoslovakia, Radio Prague nevertheless was worth a listen. For example: The innocent feature, "Music for Your Tape Recorder". The station would air a segment of traditional Czech music (beginning with a countdown), so the listener could archive a catalog of Czechoslovak music.
Plus, travelogues, literature, a mailbag program (listeners' letters), and a DX program.

With the end of the Cold War - and the Velvet Revolution - Radio Prague quickly became a key source for news and culture from central / eastern Europe, with the perfect ensemble of newscasters / announcers. Short programs such as "Magazine", a summary of usual happenings from the Czech Republic; and "Sound Czech", which introduce you to a few Czech words and phrases through music.

Unless the Czech Republic's budget for external broadcasting collapses completely, one can hope these programs will still be available on the internet...


With the demise of these European broadcasters, keep in mind that some remain on-the-air.

I still enjoy putting on Austrian radio (now only in German), for the concerts. Ditto RDP Internacional from Lisbon, if only in Portuguese, and Greek radio from Athens in Greek.

Radio Exterior de Espana hangs on with an English language broadcast to North America.

Radio Romania International has actually EXPANDED its English-language programming, and at a forceful wattage.
I can still hear Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Poland in English.

Vatican Radio continues to broadcast around the world in dozens of languages, particularly interesting during the Christmas and Easter seasons, plus during Papal visits.

What used to be Radio Moscow - the Voice of Russia - is still broadcasting on multiple frequencies.

But again, reflecting the shift of economic and cultural power in the world, East Asian stations - beginning with China Radio International - are omnipresent, using relay transmitters in our region for excellent signals. My favorites are KBS World Radio from Seoul and Radio Taiwan International.

Posted at 8:08am on December 13, 2010 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 6:55am
I often read European news and comment, but wonder if it's received, especially Sweden. Wonder about their connection with Rove/Bush/Assange. Why prosecute the messenger but not the one responsible for actions of the creator, as a previous pres.

Sat, Jan 1, 2011 8:15am
I still have my first shortwave radio: a Hallicrafters S-120. Its sits beside my Drake ham gear. Also have an older Drake receiver. One Grundig sits in the bathroom, with an antenna wrapped around the shower, another sits in the car (without an antenna). I've had two more Grundigs over the years. All Grundigs bought at Radio Shack.

My first exposure to shortwave was a Bruster radio that had AM and a couple of shortwave bands. CHU, Dominion Observatory Canada (7.333?), was a favorite of me and my friends. We would "beep" along with the time tone and mimmic the voice that would annouce "Eastern Standard time Nineteen Hours, forty-five minutes". If my Mom had killed us, it would have been called Justifiable Homicide!

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