Thursday, July 19, 2007

Old friend

I spent a little time recently with something of a long-lost friend: The World Radio-TV Handbook.

You have to be a radio hobbyist to get the reference. The WRTH is the best book out there for telling what's on radio and television internationally. It's for those who like to listen to the radio to hear distant stations, as it is full of program listings, addresses and other information. If you want to write to Trans World Radio of Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles) or Radio Prague, that's the reference source.

I bought the book through a discounter, Hamilton Books ( It took me instantly back to the early 1970's, when I used to listen to such stations. I was in high school then, and a friend down the street was heavily into radio. Not only was he a ham operator, but he had a big radio and listened to as many stations as possible -- AM (medium wave, as it is called internationally) or Shortwave, mostly. (Distant FM and TV stations are hard to receive on a regular basis, although it can be done.)

He got me interested, as I was already doing some listening to out-of-town shows and sports events. I quickly fell into the hobby, an I in turn convinced a couple of friends to follow. We had a nice little group there for a while. We even took a tour of a local radio station one Thanksgiving; as I recall the chief engineer seemed happy that some teen-agers seemed to care about what he did for a living.

I used to stay up until all hours, hoping stations would sign off so I could hear the stations behind them come through louder and clearer. In hindsight, I'm surprised I don't have hearing problems. After hearing the station, I'd send details of my reception and the station would send back a QSL (letter or card) saying essentially, "That was us." In hindsight, I wonder how many people checked -- I only got a couple of letters out of a few hundred that said "not us." The mail usually was pretty exciting, as it often had material from foreign countries. Heck, Radio Havana sent a 5x7 of Fidel Castro. AM station receptions would be reported to the International Radio Club of America (IRCA), a group of hobbyists that compared notes, essentially.

Well, I went off to college, AM stations continued the trend of staying on all night/every night (making it difficult to hear bunches of them), and the big radio and antenna disappeared frm my room one day. (Insert a Puff the Magic Dragon reference here if you like.) I don't even remember selling them, but I certainly did. I still listened to out-of-town games once in a while, but I was generally out of touch. My only contact came when traveling, when I could rattle off a couple of AM stations in a given city. Seattle? "Honey, put on KOMO, 1000."

The WRTH was only $5.95 for the 2006 edition -- I think it is $29.95 normally -- and it surprised me how much I recalled and how much things had changed. When did Radio Moscow change its name? When did Trans World Radio reduce its power to 100,000 watts? When did the AM band go past 1600 kilohertz? That doesn't even include the Internet, which makes it easy to hear distant radio stations at all hours. I put on the Voice of Russia the other day on line; it's almost as boring as it was as Radio Moscow back in the Seventies.

I e-mailed my friend about my experience, and he's at the same stage I am. As he put it, he doesn't listen to the radio anymore, and he doesn't get the neighborhood together for pickup football or basketball games. Sometimes things go away without telling you they aren't coming back.

But at least the WRTH is on my bookshelf again. We'll see if it gets opened again.