The Greatest Generation

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k7ip Fri, 01/29/2010 - 10:51

Being pretty much computer-bound at work, I spend much time listening to audio streams from one web site or another. I have sampled radio stations, tv news feeds, and music sites aplenty (my personal favorite is Pandora). But the ones I come back to most often are those that offer historic radio broadcasts.

There are dozens of web sites that host old-time radio programs, from Glenn Miller records to Jack Benny and Amos and Andy programs. Some are direct recordings of these programs from the original studio programs. But my personal favorites have been influenced in great measure by how I got started in ham radio so many years ago.

In 1961, I discovered that one of my neighbors had a massive wood cabinet radio that covered some of the more common short wave broadcasting and amateur bands. I was enthralled by the static and fading of the signals from Radio Free Europe, Radio Moscow, VOA, CHU, and WWV. Shortly after that discovery, I made the acquaintance of Jack Furtney, W0ENZ, now a silent key, whose huge Hallicrafters station set the ham radio hook but good. In 1963 I finally had saved enough paper route money to buy my first receiver, a Hallicrafters (of course!), SX-110. Not a supurb receiver for the new mode SSB, but all those wonderful shortwave broadcasters and more now appeared in my very own room at all hours of the day. At the height of the cold war, the competing signals of East and West provided counterpoint to the newspaper and TV news stories of the day. In those days, radio drama programming was terminally ill, but not yet dead. Radio serials could still be found at certain times of the day, and that programming broadened my listening diet as well. Gunsmoke, Johnny Dollar, Our Miss Brooks...all came from the speaker to use my imagination for visuals. As I got older and discovered music, long hours of listening to WLS, KAAY, and WDGY took over as the serials one by one moved to TV or left the air forever.

My father, WA0OEF, also now a silent key, joined me at times, often retelling stories of the radio programs he listened to as a boy. He was especially fond of the WW2 news from Europe, which he listened to as a young man about to join that conflict. I was born after WW2 amd too young to remember the news from Korea. TV was just starting to cover the mess in Viet Nam. But my favorite was still to spend summer evenings in the early 60's combing the static-filled airwaves for foreign voices. In 1964 I earned my Novice ham ticket and was privileged to add my voice as well.

Going off to college and living the daily stuff of life was enough of a distraction that I hardly noticed that short wave broadcasting was changing. There's still an opportunity to find international flavor on the air, but the huge competing signals of VOA, Radio Moscow, the BBC World Service, and Radio Free Europe have long since gone the way of the radio serials, and I think the world is poorer for it.

Awash with nostalgia, I have for the past few weeks, searched the internet sites available and become a dedicated listener to the news broadcasts of the 40's. In many, the fading and interference (often intentional jamming) can be heard once again. One great site is http://www.privateletters.net/sound.html. There are several hours of newscasts from 1939-1945. In addition to war news, there is also commentary on the political events of the day - in some ways so like the quibbling we have now, yet in so many ways different as the country struggled together with the war.

It wasn't just the GIs fighting overseas who were so selfless. The whole country rose above its natural divisiveness to overcome the adversity of the war. EVERYONE who lived through that period of time was the Greatest Generation.