Thursday, April 14, 2011

Unidentified Warbling Objects

My oldest memories of shortwave radio are of sounds. Interval signals come to mind first. For those of you not in the loop, Shortwave stations usually broadcast a short song, or just notes before signing on. This made it easier to find the station you were looking for back before direct frequency readouts were affordable. Many stations still use them today, but it's not as necessary. Utility stations created the most interesting sounds. I learned quickly that almost everything that seemed like noise, was actually some form of communication, except for static of course. I figured out from reading my guides and magazines what most of these were.

There were two mystery noises though that were very interesting. The first was only a mystery for a little while. The woodpecker. On several bands at once, a noise like a woodpecker would travel across the frequencies. It was usually annoying, and sometimes would be powerful enough to cover up what you were listening to. It had been speculated that the noise was some sort of over-the-horizon radar. This theory was confirmed after the fall of the USSR, and was in fact called Duga-3. The woodpecker disappeared altogether in 1989. The other noise I never figured out. I always described it as bagpipes. It would play a short sequence of about 10-20 notes, and repeat. The tune was almost always the same. It also seemed to be on multiple bands at once, but not spread across many frequencies like the woodpecker. Does anyone else remember this? The only other detail I remember is that the tune changed slightly before it disappeared for good.

Photo: nate steiner, Flickr

This is my next..

The former editors at Engadget who have left over the last couple of months have a temporary home to publish their reviews and editorials until they get their all new site up this fall. For now you can read posts from Joshua Topolsky, Nilay Patel, Paul Miller, Joanna Stern, Ross Miller, and Chris Ziegler at This is my next .com

Good luck everyone! Can't wait to see the new site

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dad's Sony

My father grew up in the 'Radio Era' which made him more radio-aware than my children are now. He was by no means a hobbyist, but knew enough to tell good from bad. He knew that AM radios had to be turned for best reception, and a good swiveling whip antenna was necessary for FM reception. For him, the radio needed to be able to pick up his NPR stations, WCBS-AM, and get the Mets games when he was on the road.

I ran a sales territory for our family business. As Dad got older, he eventually came off the road, and ran the company from inside. Every now and then though, he would schedule to ride with one of his salespeople to keep an eye on things. He rode with me for few days once on my Northern New Jersey run. Thursdays on that run, I would sometimes stop at the offices of Gilfer Shortwave, and chat with Jeanne Ferrell and Paul Lannuier. I had purchased several radios there over the years, and would buy the various shortwave books and guides from them as they were released.

That one Thursday that Dad came along, he got a kick out of Gilfer, and all of the radios. He and Paul talked for a bit, and he purchased a Sony ICF-SW20. Partly because he really liked the quality of the little radio, and partly because I think he liked the folks at Gilfer as much as I did.

Dad had this radio from then, till he passed away in December 2009. It was his main radio. I saw it on his nightstand, in the bathroom, and on trips back east to visit us. Even with all of the selling and swapping I've done lately with my radio collection, I will never get rid of this radio. To me it was an acknowledgment from dad that my interests in radio were appreciated, and is a memory of the man I miss. It currently lives on my desk at work, sometimes called to duty for news, and music. Thanks for the radio Dad! I'll pass it down the line someday to Alec.