April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Friday, December 21, 2007

Listening to the world

What do I really miss here in Panama!"=)(/&%$·"!ª well, keyboards that actually show the symbol you will get when you type a key is one thing that I miss. What I had been planning on saying before the unsucessful quest for a question mark got me side tracked was that I miss NPR - otherwise known as national public radio (yup, sorry mom... news with a liberal bias).

Here in Panama there is plently of news, on TV, radio and newspapers. On the island we only get radio, and while we enjoy listening to the local radio most of the time, listening to news is hard because it is fast spanish without context clues to help with changes in subject. What I end up hearing is ¨blah blah hoy blah blah blah presidente Bush blah ba blah¨ Or simular experiences where the recognisable word is Estados Unidos, Chicago, California, or insert some other single word. Just enough to know that something noteworthy enought to make world news but not enough to know what it was.

As a result of this we felt totally out of touch with everything in the world. How DID Putin go from questionable to be Time´s man of the year anyway? Who is still in the running for the presidential primaries? All a mystery to me.

Sheer dumb luck put us into a conversation with a volunteer who wanted to sell a very nice used radio. So for Christmas we asked for help funding a World Band radio purchase. Thank you to Grandma Cropper for sending the funds to allow the purchase...you got a great deal. (Anyone else who sent us radio money...don´t worry...I will likely use it to further my mola collection. That will also make me very happy.) So we are now the proud owners of a Grundig Yacht Boy 400E radio...I think that we are the 3rd PCVs to use it and it is a nice radio.

World Band Radio is also called SW, short wave radio, Single side band...well, a ham radio operator would correct me with a long thesis on what each of those really means, but all that really matters is that they are things that I can now hear that you don´t hear with an AM/FM radio. SW radio is different from AM/FM in many ways:

1. You hear things from all over the world. We have heard prgrams from: the Netherlands, Prague, England, Germany, Japan, China, South Africa, Equador, India, Argentina, Cuba, Iran, the USA, and others. We have heard languages that we can´t identify and some great world music. We have heard China broadcasting news in Spanish (that is a fun accent). Each broadcaster has a target audience, but sometimes the conditions are right for the signal to carry much farther than intended.

2. Reception depends on time of day and atmosperic conditions. SW radio comes in clearest the 2 hours before sunset...whatever time that is locally, until midnight. Also the 2 hours before and after dawn can be good. Reception is often staticy and sometimes includes funny alien sounding noises. Sometimes the volume changes as the signal clarity changes. But hey, it is worth it for some english language news.

3. Program times and channels can vary seasonally and by day of the week. Where there is static now on a frequency may be a show that starts on the hour. Broadcasters each have their own schedule and may broadcast for just part of a day. For example the United Nations has a broadcast that lasts for just 15 minutes. Broadcasters even switch frequencies over the course of the day. This means in an evening of listening you may have to seek a new channel several times. All that channel surfing means you run into fun and strange things. It is kind of like watching cable if you had 1000s of channels and each only broadcast for 3 hours a day...you sometimes get lucky and sometimes not.
I still haven´t heard enough news to know what is really going on in the States (most of what is being broadcast out of the states is religion or is aimed at other parts of the globe and thus hard for us to pick up). But at least we are hearing world news: So you all hit $90 a barrel with oil...glad I am not buying gas these days. I recommend that you think about driving a veggie car like my mom :) (she says my car is running fine!)
If you are interested in trying out world band radio I would suggest trying it out before you spend a lot of money on a radio. There are inexpensive radios out there, but they say you get what you pay for. It can be very rewarding some nights, and very frustrating others.
Overall a night of listening to the world is a very good way to get connected to life outside our island. It is hard to explain just how much fun it is to hear African drumming, Spanish with a Chinese accent, Cuban radio playing Martina McBride singing Christmas Carols, or All India radio giving the cricket scores all brought to you by sheer luck and a little radio.

No comments: