Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My summer receiver made in the GDR

Spent a week in Berlin this summer. The German capital is one of my favourite cities with good food, friendly people, and always a lot of sight-seeing. I had forgotten to bring along my shortwave radio.

I always travel with my small Sangean 606, which I believe is excellent for taking on trips because it picks up a lot of DX with the outboard reel. I rented a studio apartment in the Schöenberg district and I was very pleased to find that, besides free internet and cable TV, it came equiped with a fine shortwave receiver, a Robotron Werra RR1271 (RR 1271), made in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Unfortunately it wasn’t connected to an outdoor antenna but I was able to spend the evenings listening to Serbia, Moscow, South Africa and Cairo. What a treat!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Radio hobbyist or CIA Spy: The 1974 kidnapping of USIA officer Alfred Laun

On Good Friday 1974, members of a Marxist guerrilla group in Córdoba, Argentina barged into the home of a US amateur radio operator and DXer in a botched attempt to kidnap and hold him for ransom. Alfred Laun, a US information officer, was shot and critically wounded after struggling with his captors. The entire episode set off a behind-the-scenes offensive in Washington, with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ordering his diplomats to refute reports pinning Laun as a suspected CIA operative, based on the fact that he owned a large amount of expensive radio equipment.

A host of once-classified cablegrams that are now part of a collection on file at the National Archives in Washington DC show how US officials both in Washington and Buenos Aires scrambled to downplay spy speculations.

Dangerous terrain
In the early 1970s, Argentina was on the threshold of its darkest period in modern history. Legendary caudillo Juan Domingo Perón returned from exile in Spain in early 1973 with his third wife, María Estela (Isabel) Martínez de Perón, who as vice president would assumed the presidency following his death in July 1974.
With escalating violence fueled by a mismanaged economy, soaring inflation and the polarization of the ruling Peronist party, Argentina was bitterly divided. Leftwing and rightwing factions went for each other’s throats, and leftist guerrilla groups, such as the Montoneros and the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), unleashed a wave of terror with a string of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings across the country. Unstoppable violence mixed with the government's inept economic policies, instability, and the loss of public confidence would eventually contribute to the overthrow of Isabel Perón’s government in March 1976. It also paved the way for a hideous “Dirty War” period, in which as many as 30,000 Argentineans were tortured and forcibly “disappeared” by the military regime that ruled between 1976-83.

While the Perón government was still in power, urban guerrillas, helping to create more instability, saw foreign diplomats and businessmen as prime targets. In December 1973 the ERP kidnapped Exxon executive Victor Samuelson but released him more than four months after a $12 million ransom was paid. Weeks before Samuelson was freed, on Good Friday morning April 12, 1974, nine men and a woman brandishing machine guns broke into the Córdoba home of Alfred Laun, a 36-year-old USIA officer from Wisconsin who had served in posts in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam and Thailand before coming to Argentina.

Laun tried to resist his kidnappers and was shot in the abdomen. The bullet entered through his stomach and exited his backside grazing the vertebral column.
An ERP guerrilla, apparently a physician, operated on him at a safehouse and, some 14 hours later, he was dumped outside Córdoba where police found him alive “wrapped in a blanket and connected to an IV,” according to an account given at the time in Spain’s ABC newspaper. He told authorities that he had been given a hallucinogenic drug. When word of the kidnapping got back to Washington, Secretary of State Kissinger embarked on his damage-control strategy.

“Implication is clear he is to be tagged as a CIA agent. We also understand that discovery of radio equipment in Laun’s house has produced speculation on that score,” Kissinger wrote in a cable dated the same day of the kidnapping, which ordered his team to “deny categorically” that Laun was connected to the CIA.

“We will point out that he has been a HAM radio operator for many years, which explains the radio equipment. It would be helpful if embassy could confirm that Laun is registered and/or licensed in Argentina as an amateur radio operator. Did he belong to an Argentine HAM radio club?”

Questions abound
The following day Kissinger wrote: “We expect press interest to diminish. Although there is temptation to deplore publicly this barbaric action against one of our officials, we believe that it is best to be circumspect. We must bear in mind possibility that such public denunciation at this time could complicate efforts to secure release of Samuelson (Exxon) and might provoke ERP into additional initiatives.”

Kissinger´s wish for publicity to die out didn’t come true. Pedro Massa, the Buenos Aires correspondent for the Madrid conservative daily ABC wrote on April 16: “[Laun] is an amateur radio operator and he had inside his home various transmitters and radio receivers of top quality and latest technology, which allowed him to cover the whole world. The ERP took the best one when they kidnapped Laun.”

On April 17, Laun was secretly airlifted from Argentina to Panama where he was hospitalized and debriefed. As Laun was recovering, lawmakers in the Argentinean congress demanded an official inquiry as to why Laun had so much radio equipment. The communist bloc presented a resolution which expressed serious concerns over the “discovery of a powerful radio transmitter installed in his house” and called on the Argentinean government to prohibit foreign diplomats in Argentina “from the use of shortwave radios and radio telephones.”

“Unfortunately Laun’s radio equipment has raised some suspicions even among friendly circles,” the US embassy in Buenos Aires cabled Kissinger. “Normally, friendly Mayoria [a newspaper] carried article on April 22, which implied that Laun might have been doing more than cultural / informational work in Córdoba. Even some US newsmen have expressed opinion that there must have been more than met the eye, else Laun would not have had such sophisticated radio equipment.”

Before releasing him, the ERP said it planned on trying Laun in a “people’s court” on charges of belonging to the CIA, claiming that he played "an important part" in the overthrow of Marxist President Salvador Allende the previous September "by assisting the right-wing Chilean military in their communications,” the Associated Press reported.

It wasn’t exactly known what type of equipment Laun had in his shack -- neither the inventory nor the make of the transceiver the ERP stole were made public -- but US officials were quick to prove that Laun belonged to a local radio hobby club. After the Laun case and other similar kidnappings, the US government quietly began reassigning non-essential personnel and moving families away from Argentina.

Search for the kidnappers
On April 23, the US Embassy in Buenos Aires quoted an AP report that Argentinean police arrested suspected ERP member Ana María Liendo in connection with the kidnapping. Authorities apparently released Liendo, or she may have escaped sometime afterwards. Her name was among the 100 guerrillas who died during an armed confrontation between the ERP and military on December 23, 1975 in Monte Chingolo, south of Buenos Aries. Liendo was 25.

It isn´t clear if any of the other kidnappers were ever identified. Charles Russell, a US Defense Department analyst, wrote in a 1976 article entitled Transnational Terrorism that a member of the Basque terrorist group ETA, who trained and operated with the ERP, may have possibly been involved in the Laun kidnapping before returning to Spain.

In a November 9, 2003 interview with La Capital, a daily in Rosario, Argentina, ERP founder Enrique Gorriarán Merlo admitted that he “was directly involved” in Laun’s abduction.
He explained that the ERP decided to release him immediately because the victim had been wounded and the movement didn’t want any other hostage deaths on their hands. Gorriarán Merlo (left) was a controversial figure who is credited for leading the 1980 soldier-of-fortune mission that assassinated ousted Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza in Asuncion, Paraguay. He and other guerrillas had made a spectacular prison escape in 1971 and went into hiding, traveling throughout Latin America, even fighting on the Sandinista side during the Nicaraguan Civil War. After Mexico deported him, he was arrested by Argentina in May 1995 and, seven years later, pardoned by then-Argentinean President Eduardo Duhalde. Gorriarán Merlo died from a heart attack in 2006 at age 64.

Laun survived his ordeal and went on to serve in other US diplomatic missions before retiring. In Nicaragua, he was the US Embassy spokesman during the height of US involvement with Contra rebels, and his radio activities again evoked suspicion while he was in Managua. On August 20, 1987, the Nicaraguan Journalists Union (UPN) charged that Laun was trying to organize support for anti-Sandinista broadcasters, “contrary to his diplomatic status,” by attending a Nicaraguan HAM radio meeting. Specifically, UPN chair Lily Soto said Laun had instructed Honduran radio journalist and VOA stringer Conrado Godoy to recruit Nicaraguan broadcasters for Radio Impacto, the pro-Contra shortwave broadcaster based in Costa Rica.

