Thursday 3 May 2007

Wireless on Wheels-

- A Brief History of Car Radio By Mark Savage and Chrissy Brand
(First published in Radio User, March and April 2006)
A set of useful links is at the foot of this article
Above photo of Skoda in Bohemia © C Brand
Mark Savage writes 2 blogs- one on life, one on radio!

As you settle into the driving seat of your car, white van or LGV today, it’s more than likely the first control you operate after the ignition is for the vehicle’s entertainment system- if it hasn’t switched on automatically along with the engine. We take the partnership of wireless and wheels for granted, while for some the latest piece of in-car kit gives more ‘street cred’ than the motor itself.

Hard though it may be to believe today, it hasn’t always been like this. Although radio and audio technology began to develop pretty much at the same time as the internal combustion engine, it took thirty years or more after the first cars hit the road for a practical car radio to be marketed, and another fifty, perhaps, before it became standard equipment in any new British car. Quite apart from technical considerations, car manufacturers and broadcasters alike seem to have been very slow to recognise the appeal and practicality of the combination of information and informality radio users have enjoyed in their homes since the roaring twenties.

One maker though recognised even in the depression-hit thirties that there was a budding market for their particular combination of frequency on the dial and speed on the freeway. An American, Paul Galvin, generally gets the credit for inventing and patenting the first car radio in 1930, and his cleverly-chosen name for the company founded with his brother two years earlier to produce “battery eliminators” for home sets still thrives as one of the leading names in mobile communications- Motorola.

Motorola came from words meaning “motor-car” and “sound”. The company’s first set, the 5T71, could be fitted in most modern automobiles, and retailed for around $130- about the price of a basic RDS radio/CD today, but a luxury item in those deprived times for all but the few. Nevertheless, Motorola’s early trading years saw healthy growth and the 5T71 was widely endorsed, with one leading name advising drivers to “insist on Motorola Auto Radio”, with its “Approved Automatic Push-button Tuning” to give “happier miles in your Pontiac”.

Yet while Motorola were quick to dominate the market in the USA, in Europe another name was soon to rise to prominence in the mobile media market. The company that is now pumping up the volume with a bassy beat and cuddly toys in its advertising to proclaim that it is “the advantage in your car” started out with a tiny trademark which was the symbol of technical competence in its native Germany.

The “Ideal” radio company started life in Berlin in 1923 as a manufacturer of headphones, the same year that radio was introduced to a nation still struggling to recover from World War I. Such was the reputation of its headphones, however, that people soon began asking for “the blue dot” or Blaupunkt brand, and the nickname stuck- being adopted officially as the company style just before the outbreak of World War II.

However, while it may have been strong on quality, the first European car radio was anything but “ideal” for its purpose, at least as far as its dimensions were concerned. The Blaupunkt AS5, equipped with short medium and longwave, took up about ten litres of space in vehicles much smaller than their American counterparts, and weighed about as much as a modern microwave! (By 1970 it had reduced to one litre of space).

One of the main problems to be overcome before car radio could match its stationary counterpart in listening enjoyment, of course, was the question of an aerial. There’s a world of difference between picking up a signal inside a pile of bricks and mortar going nowhere, and a moving metal machine driving all over the place. Early broadcast engineers were well aware of this limitation, and the British Broadcasting Company, as it then was, experimented with car aerials from 1922 onwards; the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu features a rare mock example – used in a BBC promotion- on a 1928 Bean Short car. It took many more years though for cars to be manufactured including integral antennas, so conventional antenna wiring was mounted either in the roof line or on the car’s running boards.

Also because of its size, it was not possible to position Blaupunkt’s AS5 within easy reach of the driver. To get round this obvious shortcoming, and in an early precedent for the remote controls of today’s top-range equipment, a point was made of mounting the radio controls within the steering wheel- but at a price. The AS5 hit the market at 465 Reichsmark, which was around a third of the cost of a Volkswagen or similar small car of the time.

As with the ongoing arguments over the invention of radio itself, car radio is also a grey area. Although generally attributed to Paul Galvin, car company Daimler also stake a claim. In 1922 their Light 30 car had a Marconi eight-valve receiver fitted in the rear compartment, with a large frame aerial on the roof as an experiment. It received perfect reception from Marconi House in London. After this, some cars were factory equipped with radios but as the price was almost 25% of the cost of the car, it was not a great seller and the option was dropped.

The Marconi V2A radio was manufactured in 1923 and housed in a polished mahogany cabinet, selling for £24. A number of British motorists with the requisite technical skills managed to mount these on the running boards to produce an early car radio. Seeing is believing at:

Innovative though the early Blaupunkt, Motorola and Marconi radios undoubtedly were, clearly a lot of work still needed to be done before car radio could be brought to the masses at an acceptable pricepoint. It took the duration of another war and a revolution in car ownership in Europe a decade or so after it for that to happen.

Post-war boomWith car use increasing in Europe and North America after World War II, the car radio too became a much sought after accessory, although they were not to be fitted as standard in average priced cars in Britain until the mid 1970s. The BBC started transmitting on FM in 1955, but it was three years before that when the first FM car radio was manufactured. That honour fell to Blaupunkt in 1952.

In Britain the standard radio licence covered all wireless sets in the home but if you had a car radio you needed a separate radio licence for it. In the 1950s the radio licence changed so that car registration numbers could be inserted onto the licence.

Radio stations soon realised there was a new captive audience in the form of the driving commuter, with Radio Luxembourg being a case in point. They had a tri-lingual service on 208 metres medium wave and from May 1950 came up with a new schedule that shared that one frequency. This catered for all their markets starting with the Dutch and Flemish breakfast car commuters and housewives. They then provided light entertainment programming for Germany in the afternoon, a time that German television was not on air, going into the rush hour and the ‘lucrative German car radio audience in the early evening’. Luxembourg then had the slot to the U.K that they coveted fully exploiting the propagation qualities of medium wave under darkness.

