January 21, 2020

Eavesdropping on the world > Ham-radio operator keeps tabs from Bradley

Edward Bunn probably could get most of the information he needs about the world by reading a newspaper and watching TV. Most people do.

But Bunn’s curiosity runs deeper than today’s headlines. He enjoys the occasional touch of international esoterica, the cultural info-bits that serve as a garnish for the basic meat-and-potatoes fare dished up by the media.

Short of jetting around the world, there is no better way to get that kind of information than over his trusty old shortwave radio.

Where else but over the airwaves could Bunn, for instance, have heard a Russian talk-show host excitedly break the news that another McDonald’s restaurant was about to open in Moscow? Or that the fast-food giant was helping orphans by delivering Happy Meals throughout the city from a Happy Van?

And last year, while the rest of us were watching CNN footage of ragged Iraqi soldiers surrendering to American troops, Bunn listened to reports from Radio Tehran insisting that Hussein and his invincible army had all but driven the Imperialistic Yankee devils into the oil-choked sea.

“The propaganda reports said that the Iraqis were sinking all kinds of American ships and downing planes,” said Bunn as he twiddled the radio dials at his house in Bradley. “If you listened to Radio Tehran, you’d think they were winning the war.”

Bunn said he has been eavesdropping on the world since he was a 9-year-old Army brat living in Tennessee. His father had a shortwave communications receiver, and Bunn listened intently to the strange voices drawn into the small box from the other side of the world. When he hitchhiked one morning to a local radio station, where his grandfather worked as an announcer, Bunn knew he was hooked on the wonders of the airwaves.

He has worked part time in radio since the mid-1960s, when he got a job playing records at a “little 500-watt daytimer in Reading, Pa.,” which signed on at sunrise and signed off at sunset.

While living in New Jersey, Bunn did some radio-communication work for a military base nearby. He dabbled for years in citizen’s band radio, too, but dropped it in a huff in the 1970s when the truckers created airwave anarchy with their silly “handles” and “good buddy” chatter.

In 1984, with his wife Ruth Ann, Bunn moved to Maine to take a job at Rev. Herman “Buddy” Frankland’s Christian radio station WHCF. Today, Bunn is a part-time announcer for WDEA in Ellsworth and works as a dispatcher for Webber Oil Co.

The shortwave, though, is Bunn’s nightly passion. The gray-metal receiver sits glowing on a table in a crowded little studio at his house. The trappings of a radio-station are everywhere: several receivers, a reel-to-reel player, cassettes in rows, outdated 8-track tapes, headsets and a homemade crystal receiver set. He even has his own AM broadcast station, although it’s barely the size of a box of chocolates and doesn’t reach much beyond the edge of his backyard.

“It allows me to broadcast without a license,” he said.

Slowly twisting the shortwave dial, Bunn reaches into space to see what the rest of the world is gabbing about at the moment. The room fills with squawks and hisses and whistles. Finally, the impassioned voice of a Rastafarian bursts from the speaker: “I bear dee original mark of dah slaves on my bawdy…” the voice cries out from Jamaica before fading away.

Bunn continues through a smorgasbord of international yakety-yak. Strident Third World broadcasts in robotic voices, country-and-western songs from Amman, Jordan, a station that tells the precise time every minute of the day and night, Radio Marti beaming truth from the Florida Keys to Cuba, and an old-fashioned mystery serial with dread-filled dialogue in machine-gun Spanish and plenty of ominous organ music.

“I was listening to Radio Moscow the other day and they were playing Fifties-style rock and roll music,” Bradley said as he wandered around the dial. “That’s totally different from what I heard during the Cold War. As you know, they used to consider rock and roll a product of the decadent West. There is no more anti-American rhetoric on Radio Moscow. Now, Radio Tehran does that.”

The receiver sometimes picks up conversations carried on local cordless telephones, as well as the hobby talk of ham-radio buffs and the military traffic of ships far out to sea. During the Persian Gulf War, he heard the Voice of America advising Americans caught in the fighting to keep a low profile and use great care when escaping across the desert.

“Here is one of the more interesting things I recorded off the shortwave at the time,” Bunn said as he dropped a cassette into a tape player.

“This is a Scud missile alert for commercial aircraft only,” droned an American voice from the Middle East. The voice gave emergency directions to pilots before breaking up into a series of pops and buzzes.

“I know all about how radio works,” Bunn said as he switched off the set. “But it is still most intriguing that I can sit here in Bradley, Maine, and listen to people in Germany, Russia, the Persian Gulf, Italy, Australia, China, Japan, Israel, everywhere. Yes, I am eavesdropping on the world.”

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