Travel Gadgets: Shortwave radio is the way to go
A shortwave radio is one of the finest travel companions you will ever have, writes Paul Ash
My love affair with radio starts with my brother, who on Fridays would make me sit down with him and listen to Squad Cars. I was three and thought it was about motor racing and not very much of it either. Still, I quickly became hooked on these stories that came by magic out of the dark.
At night at boarding school, I would lie under the blankets, a little National pressed close up against my ear and listen to High Adventure and Inspector Carr's The Epic Casebook. It was radio drama and the mental pictures were better than television.
Some time in the 1980s, my ma gave me a Sony shortwave radio, nine shortwave bands in a box the size of a deck of cards. It was the equivalent of a permanent round-the-world air ticket. Night after night, I hopped frequencies, roaming with the Voice of America, the BBC's World Service - the mother lode - sometimes the Dutch (when I could find them), and, occasionally, Radio Moscow. So, the Russians were real!
There were no radio plays here, to be sure, but drama - and propaganda - on a grand scale. One night, instead of swotting for the next day's exam, I listened to the Berlin Wall come down, utterly transported from a summer night in Jo'burg to cheering with Berliners as they helped topple the concrete barrier in an orgy of tearful happiness.
When I started travelling, the radio came with me for entertainment and as an alarm - I figured if there was trouble brewing in whichever dodgy part of the world I was in, it would be the BBC who got wind of it first.
The little radio has been to Vietnam and Kenya, France and Senegal. It filled lonely nights while I roamed America like a freight-hopping bum. It survived a long kayak expedition up Lake Malawi and gave me and my cameraman a passable diversion during an ill-advised summer fortnight in the rotten Hotel Zambeze in Tete, the worst city in Mozambique, if not the world.
Last year, I ditched the radio in favour of a smartphone for a short trip to Poland. The bill for five days of roaming was R2500 without a single moment of entertainment. Never again.
Now the little Sony has fresh batteries and the shortwave frequencies are copied on the back of a business card. No charger, no roaming hassles and free to air. E-mail can wait. I'll send a couple of postcards instead.
Sony world band receiver, $299 at www.amazon.com. It's not cheap but it should last you forever and will take you places an aeroplane cannot.