Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Speeding things up

Several readers, but especially Michiel, have advised me to reduce the number of posts on the home page to speed loading. The embeds are apparently slowing things down. Hopefully its better now and we've moved to extremely fast delivery like this shop in Austin Texas. And without the smells.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Russia Cancels Winter Time for the time being

Today, March 27th, the Moscow Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower clock will be set forward one hour. It's the start of summer time in Europe, so not much of a surprise. 

Except that it looks like this is the last time Russia will put the clocks forward for a while.  The transition to daylight saving time (DTS) was established in 1981 in an attempt to reduce energy consumption. According to the Voice of Russia, in February this year, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made the final decision to abolish the seasonal clock change, referring to the scientists who believe that such a transition may be harmful for people’s health. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Christchurch & the role of community radio

I was one of the people who suggested to David that they document on video what happens next with community radio in Christchurch after the earthquake and how a community in New Brighton is recovering. Really impressed by this report.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring approaching

Any moment now....

Facebook Saving CIA Millions

CIA's 'Facebook' Program Dramatically Cut Agency's Costs

Seriously, they must be high fiving it in Moscow, Langley, Beijing.....etc.

Rhodesia, Harold Wilson, and the BBC

More from the sound archives, as I clear out a collection of cassette tapes in the loft. 

I met the late Harold Robin a couple of times at his home in Tunbridge Wells, UK. He was a brilliant Foreign Office engineer who built the wartime Aspidistra transmitter famous for its clandestine work out of Crowborough. Have a listen to the 30 minute radio programmes Wartime Deception Part One and Part Two and you'll see what I mean.

Although his work during the war is well documented in books like "The Black Game"by Ellic Howe, I think we managed to capture the other stories from later in his life. For instance, how he invented the "Picolo" modulation system as used by the diplomatic service to communicate text over shortwave between embassies. He also built the BBC Overseas relay station in Oman, and the external service of UAE Radio from Dubai. This edition, recorded after Christmas in 1995, looked at the story of the British response to the declaration of independence by Ian Smith in, what was then, Rhodesia. Harold talks about setting up a mediumwave transmitter in a matter of weeks in the town of Francistown, in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now called Botswana. Thanks also to Colin Miller for some of the recordings of the RBC. It seems that one of the two transmitters was sent to Cyprus after the World and Rhodesia operation ended, the other ended up in Ordfordness for some experiments on 648 kHz. You might also want to check out the video of Margaret Howard, who refers to a special programme transmitted over this MW sender. It was called the World and Rhodesia and was more of a UK government editorial than any programme the BBC would make. The programme concept didn't work although it seemed to have taken the British government a couple of years to find out. The transmitters were eventually packed up, one sent to Cyprus, the other ended up in Orfordness. Harold refers to staying in the Tati Hotel River Lodge, about 8 kms outside of Francistown. Sure enough, it's still there. At the same time I am sad to note that the site that Sefton Delmer's son Felix put on line seems to have gone away. 

Where's the audio? It's sitting here

MN.04.04.1996. Dutch Endangered Sounds Project

More vintage radio programmes from 1996. This was one of the first shows to also be broadcast on mediumwave via the 1440 kHz Radio Luxembourg transmitter. These are some of the items mentioned in the programme.
  • Sony Corporation is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the moment. This is reflected in major efforts to get MiniDisc going, major campaigns to boost the switch to 16 by 9 format televisions, plus home entertainment enhancements such as Prologic. As far as shortwave receivers is concerned Sony continues to invest in the travel market. The latest offering is a portable receiver called the ICF-SW-40 which combines digital tuning with the feel of an analogue tuning knob.
  • We looked at the growth of Sky Radio, and Dutch consumer electronics companies are reporting a growth in the sales of the 16 by 9 letterbox format television sets. Most of it is in the top end of the market amongst the larger screen TV. The Dutch Facilities company NOB, which follows the market reports that about 100,000 wide-screen TVs will be sold in the course of 1996.
  • The Dutch pubcaster VPRO wants to set up an archive of endangered sounds. Kees Slager says it started when they looked into the archives at broadcasting house looking for sound effects and discovered many distinctive sounds had been wiped. They couldn't find any sounds of Dutch soldiers on parade, a mechanical hand-driven sewing machine or the sound of metal dustbins being collected early in the morning by the refuse collector. The VPRO programme OVT which specialises in historical subjects has now called on listeners to collect endangered sounds and send them in. I recall the BBC World Service doing a similar thing in 2009.
  • The British DX Club has just published the fourteenth edition of its publication Radio Stations in the United Kingdom.The Dutch consumer association, the consumentenbond has just published the results of an extensive survey into rechargeable batteries.
  • A fire at a receiver manufacturing plant in South Africa has delayed the European launch for Nethold slightly, but the marketing plans continue. Mark Cutten is director of Demand Video at Nethold. We asked him to explain why there's such a push to satellite TV.
  • Radio and TV Hong Kong will again appear on shortwave briefly to cover the China Sea Race. We got in touch with the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club for the details.
Where's the audio? It's posted here on Libsyn. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

US Psychological Warfare kicks in again in Libyan conflict

Several people have alerted me to an excellent military blog running out of the Netherlands run by utility enthusiasts. 

Contributor Nils from Denmark (callsign DK8OK), posted an MP3 audio file monitored on 6877.0 kHz shortwave this morning (Sunday) at 09:00 UTC, in upper sideband mode (USB) with reduced carrier. The transmission is lightly jammed in Europe, difficult to know what reception is like just off the Libyan coast. 

The voices were advising Libyan seamen to return to port and leave their ships. The (live?) announcements were in Arabic, English and French. I hear slightly different text to the one posted on the blog. 

"Libyan sailors! Leave your position immediately and return to port. The Gadaffi regime forces are violating a United Nations Resolution number 1973... If you leave now and return to port no harm will come to you. Do not attempt to jam this transmission." Click here for Nils DK8OK audio file. 

Looks like the broadcasts may come from an EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, which is equipped with radio transmitters on board the aircraft and whose mission is to "disrupt enemy command and control communications and limits adversary coordination essential for enemy force management". Being shortwave, there is no reason why the broadcasts could not originate from one the ships offshore. They don't need line of site for this work. So while we know that the psyops planes are in the region, this broadcasts to sailors at sea doesn't have to originate from the air.

Great Explanations, Victor Goonetilleke and Pete Myers

Searching through an audio archive, I have been stunned at how little has changed in international broadcasting in the last 15 years. It really has seen the long slow decline and many of the arguments to keep it going are stuck in the mid-1990's. As an example, I co-hosted the edition of Media Network with Victor Goonetilleke who was passing through Hilversum on his way back to Sri Lanka.

With recent discussion in January 2011 about funding of the BBC World Service, this audio flashback to a conference in September 1995 is rather topical. Sam Younger was the Managing Director of BBC World Service in 1995 and he questioned whether it is desirable for public broadcasters to work with commercial operations, especially in television. He predicted that the growth of international TV would have a major impact on radio transmissions. He also warned against certain types of sponsored programmes.

The programme also contains the voice of the late Pete Myers who explains the reason for ending the run of the Happy Station programme, an entertainment show that ran for many years on Radio Netherlands. 

A nice cup of tea was one of the standard tunes that recurred in the Happy Station programme hosted by Eddy Startz, first on PCJ in 1928, and after the war when broadcasting resumed, Happy Station was a station within the station, Radio Netherlands. Last Sunday saw the last transmission of entertainment in English under that programme title. Pete Myers is one of the four hosts of the show during its 67 year run. Before the recording started he explained why the entertainment will continue, but not under the title of Happy Station. 

