Friday, January 01, 2021

Media Network New Series 2021- some thoughts

Reasons for Relaunching a second series of Media Network

Lockdown has enabled me to devote more time to finishing off several complex video projects which I feel really belong as a collection. It has also taught me the value of my hobbies. In my case, it is the mechanical engineering side of model railways and the restoration of (electric) clocks. 

My third passion is unearthing untold stories about the medium of international broadcasting. I was actively involved in this industry for over 35 years. But the distribution systems I knew eventually faded out.

Radio's problem

The main challenge that intelligent speech radio faces is this: Although international broadcasters spent hundreds of millions of Euros shouting across borders, very little of that huge effort was kept in some form of a coherent collection. There are some truly amazing Youtube channels emerging about restoring vintage radios to their former glory. For starters, I recommend checking out Mr Carlson's Lab or David Tipton. They are brilliant! And if you are interested in the stories from past audio technology in general, just follow (and support) Matt Taylor's Techmoan series. He occasionally picks up radios to explore.

But, unlike physical clocks and OO scale models, radios have no memory. They only pick up what's on right now. And shortwave radio in the last century was the ultimate in appointment listening. You had to be at exactly the right point on the dial, often at a peculiar time, with the right equipment and, even then, there was no guarantee reception would be good. 

Restoring International Radio's memory

I remember the late Gerald Wells, the British vintage wireless enthusiast used to run a low-power mediumwave pirate radio station with dance band music. It broadcast with a few milliwatts to his house in Dulwich, London - an early form of WiFi.  His reason was "you can get the radio working again, but few of the transmitters carved into the dial" are still there". It's true, radio has a terrible memory. This explains why I am publishing old audio editions of Media Network, as well as some of the off-air recordings of stations I monitored in the 1980's and 90's as part of the research for this communications magazine programme. I'm so glad I listened to people like Wolf Harranth, the late Lou Josephs and Jim Cutler because they advised me to keep the tapes. And the recordings outlived the station!

Building on the heritage

Flevo transmitter site in 2002. Towers are gone today

They say the pictures are better on the radio. Indeed it is a true theatre of the mind. But it could never show me everything I was interested in, like what happened behind the microphone. So with an eye on the future, I always took a (video) camera on my radio reportages for Radio Netherlands. 

Entire societies sprang up to remember the North Sea offshore radio pirates of the 1960s. But although thousands of hours of off-air audio recordings survive, the video footage can be counted in minutes. 

In 1997 I started to look for ways to capture more broadcasting stories that need to be told before we all forget. I realise that in making 1000 editions of Media Network, we had only just begun the scratch the surface. I was also amazed at how much help I got from an enthusiastic audience of active listeners and researchers.

Why the new series launches today, January 1st 2021

I've reached a point where it is time to release a series of long-form interviews looking back on the right colourful history of international radio broadcasting. I often thought I'd love to find out what happened to people and stations after the first series of Media Network concluded in 2000. Zoom, fibre-to-the-home and next-generation 4K webcams make a lot possible now.

I have posted extracts from today's Episode 1 before. But Episode 2, which will be released on Thursday, January 7th, has never been seen before.

This new series is designed to appeal to the enthusiast. It explores a depth that you never see on mainstream media. And that's because those channels are governed by audience figures. A lot of what you will see is for the public record because, otherwise, these stories will definitely disappear. 

Exploring the past is key to building a more meaningful future

I am hoping that once people see what people like Wolf Harranth achieved in Episode 2, others will be inspired to help recover and other archives. In the Netherlands, there is currently zero interest in restoring the heritage of Radio Netherlands. But that may be because there are no examples. Fortunately, there are some great initiatives like the Radio Netherlands Archive which have rescued several hundred excellent radio documentaries from the English Section Archive. But there is so much more to do, especially in the era of "fake news". 

I am also looking at ways of combining hundreds of hours of video footage I have made, as well as material from others to make more thematic documentaries. The 1982 propaganda series "Media Wars" and number stations come to mind. These themes are not new, but a lot of it is either incomplete or doesn't contain the sort of detail that I have access to, thanks to a great network of former listeners. My goal is to add to what's already out there adding new material when relevant. 

Constructive Thoughts and Suggestions welcome

I am using the relaunch to test out all sorts of ideas and technologies. 20 years ago, the idea of being able to reach audiences all over the world was just a dream - unless you had access to mainstream media.

I intend to build on this media blog which has been out here on the Interwebs for many years. A lot of it still stands and forms part of the archive I am building. 

NOTE: I need to separate this new project from other things I am involved with. So please use the dedicated email address for ALL constructive comments and suggestions.  It is


Series Two Begins

This is the first edition of the new series of Media Network Videocasts. I owe a lot to the city of Vienna and to the Austrian Shortwave Service for my start in broadcasting. In February 1974, I took part in a quiz that was running on their English service. You had to answer one question a day for a month. I did, and I won first prize. A week in Vienna courtesy of the Austrian tourist board. I went with my father - and it was truly wonderful. It was also where I decided that broadcasting sounded like a very interesting career. Two years later I was back in Vienna, freelancing for the English service. 

In 1976 I also met Wolf Harranth, at that time the editor of the German language programme KurzwellenPanorama. So began a life-long friendship. 

Fast forward now to the 2nd of September 2009. Austrian Radio’s shortwave service in English has long since gone, and Wolf is now leading the world’s largest Radio documentation project. It’s in a building across the road from ORF Funkhaus on the Argentinastrasse in downtown Vienna. And we have an invitation to visit. 

Here's the link to the video.

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