Get Shorty

The lunatic fringe lives, breathes, and flourishes on shortwave radio

Some particularly dedicated SWLers have developed emotional attachments to certain numbers readers. A lifelong listener from Brooklyn reports hearing the same Cuban woman for more than 20 years. One popular broadcaster is an exceedingly chipper female on Taiwan's New Star Broadcasting who pleasantly shouts out a half-hour or so of numbers in Mandarin and then ends with a polite, "Thank you very much for decoding your message!"

Recently, what seem to be spoofs of numbers stations are popping up. A new one began with a few bars from Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" before a squeaky voice identified itself as Melvin Mouse, commander of the Rodent Revolution. He then launched into the group's manifesto: "The Rodent Revolution was formed in the 1980s by a coalition of members from every rodent family. Mice, squirrels, beavers, shrews, and the most intelligent of the group, the rabbits. Our goal is to overthrow our oppressors, the ape-humans, who drool on themselves, listen to shortwave, and spend most free moments wanking their willies. We have, in collaboration with the CIA, been using mind-control methods to confuse and baffle the humans since 1985. Thus, the inability to clearly hear our 50,000-watt transmission last night..." Mr. Mouse proceeded to read a string of numbers, which an SWLer with way too much time on his hands decoded as: "Al fansome is a good human he will feed you eat the special carrots we got from ganja that is all bunny out."

A more perfect form of entertainment is difficult to imagine.

It's no coincidence that the shortwave band is at both the extreme right and the extreme left of the AM dial. Skinheads, fire-and-brimstone preachers, self-proclaimed patriots, anti-WTO paranoiacs, and deeply opinionated people of every stripe all find a home on shortwave. There, Rush Limbaugh is written off as a conciliatory, moderate milquetoast. Shortwave is the only sure way to keep an eye on the fringes from the safety of your home.

Adam is a 25-year-old hippie woodsman from Michigan who says he's "down with militias," though he's not actually a member. "Shortwave is those guys' lifeblood," he continues. "I got one to listen to Alex [Jones] and to hear how the neo-Nazis are trying to hijack the patriot movement." Jones is a particular gem -- broadcasting from Austin, Texas, he is a gun-rights and small-government advocate who hates Bush and his band of "globalists" with a vigor that would give any black-clad anarchist a run for her Molotov. A hater of Clinton, the WTO, Ashcroft, environment-raping corporations, and the PC movement, Jones calls himself an information warrior, and his goal is to arm you with the proper ammunition. Jones is worthy of serious consideration and intelligent debate -- he's sort of the thinking man's Art Bell -- but the rest of the shortwave rabble is pretty monochromatic -- or, rather, white. As in proud to be white. According to the book Waves of Rancor: Tuning in the Radical Right, more than 1,000 racist and radical-right "patriot groups" are on the air in the United States. A stalwart among these is the National Alliance, a white-power group headed by William Pierce, author of the race-war fantasy The Turner Diaries -- the book Timothy McVeigh sold at swap meets and tried to put into action when he blew up the Oklahoma City federal building. Pierce had a shortwave show for years before migrating to the Internet.

Another shortwave veteran is Hal Turner, a New Jersey-based "Christian" who believes that police brutality doesn't happen often enough. In an interview with, he explained the merits of the shortwave medium. "I have restored freedom of speech on my Hal Turner Show. I do not shut callers off, regardless of the topic they wish to discuss. I do not screen out callers. Want to talk about blacks, Jews, Hispanics, fags, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians? Fine. No topic is taboo."

Indeed, shortwave almost rivals the Internet for diversity and absurdity of outlooks, but the biggest service it provides for American political junkies is access to critical international media. Many countries deliver news and commentary in English, and questions asked about the war in Iraq were a thousandfold more substantive than those in the U.S. media. You can even catch anti-Castro guerrilla groups in Florida, sending instructions for Cubans to sabotage their government.

So get a shortwave unit, find a station, and sink your teeth into some very extreme audio material. Your bland-ass standard radio tuner will never forgive you for it.

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