Remembering Radio Vlaanderen Internationaal

I have been digging through more audio archives of about 15 years ago as I document the demise of international sound broadcasting, at least at the level we understood  16 years ago in 1995. Take this programme for instance. This was made just after Radio Vlaanderen Internationaal celebrated its official 50th anniversary with a great listener get together in Brussels and a visit to the shortwave transmitting centre in Wavre. What a great celebration it was of Belgian external radio broadcasting.

As we looked back in the archives we discovered Belgium has been active on shortwave for much longer than 50 years. Jacque van der Sichel, then director of RVI, has researched into the history and explains that Belgium’s appearance on the dial actually goes back 58 years. Just before the German invasion, the Belgian National Radio had been planning to upgrade the facilities in Ruiselede to improve reception of its programmes in other parts of the world. In fact, with war in Europe, the new high power facilities were moved to Africa, in the Belgian colony of Congo, now Zaire. Frans Vossen, media producer at the English department of Radio Vlaanderen Internationaal takes up the story. It's a shame that nothing seems to be left on line of these radio programmes from Brussels. Great archive recordings in this show.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Media Network FlashBack to Isle of Man

It seems hard to believe that it's 16 years since Paul Rusling first had an idea for a longwave radio station from the Isle of Man. It was to be "Atlantic 252 for grown-ups". Just found the programme in which he explains the dream (still a dream I guess) and we also talked to Manx Radio for their reaction. Also in this vintage radio programme from the archives, Wolf Harranth reports on plans to revive a radio station in Lichtenstein. Also in the show...

In other news here in Holland the PTT, Quote Media and the De Telegraaf newspaper have launched internet access for the general public. You pay 20 dollars a month for 6 hrs access. Meanwhile in London the BBC is in talks with Compuserve with the view to providing news and information to customers of this American online news provider. 

This week European Digital Radio changed its name to Radio E, ready for a test DAB launch in late August. Thats a group of stations including the BBC, RFI, Deutsche Welle and Radio Netherlands. Does this mean there’s a trend away from individual international broadcasters. You see smaller stations clubbing together and larger ones starting to talk more and more about their own region. There is always a danger than when public money is tight policy makers simply want to broadcast news about their own country, saying that regional news from other parts of the world is too costly to collect. It was a point that our correspondent Victor Goonetilleke raised at the EDXC conference a few weeks back.

Where's the audio show? It's here. You can also subscribe to more of these vintage shows in iTunes. Just search for the Media Network podcast. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fond Farewell to BBC 648 kHz

I have been cleaning up a video archive and came across raw video I shot in Ordfordness in 2003 and decided to finish the job. It turns out to be topical because the BBC ceased using 648 kHz, which originates from a transmitter site there, as from March 27th 2011. UPDATE:I can confirm that the BBC has indeed vacated the channel.

This video safari will never be shown on mainstream TV - it is designed for those of us in radio who enjoy the details of high-frequency engineering. This edition, therefore, assumes you're interested in what makes these places tick. I particularly like Ordfordness because of the history of the place - it is where radar experiments started during the Second World War. 

There are frequent references to a BBC transmitter site in Crowborough, Sussex. This was the home of the most powerful transmitter in the world during the 2nd World War, nicknamed Aspidistra after the song by Gracie Fields. On my audio vault you can hear more. 

My thanks to Andy Matheson for the hospitality so many years ago. What passionate people they are!

Over the Horizon Safari

I thought I'd been to some interesting radio places, until Mike Barraclough pointed me in the direction of this video make in the Ukraine, the former home of the Russian over-the-horizon radar system that plagued shortwave reception in the 1980's. It was nicknamed the Woodpecker, which explains the jingle at the end of the video. The giant curtain is still there, although because it is so close to the old Chernobyl nuclear power station its within the exclusion zone.

Monday, March 07, 2011

BBC World Service BackTracks on Hindi

The strategy for BBC Hindi radio is becoming clearer today with this announcement.

On 26 January the BBC announced the closure of its news and current affairs radio output in Hindi, as part of the outcome of its Spending Review 2010 settlement. Since the announcement, there has been much public discussion of the potential for retaining some of this service and the BBC has been approached by a number of commercial parties with alternative funding proposals.

