Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Short Wave Listening: A Ride Down Memory Lane

Kenwood R-300, purchased by me for $239 in 1977 with money earned working in the corn fields.

limom got me started on the topic of shortwave radio tonight, so let's just do this thing:

A shortwave radio was the first somewhat expensive thing that I wanted to buy as a kid. So, I got a summer job pulling the tassels off the top of stalks of corn, and saved up enough money to buy this radio. At that time, the law allowed kids under 16 do work like that. They paid me to detassel the corn in order to hybridize it, to try to combine the best traits of type A with the best traits of type B in order to grow seed for the next season. The Wikipedia article explains it pretty well. Any by the way if there are any teenage guys out there looking to bulk up over the summer, bagging and tossing 50 lb bags of seed corn onto pallets is a great way.

Pulling tassels off the top of stalks of corn is not the easiest job around, but you develop a rhythm as you walk along, and pace is important because some of the rows of corn were 1 mile long. I was a pretty tall kid, but even then, sometimes the tassels were at the limit of my reach. There's nothing else I can think of that builds character like trying to pull the tassels off the top of tall stalks of corn on a hot day in a mile long row through a field with sticky mud. I could write many pages on the adventures of detasseling corn, but I think I'll save that gold for another time. It was incredibly hot, dirty, humid work, though, and we used to wash each other off with the garden hose at the end of the day. 

I'm quite happy to have had that job, because it allowed me to purchase this radio, which still works as well as it did then, which isn't anything like the best available then or now, but it does work pretty well. Since it's frequency range is 170 - 410 kHz plus 525 - 30000 kHz, it's actually a long, medium AND shortwave radio. To give a brief demo for you, I hooked up the little active antenna, which is at least workable, and tuned in Radio Taiwan International on 9680 kHz:

Coils used to tune the various bands the radio covers. They can be adjusted to realign the tuning if needed.

The main and bandspread tuning capacitors.

Like limom mentioned over on his blog, shortwave radios work a lot better with physically long antennas strung up in electrically quiet (less man-made interference) places. Since I like those types of places, too, maybe that's one of the things about shortwave that still appeals to me. That, and the memories of things like seeing the postman's face in the small town I lived in when he handed a stack of "Soviet Life" propaganda magazines to me. I could tell even as a kid listening to Radio Cuba, Radio Albania ("This is Tirana calling,"), and Radio Moscow, that Communism was a screwed up way to run a country. Any government that broadcast such transparent lies and expected people to believe them, or forced people to believe them, was obviously screwed up. Although, I did think their numbers stations were mysteriously cool.

Even though I tend to keep stuff, I can't fully explain why I held onto this radio for so long, except that it still works, I still like shortwave, and like I mentioned it was the first major self-financed purchase of my life. The second, I think, was a ten speed bicycle, also financed with corn money. Kind of wish I had held onto that, too. Thanks, Mr. limom, for this ride down memory lane. Get up. Go ride.


  1. Your WWV beats my WWV!
    Short wave on a vintage set is a nice little time machine.

  2. Great post, and a very interesting machine. What's funny is one of my riding buddies had the same job growing up -- detasseling corn.

  3. Aren't you glad you held on now? I know I'm glad I held on to that bike, though I can't imagine why I'd ride it again regularly.

  4. limom I met with some disappointment since when I first turned it on I could also hear the WWVH female voice, too--they stagger it against the WWV timing so you can hear both sometimes.

    Apertome did your buddy grow extra wings from exposure to farm chemicals, too?

    Steve yes I am. Maybe I'll find a thrift store bargain or swap meet beauty to replace that bike some day.


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