Listener's Guide

Long-Wave Radio - The Long Goodbye

Germany has pulled out of long-wave broadcasting. Services on 153, 177 and 207kHz are gone, leaving just a few happy DX fans who will be able to see what distance stations break the radio silence.

We old-timers have affection for long-wave. We know about its dependability, the distances it can cover and the comfort it brings on long pan-European car journeys as your voice from home stays with you as you cross border after border. We also know that running a long-wave transmitter is not cheap, so the accountants will be more than happy to see them go.

We got an education from long-wave. We heard our first classical music via Deutschlandradio Kultur on 177kHz, fading in on long winter afternoons. If 153kHz was in the clear, other distant stations could be heard.

We made our first crystal sets to listen to the Light Programme on 1500 metres. We saved our money for a gold-bonded OA47 germanium detector diode and felt very superior. Good to know a precious few still experiment with Schottky barrier diodes, keeping that sense of wonder alive. A radio without batteries?

We built a one-valve regenerative radio for headphones. By feeding back some of the signal allowing it to be amplified again, the results amazed this young listener and still do. Add a second valve and you could drive a loudspeaker. Ours was an EF86 and a 6BW6, in truth nothing more than an audio amplifier, detection taking place at the grid of the first valve.

We still love our long-wave. About 90,000 people still listen to Radio 4 this way, complaining bitterly when Test Match Special takes over in the summer. Even with so many other ways to listen, we listen to TMS on an old Roberts portable radio on long-wave with perhaps a small Pimms, my dear old thing.

The BBC has said that Droitwich is on its last set of valves. They can last fifteen years, they could fail tomorrow but when they go, that will be that. We wonder if other users of 198kHz would save it. Embedded in Radio 4LW's signal is a time and frequency standard, data to help the electricity companies share the load around the country and the iconic Shipping Forecast. Nobody did it better than Charlotte Green, who found nothing amusing at all about winds light to variable.

Technology has moved on and left long-wave behind. Try buying a radio with AM and that will mean medium-wave reception only. Chances are the chap in the shop will neither know nor care about long-wave and wonder why you are asking. We hope that there are old radios up in lofts that can be resurrected for that last long-wave listen.

For us, that's early mornings listening to RTE on 252kHz. Some great music on a waveband with a wonderful history.