Book review: Radio jazz for fans - this year’s best listening guides

Book review: Radio jazz for fans - this year’s best listening guides

Author: David Harris

This month, David Harris offers a more extended review and examines some of the best of the seasonal listening guides and annual frequency lists available to radio listeners, hobbyists and utility monitors. 

The World Radio and Television Handbook (WRTH)
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One of the most eagerly-awaited events in the radio calendar is the publication of the new edition of the World Radio TV Handbook (WRTH). This stalwart of the broadcasting world is now in its 72nd year and one of its strengths lies in how little it has changed over the years. Many yearbooks and industry guides are now only available online or cost huge amounts of money.

By contrast, WRTH 2018 is an absolute bargain as it packs in everything you could possibly want to know on radio broadcasting around the world.

Every country in the world gets a listing of all its principal AM and FM domestic stations. It takes 387 pages to provide this information, including frequencies, output power, location, station addresses and e-mail details.

Listings for some countries, which have many low-power AM and FM stations, are curtailed. In the UK, community stations below 100W are excluded. If you are a keen FM DXer, then the comprehensive listings of European and North African FM stations will help you identify any signal you may hear over the summer.

Last August, I heard some Arabic-language stations on my car radio and was able to immediately identify them as Algerian stations, by quickly looking up the WRTH entry for Algeria.

Medium Wave may be in decline for national broadcasters but this has freed up space for small community broadcasters, especially in the Netherlands, where over 50 new AM stations are listed. Denmark has also announced new low-power stations on AM. Here in the UK, we have recently welcomed the return of Radio Caroline to MW on 648kHz with 1kW, although some BBC local medium wave stations have closed.

Short wave radio is a bit like jazz in that it may not have quite the following it use to have. However, it still has many ardent fans. WRTH 2018 devotes 67 pages to a comprehensive listing of over 90 countries in this band.

Although several countries have abandoned SW, some (such as the UK) are increasing global coverage, especially to countries like North Korea, Somalia and Ethiopia, where access to impartial news may not be available. WRTH 2018 supplies a full listing, by frequency, of all SW broadcasters, from the seven remaining broadcasters left in the 120m tropical band, to the 21 stations that can be found in the 13m band.

WRTH 2018 is far from being a ‘phone book’ of turgid listings. The first pages offer comprehensive reviews of six new SW radios and the indispensable annual receiver guide. This checklist gives summary reviews of ten world band radios and around 30 communication receivers and software-defined radios.

If you are contemplating buying a new SW radio, then studying the WRTH reviews could help save you a lot of money. The reviews are up-to-date and include the new Icom IC-R8600. There are also captivating articles on digital radio, radio in the Solomon Islands, Radio Romania International and electrically-generated noise.

WRTH also covers television, in 50 pages devoted to terrestrial TV stations around the world. Many are now watching via cable or satellite. However, terrestrial TV is still popular in most countries having gone digital.

Moreover, WRTH contains a section devoted to time signal and standard frequency stations. No less than 16 countries broadcast these signals in both voice and Morse code formats. These stations are useful for receiver tuning, synchronising clocks and checking propagation conditions. Unlike most SW broadcasters, many time signal stations are on the air 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

Finally, WRTH offers tables of International broadcast organisations, useful websites, DX clubs, SW transmitter sites, DRM broadcasts and of SW broadcasts in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. There is a section on clandestine broadcasters, most of which target the most troubled parts of the world, including North Korea (The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK), Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Klingenfuss 2018 Shortwave Frequency Guide
Another well-established publication, this offering from the Klingenfuss collection of radio books is now in its 22nd edition. Its late deadline of November 2017 ensures that it offers the very latest updates indeed and there is a January 2018 supplement too.

On 344 pages, this easily-readable handbook offers meticulously-researched articles on professional utility stations as well as a utility frequency list, and an in-depth frequency table of broadcast radio stations.

There is also a broad range of ancillary information covering transmitter sites, broadcast radio stations, clandestine stations and details on broadcast languages, name and target areas of transmitters and relevant abbreviations, to name but a few. The clandestine radio stations list offered here is unrivalled. 

The book is further enriched by screenshots and is used by a number of professional monitors and services around the world. The contextual information on monitoring, modes in use and legal restrictions is one of the best I have seen. It will pave the way into this fascinating part of the hobby for many enthusiasts and readers of RadioUser’s new Utility Monitoring column.

The publication, like others, has moved with the times and there is much of interest here for those interested in HF e-mail, short wave radiograms, web-SDR listening and automatic monitoring and recording techniques, in fact, the book is worth its price for its survey of the future of a range of radio transmissions alone.

In terms of short wave broadcasters, once again, the guide leaves little to be desired, with its accurate, listing from 2380 to 21795kHz. Start and end times for broadcasts are provided, as is exhaustive information on languages, location, target areas and other vital facts.

Unlike the other guides reviewed here, the Klingenfuss list makes no bones about the essential underlying politics of radio, the use of radio by extremists of all kinds and about the utter foolishness of leading international broadcasters in discontinuing short wave transmissions at a time when, arguably, the world needs them most and is most at risk from ‘fake’ news and internet manipulation. 

There are also a few home truths about DRM, web censorship and radio and political repression worldwide. It is very refreshing to find this kind of background made more explicit in a title of this nature. Like its predecessor editions, this title is, therefore, highly recommended. Radio – in more ways than one – does not operate in a vacuum. 
 
