Radio Free Business

Shortwave is back.

It's early morning in Ann Arbor, and University of Michigan Business School Professor Andrew McGill is peddling his exercise bike and listening to the radio news. Nothing unusual here — except the news is from Moscow and the radio is a shortwave. McGill is one of millions of converts to the hottest new thing — which happens to be a very old thing. Shortwave is back.

McGill is an enthusiast for the same reason as lots of business people. As director of Michigan's Global Business Partnership, he researches and consults in Russia, China, and across Europe. When he's at home, he listens to the BBC World Service, Voice of Russia World Service, and China Radio International. When he's away, he packs his radio and listens to Voice of America. It's almost too easy: the new wave of shortwaves are light, compact, and inexpensive.

Grundig, Sony, and Sangean (from Taiwan) make the most popular brands. Look for a radio with digital, phase-lock-loop, direct-access tuning; full-spectrum, continuous-frequency coverage; at least 40 station presets; and LCD display panel. The Grundig Yacht Boy 400 sells for under $200 and is the size of a VCR cassette. If you prefer news in smaller bites, try the Sony ICF-SW100S for about $475. It's the size of an audio cassette.

Be warned, though. Shortwave radio is the Internet of the air. It's a wild, noncommercial, unregulated frontier. New stations like Radio Singapore International and Voice of Vietnam (no, Robin Williams isn't the host) keep joining the spectrum. To stay current, check out the 1996 Passport to World Band Radio ($19.95, IBS Ltd.) or World Radio TV Handbook ($24.95, BPI Communications).

Joshua Shapiro (joshua@pipeline.com), a New York-based technology consultant has written for "The Economist" and "The New York Times."

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