Garbles from Aligarh

Learning to use HF radio outside the comms shop. 

Shortwave radio is an especially nerdy slice of the radio frequency spectrum. Just typing the words “radio frequency spectrum” already qualifies me as a nerd to some extent. I am aware of this fact. But really, shortwave radio, for the most part, far exceeds my nerd  knowledge.

Nowadays, shortwave radio is used primarily by ham radio operators (most of whom are old white guys in their attics) and religious broadcasters like World Adventist Radio. But, it’s also used by folks in developing countries who don’t have reliable Internet, as well as some news agencies like the BBC and Voice of America.

Before coming to McMurdo, I had never used shortwave or HF (High Frequency) radio. Now, I talk to field camps, airplanes, and South Pole station on HF radio on a regular basis. It’s a highlight of my job.

It’s fun to live someplace where an old(er) technology is so commonplace, and it’s more glamorous than our other older technologies like corded phones and pagers. We use HF to communicate with field camps who can’t use our VHF radio repeaters. Sometimes we can reach camp staff faster on HF than we can with our satellite phones. And on night shift, when the radios are hissing and whining all night in MacOps, I can sometimes hear pop music and Pashto-language conversation from All India Radio in Aligarh in northern India.

Hearing live broadcasts from India whilst living in Antarctica is pretty neat.

On Christmas Eve, the McMurdo Christmas Choir, McMurdo’s one-note singing sensation group called The Monotones, and our vibraphone-playing firefighter came into MacOps and played music live on HF radio for all the field camps. Several camps performed their own music back, and it was such a delight to hear their music, coming to us live from hundreds of miles away. I have an acquaintance from New Jersey who was on the ice for a few weeks, and he is heavily involved in the ham radio community. He let ham operators know about the broadcast a few weeks in advance, and I was told later that the McMurdo Christmas Carol broadcast was heard as far away as Sweden.

I have hosted a lot of radio shows. I never thought that would include MC-ing a troupe of musicians at McMurdo Station, South Pole Station, and several camps in between, on HF radio.









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