Monday, August 25, 2014

Crafting a station's image

Radio imaging, especially on music stations, has become an art unto itself. Practiced by a lot of people, but only really understood by a few.

Like jingles and presentation envoy, Steve Martin, who hosts the Earshot Creative review. If you like the "making of" radio, you'll like these podcasts.

And these are my favorites from the archives.


Even bad acoustics and recording mistakes can end up with gems.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

MN.12.09.1985. The mystery of Radio Impacto

In 1985, we didn't know much about a new station that had gone on the air in Costa Rica, but was clearly targeting listeners in neighbouring Nicaragua. Austrian DXer Christian Zettel helped us out as he was travelling in the region. As Don Moore later wrote in 1992, Radio Impacto did little to hide its Contra connection. On its staff were an official spokesperson for the FDN, some announcers from former Somoza radio stations in Managua, and several former staffers for La Prensa, the the primary anti-Sandinista newspaper in Nicaragua. Elsewhere, Impacto's Tegucigalpa correspondent actually doubled as the FDN's local spokesman. The strongest evidence for the contra connection came from Edgar Chamorro, former director of communications for the FDN, who told the World Court that Impacto was a CIA operation.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Saturday, August 16, 2014

MN.13.06.1985. Future of the cassette

I remember going on a coach trip to the BASF chemical factory in Ludwigshafen, Germany. We went to see why Chrome Dioxide cassette tape was such a superior recording medium. At that time, there were stories in the scientific press that audio and data could be stored in "bubble memory". BASF said that this was a long way off. In this programme the prediction was that solid state memory with a capacity of 650MB might be around by 2014. It shows how difficult it is to predict the rapid advance of techology, since some of the high end iPads now have 128 GB of solid-state storage. The machine I'm using for this entry has 256 GB.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.18.07.1985. WRUL Scituate

We delve into the Media Network archives to look back at the early days of commercial shortwave broadcasting from the United States. On October 15, 1927, Walter Lemmon, a radio inventor, was granted the first shortwave radio license in the United States and began experimental shortwave station W1XAL in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1935, the station began transmitting non-commercial, educational, and cultural programs. Supported by charitable institutions it was a not run for profit. The broadcasts came from a transmitter site in Scituate, Massachusetts.

I found some recordings of the station in the audio section of the US Library of Congress for this programme. And Lou Josephs got me the recordings from a later stage in the station's history when it was WNYW, Radio New York World Wide. He used to work there as a Saturday job in the 1970's, and made some great studio recordings which I haven't heard elsewhere. Lou later took me down to the old Scituate site to see what was left. But that was another programme aired much later.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.19.09.1985. Copenhagen Safari

This was my first visit to Copenhagen when the radio and television production were in two separate houses in the downtown area of the city. Radiohuset (literally "Radio House") was located on Rosenørns Allé in FrederiksbergCopenhagen. Vacated by DR when DR Byen was inaugurated in 2006, the buildings now house the Royal Danish Academy of Music as well as the Museum of Music.
On my visit to DR we went to a tiny room where a Revox tape-recorder on a time-switch was playing out the shortwave service of Radio Denmark. But there had been grander times. I also heard the story of DX Window, one of the world's first DX programmes which had more of a style of the off shore pirate stations. There was talk of working together with the Norwegians to make a Scandinavian external service. But when this was recorded, it was simply an idea.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Russian Radar Returns - sort of

The current tensions between Russia and Ukraine reminded me about the vast abandoned over-the-horizon radar system built near Chernobyl. It wasn't the only facility, but obviously the nuclear disaster in 1986 made this particular operation impossible.

In 2010, a video appeared on YouTube from two guys who went to visit the abandoned facility and gave us insights into what we were hearing on many parts of the shortwave dial in the 1980's.

In the Media Network radio programme back in 1985, we reviewed filtering equipment from Datong to try and reduce the interference caused by the pulses. And, in the programme below, we reported on projects to try and stop similar systems being build in the US.

