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Letter: Shortwave memories

Reader reflects on his early exposure to SWL

Dear RW: Thank you for the article in the Sept. 1 issue by James Careless, “Shortwave Radios Keep Up With Tech.”

When I worked for VOA — actually the International Broadcasting Bureau, later called the Broadcasting Board of Governors and then the U.S. Agency for Global Media — I believe upper management thought people in Djibouti had high-speed internet and laptop computers. In reality they lived largely in small huts made from corrugated roofing iron. They were lucky to have a radio.

When I was 12, my uncle had a TV shop as a second job. He fixed up a 1930s model radio with shortwave bands beside AM. It had the tubes with six or seven pins, shaped like a Coke bottle. I listened to VOA, the BBC, Radio Moscow and HCJB out of Quito, Ecuador.

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This experience led me to ham radio, a job at the local radio station to earn money for college, a role at 17 in helping to build KFTW in Fredericktown, Mo., a degree in electrical engineering and, at the end of my career, the job with IBB.

The first time I ever doubted what I heard on the radio was when Radio Moscow announced that the East German secret police had discovered a tunnel into East Berlin to smuggle spies into the German Workers Paradise. I thought “that was really people trying to get out of East Berlin.”

Decades years later, long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I found out that the CIA had tunneled into East Berlin and tapped the phone lines of the secret police!

David R. DeSpain, P.E., W0BCG
Ft. Worth, Texas

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