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|Written by Mike Verdone|
|Friday, 13 July 2012 00:04|
Recently, all broadcasts of Canadian radio programming to China, North Korea, Iran, East Timor, Syria, and other locales commonly believed to lack democracy, stopped. The branch of the CBC responsible for shortwave radio broadcasting to the world, RCI, Radio Canada International, was taken off the radio spectrum, had its budget cut by 80%, and was relegated to the realm of Internet broadcasting.
Of course, the Internet is delivered by wires and these wires are easy to cut. Most undemocratic nations already block the Radio Canada International web page as a matter of course. Not to mention, much of the world still does not have access to the Internet, much less at a speed capable of receiving live audio.
The shortwave band remains one of the most fascinating but unused bands in the modern world. This radio frequency range is tuned just right so that broadcasts can bend through the Earth's ionosphere and come out thousands of kilometers away. Shortwave stations use the same amplitude modulation circuits as venerable AM radio, and are not usually much more powerful.
Yet still they can broadcast to half of the Earth if the atmosphere is just right.
For some reason shortwave bands are not commonly found on radio sold in North America. You need a world band radio to get access to the shortwave frequencies. If you go to the trouble to purchase such a device, what you find there is well-worth listening to.
The shortwave bands stretch from about 3000 to 130,000 kHz, which is massive. There's a lot of room on there for broadcasts of every sort. On the stranger edge are a number stations which relay coded signals to spies in other countries by reciting numbers in an ominous monotone voice. Similarly, at 4625 kHz, one can find the station UVB-76, a station coming out of Russia that broadcasts a buzzing tone about once per second, and has been doing so continuously for decades. Its purpose remains a mystery.
Also found on shortwave radio are HAM operators. These individuals are amateur broadcasters who build broadcast equipment at home for the purpose of talking to each other and "contesting". To contest is to try and talk to other HAM operators as far away as possible and to exchange signal strength information and call signs. These signals are difficult to catch with a small world band radio, but sometimes you can hear wavering voices through the static, having conversations with other quiet voices half a world away.
Another likely sound you will stumble upon on your shortwave radio are the mellifluous sounds of southern preachers. Christian broadcasts are common in North America, and on many other continents provided one's antenna is good enough. Southern pastors with funny accents preach the message of Jesus Christ with a smattering of gospel music and endless requests for donations on their websites.
Finally, on the shortwave radio, we come to the commercial and governmental "world service" broadcasters, which broadcast in every language. A cacophony of English, French, Italian, Romanian, Russian, and Chinese. Each country provides programs in languages not native as a kind of cultural exchange. And so I find myself at times, at one in the morning, listening to the daily news in English from Bulgaria or Shanghai.
The Chinese, in fact, seem to have quite a presence on the airwaves. Their programs are delivered in impeccable American English and describe the modern lifestyle of the Chinese people. They also offer helpful tips on speaking Mandarin.
It is in this cacophonous global electrical conversation that Canada is now silent. The relatively low costs of producing basic monophonic audio programs that can be delivered globally to anyone with a simple radio now lies beyond the nation's ability in the Harper economy. The existence of RCI, which was not considered vital even by the CBC, used to be kept afloat by a portion of a bill which specified Canada must provide a world broadcast service via shortwave. That bill was amended to require only Internet broadcast.
I moved to Berlin a couple years ago, and I bought a shortwave radio. Canada's broadcasts rarely fell upon Europe, so it was my hope that someday the ionospheric conditions would be just right and I could hear via my radio those very photons that emanated from my home country. Physical vibrations of the air in a studio in Montreal, transformed into electrical impulses that fly through the atmosphere and are then transformed back to vibration in my room. Every radio transmission is a form of scientifically derived magic, but over such long distances...
I never got the chance. There's nothing but static now.
Listen to RCI's final moments on air. Requires Flash.
Tags: a trip to yesteryear, canada, come on canada, culture, culture murder, frequency, halfway around the damn earth people, ham radio, harper government, radio, radio canada international, rci, russia, shortwave radio, spies, that movie starring dennis quaid, world band radio