Efforts to contact Laun for this article have been fruitless; he never answered any emails requesting an interview.

On September 12, 2000, Laun left a condolence message on a board in memory of Pero Simundza, a 29-year-old HAM who worked for UNHCR and was killed days before with two others in West Timor when his office was ambushed by a militia mob. “Amateur Radio is a wonderful hobby but it can be dangerous because people misinterpret what it is. I myself was kidnapped and shot in Argentina , but fortunately I have lived to tell about it. “

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It is official -- the Passport to World Band Radio series and website is past history

I am a bit upset -- not only just because Passport to World Band Radio has bitten the dust and the Pass-band website will be closing down in a few days, but royally PO'd because I had a nice collection of back issues from the 1980s that I gave away because they were taking too much space. Grrrrrr...

In case you didn't know, here is part of publisher Larry Magne's alert posted on his website March 19.
"It’s no secret — Passport 2009 is to be the last in an annual series that began in 1984. Now, the time is nigh to further phase down that operation by shuttering this website. Timing is inexact, but the wire should be snipped late this month."

And until a few years back, I always believed that it was going to be the WRTVH that would have folded first.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Broadcasting on REE

On October 23, I was invited to participate in the current affairs program Otros acentos (Other accents) on Radio Exterior de España, which is broadcast simultaneously here in Spain on Radio 5. Host Mavi Aldana invites a group of foreign-born journalists living in Madrid to get their impressions on world events. You can hear it here, in Spanish:

Informe demoledor de UNRWA sobre las necesidades de Gaza tras la ofensiva militar (Otros acentos)

This wasn’t the first time I have been on international radio. I was host of Radio Nacional de Venezuela’s English service in Caracas from 1990-1992. When I was living in Puerto Rico, I was the stringer for Voice of America’s now-defunct Report to the Caribbean from 1993-1996.

Mavi Aldana, the host of Otros acentos, with my colleague Ramón Irigoyen, getting ready for the broadcast. We spoke about Cuba, the Prince of Asturias awards, and the proposal for the South American common currency unit proposed by the ALBA-member nations.

The entrance of Radio Nacional de España and old receiver on the display in radio museum located in the lobby. RNE is located in the Madrid suburb of Pozuelo.

The hallway to the studios of Radio Nacional de España / Radio Exterior.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Among my shortwave souvenirs

Pre-printed reception report forms, calendars and stations magazines were the best gifts a DXer could receive along with a QSL card -- sometimes the printed matter was more attractive than the actual verification card itself. These images explain it all.

1989 program magazine from Radio RSA, the Voice of South Africa (left); a pre-printed aereogramme for RSA monitors' reception reports

Radio Prague sent thousands of these postcard reception report forms, which needed to be filled out and sent back with a stamp on the other side

RAI was so optimistic for the 21st century; they no longer broadcast in English on shortwave

Radio Moscow had some nice pre-printed reception report forms. They came in all different colors, dark blue, light blue, red, pink, green and purple. It was fun filling them out!

Radio Bucaresti, now Radio Romania International, sent really nice calendars and greeting cards during the spring season. This one is entitled "The birth of the Romanian people"

Radio 4VEH was Haiti's popular religious broadcaster

Radio Ulan Bator, now Voice of Mongolia, was difficult to hear in the US and even more difficult to QSL. Here's the station's program guide

And, of course, my dog-eared SWL bible;out of date but still packed with info

Remembering Radio Berlin International

One of the most popular stations transmitting from the Eastern Bloc during the 1970s and 1980s was Radio Berlin International, the Voice of the German Democratic Republic. At the time RBI was the only shortwave station broadcasting from Berlin in English for North America. Most of its programs were centered on glorifying the socialist GDR state and its hard-line dictator Erich Honecker. But RBI knew its audience well. It was successful in attracting SWLs to tune in by offering spectacular QSLs and printed DX bulletins, setting up a monitoring panel, and promoting station fan clubs through the developing world. Following German reunification, RBI transmitted its last broadcast on October 2, 1990. The following is a reprint of a fact sheet I received in 1978 that tells you all about Radio Berlin International:

