I first got into listening to the shortwave radio accidentally. A friend and I had gone dock fishing and being as I had driven, we’d loaded my Pinto up with a days’ worth of supplies: rods, lures, cigarettes, a cooler filled with beer, an ounce of Mexican marijuana and his portable radio.
Portable. For the benefit of those with a bit more memory on their hard drive, back in 1976, ‘portable’ meant that it ran on batteries and could be carried by use of a handle, but this thing was a Cadillac: It was about 15″ high, had a swivel stand and lots of buttons and switches. I later discovered that it was a fine device, because after a day of getting torn out of the frame, dropping him off and making it back home, I found the electronic marvel still in my car, overlooked in our blazedness.
I took it inside for safekeeping and called him to offer to bring it to him but he said he’d be by one day to retrieve it and that I should enjoy it in the meantime. I’d commented earlier on how good I thought it sounded, so later that evening I plugged it in and decided to listen. As I looked it over I quickly saw that in addition to the regular AM and FM bands it received several other bands which I’d never been afforded the opportunity to listen to, among which were shortwave.
I clicked the big knob over to the band with an effort that obviously removed oxidation from the contacts. I extended the antenna which was surprisingly long, about four feet. I cranked the volume and began tuning when, out of the static, a station abruptly came booming in. A lady with a European accent was in the midst of reading the news. I was unfamiliar with most of the stories she was relating. Those I recognised seemed strangely skewed to me. Finally she paused and then announced, “You are listening to Radio Moscow.” My eyes widened. ‘Holy shit!’ I thought, ‘I’ve got a mainline to inside the Soviet Union!’ I was getting a radio signal from halfway around the globe. I lowered the volume and continued to listen into the night.
Within days I became mesmerised with the shortwave, listening in all of my spare time. Excited as I was about this new-found spectacle, I hesitated telling my friends. I immediately imagined that it was quite possibly illegal to be listening to these broadcasts from the USSR, after all, I’d never seen another radio that received shortwave. Perhaps the wrong people would discover my interest in the Soviets. Born of ignorance, it was with a strong thirst for knowledge that I began learning all that I could find out about what stood behind the Iron Curtain. My research was abruptly put on hold when my friend showed up unexpectedly one day to reclaim his radio. I offered to buy it to keep him from hauling it away, but as he declined to sell it, I suspected that it belonged to one of his parents. Shucks.
Fast forward to 1981. Life had changed considerably for me and now I was a recently divorced dad of a 16 month old little girl. We lived alone. I had just deposited my paycheck from my part-time job at Record Bar and was on my way home. Acting on an impromptu urge, I stopped into the local Radio Shack. I’d been eying a radio for the past few years in their catalogue: a big desktop shortwave. At $229.95, it had always been out of my budget, but this was my lucky day. The radio had been marked for clearance at $130. Although rent was due that week, the radio went home with me that afternoon. The following week I secretly erected a wire across the back drive of the little house on Martin Road. This radio needed special consideration: besides the longwire aerial there was grounding and a special lightning arrestor. I purchased all of these articles at different stores to avoid arousing suspicion. I was still uncertain whether I was taking part in subversive activity. Only my little daughter knew of my receiving station. I placed my new radio in prominence on my nightstand. The dial lit up my bedroom at night. I lived for static. I knew what a beat-frequency oscillator was. I was addicted.
During this period, I learned a great deal about Socialism and Communism from the people who had invented it. I began to study the Russian language. I was lucky to find month-old copies of the Russian newspaper, called Правда оr Pravda. I was struck by the consistent tempo of the news originating in the country. Very little in the way of maleficence was reported and indeed, judging from the overall tone of the paper, everyone living in the country was content. Hedrick Smith’s The Russians, however, painted a completely different picture, wherein Soviet life, as experienced by the author, an American expatriate who had lived there for many years, seemed bleak and hopeless. I had a collection of Russian language books compliments of Radio Moscow and received mailings from the station at regular intervals. My sister was convinced that the CIA was keeping tabs on my activities and that guys over thirty years of age wearing fedoras and ties were rifling through all of my letters to and from the Soviet Union. I was nonplussed by the idea of such an invasion of my privacy, and chose to continue sending and receiving correspondence. Nothing continued to happen.
One thing was clear; the Communists (Radio Moscow, Radio Beijing, Radio Berlin and Radio Habana) certainly had a different view on top news stories of the day than did the Western countries (the Voice of America, the BBC, Radio Australia and Swiss Radio International). Then there were the accounts from the secondary sources with the likes of India Radio, Spanish Foreign Radio, Radio France Int’l., Radio Sweden, Radio Cairo, Radio Abu Dhabi, the Argentine Foreign Radio Service and Radio Guyana. After taking in an entire evenings’ worth of news, one generally had a good idea that the truth lay some where in between.
In light of today’s homogenised, whitewashed, sugar-coated, ultra-edited and multi-culturally approved “news”, I long for those days of bitter disagreement. Besides, I am troubled on a deeper level with today’s news media on the whole: I get the feeling that everybody is lying to us now. This is a visceral feeling that I can’t shake. Why on Earth would any news services ever agree? But they do agree, and to the point that I fear global collusion. Is not the USA still recognised as the leader of the Free World? And is China yet regarded as the global purveyors of Communism? Then why are their news services in simpatico? By their very nature, these very different types of government are at odds with one another, yet now, when I tune into Radio China International, It almost seems as if I’m listening to NPR. (Although they do both share the peculiar fact that they are funded by their respective governments.) This confusion would have been an unthinkable error back in the seventies. Now, considering what I just wrote, ask yourself why these two news outlets should agree on anything.
Unless, of course, you’ve been conditioned not to think that hard anymore.
I have encountered individuals who, having read books authored by idealistic people having little or no idea of the real-life problems with Socialism, think that the notion of such a society is a wonderful thing and that life there would be not unlike a God-fearing man’s image of Heaven. (Odd, in that most who adhere to the Socialist doctrine tend to be Atheist.) There is one problem with Socialism, however, and that is that it only works properly in the imagination. Explaining the reality of any countries’ foray into Socialism, including each subsequent failure, seems to be lost on the fledgling Worker’s Party imbecile.
Perhaps there was a good reason Lenin referred to them as ‘useful idiots’.
I am reminded of a story recalled by my dad, in which the welder couldn’t make sense of a blueprint that had been sent down by the draftsman. The foreman was conferred with and the draftsman was sent for.
“My welder can’t figure out your intended configuration,” the foreman told the draftsman, who had no hands-on experience. “Can you explain this to us?” he asked. After the draftsman explained, the foreman told him, “That is physically impossible.”
“No it isn’t,” stated the draftsman, “not if it’s built just like I drew it.”
“Look,” the foreman shot back, “I can draw you an asshole on paper, but you can’t make it shit.”
That explains Socialism pretty well, I reckon.