In order to explore these proposals further, BBC World Service has decided to retain an evening news and current affairs radio broadcast (1 hour) in Hindi for our Indian audiences for an interim period. This broadcast will be available on all platforms – via SW, online and mobile. If sustainable commercial funding for this service cannot be found during the 2011/12 financial year, we regret that it will then have to close by March 2012.

We're told this language service has a weekly audience of 11 million on shortwave. But is obviously not a politically strategic service. If the UK Foreign office was interested in targeting potentially unstable areas of India, then Hindi language radio on shortwave is not really the way forward. It is the first time I have seen a BBC World service radio service opened up to commercial funding along the lines the BBC World News TV service has tried for years. Will people pay mobile networks to hear BBC Hindi streamed over the phone? Mobile TV and Streaming Radio over the 3G networks have been less than successful in Europe, especially now that the telecom providers are limiting the monthly data allowed. Or perhaps the strategy is to put further pressure on the Indian government to loosen up laws on relaying foreign news broadcasts on FM? India has a huge variety of TV and press. But All India Radio is one of the most disappointing networks on the planet. Totally stuck in a bureaucratic time warp.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Hilary Clinton Cuts some new jingles for Russia Today & Al Jazeera

Hilary Clinton had some interesting remarks when she testified on funding for US State Departent programs and foreign policy priorities March 2nd. The most telling comments came when she appeared to be off script. Note her remarks about how the US has basically one main competitor in the world - China, almost exactly 41 minutes into the session.

For those of us following international broadcasting affairs, the remarks that start 50 minutes into the session are one of several remarkable comments during this long session.

It looks to me like the State Department and US International Broadcasting are doing all kinds of uncoordinated activities all connected with "new media". You don't want to sit through 2 hrs 40" of testimony, but there are some interesting highlights if you can manoeuvre through the rather erratic  C-SPAN player.

(45'54") We hear about websites for entrepreneurs running in Egypt.

(50'52") We learn that the US is engaged in an information war.

“In fact viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners,” she added.

Clinton said that the US has dropped the ball since the Cold War, when VOA and others US broadcasts were influential. “We have not really kept up with the times,” Clinton argued.

“We are in information war and we cannot assume that this youth bulge that exists not just in the Middle East but in so many parts of the world really knows much about us. I mean we think they know us and reject us, I would argue the really don’t know very much about who we are,” she said, noting that America’s legacy of the Cold War, World War Two, and President Kennedy are lost on newer generations.

Clinton’s State Department has tried to keep up, especially on social media, where this year they have started Tweeting in Arabic, Farsi, and other languages.  “Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened up a global English language and multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English language network (Russia Today, or RT which they call themselves now). I’ve seen it in a couple of countries and it’s quite instructive.”

They must have been "high fiving" it in Doha and Moscow with endorsements like that!  Even though Clinton didn’t name names, she was placing the blame for “ceding what we are most expert in to somebody else” on every administration since Reagan, including that of her husband. But what really struck me were the offhand comments much later in the testimony, when she revealed that the competition is really with the Chinese. That struck home bearing in mind the 36000 Chinese that were in Libya until the uprisings compared to Westerners. I'm wonder who's responsible for the destruction of a Chinese oil installation in Libya? 

According to the LA Times, and several other sources, China has evacuated an estimated 36,000 of its workers from war-torn Libya, chartering buses, sending jetliners, even dispatching its navy to escort civilian rescue vessels. Beijing state-controlled media have trumpeted the effort as a sign of China's strength. But China's deep involvement with the North African dictatorship has also exposed a vulnerability in the world's second-largest economy. China is now the third-largest buyer of Libyan crude behind Italy and France. European and American oil firms have worked in Libya for years, but their governments have long sought to punish Kadafi for terrorist ties. Meanwhile, China has stuck to a hands-off policy it has dubbed "non-interventionism."