Radio Berlin International stems from the “Foreign Languages Service” of GD Radio which broadcast its first foreign language programmes – in English and French – in 1955. Transmission in Swedish, Danish, Arabic and German soon followed. However, it wasn’t until May 1959 that the “Foreign Languages Service” became an independent broadcasting station under the auspices of the GDR State Committee for Radio and began its programmes with the station announcement: “You are tune to Radio Berlin International, the Voice of the German Democratic Republic.”

Gradually other programmes were introduced: Italian and Portuguese in 1961; Swahili in 1964; and Hindi in 1967. Spanish came a little later and in 1975 Greek was started. At present there are 50 ½ hours of programmes per day broadcast via directional and omni directional aerials on shortwave and on a further frequency for Europe in the medium waveband. The programmes, which generally last for about 45 minutes, are adapted to suit the interest of listeners in the various countries. They begin with a bulletin of the latest news and are repeated several times a day when conditions are most favourable for reception in the individual parts of the world.

Radio Berlin International aims to provide its listeners all over the world with a picture of life in the socialist German Democratic Republic. We provide information on our peace policy and put forward our point of view on international events. RBI expresses its solidarity over the airwaves with all progressive forces fighting against imperialist exploitation and oppression and plays its part in the struggle for the welfare of mankind, for freedom, peace and friendship between peoples.

In 1967, the RBI Journal was brought out – initially in four languages – to supplement the broadcasts. By 1975 it was appearing in 12 languages.
The Journal publishes a list of the programmes, times and frequencies and provides facts, figures and pictures from all spheres of life to complement the information contained in the programmes themselves. It also acts as a forum for RBI Listeners Clubs and those who aren’t Club members to voice their opinions. A whole page is given over to the subject of DXing. Everybody who sends their address receives a copy of the RBI Journal free of charge. Regular listeners can be put on our mailing list on request. RBI Listeners Clubs are sent as many copies as they require.

These RBI Clubs are for the most part loose associations of friends who listen to us regularly and then write in and tell us of their impression of the programmes. There are well over a thousand such clubs in existence, most of them in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America.

The RBI DX Club was founded in 1967. Werner Neumann, RBI’s deputy editor-in-chief, has been the Club’s president since 1975. The Club has close contacts with many enthusiastic DXers and DX organisations all over the world. Our QSL cards and diplomas for 50 or 1000 correct reception reports are internationally very much in demand. The RBI DX Club meeting goes out over the air every two weeks, the 250th meeting being celebrated on 15 November 1976.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Voice of Russia honors Spanish Civil War exile broadcasters

The Voice of Russia came to Madrid on April 23 to pay recognition to a group of Spanish Civil War (1936-39) exiles who helped put together what would become the Spanish-language service at Radio Moscow. During an emotional ceremony that took place at Hotel Puerta de Toledo next to Madrid’s famous Toledo Gate, Leonard Kosichev, VOR’s deputy director for European programs, handed out medals issued by the Russian government. This was the first time that the Spaniards had been publicly honored for their contributions to Radio Moscow and their role in helping provide information to listeners in Spain during the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

Among those distinguished were Eusebio Cimorra, Pilar Villasante, Vicente Arana, and Agustin Masso, who all began working at Radio Moscow during the 1940s and 1950s. It is estimated that dozens of Spaniards found jobs at the Soviet shortwave radio station after fleeing the Franco regime.