In the 1950s the USA led the way as car radios became standard accessories Stateside, and radio received a big boost as Americans tuned in driving to and from work. It was the dawn of the ubiquitous traffic news and eye in the sky reports that now dominate today’s breakfast and drive-time output. In 1956 the car radio market caused station WOWO in Fort Wayne Indiana to have a makeover, bringing DJs into prominence, increasing news coverage and creating a new sound to target car radio listeners, 'the greatest mass audience of any medium'. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and it was another American who took Paul Galvin's invention to the next level. Earl Muntz was the millionaire owner of several car showrooms in California, and is widely credited with developing the first car stereo in the 1960s. This was a 110-volt system that was modified to run on the car's own battery to avoid the risk of electrocution for occupants.

Whilst the North American market led the way and western Europe followed with similar models, what of car radios east of the Berlin Wall? Surely the basic cars of Lada, Skodas, Dacias, Yugos et al didn’t possess such luxury items? Chair of the U.K Trabant and Wartburg Club Peter Frost says it was otherwise.For example, whilst Blaupunkt led West Germany’s car radio industry, even the East German Trabants were factory-fitted with a radio. 'The early cars had valve (tube) radios fitted such as the Aukoton Schönburg (an East German made radio designed to run off 6 Volts with a separate vibrator/amplifier unit). From around 1962 the all-transistor Berlin radio was fitted (again an East German make). There were a number of other radios fitted including a Tesla FM/AM unit, which was fitted after the cars gained 12-volt electrics in 1983. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall there was a thriving East German electronics industry and the Trabant name was even used on a number of nice domestic radios, both transistor portables and earlier valve radios. Some of the valve radios in Bakelite or wood cases are now quite collectable and can change hands for surprising amounts of money'.In Peter's current collection are a 1963 Wartburg fitted with a 6 volt all-transistor 'Berlin' radio as was also fitted to Trabants. He also has a Schönburg and an AM/FM Tesla tucked away waiting for the right car to fit them to.

Another part of the world where car radios have differed from the western norm is Japan. The FM frequency band used in Japan is 76 to 90 MHZ, lower than the FM band of 88 to 108 MHz used in most parts of the world. This has led to problems for people in some countries who import second-hand Japanese cars with radios already fitted, as far apart as the U.K and New Zealand. Radio Band Expanders or Converters for Japanese imported vehicles are cheaply available to resolve that problem.

Modern traffic updatesMotorists in an earlier age would have enjoyed the sounds of big bands or classical music without having to worry unduly about traffic jams. When the car ceased to be a luxury item and became the norm for every household, there was an inevitable increase in road accidents and traffic hotspots. Radio stations reacted by providing travel news updates, which are featured on almost every UK domestic radio station. The drawback with this arrangement though, particularly in an age of hundreds of local stations, is that you need to know when a station will be transmitting the next traffic bulletin for the area you travel through in order to catch the announcements most relevant for you. It was BBC engineers at their Research and Development base at Kingswood Warren in Surrey who first addressed this issue in the mid 1970s, and there was a brief flirtation with a system called CARFAX (in imitation of the CEEFAX system for TV which came out around the same time) which operated on a test basis on AM.

However, FM soon became the transmission mode of choice for most drivers, aided by the BBC’s programme of re-equipping its VHF/FM transmitters from around 1975 with a system called “slant” polarisation, which gave better reception on portable or vehicle receivers. Partly as a result, CARFAX soon bit the dust, and the RDS (Radio Data System) became the norm on FM only. RDS overcomes the need for manual frequency adjustment on the move by automatically changing frequency depending on the circumstances.

A sub-audible “flag” transmitted piggy-back fashion on the normal signal can be used to do everything from choosing a stronger signal as reception from one transmitter fades, to finding you a broadcaster transmitting sport, news, music or a number of other options. However, this relies on the broadcaster choosing flags which allow the options, but the Traffic Announcement (TA) flag is now used by all but the smallest, as making a transmission RDS-equipped is a straightforward and relatively cheap tweak from the radio station. Once the relevant announcement or programme has finished, the car radio then switches back to either the station you were previously listening to, or even a cassette or CD, avoiding the need to do so manually.
Traffic Message Channel, or TMC, is a worldwide technology for delivering traffic and travel information to drivers, thus improving road safety. It is digitally coded using the FM-RDS system on FM radio broadcasts.

Drivers can therefore try and avoid road-works or other traffic-related hazards. It is particularly proving its usefulness in the longer road tunnels of Europe, and indeed following serious accidents in the Alps recently, tunnel operators are now required to equip their underground routes with technology to automatically interrupt car entertainment systems with emergency messages should the need arise. Many of these tunnels make use of special cabling systems which “inductively” transmit from tunnel wall to car.

Freewheeling with Freeview
Car radios have come a long way in 80 years: starting as a luxury item for the well-heeled, before becoming a standard fitting for most cars by the late 1970s. The past 30 years has seen an explosion with more and more innovations driving the industry onwards. The eight-track cartridge is long since a thing of the past, and car radio and audio cassette combos have gone the same way. RDS radios with CD players are the norm in the UK now, and DAB radios are being fitted in some new models, with MP3 players the latest technology to be integrated into the ICE (In Car Entertainment).

DVD players and digital tuners have brought video into the car as well as audio, at least for passengers.Current developments continue apace and hot on the heels of in-car DAB radios and MP3 players come car radios that can receive Freeview. Alpine, Becker and Sony manufacture a range of Digital TV Tuners to accompany in-car DVD players. Available from November 2005 these cost from £299 to £1000.

A DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) car radio is on the way too, a collaboration between DRM chip company Fraunhofer IIS and the Philips' "SAF7730" digital car radio platform. One wonders what the Massachusetts Public Works Commission would say about this latest development. In 1927, as car radio technology was taking off, they held a number of hearings concluding that car radios should be banned from vehicles because: (i) they distract the driver and cause accidents. (ii) The act of tuning would distract the driver and cause accidents. (iii) The music would lull the driver to sleep and (iv) the drivers of other vehicles would be distracted by the noise…

Passing pedestrians and fellow motorists who have their eardrums assaulted by the latest mobile beat boxes pounding away might well agree with the last objection, but most motoring authorities today agree that a car “wireless” system is an almost indispensable aid to keeping the traffic flowing safely, while commercial broadcasters in particular have cottoned on to what a lucrative source of advertising revenue lies in the captive car audience. Eighty years on, the love affair between mobile music and messages on the move has formed a marriage which seems destined to last as long as people keep on driving.

