Why a tiny shortwave radio should be your new piece of outdoor kit. Also, why Tony Baldwin's KMUN show is so great, along with radio reminiscences by yours truly.

Part of my love for Tony Baldwin’s show on KMUN-FM, Astoria, Oregon, is that I first discovered it in the woods, far away from Astoria and the coast. That’s not too unusual, actually – to pull in very distant radio stations when up on a mountain. At one of my favorite camping spots around Mt. Adams I can almost always get KQED, San Francisco, and KUOW, Seattle, as well as a conservative talk radio station from Idaho whose call letters I can’t recall.

Even when there’s only like three AM stations you can hear, inevitably one’s a Jesus station, one’s a Mexican station and one is conservative talk radio station. You could say conservative lies radiate the widest, which is somehow metaphorical in a lowest-common-denominator-McDonald’s way…

I never listen to conservative talk radio, of course – except in the woods when there’s limited options. When I do, it’s a window into a culture I never experience, and I think it’s actually beneficial to listen in. Frankly – I’m shocked at how stupid and over the top much of it is, and the seething anger. I say that recognizing it’s a cliché observation and characterization. Out in the woods is the place I’ve heard people I only knew vaguely by name like Michael Savage, Sebastian Gorka and Mark Levin.

And yes – I’m sure there are purists aghast at the mere concept of a radio in the woods. People who think my customs are as stupid as I think it’s stupid to watch a movie on your phone in the woods. But that’s the great thing about camping – it’s a wide spectrum and you can do it anyway you like. “A big tent” as the saying goes… Except for giant RV’s with satellite dishes and generators, because that ain’t camping, that’s parking, let’s draw a line of definition.

But I’ll tell ya – the first time I heard… the thing… that sounded like… well, like a Sasquatch, some would say – it was turning conservative talk radio up really loud that made me feel a little less vulnerable and alone out there in the darkness… (which is again kind of metaphorical for talk radio in general, ain’t it?)

One top-notch radio experience that anyone can still enjoy, though it’s different now, is in my opinion, listening to “Coast to Coast” in the middle of the utter dark forest night… miles and miles from other people… no cell service… My earliest camping experiences in the 1970’s and 80’s were molded by the eerie conversations and weirdo calls on “Coast to Coast” which always played softly in the night while my parents, brother and sister and I bedded down in a huge blue canvas tent that weighed as much as a Volkswagen and smelled like mildew and past excursions. The talk about alien abductions and Bigfoot raised goosebumps and permeated my dreams…. “Coast to Coast” was our campfire ghost stories, delivered by that mysterious, far-away voice of Art Bell, broadcasting from his secret bunker somewhere in the desert… I appreciate my parents tuning it in with the D-battery Panasonic radio the size of a cereal box.  

Nighttime means you can get more distant shortwave stations, because radio waves bouncing from their origin on the opposite side of the globe get reflected by the ionosphere, rather than dispersed and diluted by the sun’s daytime radiation. When I was in high school, my dad had a big tube 1950’s Grundig shortwave radio with the magic eye and a gazillion little frequency notations like a slide ruler. I spent so many nighttime hours eeeeeeking the doorknob-sized bronze-colored dial across the electromagnetic radiation spectrum, breathing the warm, time-fragranced vacuum tube air. And shortwave radio isn’t like AM/FM, where it’s tuned and done. Even when you finally do find a robust frequency amongst the static, you still have to fiddle with the fine tuning. And when you finally can hear it clearly and discern words… it’s in Greek or Slovekian or something, but you still feel like it’s a success.  Worldwide shortwave radio tuning is kind of like fishing – even catching a bigass carp is still pretty fun, they don’t all have to be steelhead and bass.



My longtime pal, John, propelled my forest/radio evolution into the shortwave band, when we started camping and backpacking together in our college years. It wasn’t until college – the 1990’s – when I finally realized shortwave technology had evolved into portable and microchip-powered in the intervening four decades since the Grundig glowing tubes… Basically – duh. More evidence I’m kind of dumb.

