New Radio, Old Tech, and the Near Future (Or, More Novel Research)

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m working on a novel wherein radio plays a major role in the lives of the protagonist, her husband, and her father. And because I’m also one to throw myself into research for writing projects, I’ve been listening to shortwave radio over the past few weeks with the help of a recently acquired Tecsun PL-380.

Tecsun PL-380 in grass
Outdoors with the Tecsun PL-380

First, a bit about the radio. I chose to purchase the Tecsun PL-380 because of the consistently good reviews I’d read and its price point. (Given that during a cleanup of my writing desk, I’d recently found two gift cards to a major online retailer of various and sundry also helped. I did research local electronics stores, but no one carries much in the way of radios around here anymore, much less shortwave radios. So happy birthday to me, two or three years late….) My experiences with the radio have been positive so far. For the most part, I listen to KERA, the local NPR affiliate, with occasional forays into the AM band, mostly the local CBS news affiliate. Both came in beautifully indoors, even with all the interference from electronics around the house.

And my experiences with shortwave? Alas, pretty limited, but this is the fault of the RFI you’d expect in a major metro area. The performance of the PL-380 was much better than that of a radio I had years ago, also a portable, but a different brand and not as strong as this one on AM and FM. Attaching the long wire antenna did bring in some stations clearly, though these were mostly US-based. I did hear China Radio National briefly, via their transmitter in Cuba. And I think I caught a Spanish broadcast of Radio Romania International, though the signal wasn’t strong. As the weather warms up, I’ll take the radio outside more often.

So, what am I hoping to gain from this exercise? Shortwave listening is a balance of craft and science, and experiencing some of the challenges and rewards is giving me an insight into the characters. But above that, I’m intrigued by the puzzle of it: not only the puzzle of finding broadcasts that are audible but finding content worth listening to. Given that the novel that I’m working on is near-future science fiction, can I reasonably assume that my characters will find anything to listen to in an age when everyone who wants access to streaming audio news has it? If anything is on the shortwave bands, what might it be?

Perhaps the romance of chasing signals will keep the demand for broadcasts alive.