Thursday, August 09, 2012

Recalling the Transmitting Side of Radio Netherlands Worldwide

The other side of the Radio Netherlands building in Hilversum

Apart from working on several projects with cutting edge technology, I've also been looking at how international broadcasters publicized what they were doing when shortwave radio was a viable medium for many countries. The truth is that because they were using 500 kW transmitters, most stations thought that half a million watts on the radio dial was all the publicity they needed. Sadly, they were mistaken. Films of activities were made as a last resort or by technical staff who did it because they thought it ought be done.

Take the film below for example. This was made in 1968 at the moment when Philips shipped two 300 kW transmitters from the factory in the Netherlands to the island of Bonaire, then part of the Netherlands Antilles. The film had no sound - I just thought the music fitted for an internal presentation because it does look as thought they are building a secret rocket launcher for Dr Evil rather than a shortwave relay station to improve the audibility of Radio Netherlands in the Americas and West Africa. I'm guessing that this film was used for promotional purposes by Philips since the shipping containers carry rather obvious ads plastered on the containers. There is no story - apart from following the crates from somewhere near the port in the Netherlands across the 1960's motorway - then we jump to the crates being unloaded at the docks in Bonaire (or is that Curacao) and then transported up the road to the transmitter site. What's missing is the story that they realised that the first crate wasn't going to make it up the only road and so had to dynamite a bit of the rock in order to pass.

The Building of Radio Netherlands Bonaire Relay Station 1968 from Jonathan Marks on Vimeo.

When Radio Netherlands moved into their new building in Witte Kruislaan, in North Hilversum in 1961, they asked Pete van der Kleut to make a film to help in promotion. I remembering telling me he shot it in a couple of days on zero budget and a few rolls of film. It was pure theatre with people in various departments doing all sort of things on cue. Maybe you can spot Jerry Cowan about 49 seconds as well as the late Harry van Gelder. Everybody is incredibly busy discussing things, the head of the newsroom is correcting copy before it is broadcast, and the poor guy in the newsroom doesn't know which phone to answer first. Women play only support roles, tidying up, typing and organizing things,  The problem was that until the mid nineties this was the only footage of Radio Netherlands in the national sound archive. And when cuts came that were reported on the NOS Journaal, the same 60's footage was often repeated - confirming the picture that RNW was stuck in the past. Again, the be fair, the sound has been changed on this version. The original "over the top" newsreel style commentary was in Dutch.

During my time as Programme Director at Radio Netherlands, I commissioned various video clips to make sure we had current video material of the building, newsroom, continuity, recording of the digital music series for Latin America and the documentation and record library department. This was just raw footage done one day in July 2001 and 2002. This sequence starts with video from the Flevoland transmitter site when it was fully operational. Transmitters have since been removed and the site is silent.

 Radio Netherlands Flevo Transmitter Site and B roll material from Jonathan Marks on Vimeo.

I don't deny I had a lot of fun making this radio programme. It is March 1989 and I realise there is nothing in the RNW archive about the great work that goes on at the relay stations and the story of how the satellite changed an entire industry. I combined it with reportages on the other ABC islands. Curacao was nice, but the beauty on Bonaire, especially under the water, was spectacular. I remember meeting a great Aruban engineer working at the station who actually swam to work. This radio programme was made before the admin building in Kralendijk was closed and the building expanded for the DRM capable transmitters. Click the link below to go back 23 years in time.... Does it sound old fashioned? Course it does.

Direct download: MN.23.03.1989Bonaire.mp3
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