Superhit Sounds of Shortwave Radio


Once, when I was poking about in some used CD stores on Yonge Street, I walked into a store and immediately saw a guy who looked uncannily like the late Walter Matthau. Ol’ Walt had obviously already been there for a long time, telling the amazingly patient counter guy all about his deeply unfascinating shortwave radio hobby and making something utterly clear: The whole reason people get into shortwave radio is that they’re desperate to talk to someone, and it just doesn’t matter who.

“… I have thousands of transmission confirmations from all over the world,” said Walter Matthau in a monotone. “I have transmission confirmations from the United States, and from the Soviet Union, and from Brazil, and from South Africa, and from North Africa, and from West Africa….” And the list continued to include most radio-capable nations on the face of the earth.

“Wow,” the clerk said, attempting to conceal his uninterestedness.

“I have recordings dating back thirty years,” said Walter Matthau. “I should bring in some of my recordings sometime. I think you may be very interested in them.”

“You mean, like, to sell?” the clerk asked.

“To listen,” Walter Matthau explained. “I think you may find them very interesting.” I marvelled at that one; Walter Matthau was either extraordinarily unperceptive about the clerk’s dim level of interest, or he was confident that he possessed a set of shortwave radio recordings so utterly fascinating that they needed to be allowed to speak for themselves.

“I have thousands of recordings from all over the world,” Walter Matthau droned on. “The reception quality on all or most of them is crystal-clear.” He paused, suddenly realizing that, after listening to an interminable monologue, the counter guy was starting to get disgruntled.

“I’m not bragging,” Walter Matthau explained. “I don’t mean to offend you,” he assured the counter guy, as though he’d realized that by boasting all about his amazing treasure trove of shortwave radio recordings, he’d thereby made the clerk feel insecure about his own meager handful of shortwave radio recordings.

That made me burst out laughing, which I tried to conceal since I didn’t want to undermine the atmosphere of politeness and tolerance the clerk had worked so hard to create. So, I delved a little further into the racks of CDs and “tuned out” of the rest of the conversation, as the shortwave folks put it.

Eventually, the guy left and I took my purchases to the counter. I asked the clerk if he wanted to hear my shortwave radio recordings by any chance, and he rolled his eyes. He then told me the guy had been there for at least twenty minutes, and the only interesting thing he’d done in that time was stand there and look just like Walter Matthau.

The strategy of heroic politeness was noble, but certainly ineffective. So, I told the counter guy that he ought to have told him all about the then-new Wilco album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which makes extensive use of sampled recordings from shortwave “numbers” stations run by Mossad and other such clandestine spy organizations, and that since they unfortunately didn’t have a copy in the store available for purchase, he should have sent him down to HMV to buy a copy right away. I really think that would have worked, since the whole concept of the album is right up the old guy’s alley.

But if that should fail, he could have just said, “Hey Matthau! You’re dead!” and maybe the guy would have suddenly realized the clerk was right, and his flesh might have rotted and peeled away at superspeed like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, leaving behind only a dusty skeleton slumped against the counter.

One Response to “Superhit Sounds of Shortwave Radio”

  1. 1 Kitty

    Pet. You’re great. x

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