An I.C.E (In Car Entertainment) Timeline
This first appeared in BDXC Communication, June 2006 :
As is the nature of claiming ‘firsts’ in history, this timeline is not without contradictions, nor is it comprehensive. However, it gives a flavour of ‘what came when’ in I.C.E.

1924 A car radio is fitted to an Australian car built by Kellys Motors in New South Wales.

1927 A breakthrough for car radio is the invention of damp resistance. It becomes possible to listen to the radio when the motor was running, at least near a transmitter

1929 Several manufacturers make special radios specifically for cars. Wire aerials in the roof are installed

1929/30 Paul Galvin of Motorola, Chicago invents the 5T71 car radio which can be installed in most automobiles

1931 Loudspeakers are improved. Radio tubes with 6.3 voltage grids lead to automatic volume control

1932 A generator driven by an electric motor powered by the car battery is developed. Swedish company P.R. Mallory produce the vibrator power supply.

1932 Blaupunkt introduce the AS5 car radio with long, medium and short wave.

1933 Ford introduces a car radio tailor-made for the dashboard

1934 Philco introduce the first telescopic rod antenna to replace the running-board antenna

1935 The Great Depression in the USA, but there are still 60 million radios in use and a further 1.5 million car radios

1936 Motorola Police Cruiser mobile receiver, a redesigned car radio preset to a single frequency to receive police broadcasts, is the company's first entry into the new field of mobile radio communications

1936 Delco introduce the first in-dash car radios

1937 Pioneer founder Nozomu Matsumoto invents the world's first A-8 dynamic speaker

1937 Ford use a steel rod as aerial.1938 A car radio is introduced as an option on Buick cars

1939 Panasonic 'super receivers' (car radios) are designed exclusively for the Japanese Imperial household

1939 Powell Crosley (of American Crosley radios fame) introduces the Crosley car, having earlier produced the Roamio car radio

1940 Philco develop the first car radio in the world incorporating permeability tuning, to replace capacitive-tuning, and a standard of the industry until the mid 1980s

1941 Ford advertises a radio which can be preset for five stations and operated by a foot switch

1942 Motorola converts 125,000 automobile radios, with some of them ending up as chairside cabinet radios

1946 Motorola invents the first car phone

1948 Philco introduce the first commercial use of miniature tubes and search-tune radios

1949 An extra for the Austin A40 Devon Saloon (1200 cc with a top speed of over 70 m.p.h) is an Ekco car radio costing £25. 0 0d. plus £6. 18s 10d. purchase tax.

1952 Blaupunkt (Bosch) make the first FM car radio

1954 Philco introduce the first all-transistor commercially produced auto radio

1950s An in-car record player is produced (!)

1954 Panasonic produce their first genuine car radio, the A-606

1955 A germanium transistor intended for car radios is Motorola's first mass-produced semiconductor and one of the first high-power transistors in commercial production

1958 Car radios with a transistor converter instead of a vibrator are manufactured

1958 Motorola introduce the Motrac radio, the first vehicular two-way radio with a fully transistorised power supply and receiver. Its low power consumption allows the radio to be used without running the automobile engine

1959 The one millionth Blaupunkt car radio rolls off the production line. Each valve-based radio consisted of 1,693 separate parts

1960 Ever Ready produce three 'car portable' radios; Sky Leaders OC44, OC45(2), OC82(3)

1962 As with most British cars, a radio is still an extra when buying the latest MG, an MGB Roadster

1963 Philco-Ford offer an AM head unit, along with an AM radio with 8-track tape player

1964 First Panasonic FM car radio

1965 Motorola work with Ford and RCA to develop a tape player for use in the car- the 8-track cartridge

1966 Philco-Ford's AM/FM with pushbutton search tuning 1969 Blaupunkt (Bosch) make the first stereo car radio

1970 Appearance of the in-car cassette player, including Panasonic cassette car stereo CX-121

1973 Philco-Ford AM/FM Stereo with built-in 8-track player

1975 Pioneer invent the first compact car stereo

1970s Big car audio names of the decade are Harvard, Ferguson, Sharp and Kyoto

1980 First car radio with a CD player1980 First RDS Field Trial at Bern/Interlaken, Switzerland

1984 Pioneer introduce the world's first car CD system followed by the car industry's first three source DIN head unit with tape deck, CD player and radio tuner.

1985 Panasonic reach fifty million car stereo sales

1987 Ireland, France and Sweden introduce RDS. First RDS Receivers shown at IFA Berlin. Volvo markets world's first RDS Car Radio

1988 Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and UK introduce RDS Blaupunkt, Grundig and Philips mass produce RDS Car Radios

1993 RDS portable radios become available RDS Forum created

1995 First tests in Sweden of DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting), appearance of the GPS function in car stereos

2001 The world's first DAB car radio with an MP3 player that records.

2004 Alpine Electronics produce a car stereo with an iPod interface built-in2005 Car stereos with Bluetooth functions introduced

References and further reading
About Com:


Age Net Vintage and Veteran Motoring:

Alternative Autos:

Audio Engineering Society, Chicago Section:


Car Audio U.K:

Chairside car radios:


Direct Source:

Freeview digital tuners:

Grow a Brain:


Mr Traffic:

Parrot newsletter:


Piet's Old Radios website:

Radio Licences:

RDS Milestones:



Wednesday 2 May 2007

Radio Websites links May 2007

Links for the websites mentioned in Chrissy Brand’s Radio Websites column (May 2007) in Radio User, Britain’s best radio listeners' magazine:

With the millions of websites that demand your attention, how can you make the most of your time online? The Radio Websites column helps you pick and choose from a wide selection of those covering radio.
We look at websites of traditional on-air radio stations or Internet radio stations, new technologies, of blogs and individuals with something to say on the subject of radio, collectors of radio ephemera, radio clubs and communities. There’s always something interesting or new to discover.
As to how many websites are currently out there, the figure changes constantly of course. However, an estimate of around 110 million websites would not be too wide of the mark, according to Netmark:

May 2007
Virgin Radio in the UK now accept reception reports: And don’t go thinking you can escape the Branson Empire overseas. Virgin radio also run stations in France, India and Thailand.