Cimorra, who died in January at the age of 98, was perhaps the most popular Spanish announcer during his more than 30 years at Radio Moscow. Using the on-air pseudonym “Jorge Olivar,” Cimarro began working at the station in 1940. Before the Civil War, he was an influential publisher of the Spanish Communist Party’s newspaper Mundo Obrero. He returned to Spain after the transition to democracy in 1975 and had been recognized as one of the country’s leading "deans" of journalism. “My father always said that Radio Moscow gave him the opportunity to continue to fight against the dictatorship, a fight he began when he was a young journalist in Spain before the Civil War,” recalled Boris Cimorra (left, in photo above) who received the medal on behalf of his father from Kosichev (right, in photo above). “He decided to continue to fight for his ideals and principles because he was true to his faith. In the best of words, he was a communist who was an idealist, romanticist and intellectual,” said the son who also put in five years at Radio Moscow.

Pilar Villasante (left) came to Moscow as a child at the age of six. She was among the hundreds of Spanish children who were sent to the Soviet Union by their parents with the hope they would receive a better life there than in a fascist society. This massive evacuation began taking place toward the end of the Civil War when it became apparent the Republicans would be defeated. Although she was educated and grew up in Moscow, Villasante never forgot her mother language. She served as artistic director for the Spanish service at Radio Moscow, where she worked for 30 years before returning to Madrid in 1989. “I want to thank the Russian people, the Soviet people for taking us in, educating us and giving us the opportunity to work. I was especially lucky because I got to work for Radio Moscow,” she said.

But not all those recognized were broadcasters. Kosichev and Valentina Zlobina, the deputy general director of programs, handed out diplomas to the Voice of Russia’s most dedicated listeners in Spain. Among those honored was Francisco “Paco” Martinez y Martinez (with dark glasses), the founder and current president of the Spanish Radio Listeners’ Association (AER) who said he began tuning in Radio Moscow during the 1950s on his father’s five-tube receiver. “My father made me promise I wouldn’t tell anyone,” he recalled. Listening to Radio Moscow or the clandestine Radio España Independiente could cost you jail time in Franco’s Spain.

A los colegas periodistas y diexistas, !Enhorabuena!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Former RFI journalist switches to news channel France 24

You may remember her when she hosted Radio France International's English service to Africa. She delivered the news and sometimes anchored the one-hour report about the goings-on in the gigantic, emerging African continent. Now Catherine Galloway is giving a news roundup concerning another part of the world, but doing so as one of the leading personalities on France 24 – the new French radio and cable/satellite television outlet that hopes to nudge in on the international market already dominated by CNN and BBC World. France 24 went on the air on December 6, 2006 and broadcasts 24 hours in French, English and Arabic. Galloway, 32, hosts This Week in the Americas, which is broadcast on Thursday and repeated Friday and Saturday. If you can’t get France 24 in your area, check out their Web site.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Improving sound on shortwave

With the abundance of cheaper shortwave receivers on the market, audio has been compromised in favor of price. There are, by far, some receivers that sound better than others and, of course, high price doesn’t necessarily mean better audio quality. Take for instance the DX-440 and the Sony ICF-77. Both are great portables with bass and treble controls. However, the top-notch Sony, which perhaps performs just as good as any table top, cannot reproduce the rich low frequency audio than what the less expensive DX-440 is capable producing. And looking back even further when multi-band analog radios were popular in their heyday in the 1970s, their sound performance was exceptional but they were dreadful DX machines. In any case, here are a few tips that I think can help any listener who wants to improve the sound coming from abroad on any radio.

Put out the outboards

The speakers don’t have to be, and really shouldn’t be, expensive CD outboards such as Sony or Panasonic. These electrical speakers are geared for quality stereo sound and not for AM broadcasts. Here in Europe, I found an off-brand, not exactly known for its fine quality stereo products, at a local retail outlet, which set me back 20 euros or about US$24. But in places like Walgreens or Duane Reade drugstores, you’ll no doubt find a good pair that will do the trick. When I connect my mini Sangean 606 to the outboards, oh, what a difference a day makes. Don’t forget to adjust the volume level on your receiver to no more than medium notch and turn up instead the sound level on your speakers. Otherwise, your audio will turn to QRM.

Watch those ears!