This story from Russia Today (now better known as RT) claimed an exclusive visit to the abandoned radar facility in April 2011. It starts 2'13" into the piece. Bearing in mind RT's close links to the Kremlin, the reason for running this piece isn't all that clear to me. The RT reporter seems to be confusing HF broadcasting with the HF pulses that this system was putting out. It wasn't trying to reach the US East Coast, except that the pulses would carry on propagating around the world due to the nature of shortwave radio. The "Russian Woodpecker" made listening to some parts of the shortwave broadcast bands nearly impossible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A day across the BBC - 54 years ago.

This film was made in 1960 and was republished by the Alexandra Palace Television Society who have preserved many old films about the BBC. This one covers a lot of the work of the BBC External Services at Bush House - there wasn't much going on in broadcasting house on the domestic service overnight. Like many BBC publicity films of this era, it was all heavily scripted. I love the editorial discussion about whether the various European language services will get a short talk today or a discussion! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ebola coverage and international broadcasters

I feel that some of the documentaries from Vice News and Al Jazeera are well ahead of other international broadcasters in their coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Rumours are killing people or



The problem is that correct medical information isn't reaching the people who need it most in West Africa. I personally feel this is where international radio broadcasters targeting West Africa in local languages could play a very important role. BBC World Service set up "Life-Line" programmes after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and during the drought in 2011 in the Horn of Africa.

Paul Rasmussen of BBC World Service tells me that BBC Media Action (the World Service charity) has already been broadcasting advice about Ebola and working in Sierra Leone with local journalists in consultation with medical experts. They will be announcing further broadcast updates for our audiences this week - and they will include French, Hausa and English.

Meanwhile in Gaza

I see that Internews has got 3 million pounds of funding to set up emergency humanitarian broadcasts into Gaza. This according to a media release from the US NGO dated August 7th. Looks to me as if Internews is gradually replacing the need for a "Voice of America". 

Internews will be providing support to local radio stations and SMS/mobile channels that are providing life-saving humanitarian and health information to up to 95 per cent of the Gazan population, a highly effective approach most recently used in the Philippines as part of the DFID [UK Department for International Development]-funded response to Typhoon Haiyan.

The UK's International Development Secretary Justine Greening said of the total 3m pounds RRF [Rapid Response Facility] funds to be released this week "this extra support will enable trusted partners who are already working with communities on the ground in Gaza to be able to meet emergency medical needs, provide clean water for people and reduce the risk of disease".
Widespread insecurity and destruction of critical infrastructure including power supply have shut down 23 out of 25 radio stations in Gaza. Violence is heavily restricting access to vital services including the provision of life-saving information during humanitarian ceasefires and aid distributions. The technical and human resources of local media have been heavily impacted, making it extremely challenging for people to access the information they need to help them find safety and aid, especially as populations displace to the coast.

Internews Europe's chief executive Daniel Bruce said "at the heart of this emergency programme will be a daily, hour-long humanitarian information programme to be broadcast across our network of media partners covering the Gaza strip. Through careful and close coordination with the UN and all other major humanitarian agencies, we will ensure that the most vulnerable people in Gaza receive life-saving information on access to food, water, shelter and medical supplies. Our work will also allow the population to provide feedback to aid agencies on their ongoing needs and the effectiveness of the response."

Internews is immediately able to reach approximately 95 per cent of the population in all five governorates in the Gaza strip through nine media partners located both in Gaza and in the West Bank (with signals reaching Gaza).

The project is being funded through the Department for International Development's Rapid Response Facility of which Internews Europe is a member. The RRF is a network of pre-approved specialist aid organizations and private businesses who can rapidly deliver emergency medical, water and sanitation assistance to affected people.

This project is funded by the UK's Department for International Development.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What radio means to me in 1999

In November 1999, we devoted an edition of the Media Network programme to recollections from listeners about the impact radio had on their lives. I thought they were amazing recollections.

This Media Network from November 1999 includes a fascinating interview with Aidan White (pictured) who at that time worked for the Brussels based International Federation of Journalists. He discusses what goes wrong when governments control the radio waves, especially in politically instable regions like the Balkans.