Excellent independent blog on Indian radio maintained at:

Wedding Birthday FM, Anniversary FM and Party FM that were launched last year along similar lines:

Time now for a wander around the dusty aisles of some fantastic radio museums

Australian bakelite radios:

In the Czech Republic there is Martin Hajek’s:
There are some marvellous old television programme extracts too:

Rottenburg radio museum in Germany:

Swede Rolf Bergendorff’s museum:

The Hammond museum of radio is in Ontario:

Radio Websites column links Feb to April 2007

Links for all websites mentioned in Chrissy Brand’s Radio Websites column (February 2007 to April 2007) in Radio User, Britain’s best radio listeners' magazine:

Feb 2007
iRadio Intel: this site gives reviews of the latest as well as older models on the market

Phil’s shortwave radio buying guide (2006 edition) is at: equally useful Radio tuning Tricks document can be read at:

Dave’s Receiver page, which is a great read in its own right:

Intel’s Radio in the News section: For instance ‘Has Satellite Radio Peaked?’, a debate on the Sirius and XM systems in the States:
And ‘Digital radio takes an ambitious step into Africa’:

John Cull’s Waveguide brings you the latest television and radio news and states is in its 22nd year online, which is quite an achievement, considering when the internet actually took off. It may well have had an earlier life as an email based group.


There is also information on the latest DAB station at Classic FM: and:

Sometime co-writer of this column, Mark Savage, has an entertaining look at aspects of radio at his blog:

The Young Stars Radio Club (YSRC):

CVC International Australia:

Radio Taiwan:

Radio Polonia:

Even BBC Radio 2 gets a mention:

Globecast Radio is an online station that also broadcast sporting RSLs (Restricted Service Licence) such as the International Horse Show from London’s Olympia and Racing from Le Mans:

Pandora’s Box: It is part of the Music Genome Project set up seven years ago when a ‘group of musicians and music-loving technologists came together with the idea of creating the most comprehensive analysis of music ever’.
You type in the names of bands or styles of music you like and it recommends similar acts and sets up an Internet radio station just for you to hear. It is absolute brilliance and making the most of the technologies that combine radio, music and the web. Try it for yourself.

March 2007

Kim Elliott, Voice of America’s Communications World

Kim appeared in early 2007 on the Voice of America’s ‘Talk to America’ programme, which is in the archives as an mp3 file at:
or go to and do a search on ‘Kim Elliott’.

A radio video you shouldn’t miss is the country and western song ‘Come and Join us on the Airwaves’. This extols the virtues of being a ham radio operator, but with the smartly dressed singers balancing in the air atop a transmitter tower!\e%20ham%20hamradio

A quicker route is to type in ‘ham radio song’ at

When Pirates ruled the Waves, (sixth edition) by Paul Harris has just been published. A preview is at

There is an interesting summary of the changes of the past 80 years at the BBC Press Office website:

Radio Netherlands’ excellent Media Network blog also covers the Beeb’s early sports commentaries at:

A special broadcast by BBC Radio 5 Live and Five Live Sports Extra took place on 21st January:

This was to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first football commentary, which used a grid system for listeners to work out where the ball was:

The first FA Cup Final to be commentated on radio was in 1932, with George Allison providing the voice. There is more on this in a book out this month that I am the co-author of. Wembley-Stadium of Legends, published by Dewi Lewis Media:

Another exciting part of the BBC is BBC Engineering, with its own website at:
There is also the story of the BBC Droitwich transmitter:

Why not try listening to sports radio stations around the world, in other English speaking countries? To start with, has a great list.

Go to and choose ‘sports’ in the ‘genre’ drop down menu.
Perth 6PR at:

Canada’s ice hockey scene with Fan 960 at:

Radio Sport on 1332 AM in Auckland, or live at

U.S.A has dozens of stations specialising in sport. A couple of good websites that give overviews are: and

Amongst the many things to do at the latter you can tune-in to follow the fortunes of Baltimore’s Ravens and Orioles at:
have a ball with 1530 KTIK the Ticket: and keep up with the Atlanta Braves:

April 2007
Some recent podcasts I have enjoyed started from Podcast Alley:
Hypernonsense ‘it’s a radio show we do from our house’ is enjoyably daft:

You can create your own podcast, free of charge at: If you want more information then a good site is Podcast Nation at:

Regular BBC local programmes that I tune into online include ‘The African Caribbean Experience’ on BBC Radio Derby:

BBC Radio Guernsey’s ‘Jim Trott’s Magic Bus’ at:

and BBC Radio Foyle’s Late Night Show with Eamon Friel, at:

Many radio stations around the world have a similar listen on demand facility. Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, now in its 32nd year and still full of tall tales, homespun philosophy and folksy output, makes good use of this. There is a huge archive stretching back years at:

Other listen on demand stations that I have whiled away an enjoyable evening with recently include

Brazil’s Rádio Gazeta 99.9 FM, a selection of radio stations from Fiji, including Legend FM, and Radio Wave from Windhoek in Namibia:

Polderbits Sound- recording off t’Internet:


Australian company NCH:

Needless to say, do ensure you are not infringing copyright when you do this!

Riviera Radio in Monaco and online at

The Identifications and Interval Signals CD set put together by Radio Canada InternationaI’s Ian McFarland and Colin Newell for a food bank charity in British Columbia last year can also now be paid for by Paypal, Ian tells me. Details at, which since 1994 has been Canada's original resource for the World Band Radio Enthusiast:

In March a second two CD set was launched at the Winter SWL Fest in Kulpsville, PA, in the USA. Prices are the same as for the Idents CD set, which is 13 Euros. Ideas for a third CD set, again about shortwave, are also in the pipeline. This was also mentioned at the excellent Anorak Nation website:

Ian McFarland now has a blog packed with radio related information at: And there are DX podcasts which started in February. Follow the links from the Dxer ca homepage:,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/ or

Radio Days: Best of Europe's satellite radio

Radio Days, Best of Europe's satellite radio

(first published in Satellite and Digital Choice July/Aug 2004
by Chrissy Brand

A relaxing summer evening can start by channel hopping through your favourite satellite tv stations. One eye on the basketball, cricket or rugby league match, an old sitcom or two or maybe a blockbuster movie. But why not use more of your satellite equipment's potential and open up new horizons, by tuning in to some satellite radio transmissions?