The Radio Listeners Guide (RLG)
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The 29th edition of the shorter Radio Listener’s Guide (RLG) is a valuable and up-to-date guide to UK radio broadcasting and to domestic radio. The book kicks off with a nine-page roundup of radio news, including medium wave switch-offs by the BBC, radio awards, news about the BBC, commercial radio, DAB, the proposed switch-off of FM and new technology.

There are various radio news websites and they tend to focus heavily on commercial stations and radio presenters changing jobs. By contrast, RLG provides a more balanced digest of radio news, which other media outlets seem to ignore.

Many people will buy this publication just for the 27 pages of reviews of domestic radios (mainly DAB). If you are contemplating buying a DAB radio, the RLG has comprehensive reviews of around 30 new models as well as details of more than 120 models that the publication has reviewed in recent years.

Given that you can spend anywhere from £40 to £750 for a DAB radio, the modest price of this book is a good investment. There are also a few reviews of world band radios. Moreover, the RLG makes some ‘best-buy’ recommendations if you find that there is too much choice when it comes to buying a new radio.

The bulk of the publication is taken up with coverage maps and detailed listings of all BBC, commercial and community stations in the UK broadcasting on AM, FM and DAB.

There is a four-page section on broadcasting in the Republic of Ireland and listings for Sky, Freesat and Freeview digital TV platforms – all of which carry radio stations. 

Given that, in some areas, it is now possible to pick up over 100 different stations, this guide will help you make sure that you are getting the most out of your radio. Listings are made by station name and by frequency. This is useful if you are travelling around the country or just trying to find something other than bland pop music to listen to on your new radio.
The Radio Caroline story is covered in a special article in the RLG, along with items on voice recognition, DAB+, foreign medium wave stations, the BBC World Service, a beginner’s guide to DXing, the BBC iPlayer, music streaming, Bluetooth, in-car listening and mobile phone radio apps.

What impressed me most about this book was that it does not stand still and simply regurgitates the same information every year. Technology is constantly advancing, even in an area as long established as radio.

The editor and the team have put a huge amount of effort into ensuring that the radio listener is up-to-date with developments in this fast-changing world. If you are at all interested in domestic broadcasting and want to get the most out of your radio then the RLG 2018 is an essential, yet very modestly-priced, publication.

The International Short Wave Broadcast Guide (ISWBG)
This American publication is a comprehensive guide to short wave listening, utility monitoring, updates on shortwave broadcasters, and an hour-by-hour listening guide. The ISWBG has been published twice a year since it started in 2013.
Its origins go back to 1993, when it began as a regular part of the US radio magazine Monitoring Times (now: The Spectrum Monitor). When MT ceased publishing in 2013, the van Horns, who were regular contributors, started the ISWBG as a Kindle eBook. It can be downloaded from your local Amazon website. The publication can be read on a Kindle, iPad, Smartphone or a PC.

First impressions are that the ISWBG is excellent value for money, containing more than 600 pages of text for just under £6. The book begins with a 16-page article about broadcasting in (and to) North Korea. This is certainly very topical, against the background of the recent North Korean missile tests and the threat of war hanging over the Korean peninsula. The authors list many clandestine stations – mainly based in South Korea or Japan – which broadcast towards North Korea. This is in addition to the various SW broadcasts aimed at the North, including the recently established BBC World Service programmes in Korean. The article also suggests that radios in North Korea can only be legally tuned to state broadcasters and that, presumably, people find ways around this and get to hear about life in other countries.

There are some shorter articles about broadcasts over the Christmas period and a couple of reviews of radios that appear to be available in the USA only. The book offers a review of the National Radio Club AM Radio Log, which is a comprehensive inventory of all AM stations in the USA and Canada.

One of the most interesting contributions to the ISWBG is an article entitled Who’s Who in the Shortwave Spectrum, which gives an in-depth overview of both broadcast and utility short wave bands.

There used to be some exploratory books covering short wave listening in the 1980’s and 1990’s. However, I am not aware of any such general interest titles being published in recent years.

If utility monitoring is of interest then the ISWBG has a 48-page listing of 1000 frequencies worth checking if you are interested in listening to aircraft, shipping or the US military.

Most of the frequencies relate to North America but many of the higher frequencies could be received in Europe during the daytime. The ISWBG also has a brief roundup of news about SW broadcasters including the demise of Radio Australia’s SW services and the increase in BBC WS broadcasts.

The bulk of the publication is taken up with its unique hour-by-hour listening guide to SW broadcast stations.  This differentiates ISWBG from WRTH, which lists all SW stations in order of frequency and has country-by-country listings of AM, FM and SW stations.

The ISWBG is very much a ‘hands-on’ publication, which you would want to have in the shack next to your radios. The idea is that you note the time and check what broadcasts are listed in ISWBG and then you can tune in to see what you can pick up. The publishers stress that SW broadcasters can be unreliable and tend to switch frequencies or drop broadcasts in a way which would be unacceptable for MW or FM listeners.

In conclusion, the ISWBG is tremendous value for money, contains many articles of interest and offers (through its hour-by-hour guide) a different approach to short wave DXing. This will appeal to many.

Personally, I prefer hard-copy publications. However, if the ISWBG was published in book form, the price would probably be around the £35/$50 cost point of the WRTH. Postage from the US to Europe sometimes makes US publications prohibitively expensive outside of North America.

For little more than the price of a monthly magazine, the ISBG offers a lot of information and is highly recommended.