One man’s quest to get his news unfiltered

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Dec 18 02:09:14 GMT 2010

Big Stories, Shortwaves

One man’s quest to get his news unfiltered.
Music & Audio, Cassandra Roos, Emerson College, Feb. 28, 2006
February 28th, 2006
One man’s quest to get his news unfiltered.
By Cassandra Roos, Emerson College

We’ve all had moments of aggravation with the 
news offerings in this country, particularly as 
the mainstream media landscape becomes ever more consolidated.

Even when you flip through reputable papers like 
the New York Times do you get the sense that you 
are only getting America’s point of view? Are you 
curious about what international news our 
mainstream media skips altogether or how the same 
news events might be covered half way across the globe? Well you aren’t alone

Big Stories, Shortwaves

Progressives and curious people around the 
country want to get foreign news unfiltered. So 
how can ordinary people do this on the cheap? One 
option is shortwave radio. Until recently, I’d 
never heard of shortwave myself. When I think of 
radio, I mostly think of NPR, a smattering of 
great indie college stations, and then the drivel 
of right-wing talk radio and homogenous corporate 
rock stations. (Check out the 
Progress crib sheet on Payola)

But shortwave radio is sort of like the wild west 
of the dial. You can find anything on it. In 
addition to finding plenty of mountain-dwelling 
conspiracy theorists, American evangelist 
programming, static, and weird beeping sounds, 
you can pick up the widest range of global 
programming available in any medium. You can 
listen to 
from BBC World Service, Channel Africa, China 
Radio International, Kol Israel (Voice of 
Israel), Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, 
Laser Radio Latvia, Radio Afghanistan, Radio 
Cairo, Radio Finland, Radio Free Iraq, Radio 
Havana, Voice of Mongolia, Vatican Radio, BBC 
World Radio and Voice of America, the official 
broadcasting service of the U.S. government.

To figure out where to start, check out 
a short, summarized audio compilation of snippets 
of news from radio stations around the world. The 
programs are a mixed bag. Though our intrepid and 
discriminating readers will come across detritus 
like a Cuban broadcast about the need for the 
world to rise up against American imperialism, 
the offerings are eclectic and fascinating.

is the project of Dan Roberts. Dan lives in a 
cabin which uses only solar energy in Mendocino 
County, California. He runs 65 feet of wire from 
one end of his house to the other and it is 
connected to a $1500 shortwave radio which can 
pick up stations from around the world.  Some, 
like Radio Havana Cuba, are not available in the 
U.S. on the internet or through any other form at all.


Roberts has elaborate audio equipment in his 
cabin that allows him to record international 
broadcasts, edit them together and create his weekly rebroadcast.
Roberts has been creating his shortwave reports 
for about eight years now and he has elaborate 
audio equipment in his cabin that allows him to 
record international broadcasts, edit them 
together and create his weekly rebroadcast called 
the Dan Roberts Shortwave radio report. His 
report is currently run on 50 licensed US radio 
stations, not including illegal 
stations or international stations.

Roberts explains “basically most radical big 
international voices aren’t on the internet
American population think[s] shortwave is 
something that happened a long time ago [but] 
shortwave has stayed popular in other countries.”

One of the reasons that shortwave radio has 
remained so popular outside of the U.S. is 
because, unlike the internet, it can be listened 
to with a cheap, compact and portable receiver 
(around $50) in rural areas, on the ocean, and in 
regions that have no internet access at all. Many 
Americans, if they are aware of shortwave radio 
at all, tend to think of it as a medium favored 
for homespun, inflammatory right-wing 
programming. Certainly, some stations do offer 
bizarre racist, anti-gay, survivalist 
programming. Southern Poverty Law Center 
on “United Patriot Radio,” an illegal shortwave 
station in the hills of Tennessee that hosts a 
feature called “Weapons Wednesday” and often threatens the federal government.

But what exactly is shortwave radio? Shortwave 
radio signals are sent out differently from 
regular radio signals running on FM and AM. 
Shortwave signals are sent up into the Earth’s 
ionosphere and bounce back skipping around the 
planet enabling people like Roberts to pick up 
broadcasts from thousands of miles away.

Major uses of shortwave radio include amateur 
radio programs, utility stations transmitting 
information not intended for the public like 
weather reports for ships, international news 
broadcasting, domestic broadcasting in countries 
with widely dispersed populations, specialized 
naval or military broadcasts or so-called number 
stations. No one quite knows where number 
stations come from, but they are streams of 
seemingly random numbers, words or sounds. Some 
hobbyists believe that they are used by 
intelligence agencies to communicate with their agents.

The shortwave radio form has inspired musicians 
like Stereolab and Wilco. The title of Yankee 
Hotel Foxtrot, a recent Wilco album that samples 
from shortwave broadcasts, came from one of those 
shortwave broadcasts of random strings of numbers 
and words. The broadcasts that inspired Jeff 
Tweedy were culled from the 
Project recordings, a four-hour long collection 
of recordings from numbers stations.

But Roberts’ passion isn’t music but collecting 
international news stories that are making waves 
on other continents. For instance, we discussed a 
series of non-American stories his site on how 
Argentina and Brazil completely paid back their 
debts to the International Monetary Fund, and in 
turn disengaged completely from the organization. 
He feels that this story is just one example of 
how vital news, especially from countries that 
are geographically close, is downplayed in 
America. He commented that it is a “bummer to me 
that our media is acting like it is 
really amazing stuff is happening 
in South America and Latin America.”

Roberts also noted that many of the international 
stations he listens to may be biased due to 
governmental censorship or ownership. I asked 
Roberts whether this situation ever made him 
hesitate about airing his shortwave report in the 
U.S. He said he finds that it is still important 
to get another country’s perspective, to hear 
what foreigners hear inside their countries, how 
stories are being presented, and what types of 
feelings these may generate towards Americans. As 
he puts it, “you can’t really think globally if 
you only get media from the U.S.” Roberts started 
the show concerned that, in recent years, 
pressing international news has been replaced by 
more sensational, tabloid-style news that brings 
in higher ratings. Domestic news organizations, 
guided at times by commercial interests, worry, 
Roberts says, about “what the corporation is 
going to say about this?” when debating whether or not to run a story.

Roberts says that learning to listen to shortwave 
from around the world takes time: “you have to 
stay more focused to listen through the 
distortion and background noise” that can 
distract a listener. If you have the time and 
energy you can try this yourself. Roberts 
suggests just buying any shortwave radio from 
$50-$500, like some of the Grunding models 
and then pick up a 
for beginners and get at least a 12ft any kind of 
wire (that doesn’t have a metal casing) to attach 
to the radio antenna for better reception. It is 
harder to get shortwave signals with any 
electromagnetic interference from electronically 
charged equipment such as florescent lights, 
computers, and refrigerators. Of course, Roberts 
doesn’t have a problem with electrical 
interference since he has no household appliances 
running on standard electricity.

In January 2001, Groupe France Telecom estimated 
that 2.5 billion people worldwide listen to 
shortwave radio, with more than 200 million 
listing at any moment. Still, shortwave radio is 
considered a dying or oddball media form in 
America. But listening to shortwave radio can be 
an enjoyably nostalgic, low-tech experience. One 
can be so obsessed with complex technology and 
innovation that it is easy to forget there are 
simple ways to connect with someone, somewhere, even very far away.

Illustration: <>Matt Bors
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: application/x-ygp-stripped
Size: 213 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: application/x-ygp-stripped
Size: 213 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <>
-------------- next part --------------
+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which 
alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list