Most of us are probably guilty of concentrating more on the television and ignoring the huge array of diverse radio stations available on satellite. It's worth taking time to hear what radio has to offer. You will be pleasantly surprised and may become hooked. Sit back, close your eyes and soak in the midnight sun from Scandinavia, learn about a leading Dutch export in the shape of Royal Delft Porcelain, or go on a tour of the original Budweiser brewery in the town of Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic.

This issue we'll have a look at some of the best European radio stations you can hear via satellite, in English as well as some other European tongues. An ideal starting place is the World Radio Network (WRN), which, as you will have spotted by its name, broadcasts a selection of radio from all over the globe.

Based in London, WRN offers a mind-blowing range of programmes in English from a selection of the worlds radio stations. It will take you straight to the heart of a country's tourist hotspots and popular culture. WRN is on Sky digital channel 872 (Astra 2A satellite at 28.2 degrees East), Eutelsat Hotbird 6 satellite at 13º East, Transponder 94, 12.597 GHz. Vertical, Symbol Rate 27.500 Mbaud, FEC 3/4, MPEG2 DVB audio stream.

First up from WRN comes Radio Netherlands from Hilversum, which broadcasts some feature programmes that you can really get your teeth into. Whether it's investigating European issues, such as the eastern-most German town of Goerlitz which was split in two into Germany and Poland at the end of World War II, or looking at the life of a historic figure, such as 17th century Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens who discovered the rings and moon of Saturn, you will be amazed at what you learn.

Radio Sweden has some really interesting transmissions. You can hear them on satellite via WRN and on WorldSpace AfriStar. The summer is a great time to visit anywhere in Scandinavia, with the midnight sun driving all that is good about outdoor life. Keeping tabs on Radio Sweden will enable you to enjoy many of the music festivals throughout Scandinavia, such as the Pori jazz festival in Finland, and Stockholm's Water Festival, which make the most of the long nights.

Recent highlights I have enjoyed included `Street Talk'. As summer in Sweden is looming and the shorts and bikinis come out of the closet, it's time to lose weight. Christine Demsteader on the streets of Stockholm asked if the Swedes are a nation of food lovers or diet freaks.
Another feature programme, the `S-Files' featured boats, trams, buses and trains with a look at the history of local transport in Stockholm. It's not as anorakish as you might think.

If you are a newcomer to satellite radio you have arrived at the party too late to appreciate the charms of quirky Radio Slovakia International. They started broadcasts in English and other languages in 1993 when the former country of Czechoslovakia split into two. But their programmes, broadcast from the strange Bratislava building they refer to as `the upside-down pyramid' has had the plug pulled in May 2004.
N.B as of May 2007. They did a dramatic turn around in 2006 and are back! Hooray. See

You can still hear what Slovakian radio and music in the native Slovak is like by going to transponder number F3S, frequency 12643H. There you will find gems such as Radio Expres, Twist and Fun Radio, playing all kinds of euro-pop.

Across the Slovak border in the Czech capital Radio Prague has been pumping out radio in English for nigh on seventy years, on short wave in the 20th century, and through the Internet and satellite in the 21st century. It has some highly polished programmes; some are quite high-brow whilst others appeal to a wider market.

The `Czech Books' show recently featured Tomas Mika, whose unusual literary career has taken him from lyric poetry to hip-hop. Personally I feel equally at home whether listening to the latest in Czech literature or following the fortunes of the Czech ice-hockey team in the World Championships.

If you are planning a holiday at one of Romania's Black Sea resorts and have a Worldspace satellite radio, you could acclimatise by listening to Radio Romania International's regular `Tourist Itineraries' programme. They have a half hour programme each weekend on WorldSpace AfriStar, the footprint of which covers the UK. News, features and a healthy dose of Transylvanian folk music is the standard fare here. There is also a transmission on WRN satellite.

Deutsche Welle, the voice of Germany, has a well-established German language television presence on Hotbird. Its English operation also has news and views from the heart of Europe which you can hear in half-hour segments at WRN. A truly wide output ranges from the bizarre, such as tracking dog DNA, to the latest from the Hubble telescope (the Ultra Deep Field Image which shows 10,000 galaxies), the return of wolves to western Europe and the first `University of Gastronomic Science' opening in Bra, Italy.

If you prefer to hear from Germany radio and television in German, then tune in via the Astra satellite, to networks such as ARD and ZDF.

Rounding off our whistle-stop summer tour for now, with two Mediterranean hotspots which can be heard on Hotbird; Italy and Portugal. The main national Italian speaking radio stations Radiotelevisione Italia (RAI) 1, 2, 3 and RAI International can be found on Hotbird 1 and 2. In Portugal, where many people will be flocking this summer in the wake of the European football championships, you can receive radio from Radiodifusao Portuguesa EP (RDP) and television from RTP. RTP International is the Portuguese entertainment television station on Astra at 11.568 GHz.

Hopefully you will have found something here to whet your appetite and to persuade you to try a taste of the European satellite radio scene. If you can't spend all summer mellowing on the Med or lazing in the lakes of northern Europe, you can at least bring some summer sounds of Europe into your own home. As the song almost said; `Summertime and the listening is easy…'

Radio Days: Satellite radio as a global jukebox

Radio Days: Satellite radio as a global jukebox
(first published in Satellite and Digital Choice (Sep/Oct 2004 issue)
by Chrissy Brand

There is a huge variety of different types of music to be found on Satellite radio. Most people stick to the tried and trusted radio stations, but why not get a little more adventurous and turn your satellite system into a global jukebox? As well as enjoying some great music, you will be able to impress your friends with your new-found knowledge on all kinds of weird and wonderful sounds. Here are some good European stations to take you off the beaten track.