We also hear more Memories of the Millennium, recollections of listening in the 20th century sent in by Media Network listeners. We learn about the discussion that the BBC should cover adverts. Henry Stokes, writes from Green Bay and notes that films no longer have radio in their theme. He notes that the recent film "Jakob the Liar" staring Robin Williams. In Nazi occupied Poland, poor Jewish café owner Jakob (Robin Williams) overhears a forbidden radio news bulletin signaling Soviet military victories against German forces. To raise the spirits of those in the ghetto, Jakob relays fictitious news bulletins.

We also hear about the how the impact radio made on a shortwave listener in China.

Andy Sennitt discovers a radio with built-in CD player and one that claims to be Super-Hydrodyne. We also report on the first DRM tests from the Bonaire relay station. And Bob Tomalski reported on the drastic drop in price of multi-standard DVD machines. He also comments on the variable quality of MP3 compared the compact disc.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

BBC Monitoring 75th Anniversary approaches

BBC Media Centre reminds us that on 26th August 2014, the BBC Monitoring Service will be 75 years old.

Created in 1939 on the outset of WW2, its purpose was, and still is, to gather and interpret international news as rapidly and economically as possible.

Initially employing several hundred 'monitors', many of them refugees, the service rapidly expanded so that it could 'listen' 24 hours a day to all the European languages likely to be of wartime use. The BBC and wider world quickly recognised the uniqueness and value of BBC Monitoring, calling it in 1940 'a modern Tower of Babel'. Churchill was an avid customer of the service, and would ring up in the middle of the night and ask (of Hitler) 'What's that fellow been saying?'

The organisation played an important role in helping observers keep track of developments post WW2, including the Cold War, the disintegration of the Iron Curtain and collapse of the Soviet Union. Also monitored were the Falklands conflict, Yugoslav wars and Middle East hostilities. Over the years, BBC Monitoring has innovated and developed, now monitoring over 3,000 sources (across radio, TV, press, internet and news agencies), in 100 languages and across 150 countries. Its purpose remains to observe, understand and explain the world's media, and so help Britain and international audiences follow and interpret key events.

Initially based in London then Evesham, BBC Monitoring moved in 1943 to Caversham Park near Reading, where it is still based.

BBC Monitoring at Caversham

On 24th of August 1989 the Media Network programme put out this programme to celebrate the 50th anniversary. In those days, shortwave radio was the main source of news. 

BBC Monitoring has been the owner of Caversham Park House since the end of World War 2. This imposing mansion - the large building you see on the hill as you pass through Reading on the train - has long been a major employer in Caversham. But it has also always been very low-key. And, because historically it has also attracted so many foreign nationals from many parts of the world to work there, overall BBC Monitoring's presence has contributed immeasurably to the quality and richness of life in Caversham. This visit to Caversham was designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of operations - a period where radio was still the mainstay of the work and satellite TV monitoring was only just starting. 500 people worked there at the time from 50 countries. The second part of the programme has some rather dramatic developments surrounding Radio Caroline which prompted a lot of calls to the Radio Netherlands answerline.

Friday, August 08, 2014

CDAC contradicts BBG on the role of shortwave in a crisis

I think CDAC, a cross disciplinary group that helps international disaster communications needs to examine a recent report put out by the Board for International Broadcasting on the future of shortwave. 
Their report notes there is no evidence that shortwave usage increases during crises. At such times, audiences continue to use their preferred platforms to help them navigate to the news online or via phones.
The technology works. There is no doubt. The problem is that the audiences have migrated to other platforms. Shortwave is still viable in around 8 countries in the world. Otherwise it is definitely past tense.
Radio is part of a hybrid strategy, not an end unto itself.

Where's the media when they are needed?

While Voice of America struggles with a discussion about whether it is still relevant, the answer seems to be staring them in the face.