Earphones or plugs are great but let's face it – they are unbearable. The older you get the less likely you will want anything that’s not flesh hugging your head. I remember using those massive head huggers listening to Grand Funk Railroad and Three Dog Night in the 1970s. Still, headphones and plugs offer incredible privacy and they are excellent for honing in on the DX. But they are impossible to use when you are sleeping or cumbersome when trying to listen to magnificant classical music from Moscow or fabulous folk tunes from Belarus, Greece or Indonesia. You do need them, though, because they come in handy. Remember that most that are sold nowadays are stereo headphones, which amplify all the squeals, cracks and pops on shortwave. So try to look for phones or plugs that reproduce “mono” sound. They are of course poor performers on the FM band, but remarkable for shortwave and AM transmissions.

Come inside

No doubt, unless you have a great shortwave boom box, known better before the politically correct days of the 1980s as “a ghetto blaster,” your shortwave radio is no good outdoors. Some brands and models are better than others, but remember, you will always have fading and competing noises from the outdoors.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rebel radio: Pridnestrovie's English transmission

Many of my DXer friends across the pond frequently ask me about Radio Pridnestrovie (PMR) broadcasts in English. It is almost impossible to hear their 20 minute transmission at 1700 UTC on 6,235 kHz in North America at this time. But they do put in a good signal here in Spain at this hour because it is early evening.

Pridnestrovie or Transnistria is the pro-Russian sector of Moldova which is trying to break away and lies just east of the Dniestr River. Although it isn’t recognized internationally as an independent country, it is a mysterious land where foreigners’ visits are infrequent.

I uploaded a video on You Tube of my Sony ICF-77 tuning into Radio PMR. The broadcast opens about an incident in which authorities captured and later released two Moldovan police officers last week. It may take time to load. So be patient. It is worth it.

Shortwave radio far from dead in South America

Editor's note: This first appeared in my madrid kid blog on January 14, 2006.

Everywhere you turn, you hear gripes from shortwave listeners that the international bands are dying as broadcasters undergo cutbacks and look at innovative technology -- digital and satellite radio and the Internet -- to get their programs to listeners. A few weeks back, I found an interesting survey posted on a DX page hosted by Brett Sayler of Pennsylvania that counters those arguments.

This veteran DXer compared the number of stations in South America that were broadcasting 48 years ago and those on the air today. In an informal survey, Brett took a random sampling of the stations by referring to World Radio Television Handbooks for the years 1957, 1971, 1977, 1992, 1999, 2003 and 2005. He found that in 1957 there were 394 stations broadcasting from the 14 countries that make up South America, including the Falkland Islands. In 2005, Brett reports that there with 376 stations listed. Brazil, which has kept the lead over the years, had 109 stations on the air on shortwave in 1957. In 2005, there were 151 stations broadcasting from the Portuguese-speaking nation. The peak year for shortwave from South America was 1977 when 592 stations were on the international bands. Oh, by the way, Brett didn´t count HCJB in Ecuador and Radio France Internationale´s transmitters in French Guiana.

"In conclusion, to those who are ready to pronounce shortwave radio dead, there are still many good opportunities to hear exotic stations in far-off locations. But, you should get them now while you can. Who knows what the next 50 years will bring?" he says.

I firmly believe, as I posted previously, that those who complain about the so-called demise of the shortwave bands are listeners who only tune to English-language programming. You cannot measure the universe by only looking through a telescope!

Check out Brett´s page for some more interesting stuff, including some rare photos of a 1970s all night DX session organized to search for the elusive Falkland Islands Broadcasting Service with now-veteran DXers Don Moore and Dave Valko.

When the US Embassy predicted the failure of Pinochet's ambitious Voice of Chile project

Editor's note: This first appeared in my madrid kid blog on June 14, 2006.

Just days after dictator Augusto Pinochet inaugurated the powerful Voice of Chile on January 15, 1974, a U.S. diplomat told his superiors in Washington that he had reservations about the effectiveness of the shortwave radio station and predicted that it would fail because it wouldn’t be able to attract enough listeners.