Radio Caroline started as an offshore pirate radio station in 1964. Now celebrating its fortieth anniversary, it can be heard on Sky. Archive programmes from its 1960s heyday may now sound clichéd and dated, but they were innovative and radical at the time. It shouldn't be forgotten that the offshore pirates (what anoraks also call `watery wireless') led to much of today's music radio.

The term `anorak' in fact comes not from train-spotters but from the radio enthusiasts who would hang about on piers in the 1960s listening and looking at the radio pirates' offshore ships. Caroline now plays a format of rock, pop and even country. Try Stuart Cameron on Friday evenings from nine with Hot Country News.

Heat radio plays a variety of mostly contemporary dance and feel-good tunes, mixed in with some older soul and dance classics. Heat is on Sky EPG 929 and Freeview 84. There is a good chill-out programme early on Saturday evenings, and with a philosophy of no DJs and `Your Tunes at your rhythm' it's good as a pre-clubbing soundtrack or a quiet night in.

BBC World Service has a number of excellent daily music programmes spanning all genres. Music can be heard four times a day at 0230, 0930, 1630 and 1930 on Astra.

Charlie Gillett's excellent programme covers a lot of African music with infectious rhythms to perk you up. Have a listen on Wednesdays and you will hear sounds from Algeria, Benin, Malaysia, and beyond. You are likely to hear gems such as Cesaria Evora of the Cape Verde Islands or the Paris-based Congolese group Kekele. Check out their new CD Congo life, with its retro sound influenced by the west-central Africa of the 1960s.

Each Tuesday Music Review is a feature programme that can look at music anywhere in the world. Recent programmes had a French feel, with a broadcast from Lille, the European City of Culture 2004. Lille boasts a strong live musical pedigree with a Symphony Orchestra, concert hall and refurbished opera house. Currently in the main square there is an art installation in the form of a suspended forest, complete with birdsong and music. Another programme focused on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of France, featuring 1940s favourites like Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and songs of the French Resistance.

Whilst we are in France, there are several exciting stations that merit a mention. Jazzy Love (Hotbird 4) offers a great selection of laid-back grooves 24 hours a day. Bossa Nova, Brazilian soul, new age and mainstream artists such as Norah Jones and Diana Krall are all on offer. The station plays some great jingles too, often in English.

La Radio du Voyage on Astra 1H has an evocative playlist including artists such as Azul Azul, Clarence Fragman and Marisa Monte. Over on Astra Canal 67 radio Media Tropical give you France with an African beat with programmes such as Nuit Media Tropical and La Bouteille a la Mer.

Other music to create what could be seen as a typically French atmosphere include France Inter with accordion music, Gallic songs, and archive concerts. (Astra 1 H, Hot Bird 4 and Atlantic Bird 3).

France-Inter comes from Allouis in central France. They have a good variety of music programmes in the evenings, so you can tune into light classical on a Thursday, or jazz at the weekends presented by Julien Delli Fiori. Even their breakfast show makes a novel change, with 1930s orchestral led romantic songs popping up next to 1980s pop.

Over in Denmark there is a wide-ranging radio scene. Starting off with DR Klassisk which is a 24-hour classical music station that highlights the best of the Danish classical orchestras. There is an opera every Tuesday at 1900 and a live concert on Fridays and Sunday at the same time. Chamber music (small instrumental groups) is scattered all over their schedule, but at weekends is on Saturdays from lunchtime to the evenings and Sunday lunchtimes.

The other national Danish stations on the DR network are DR1, DR2, DR3
and DR4 which can be found on Intelsat 707, Thor 3 and Sirius 3. They cover rock, pop, jazz and all manner of chart music. Sky radio and Pop FM on Thor 2 in similar vein are two other great Danes worth listening to.

RTE (Radio Telefis Eireann) from Dublin does not only play traditional Irish music, although it has plenty of that on offer in programmes such as Ceili House and Mo Cheol. RTE 1 (Sky EPG 910) has a fine selection of other music programmes, such as Mystery Train, and Country Heartland (bluegrass, acoustic roots and country). Another RTE 1 regular is Rattlebag with Myles Dungan, a magazine programme covering all the arts and popular culture.

RTE Lyric FM broadcasts from Limerick, and this satellite relay of the FM station plays lesser known musical genres such as choral and film soundtracks. On Saturdays Ian Fox suggests music for a classical library, and experts in other fields pop in, to offer information on jazz, cabaret and world music. RTE can be found on Hot Bird 6, Astra 2B and Astra 2D as well as Sky
From flamenco to Euro-pop, classical guitar to disco divas, Spanish radio is always fun to dip into. The national network, RNE (Radio Nacional de España) can be heard on Hotbird. Spain serves Spanish expats well, with signals beamed across the globe on a number of satellites including Asiasat, Hispasat and Telstart.

RNE 1 plays the best radio from the Spanish regional stations, so can be a bit hit and miss, according to your taste. RNE 2 proffers classical music and cultural programmes in Spanish, whilst RNE 3 promotes itself as a young persons station.

Spains' international broadcaster REE, (Radio Exterior de España) broadcasts in various languages and has some interesting musical slots.

Finally, check out Canal Sur on Astra. It has an evocative mix of Spanish and Andalucian music, along with international pop and rock from its Seville headquarters. (Astra 2C, Hispasat).
So there you are, in no time at all your music tastes have been widened by employing your satellite set up as a global jukebox. Tune around and you will be pleasantly surprised at what you hear.

WRN: Global Voices, Diverse Views, One Station

World Radio Network - Global Voices, Diverse Views, One Station

by Chrissy Brand (first published in Radio Active Jan 2005)

The World Radio Network (WRN) commenced back in 1992. The aim was to produce a satellite radio station to re-broadcast the best output from shortwave international radio stations. It was soon able to beam the words of these international stations into the homes of a wider audience through the then comparatively new technology of satellite broadcasting.

WRN was set up by three former BBC Senior Staff, namely WRN Managing Director Karl Miosga, Technical Operations Director Jim Ashburner, and Director of Development Jeff Cohen. Jeff has been a shortwave enthusiast since boyhood, and he had the initial idea of a satellite radio network that could raise the profile of the best of shortwave content.

