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What is your fascination with radio?

Boys playing radio

Radio of all sorts has captured my interest since I was a child. It still does. I wonder why?  Here is the story of my fascination with radio. What’s yours?

Radio was an important part of everyone’s life during the 50’s and 60’s. My earliest recollections include listening to the radio with my mom, both literally and figuratively. Every day just after lunch it was time for Listen with Mother on the BBC. This was fifteen minutes of children’s stories and songs. I think my mom enjoyed it as much as me. Also, I learned of my father’s connection with radio. He was an RAF wireless operator World War II.

Later, radio played a role in personal growth. My first electronic device was a Rocket Crystal Radio. Shaped like a small rocket, you could tune stations by pulling out the nose cone. Unfortunately, it tended to pick up several stations at once. It was soon replaced by a small Sony transistor radio. Either way, many hours were spent under the bed covers listening to radio well into the night.

In my early teens, I spent hours with my friend David exploring his grandparent’s attic. There, we found a treasure of old radios – wooden cabinets, knobs and dials, glowing tubes and lights. Unfortunately, none of them functioned. Perhaps that is what got me started thinking about how radios worked and maybe I could make one. Then, my friend Kenneth and I would sit by his hi-fi with a pile of records and pretend we were radio announcers.

In high school, one of my hobbies was Medium Wave DX, listening to distant AM radio stations. We used to love power failures, when the local AM stations went silent and you could hear distant stations on these rarely clear frequencies. I got my ham radio license my personal 1967 Canadian Centennial project (VE4IA) and was the editor of the CIDX (Canadian International DX Club) Messenger. In university, I joined the student radio and amateur radio clubs, as well.

Given this background, it is not surprising that I remain a ham and SWL to this day, and enjoyed a first career as a broadcaster.

But, why the fascination? I think there are two reasons.

  • First, understanding radio is a foundational gateway, both technically and socially. Technically, it leads to an exploration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Socially, it leads to communication and collaboration. Each skill provides a foundation for the next one. As a technology or as a tool, radio is exceptionally diverse and engaging. The ham radio hobby is perhaps the original “maker culture”.
  • Second, and perhaps more important, radio is magic, especially high-frequency (HF) radio. You can talk to people around the world using less power than a light bulb. Yes, you can do that on the internet or mobile phone, but with HF radio it is nature, not man, that provides most of the infrastructure (the ionosphere). Few things compare to the fluttering sound of All India Radio spanning half the globe to bounce a few millivolts of energy into your antenna. Or having a conversation with the late King Hussein of Jordan, JY1. On the social side, radio broadcasting was once the glue that held society together, e.g. FDR’s fireside chats.

I think all of us who share a fascination for radio recognize its slow fade. It will be missed. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy it.

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