Living: Babel in the Ionosphere

Competing for listeners and converts via short-wave radio

Burdened with weapons and heavy packs, a band of Afghan rebels carefully picks its way up a dark stony path in one of the most desolate places on earth. Suddenly a message is passed down the column, and everyone gathers in one spot. A Soviet patrol up ahead? A suspected land mine? No. It is 8:45 p.m. and time for the BBC's nightly short-wave news, Farsi edition. Like everyone else, the Afghan soldiers want to know what is happening.

The rush to the short-wave radio is an increasingly common sight: despite television and other forms...

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