Thursday, January 12, 2006

Passport to World Band Radio 2006

Passport to World Band Radio 2006
Radio Netherlands Media Network

The 2006 of Passport to World Band Radio was published in October 2005. Described on the cover as "World's #1 Selling Shortwave Guide", there is no doubt about the focus of this annual publication. Its core content and format have not changed much since it was first published 22 years ago, and it does an excellent job of introducing new listeners to what's on the dial between 2 and 30 MHz. Its coverage of that part of the broadcast spectrum is excellent, and we were pleased to see that digital shortwave (DRM) is prominently featured in the receiver review section.

This year's special feature covers China and Tibet. Interestingly, in addition to profiling China Radio International, author Manosij Guha has included considerable detail about China's jamming of some shortwave broadcasts. This may help ensure that pressure will be maintained on the Chinese authorites in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. Plaudits to Passport for taking the opportunity to raise awareness of an issue which is too infrequently mentioned in the mainstream press.

For newcomers to shortwave listening, Passport contains a 34-page section called "Compleat [sic] Idiot's Guide to Getting Started". Despite its facetious name, there is a good deal of useful information, including a selection of English programmes from international broadcasters called 'Ten of the Best', which again this year includes two from Radio Netherlands - the Research File and Wide Angle (now part of Saturday Connection).

Passport's focus on programming as well as frequencies and receivers is very much appreciated by the producers at the international broadcasters. A comprehensive section called 'Hour by Hour - What's on Tonight?' fills 60 pages, and there's also a section for expatriates called 'Voices from Home' which tells them how to tune into the broadcaster from their homeland in their native language. Finally, there's a comprehensive listing of Worldwide Broadcasts in English.

But for many regular readers, the twin attractions of Passport are the graphical listings of all shortwave broadcasts by frequency, and the comprehensive equipment reviews. The frequency listings have always been controversial amongst shortwave hobbyists. Passport's editorial deadline comes well before many of the broadcasters have finalised their winter schedules, and frequency planning for next summer has barely started. So some of the information in the so-called Blue Pages is, by the editors' own admission, "creatively opined". But the editors do point out, quite correctly, that they have decades of experience, and every year some of the "creatively opined" information turns out to be remarkably accurate. Of course, they cannot predict changes resulting from political decisions, budget cuts and the like.

In conjunction with the Blue Pages, the Addresses Plus section gives full contact information for all the stations in the listings. For the international broadcasters, websites and e-mail addresses are also given. 'How to Choose a World Band Radio' is the equipment section with over 140 pages containing reviews of receivers and antennas. The writing style of Passport's Editor-in-Chief, Larry Magne, ensures that it never becomes dull. Larry is very authoritative, but also has a sense of humour, and is not afraid to tell it like it is. The review of the cheap Coby CX-CB91 is typical, concluding: "With tuning so hopeless and earpiece audio that can be unexpectedly painful, this Chinese model is unfit for human consumption."

On the other hand, those receivers worthy of serious consideration get several pages to themselves, with clear and easy-to-understand explanations of their strengths and weaknesses. The only disconcerting thing is that the ratings are now indicated as 1-5 stars, sometime followed by a figure such as 5/8. A different system (for example points out of 100) might be a better way of indicating minor differences in overall ratings.

Edited in the USA and printed in Canada, Passport to World Band Radio 2006 is very North America-focused, but is valuable to anyone around the world who wants a good reference to shortwave broadcasting in English and other major languages. Its binding enables the book to be opened flat while bandscanning, enhancing the usefulness of the Blue Pages. All in all, the 2006 edition is well up to the standard of previous editions, and we highly recommend it.

Larry Magne, et al.
No of pages: 592
Publisher: IBS North America, P.O. Box 300, Penns Park, PA 18943, USA. Tel: +1 (215) 598 9018. Fax: +1 (215) 598 3794.
Web: (online ordering available)

Price: US$22.95 including fast priority mail shipping free in the US
US$25.95 to Canada & Mexico by global priority airmail
US$27.95 to the UK by global priority airmail
Other countries: see Web site for details.
Also available at up to 30% discount from some online bookstores!

This review was compiled by the staff of 'Media Network', the English language Webzine of Radio Netherlands. The review was done independently of the author and publisher. Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with either and provides the information above in good faith.