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When Times Are Tough, Get Reading

Gift Ideas for Your Book Lover This Holiday Shopping Season

You know I love books. Sing your praises to the BlackBerry, Kindle or laptop; no modern gadget yet supplants the warm pleasure of sitting by a fire with a glass of Montecillo Rioja Crianza at hand and a fresh book in my lap.

Books are fine gifts in times of economic distress. In this column and next, I offer gift suggestions for the radio lover, engineer or manager on your list. Or you might leave these ideas where your own elf can find them.

Some of the books are new, others may have slipped your notice earlier. Prices are retail; in most cases you can find titles for less online.

“Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today” and “Listening on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today” by Jerome S. Berg — If you enjoy Radio World’s articles about shortwave radio history, take note of these titles.

The first book, a sequel to one published in 1999 about the “pioneer” days of radio, consists mostly of a year-by-year recounting of what American listeners have heard on international and domestic shortwave bands since World War II.

Berg, an attorney, is a long-time shortwave buff and a member of the executive council of the North American Shortwave Association. His text is a straightforward accounting of shortwave comings and goings.

With so much history, he can only provide a few lines of detail about each operation, and offers little discussion of the people involved. But in addition to the excellent historical chronology, he provides an introductory overview about shortwave, a discussion of its changing face and numerous photos of QSL cards. (Berg is chair of the Committee to Preserve Radio Verifications.)

The sister volume, “Listening on the Short Waves,” focuses on the listening community and completes his trilogy. Berg discusses shortwave clubs, listener programs, receivers, QSLing and the impact of computers on the hobby.

These books are not cheap, at $65 apiece; but if you know a zealous fan of shortwave and its history, the pair would be a treasured gift. If I had to choose just one, I’d go with “Listening.”

Published by McFarland & Company Inc., 2008. Hardback. Each title $65.

“Hello, Everybody! — The Dawn of American Radio” by Anthony Rudel — The author considers radio “the real American mosaic, crafted from that magical, invisible ether.” It’s refreshing to hear from a writer who not only appreciates radio as it was but finds value in what it does today.

His subject here, however, is the panoply of personalities who defined the medium in early days. It’s an enjoyable and literate overview of radio’s puberty; his emphasis is content, unsurprising given that Rudel’s background is in programming.

If you are up on your radio legends, you’ll find much that is familiar: John Brinkley, Rudy Vallée, Graham McNamee, Father Coughlin, Aimee Semple McPherson. But Rudel is a good writer and careful researcher who likes unusual characters and does a nice job introducing them. His book is a welcome addition to the genre and a suitable gift, particularly for someone who isn’t already deeply versed in radio lore.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. Hardback, $26.

“Practical Radio-Frequency Handbook, Fourth Edition” by Ian Hickman — This is intended for anyone with an interest in electronics as applied to radio frequency communications.

Chapters deal with passive components; passive circuits; RF transmission lines; RF transformers; couplers, hybrids and directional couplers; active components for RF use; RF small-signal circuitry; modulation and demodulation; oscillators; RF power amplifiers; transmitters and receivers; advanced architectures; propagation; antennas; attenuators and equalizers; and measurements.

Hickman provides appendices on useful relationships, RF cables, frequency allocations and other topics. This edition includes developments in OFDM, UWB, WiFi, WiMax and modern test equipment.

A meticulous technical book, it is intended as a guide for engineers, technicians and hobbyists who want to know about the technology behind modern consumer electronics and wireless communication devices. Useful and thorough.

Published by Newnes, 2007. Paperback, $43.95.

“The Buzzard” by John Gorman, with Tom Feran — Before he was a consultant and tart-tongued blogger, Gorman helped build Malrite’s WMMS(FM) into a powerhouse rock operation in Cleveland.

Believers in WMMS were not given to understatement. Gorman describes his book as “the story of how one manic, drug-induced, sex-crazed, take-no-prisoners, renegade-warrior radio station helped revive an American city that had been written off as dead.” That’s a big claim, but in my experience, others involved with WMMS agree with him about its impact on both Cleveland and rock radio.

As usual Gorman is provocative, launching his story by quoting an early ’70s argument over the future of FM radio with engineer Tom Bracanovich, and wrapping up with a description of the toxic environment that had developed at WMMS by the end of his run: “Blame games were so common, I came up with the ‘Malrite salute’ — fold your arms and point your fingers in opposite directions.”

Get this for a fan of pre-consolidation FM radio formats or of Cleveland radio history.

Published by Gray & Company, 2007. Hardback, $24.95.

More gift ideas next issue.