Taking back vacant territory
From 1960 to 1990 I enjoyed listening to shortwave broadcasts, especially the Voice of America. VOA was openly described as American propaganda, but in fact it was more even-handed, truthful and complete than our internal TV and radio. Our internal media are pro-war when the war belongs to a Democrat, anti-war when the war belongs to a Republican. VOA tried to tell the good and bad parts of the war and the country, no matter which party owned which parts.
[Sidenote: We're about to witness another mass-media turnaround when Obama finds it "necessary" to invade Pakistan, To Prevent Weapons Of Mass Destruction From Falling Into The Wrong Hands And To Encourage A Young Democracy In The BroaderMiddleEast. This mirrored deja vu will be fun to watch.]
When I moved to Spokane in 1991 I found that shortwave listening was impractical, partly because of interference from a nearby power line, partly because the best stations simply didn't reach this part of the country. I especially missed VOA, but luckily the web came to life about then, filling the gap with access to unbiased news and non-trivial information.
Now many of the major SW stations have abandoned transmitting; some have switched to web podcasting or Youtube, some have simply closed down. The Voice of America has an especially good Youtube presence,
with the same flavor as its original SW material. Still even-handed, still covering stories
that the celebrity-dazzled mass media can't even see.
In our mad dash toward the allegedly modern, we've jumped out of perfectly good technology into a pile of fast-moving crap. In the process we've left the good tech relatively unused. Landline telephones and shortwave radio have definite limits, but within the limits they work faster and have better fidelity than cell phones and satellite transmission.
Shortwave also has one non-obvious advantage: it's off the grid and costless. You can communicate worldwide without depending on an ISP or a cell carrier. When those systems are down, overloaded or censored, SW still gets through.
Maybe it's time for smart pioneers to reclaim the abandoned territory, in the same way that 'urban homesteaders' are reclaiming old suburbs and small towns abandoned in the mad rush toward infinitely distant suburbs and infinitely large McMansions.
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Update 1/20/11: Article at WUWT
describes new research by Navy scientists looking into the behavior of the ionosphere in more detail. WUWT was probably thinking about the climate connection (sunspots affecting magnetic properties of ionosphere, modulating clouds) but the actual research is mainly about the radio-reflecting properties. I wonder if this indicates a new interest in reclaiming shortwave for naval communications?