This revealing appraisal is contained in a recently declassified cable sent by an American Embassy official in Santiago and obtained by George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The diplomat, who signed the missive using only his last name Villarreal, described Pinochet’s plans for his station as “grandiose.” Just four months earlier, Pinochet, with the U.S. government’s backing, led a bloody coup that toppled Marxist President Salvador Allende.
“This is a major propaganda effort by the government of Chile,” Villarreal wrote Washington on January 17, 1974. “Junta seems determined, however, to fight critics abroad and attempt to correct what they see as a distorted image of Chile peddled by former Allende supporters and fellow-travelers.”

On the morning of September 11, 1973, Allende was cornered inside La Moneda Presidential Palace in downtown Santiago just less than two hours after broadcasting an emotional last-stand speech on Radio Magallanes. In another part of the city, a faction of the Chilean army was confiscating new Soviet-made transmitters that had been supplied to the Communist-backed Radio Recabarren and Radio Magallanes, Villarreal’s cable explained. The powerful 70 kilowatt transmitters were then set up across the street from the Defense Ministry and put to the Junta’s use at Radio Nacional de Chile. During the inauguration ceremony, Pinochet said the station’s purpose was “to let world know of heroic Chilean struggle to save the country from the totalitarian claws of Soviet imperialists,” the diplomat summarized.

With domestic transmissions on 1140 kHz, Radio Nacional would begin broadcasting as the Voice of Chile in several languages including English on shortwave throughout the 1970s from Radio Cooperativa’s studios. Villarreal identified Col. Eduardo Sepulveda, “the Junta’s prime communications man” who would later become the Chilean consul in Miami, as head of the station’s board of directors. Station manager Gabor Torey and press officer Francisco Barahona were both hired from Radio Mineria by the Junta’s secretary general. “Although plans for Radio Nacional are grandiose, knowledgeable radio contacts doubt efficacy of international broadcasting effort pointing to high costs, limited listening audience and past failures to mount shortwave efforts from Chile,” Villarreal reported.

Villarreal’s observation was correct. By the mid 1980s, the Voice of Chile suspended its international broadcasts and in 1988 Pinochet was voted out of office in a referendum. The eight 100 kilowatt Harris shortwave transmitters that once belonged to the Voice of Chile were purchased in 1998 by Christian Vision, a religious broadcaster, for its Radio Voz Cristiana and are in use today.

Shortwave and Hollywood don't mix

Editor's note: This first appeared in my madrid kid blog on May 17, 2006.

Except for a brief mention here and there, shortwave themes seldom pop up on the silver screen. Last year’s acclaimed “Good Night, Good Luck” –- about an episode in the glorious life of journalist Edward R. Murrow, the CBS newsman who later became VOA director –- failed to mention his career as an international shortwave pioneer. “Pump Up the Volume” did have Christian Slater in 1990 as a teenage pirate broadcaster giving his schoolmates some sobering thoughts on life. But still, films about shortwave are rare if non-existent. So with a little help from IMDB, here is my list of movies I have compiled throughout the years in which shortwave –- or something alluding to it –- shows up on screen.

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) – How can we forget the poignant scene of the Franks and the Van Dammes huddled around a shortwave receiver in their hiding place listening to the BBC announce the landing at Normandy? Or their faces of despair when they tune to Berlin radio and hear Hitler’s ranting and raging. But my favorite scene is when the viewer is treated to hearing the carillon in the nearby Westerkerk tower playing Merck toch hoe sterck, the same tune used today by Radio Netherlands. If you visit Amsterdam, you can still hear the 47 bells of the carillon, which was restored in 1959, playing Merck toch hoe sterck.

Johnny Shortwave (1996) -- Pirate broadcaster Johnny Shortwave (Emmanuel Mark) transmits his ideals for freedom and offers encouragement in a totalitarian fascist state depicted in this low budget sci-fi movie from Canada, which was sporadically shown in some US cities.

Overboard (1978) – This made for television movie starring Angie Dickinson (in her post-“Pepper” days) has an interesting opening scene. Most of the film takes place in the south Pacific on board a yacht where Dickinson and Cliff Robertson air out issues concerning their treacherous marriage. The first spoken words in this film come from a radio receiver on deck with an announcer in English identifying the station as Radio Tahiti!