WRN is a small company employing 21 people at its Vauxhall Headquarters in South London, a Freddie Flintoff boundary hit away from the Oval cricket ground. It reaches a global audience and the station mantra of `Global voices, diverse views - all on one station' serves them well. WRN has five core service areas, namely Broadcast, Transmission, Internet, Consulting and Commercial. We shall concern ourselves here with the first two of these, which will be of most interest to Radio Active readers.

Looking at the WRN broadcasts, there are currently four language services. There are also multilingual services to different parts of the world, in languages such as Czech, Finnish, Hungarian, Polish and Spanish. These are:
WRN English to Europe, Africa, Asia Pacific, North and South America.
WRN German to Europe and Africa.
WRN French to Europe and Africa and North America
WRN Russian to Europe and Russia.

WRN Russian to Europe and Russia is the latest service, which is also being developed on a medium wave frequency in Moscow. One of the licence conditions for the Moscow based outlet is that 30% of output is local programming.

Global technical operations
Broadcast distribution is through satellite, Internet, wireless applications, cable television, cable FM and AM via local radio stations, and Worldspace. But before the distribution can begin, WRN needs to receive, collate and order each station's programme output.

The huge variety of programming (or `bouquet' in satellite speak) are sent from the originating radio stations and production companies to WRN by various delivery methods. These feeds are sent on a daily and sometimes weekly basis and arrive at WRN's multi-playout centre in London via the Internet, FTP (File Transfer Protocol), Satellite or through lines in Bush House (BBC World Service HQ). The one-woman operation that is Radio Wales International's Celtic Notes actually send their programmes in on CD, proving that new and old methods work equally efficiently.

WRN is then in a position to transmit. The output is continuously monitored by two technicians in the spacious London studio and technical gallery, crammed full of computer screens, mixing desks and banks of glowing electrical gadgetry.

In the past two years WRN's transmission services business have seen a major expansion, with the goal of becoming one of the world's pre-eminent transmission service providers. With the explosion of new digital delivery platforms, coupled with the demand from listeners for increased radio choice, WRN is ensuring that its radio broadcasting clients, big or small, publicly or privately funded, have access to the most suitable digital delivery platforms, allowing their radio services to develop and expand.

For example, in 2000 WRN invested in a Philips Digital Audio Distribution System that is now at the heart of its new digital radio multiplex on the Eutelsat Hotbird 6 satellite. At the same time, WRN still offers analogue distribution services for broadcasters wanting to reach the parts of the world where full digital broadcasting is not yet in place. WRN is available on Sky Digital in the UK, and European networks are available on the new digital cable systems rolling out across Europe. Examples being Telewest's Activedigital in the UK and Swissfun cable and Telegeneve's digicable service in Switzerland which carry WRN.

As well as the WRN network on Satellite, a number of radio stations carry WRN programming as an overnight sustaining service. Some stations re-broadcast a pick and mix selection of what WRN has to offer. In south-east England Spectrum radio rebroadcasts WRN during the night on 558 kHz medium wave.

You can even hear WRN on DAB if you are in Stockholm via Stockholm International 89.6 FM and DAB. Elsewhere in Scandinavia Finland has Helsinki's Capital FM 103.7 FM, Turku's Radio Aurora 96.7 FM and Lahti's Radio Kuopio on 88.1 FM. Throughout Denmark several radio stations, cable services and the Thor II satellite all carry WRN. Many other European countries carry WRN on cable from Austria to Switzerland as well as the UK.

Further afield WRN output can be heard on FM in Berlin and Moscow and on AM across Western Europe, south-west Russia (and St Petersburg), Ukraine and Romania. WRN identifies the most appropriate transmitters, undertakes local negotiations and monitors the output on behalf of the broadcasting organisations.

There are dozens of other radio stations across the globe who are linked with WRN and re-broadcast their programmes to a local audience. These include: SA FM 104-107 across South Africa, Cape Town's Bush Radio 89.5 FM and Johannesburg's Al Saut (The Voice) on 94.5 FM. Elsewhere on the African continent WRN is heard across Malawi on FM 101 POWER, Namibia on UNAM Radio and Zambia on Radio Choice 107.8FM.

In Australia Radio Adelaide on 101.5 FM, KLFM 96.5 FM Bendigo and 106.3FM in Castlemaine all take the programmes, as does New Zealand's Jukebox Radio 99.1FM in Waipu, Northland.

Another effective and exciting delivery method that has been successfully tested in the U.S.A is that of sending WRN onto mobile phone networks. Sirius Satellite Radio in the USA is also now delivering multi-channel commercial-free radio to Americans in their cars via satellite and WRN is one of the major news channels alongside other providers such as ABC, and CNN. WRN also use traditional methods such as shortwave transmitters, including old transmitters in Moldova, east of Romania.

Providing listeners with quality technical programmes from the best of shortwave is just one part of WRN's business. They were the first British broadcaster offering live radio on the World Wide Web and the WRN website is a major portal for international radio. The site has live streams of WRN's radio networks and audio files in over 20 languages.

Programmes and stations
Because of the nature of WRN, with stations sending programmes in advance, and slots being booked by such a wide number of stations, it is not geared up to cover breaking news stories, in the way that ional state broadcaster such as the BBC can. It may occasionally be caught out by a news story that conflicts with pre-recorded material going out on the air at the time. However, strengths lay more in the topical current affairs programmes that emerge after an international crisis or incident.

As an example, on 9/11 it was not in a position to cover events live, nor was it within its remit. However, as reaction unfolded around the world, and various stations produced programmes reflecting the disaster, WRN was able to quickly provide views from across the globe, from China to Channel Africa, New Zealand to the Netherlands. The local radio stations that take WRN programming in the USA overnight, and the listeners, were impressed and supported by hearing such global support from the people in the street to the experts in the studios.

Looking in more detail at the 24 hour a day English to Europe programming, there are currently broadcasters from 26 countries. China, as well as state broadcasting giant China Radio International, is also represented by Radio Guangdong, which commenced back in 1949. Guangdong is a southern province of the country on the South China Sea, and the station's programmes reflect the diversity of the region. Guangdong Today can include features on festivals, international relations and tourism.

