BOSTON — AMONG the victors in the Gulf war was shortwave radio. Companies in the United States were selling all types of receivers faster than they could import them. The biggest sellers of portable shortwave radios are Radio Shack, Sony, Sangean, and Grundig. ``Everybody's out. The pipeline has dried up all the way back to the Far East,'' where they are manufactured, says Fred Osterman, marketing manager for Universal Radio, a mail-order retailer of shortwave radio products based in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
Annual growth in the shortwave business has been 20 percent, but the war sent sales skyrocketing by 60 percent, Mr. Osterman says.
Will growth remain high? ``With the war winding down, I anticipate sales coming down a little. But the gratifying thing is shortwave radio has finally been exposed to the American public. It's unfortunate it took a war to accomplish that.''
Radio Shack, the country's largest seller with 7,000 stores nationwide, sold out one model before Christmas, and ran out of the other two other models by mid-January. The company is awaiting a new shipment of radios manufactured in the Orient.
``On the day war was declared, sales were up 500 percent,'' says Ed Juge, director of market planning for Radio Shack, a division of Tandy Corporation based in Fort Worth, Texas.
``We've had a 30 percent or better increase in the number of units sold,'' says Wayne Yoshida at Kenwood USA Corporation, which sells expensive table-top receivers. They have been out of stock for the past 90 days. The biggest sales surge was in August, Mr. Yoshida says; traditionally sales peak just before Christmas. ``It happened in such a short time. That's what made it so phenomenal - almost overnight.'' He adds that the company had no way to anticipate the rush and gear up production to meet demand .
What's the appeal of the short wave radio? News broadcasts from around the world - in crystal clear English - from Moscow, Havana, Turkey, Israel, Greece, England, Germany, and other faraway places, except Arab countries. ``All the stations are talking about [the war], and they've all got their own viewpoints. After an evening of listening, your head is spinning,'' says Tom Kneitel, editor of Popular Communications magazine.
``For a person who really wants to look in back of the curtain, and realize there is an enormous amount of information that the American press doesn't have time for, don't think is interesting, or finds too hostile,'' Mr. Kneitel adds.
While the American press concentrates on military success, shortwave programs glimpse the personal, says Kneitel, ``Overseas programming seems to be more interested in how the war is affecting individual families, like how daily life for a family in Israel is affected - how the kids have to decide whether they're going to go to school today. Can you go to the movies? Can you go grocery shopping today? Are they having trouble buying foods, products, a particular kind of gasoline?''