Munich (2005) – Daniel Craig disagrees with a Palestinian terrorist staying inside a safe house in Cyprus over which station on a large multi-band portable they should tune. The terrorist wants to hear Arabic music from a distant station in his land while Craig wants more contemporary Israeli music. Although they cannot communicate in their respective languages, they settle on a rock and roll station.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) – Although no reference to shortwave is mentioned here, there is an interesting shot of a contemporary Grundig receiver sitting on a mantelpiece during a torrid scene between Warren Beatty and Vivian Leigh.

Intervista (1987) – Federico Fellini’s autobiographical movie has Marcello Mastroianni walking into the film studios of Cine Citta in Rome. For a brief moment, as if it were meant to be a subliminal message, you can hear RAI’s chirping bird interval signal played as he enters the gates.

Thirteen Days (2000) -- Kevin Costner wakes up to hear Radio Moscow's historic broadcast announcing that Soviets are pulling out all missiles from Cuba.

The Sony Shortwave Classic

Editor's note: This first appeared in my madrid kid blog on October 13, 2005.

Much has been posted about the Sony ICF-77 including in a Yahoo web site that is dedicated solely to what is becoming a real classic. I cannot add more to what has been said except my own two bits of what I consider a true winner. Predictably, this may be one of the last of a long line of Sony shortwave receivers now that the company appears to be phasing out its world band consumer market.

During the 1970s, when a lot of us were cutting our own teeth on our first shortwave radio sets, there were very few inexpensive models to choose from sans a few multiband portables that were being sold at different department stores for their capabilities to pick up "the action bands." Some had one or two or, if you were lucky, three shortwave bands in addition to the police, air, weather and CB bands. Other fine receivers put out by Realistic, Panasonic, Sony, Zenith and General Electric were just too much for a teen-ager´s meager $10 a week allowance. I had to wait until I "grew up" and got my own job before I could pay $100 or more.

Then the 1980s rolled in and the Ambassador 2020 became a penchant model. It was a receiver that everyone craved. It was digital with PLL conversion, stable and sensitive. The 2020 was the predecessor to other models such as the DX-440 and the Sangean 803. Meanwhile, Sony was coming out with similar models -- the 2001 which became the predecessor to the now defunct classic 2010.

The ICF-77 made its way into the shortwave scene in the early 1990s and became the company´s high tech portable with a memory page for frequencies and stations that couldn´t be outmatched by any model on the market. The listed price was a hefty $500 but it could be savored by the consumer for about $350 to $400 at some specialty shortwave outlets. What makes the receiver a true classic is its ability to change modes, i.e. single sideband and USB and LSB, with a touch of a button. True, the audio performance isn´t as rich as lets say the DX-440, which sold for less than half the price of the ICF-77. But the radio performs well on the difficult-to-hear bands such as the 60 and the 120 meter bands.

Jay Allen, the ICF-77 expert over at posted an interesting review a few weeks back in which he compared his ICF-77 with the new Eton E-1, which combines shortwave and satellite radio and are being snatched up everywhere as if they were signed Voice of Mongolia QSL cards. He gives the Eton receiver five full moons and says (Yikes!) that it is a better radio than the ICF-77.

Now I am not an electronics lab expert nor do I have the experience that Jay has. And I still have my doubts about this Digital Radio Mondiale thing taking off. But what I do know is that radio receiver technology is changing more so now than ever before. In a few years, I am sure the Eton E-1 will pass on as a novelty of the decade. I hardly doubt it will become a classic receiver like any of the Sony radios. Here in Europe, you can all ready pick up DRM receivers at many department and electronic stores for less than half of what you would pay for an Eton in euros. But then again I think that many consumers still have no idea what DRM all means.

In the meantime, I will continue to fiddle with my ICF-77 -- even though I admit I don´t use all those fancy buttons when I turn the radio on -- and accept it as my main rig. Maybe I am too much of a conservative (not in thinking but in practice) when it comes to changing radios. But a Sony made in Japan is hard to beat.

Sony, I see if sevens have been the lucky roll of the dice.