VOA has always claimed to understand the information needs of African audiences?  So where are the special extended broadcasts WITH their partner stations to explain in as many languages as relevant why Ebola is so dangerous and what is being done to stop its spread. Al Jazeera has done some of the best reporting so far, but remember that TV in English doesn't reach those affected in West Africa. Radio is by far the most accessed medium in this area.

The specialists in this AJ documentary all conclude that information is as important as medical assistance in this case. But WHO is not a storyteller. And it doesn't speak local African languages.

To me, this could have been international broadcasting's finest hour. Instead VOA is just relaying Obama speeches and playing music. No context when it is needed.

People will remember the station that saved their life or those of love-ones. It is news you can use. And we keep forgetting that rumours kill

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

MN.25.08.1983. Caroline & Enormous Confusion

Radio Caroline is back from the North Sea, complete with sounds of the generators. And we talk to Ruud Hendriks, producer of the media show on Veronica Radio which translated as the Enormous Confusion. Ruud is now a presenter on Business News Radio. Some would say that 32 years later, it is even more confused in Hilversum.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Monday, August 04, 2014

MN.07.07.1983 Gabon

Africa Number One is still around, although unless you're in Libreville, Gabon, you'll need to listen online. Mind you, the station's audio quality via TuneIn is superb which is more than could be said for the shortwave signal in the 1980's. Believe the studios are now in Paris.

This edition of Media Network discusses the thorny problem of jamming of Western broadcasters. NHK Radio Japan is testing via the new shortwave transmitter site in Moyabi, Gabon. FIBS in the Falklands has switched its frequency of 2380 kHz. (Those bumps on the line with Andy were the counting system that worked out the cost of the call). We reviewed the new book by Ellic Howe called The Black Game. We later returned to the subject in the editions entitled Wartime Deception. Professor John Campbell reports strange broadcasting on 3345 kHz. Sometimes its Radio Mayak. The radio situation is Chad is confusing with at least two stations operating. Radio Bardai is being heard on 2009 kHz. The programme also contains a comparison of the NRD515, ICR70, and the Drake R7A. Michael Schaay has tested all three.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

John Oliver on Native Advertising. Just the truth

John Oliver's comment on Native Advertising is spot on, I'm afraid. I am continually looking for the "powered by" logo. It is seriously eroding trust! Love the Camel sponsored NBC News bulletin.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

MN.25.02.1993 - Bosnia and Yacht Boys

A news edition of the programme from the Media Network Vintage vault, most of it triggered by listeners
Norman Scott reports that Dr Gene Scott is planning major expansion of his shortwave ministry. Andy Sennitt reports changes to WJCR, Voice of Vietnam, the rumour about Country Nights, a special station on RTL 1440. Richard Measham reports on the radio of the Bosnian Serbs, on 9720 and 6100 kHz. BBC resumes broadcasts in Albanian after a break of 26 years. Uganda changes their media law. Radio Hope in Somalia. Radio Ala, the station of the Bards, has disappeared. Voice of Iranian Kurdistan is being heard in the UK. James Robinson, Birkenhead has been monitoring Quality Country Music on satellite. Nick Meanwell reports on new shortwave radios. Grundig Yacht Boy 222 isn't as good as the Grundig Yacht Boy 206. We look at the difficulty of operating some shortwave receivers if you are visually disabled. And Bill Whitacre updates up on Chinese jamming of US broadcasts relayed via transmitters in the former Soviet Union.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Swinging Roundabouts for Radio

I know from searching on line that it is not uncommon for someone to sponsor a roundabout in the UK, putting a billboard up to thank the sponsor. But I note that non-stop music station Sky Radio has come up with a far more strategic sign on the roundabout in-front of the Dutch media park in Hilversum. If you have to stop for on-coming traffic, you can't help but see the Sky-sign because it is next to the roadsign. Clever, though I suppose its effectiveness depends on how many people can read the simple slogan. Does it encourage them to switch station?  Skyradio is actually based in the next town, so having this subtle presence in front of the media park, is rather smart I thought. There's a sign at each entrance to the roundabout. Anyone spotted radio ads on roundabouts before?

Sky Radio Ad in-front of Hilversum Media Park