Like so many aspects of camping, setting up a shortwave radio in the woods is deliciously ritualistic. Unwinding your 20-foot length of antenna wire. Tying it to a rock. (Depending on the territory, simply finding the ideal not-too-big-not-too-small rock is its own challenge. Baseball size is usually good.) Then you attempt – over and over and over – to arc that rock & its long wire tail over a high tree branch. And pay attention because those rocks sure have a way of swinging towards your face or escaping the wire and plummeting towards your cranium… When you succeed, you’ve got a nice big radio wave catcher to get yourself some Radio China, Radio Cuba or one of the many mysterious, creepy weird audio mutations that are characteristic of shortwave radio. As I said – radio is so much the campfire ghost story vibe…

There was a weeklong roadtrip in 2002 – as worldwide pressure built to pointlessly invade Iraq and everything seemed like doomsday – when John and I spontaneously decided to drive from LA to Portland, Oregon. Essentially without a map, pre-smartphones, the plan was to just keep on heading north. We were so unbothered with planning that we had no idea Portland was just one step away from the State of Washington, we honestly thought it was a whole lot closer to CA. So we were forced to turn around soon after crossing the Oregon border, in large part because we also learned there are these things called “seasons” and that in the Pacific Northwest, most campgrounds close around October, a phenomenon that doesn’t exist in SoCal.

One dark night, wearing ponchos under dripping ferns in a rainy California redwood forest, the only visible light red coals of an almost-out campfire – we listened to an hour of Muslim prayers on shortwave.  Broadcasting live from the Middle East – point of global focus, threshold and perdition. That’ll generate mystical synaptic brain experiences as effectively as any Gysin-Burroughs Dreamachine. Fortunately, John recorded it…



The shortwave I use in the woods now is a Tecsun PL-380. Which sounds like a fake, cheapo Chinese brand, but in fact it’s a real, quality Chinese brand at a low, low price – only $47 on Amazon or $39.47 on AliExpress if you don’t mind waiting a few weeks for delivery. YouTube is loaded with rave reviews and instructional content, because the thing is so technologically advanced that every button has multiple functions using combo sequences like a video game controller. And for some reason, it even has a built-in digital thermometer, it’s like they designed it for camping.  It only weighs 8 ounces, including the three AA batteries. 




But back to Tony Baldwin’s show, which this blog is ostensibly about.

One quirky aspect of the show is that it airs in a great, and kind of unusual, timeslot – 11pm – 1am, local Pacific Time. Typically radio schedules reset at midnight, they don’t cross it. That generalization may also just be my limited experience and informal observations, I haven’t researched it deeply. Either way, it has proved to be a great timeslot that coincides with my own camping hammock-hanging-time. I had the random lucky timing strike twice in the woods, before I finally remembered to remember that the show exists in civilization and began listening at home…

At home, I sometimes catch the show online at KMUN.org in the “live” broadcast time slot – my computer reminds me every week – but more typically I listen to it achronologically via the KMUN 2-week archives. Because even when it’s “live” it’s not really live. Tony Baldwin lives in the countryside of France and sends his show file every week to KMUN back in Oregon. Whatever part of the French countryside it is, it seems to have pulled in a convergence of “old timey jazz” expats. R. Crumb and Aline settled there many years ago, with Tony Baldwin and John Heneghen apparently also in the mix…. As far as I know, KMUN is the only station that airs this great radio show, but it could be syndicated on NPR or PRI with zero changes. Research shows that Tony Baldwin is a piano player, who played with the Tom Baker jazz band, which I’m familiar with going back to 1990’s life and the retro boom driven by talented bands like Tom Baker, Vince Gioradano & the Nighthawks, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Janet Klein



That’s a kind of a funny radio psychological trick – believing I can feel some difference between live radio broadcast vs. recorded radio broadcast… I’m the first to say it’s only the power of suggestion… but dammit, radio feels more vibrant and fresh when you know the voice is going directly from the mouth to the mic to the air, so I’m obviously suggestible…

(“Suggestible” is an interesting word, because it could be deduced to mean both one susceptible to suggestion, and spelled with an “a” as “suggestable” as meaning a good thing worthy of suggesting to someone, such as a breath mint or deodorant, wearing seatbelts or watching an episode of “Letterkenny”…)

Another quirk of the show is that its formal title seems variable. Sometimes it’s listed as “Late Night with Tony Baldwin” sometimes it’s just “Tony Baldwin” sometimes it’s “Tony Baldwin Jazz”…

Unlike most radio shows, it has no theme song. Every episode begins with a simple sign-on that follows the top of the hour recorded station identification, some variation of “…yes, indeed, you are still listening to KMUN and this is Tony Baldwin…

But the most obvious quirk is its unusual format. As everyone knows, customary DJ structure is to play a whole set of music, like 4-5 tracks, maybe even more – then do some back announce and a little conversational chatter. Instead of that, Tony Baldwin:

Plays one record.
Then talks about it.
Then plays one record.
Then talks about it.
Then plays one record.
Then talks about it.


