Thursday, 8 February 2018


About a year later entertainment did come to the house, but it was not intended as such. My greatgrandfather, Leopold Vantorre (Pol Mussche), had decided to install a ship-to-shore transmitter on the remaining fishing vessel he owned (Zeebrugge 34). This meant that if we wanted to receive updates from my father during his fishing trips we needed a wireless set. It was to be my mother’s wireless set, of course. With the money for a first instalment payment in her purse we set off to Bruges. In those days that was the nearest place where radio’s could be bought.

In Degraeve’s wireless shop there was only a limited choice. The owner suggested a state of the art German Saba receiver. It would be delivered later in the week, since first the innovative FM-module had to be ripped out and replaced by the Fishery Band. That was standard procedure for all the families of fishermen who went to buy a set at the shop. To sacrifice the so-called UKW (Ultra Kurtz Welle) was no great loss. At the time there were no FM-broadcasts in Belgium yet.

Installing the new set at home also meant spanning a wire antenna between insulators high above the yard to enable reception of the fairly weak transmissions emanating from the fishing trawlers. Upon my mother’s insistence the antenna wire was also fed through quite a number of evenly spaced wine corks. This was not to flaunt the illusion of wealth, since we never drank wine in those days, but to prevent any near-sighted pigeons in the neighbourhood meeting an untimely death by flying into this unfamiliar obstacle. Also, from day one it was made clear to me that the receiver was only to be used to listen to the news from Brussels (NIR) on Medium Wave and to the calls on the Fishery Band. In addition I was not -under any circumstance- to interfere with the set, since I was liable to break it. For the same reason, I also had to keep my distance, lest I accidentally brush against it.

These rigid rules and regulations soon changed however. Switching on the set to tune in to national radio was easy, but fine tuning to 126m or 133m in the Marine Band soon proved a bridge too far for my mother. So whenever I was not at school I got happily lumbered with the task. Three times a day I made sure that we could hear my father’s messages. Amid the cacophony of calls I usually recognized my father’s signature whistle before my mother did. As soon as I made out the first few notes of “Over the rainbow” I turned up the volume to hear the message. Richard Briers later whistled the same tune in the “Good Life”, just like my father did all those years ago... But in spite of my obvious monitoring talents I was still only allowed to touch the UKW-button for the Fishery Band. The rest remained temptingly out of bounds.

But I soon discovered that at the far end of this band some music could be heard. That was the area where the Marine Band spilled over into the lower end of the Medium Wave. And late at night it got even better with mysterious stations fading in below the Maritime Band as well. At the time I did not have an inkling that in equatorial parts of the world this Tropical Band was used by local broadcasters as a substitute Medium Wave. The ordinary Medium Wave being too prone to interference by electrical storms. In a nutshell, that is how I became lord and master of the mock-ivory UKW-button on my mother’s radio. Unbeknown to her the conquest of the rest of the wireless set was now on my to-do list.

More of AJ's radio- and other anecdotes.


  1. What a nice blog you have, AJ! I also had a mother and a radio with ivory buttons labelled with intriguing letters like MG, KG, FM and so on. I've still got the radio, and the mother, although both are very old and not as functional as they were. Speaking of 'also', I also began learning English from the radio, and ended up in, mostly Anglophone, radio journalism like you (RNW English and Dutch services in my case). As an avid listener to your Northsea Goes DX shows on Sunday mornings, I'm glad to hear from you again via your blog. Keep on posting please!

    1. So great Rob that our stories are so much alike. Nice to hear from you.

  2. Also fascinating, thank you AJ.