Radio Korea International is another Asian voice that makes the most of WRN, whilst Israel Radio is currently the only Middle East broadcaster on the network. The Middle East is one of the geo-political regions where WRN hopes to add other broadcasters. Amongst the many other broadcasters using WRN to carry their words far and wide in non-English languages are YLE Finland, the Hispanic Radio Network and the Voice of Turkey.

The old Eastern European bloc was quick to see how WRN could help vent post-Communist voices and since the 1990s has maintained a representative presence on Satellite. Radio Budapest, Radio Polonia, Radio Prague, Radio Romania International, Radio Slovakia and the Voice of Russia all have English language slots. And in more comfortable and predictable listening conditions than those offered on shortwave, you can hear programming gems such as what Slovaks think of cricket, how Romania's 20 television channels are fighting for viewer figures, and the legend of Czech medieval princess Libuse.

Western voices
Wales Radio International air a high quality weekly programme Celtic Notes, with presenter Jenny O'Brien. Everything from business opportunities to Welsh poetry are covered in a lively and professional manner. Another Celtic view is provided by RTE (Radio Telefis Eireann) in Dublin, who have added WRN to their transmission arsenal, having left shortwave last year, but taken up the 252 kHz longwave frequency. Other stations such as UN Radio, Pacifica Radio and Banns Radio (from Copenhagen) add to a wide and unique selection of stations.

Broadcasters that have been familiar and friendly voices on shortwave for decades include Radio Netherlands and Radio Australia. The latter's excellent `Rural Reporter' programme is on WRN. Just one week could include behind the scenes at a fireworks spectacular; a woman unafraid of back breaking work in the shearing shed; and some old sailors who have given up the high seas in favour of model boats. `The Buzz' covers science and engineering and I was enthralled by an item on steganography (the science of hiding messages) It's origins are ancient but steganography has really come to the fore in the digital world. Another technology piece was on wireless sensor networks, which will be used to gather and relay information back to a central point, especially in factories, cars, ships and planes.

Much of the best of Radio Netherlands is re-broadcast on WRN. Vox Humana, Research File, Euro Quest and A Good Life are all heard regularly. Radio Sweden's Nordic Lights and Street Talk are an entertaining listen, looking at whether it is true that everyone in Sweden is called either `Björn' or `Lars' or `Inga' or `Anna'? `Street Talk' went round Stockholm to find out if there is any truth to the stereotypes.

Across the pond recent offerings from Radio Canada International included Ontario's University of Waterloo setting a world record by driving their solar-powered car, Midnight Sun VII for 15,079 kilometres.

Stations that originally broadcast in WRN but have left include the BBC World Service, Swiss Radio International/Swiss Info (who now operate an Internet-only service) and Radio France International, who may return at some point with German language programming.

Channel Africa, Deutsche Welle, Radio Vlaanderen International (Belgium), Vatican Radio and Radio New Zealand International are other established shortwave stations that do utilise the excellent services offered by WRN to promulgate their messages, be they of tourism, politics, religion or just good old entertainment for the listeners!

Specialist programmes
As well as radio stations booking airtime to play a selection of their scheduled programmes, WRN re-broadcasts a number of specialist programmes made by independent production companies, which include a number of programmes also heard on U.S.A radio stations. Glenn Hauser's World of Radio is a weekly highlight for me and carries the latest communication news. Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion is another on my `not to be missed' list with its variety and dry humour format now in its 30th anniversary year.

Pulse of the Planet and Eco Zone cover environmental and global issues, Earth & Sky looks at popular science, and This Way Out is an international gay and lesbian radio magazine based in Los Angeles with interesting features for a wide radio audience. National Geographic and Spotlight are two other slots in the scheduling worth making time for.

Future plans
WRN continues to seek out and develop relations with potential new partners, especially in areas of the world which aren't currently covered by the network. (e.g. Latin American and Middle Eastern radio for its English language services). It will be fascinating to monitor how the radio schedules evolve in the next few years. There are also plans investigating how Arabic and Spanish radio networks could be developed.

WRN recently released a press statement stating their intention to progress the multimedia side of the organisation. Such future plans may include a television model of WRN. Taking the format and technical expertise developed for satellite radio in the past decade and coming up with a World Television Network would be a very exciting, and challenging, development.

Another mouth-watering prospect that might be in the pipeline is the design and manufacture of portable radios that will be able to receive satellite radio stations. What a boon this will be for all of us who are limited in our satellite radio listening by the fact that most satellite set-ups are located in the main family room in the house. Being able to carry a portable satellite radio around the home rather than have to compete with the family for the remote control will increase listening opportunities for many of us.

WRN has come a long way in its past 12 years on modest resources. It has achieved a lot when you consider the explosion of communications technology in the past decade, and the competitive marketplace for media audiences. A future marker for success might, somewhat ironically, be for WRN to develop a lower profile from the listeners point of view, with the station output being a seamless and continuous mix of variety and quality from global radio stations.

Simultaneously WRN itself might seek to raise its profile within the broadcasting industry to ensure the best of the world's radio makes it onto the WRN networks, and that it becomes a platform for as wide a range of voices from across the planet as can be fitted into its programme schedules.
To close on an optimistic note from WRN themselves; “There is a rising demand from listeners around the world for increased radio choice and WRN is committed to continuing to work on behalf of its clients in seeking out new and dynamic ways to reach listeners all across the globe. From our perspective, international radio has a bright, and very exciting future.” I am sure we all second that.

Tuning in
It is said that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, or in this case, listening. Here are some of the ways to tune into WRN in Western Europe.

By Satellite:
Sky Digital channel 872 (Eurobird satellite at 28.2 degrees East).

Eutelsat Hotbird 6 satellite at 13º East, Transponder 94, 12.597 GHz. Vertical, Symbol Rate 27.500 Mbaud, FEC 3/4, MPEG2 DVB audio stream. Select WRN English from audio menu.

By radio:
Spectrum 558 kHz medium wave in London and South East of England (overnight from 1 a.m).
Also on Worldspace radios via WorldSpace AfriStar satellite service.

Via the Internet:
Simply go to and follow links to schedules and programmes (by station), which lead to audio links.

WRN also transmits on numerous cable and European local radio stations. Check the WRN website for latest details.

With thanks to WRN and BDXC

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