Two hours of that.

On paper, this sounds like too much talking (LESS TALK, MORE ROCK!), but with his droll British humor and historian-deep information transfer, I have yet to get bored or irritated and 90% of the records he plays are ones I’ve never heard, drawn from his vast collection of 78’s.

(Because I can’t stop googling, I just learned that Tony Baldwin only launched the show in 2020 – which was actually when I first heard it – so that was fortuitous. You could say, that up in the mountains, I got in at the ground floor. Oh, the paradox of radio!)

* * *

The other part of my love for the “Late Night With Tony Baldwin” show, or the “Tony Baldwin” show or whatever the heck it is – is that I already have a deep history of listening to old time jazz in the middle of the night in bed. Most of my college years it was Joe Monte’s radio show titled “Don’t Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream” which aired on KPCC-FM, Pasadena, CA, Midnight – 2am, Sunday nights, sending me into retro slumber before the rude Monday morning contemporary present intruded. And at this time in history, KPCC played an “eclectic classic American music” format, Mon – Fri, so I practically lived a 24/7 20’s-30’s-40’s music existence.

In the 1990’s, I felt such imaginary nostalgia and personal warm-feelings for 1920’s/30’s/40’s music that now I have double-nostalgia hearing some old time jazz late night from the radio – feeling both the early century and the late century simultaneously, as if living two parallel lifetimes. It’s like mu-opiod neural pathways getting stimulated in deep-brain. There’s no way I can hear Joe Monte’s theme song, “Tune In” by Jack Payne (1934) and not be sent back to those long ago college years, when I smoked Lucky Strikes, INDOORS…

Sundays in high school were retro-saturated times, indeed. Sunday afternoons in the mid-1980’s started with “Forward Into the Past,” hosted – and still hosted – by Randy Brian, 2pm – 5pm, on KSPC-FM (“The Space”), Claremont, CA, my hometown. After he signed off, I’d turn the dial to KPCC for two hours – or, for as long as I could stand it – of “Gee Dad, It’s a Wurlitzer!” That’s correct, vintage Wurlitzer organ theater music. Wurlitzer music is like reggae – sometimes you’re into it, sometimes you’re done after three songs because you have a headache and want to puke…

After the Wurlitzer tunes on KPCC, John & Larry Gassman hit the Sunday evening air with “Same Time, Same Station.” The twin radio hosts Gassman brothers, blind from birth (b. 1955), became obsessed with old time radio at an early age and founded SPERDVAC – The Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy. Yes, I was a SPERDVAC member at age 16, where the average age was 55. I attended a meeting, and realized I had reached my limit of nerdiness and never went back. But I still listened to their show, as they unfurled the weekly continuing adventures of so many serial radio shows, such as Superman or Dick Tracy or whatever…

With my publicist sensibility, here I am fretting about the lack of consistency in Tony Baldwin’s title and I can see the the LA Times reporter called the Gassman’s show “Same Time, Same CHANNEL” back in 1994… In my googling while writing this, I just discovered that John & Larry are still doing their show for an online station.

In Portland, Matt “Fortunato” Clark’s excellent weekly show on KBOO, the “Monday Sampler,” frequently does a similar ongoing old time radio serialization. I highly recommend listening to it.

* * *

Thirty-five years later and I’m still listening to Randy Brian’s “Forward Into the Past” via KSPC.org every Sunday that I happen to be at home. That’s some dedication between us both. His big 35th anniversary was this year – going strong since 1986 – and I called in for the first time, propelled by Sunday afternoon booze and weed and probably freaking him out.

“Yeah, man, I’ll be listening ‘til one of us dies!” I shouted.

Response: Awkward gratitude and nerdy depression.

Radio marriage, I guess.

* * *

My other weekly habit is “Blues Before Sunrise” a nationally syndicated show which has run for decades and used to air in Portland on KMHD, midnight – 5am, but for some reason got pulled.  Thanks to the internet, it’s like – meh, whatever… I download all SIX hours of his show every week. Lookit me, I’m a program director! 

* * *

And hey – if you’re looking for 24/7 streaming old music, I highly recommend Radio Dismuke. Again – some very obscure records, and the stream is interspersed with old commercials.  It’s great, it has its own kind of mellow character and charm.


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