As a new ham I was most fascinated in the ability to have conversations with hams in the Soviet Union. To me, such an ability represented something impossible for the rest of the population.
My grandparents had an annual telephone conversation with the family back in Denmark or Germany but for an average American citizen to be able to fire up a radio and play chess with a guy in Smolenskaya…it was nothing less than magical, made so not only by distance but by politics as well.
In addition to ham radio, I was also into shortwave listening. The news from various sources, music from other cultures and those haunting tones from Deutsche Welle – they were all part of the magic that is radio.
In the early 1980′s Radio Moscow began a “Russian by Radio” course, complete with textbooks, and I was on it like white on rice. I really wanted to learn Russian. In their offer to send the books they asked that recipients describe the receiving equipment that would be used to listen to the on-the-air portion of the course. Perhaps they wanted to guage the likelihood of consistent reception before committing to the costs of postage.
I received the books – three blue & white paperbacks – and went through the course for several months, following along on the 25 and 31 meter bands. The main thing I learned and still remember to this day is the cyrillic alphabet. I may not know what I’m “reading” but I can pronounce a written word.
That and $4 will buy me a mocha-whatever at Starbucks, right?
Although I no longer have the books, here is the nice letter I received from Mrs. Stepanova. Written personally to me, rather than a mass-produced form letter, on a typewriter. Boy, those were the days.