Tuesday 8 December 2009

A seasonal selection from my December 2009 and January 2010 columns

A seasonal selection from my December 2009 and January 2010 columns: Radio Websites and Broadcast Matters: Long Medium and Shortwave, published in Radio User PW Publishing, December 2009 and January 2010: http://www.pwpublishing.ltd.uk/ 

Family festive internet fun

A fine selection of Christmas cards you can send by email from Radio Prague is at: http://old.radio.cz/en/html/christmas_greeting.html  

To send Deutsche Welle’s simple but beautiful multi-lingual, audio, animated Christmas e-card, type the following url into an e-mail:


Winternet Radio
Jump aboard my virtual sleigh and off we go with a selection of internet radio stations and music to entertain you over the Christmas and New Year period.

My album of the year has a strong radio thread running through it. Dave Dark and the Sharks are a band I discovered a couple of years back through Myspace. The band say they are based in Aberystwyth and Scarborough. Their style is upbeat yet chilled, and includes samples from BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the old BBC 2 closedown and 1960s cult television series The Prisoner. The CD is hard to obtain but you can pay for an mp3 download of it. Details and many of their tracks, which have to be heard to be believed, are at: www.myspace.com/davedarkandthesharks  

A favourite internet radio website of mine is the Soma FM Christmas lounge channel, along with other Soma channels. Whilst the Christmas channel may be familiar, the space shuttle mixed with electronic ambient channel is really something else: http://somafm.com/  
Altogether there are 18 unique channels of listener-supported, commercial-free, underground and alternative radio broadcasting from San Francisco. There are also i-phone and mobile phone applications you can use to hear them whilst you are on the move. And many of the channels have a Twitter page so you can see what is being played: http://twitter.com/somafm/  

Amongst the many internet radio stations with Christmas themes are Smooth Christmas, All Christmas, North Pole Radio and Radio Time. Tunes familiar and lesser known are yours for the taking at these websites:

The Christmas FM station returned to Dublin and Cork this year, raising money for charity, as in 2008: http://www.christmasfm.ie/  

A blog post on it (from October) is at the excellent Airchecker, which states it is the Voice of the Canadian Radio Industry and usually sticks to interesting information on radio above the 49th parallel:

Radio Rudolph is a funny old station, playing as it does non-stop versions of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: From Gene Autry to Jewel via the Golden Gate Quartet and the Brady Bunch!: http://www.radiorudolph.com/  

Probably as good a place as any to start a search for all manner of Christmas radio stations is at the Radio Directory, where you can click to German and French carols, children’s, eclectic, novelty and country Christmas as well as the usual festive fare: http://www.radio-directory.com/christmas/ 
The rest of the year Radio Directory can point you to stations and genres of music all over the world. Radio 42 in Germany is a regular of mine, one of thousands to choose from: http://www.radio42.com/  for the “finest electronica chilled with soul and downtempo, mixed with house and latin, stirred with nujazz and blended with soulful funky beats.”

DXpeditions for a cold winter’s night
Two recent DXpeditions that took place and have been published online. Just the thing to whet your appetite on a cold winter’s night. Canadian Brent Taylor reports on the 2009 Priest Pond DXpedition that took place on Prince Edward Island. Photos and more at: http://www.vy2hf.com/priestpond2009.html  

There are over 60 mp3 clips uploaded as well of stations heard form the Canadian coast, including Greenland 570, Japan, Tadjikistan, Manx Radio, Estonia, Greenland, Israel, BBC Merseyside, a possible Greek pirate on 1720 KHz, KOMO Seattle and KNX Los Angeles: http://www.vy2hf.com/ppaudiofiles.html  

From Finland, Mika Makelainen has published a report on the recent LEM278 DXpedition to Lemmenjoki in Finland's Arctic North. He states there were lots of reindeer, but even more radio stations. Conditions on the AM band were pretty good, with many interesting catches especially from the Americas. Listening took place in blizzard conditions with 20 cm of snow in 24 hours, and this was early October. Imagine how deep and crisp the snow is laying there as you read this!

It is also interesting, and contentious, to note that “For us, LEM278 marked the end of a transition phase in receiver technology. For the first time we used exclusively software-defined receivers, so there was more room on the table, and the listening experience was more relaxed.” Check out the details at the ever excellent DXing Info website: http://www.dxing.info/dxpeditions/lem278rep.dx  “A log will follow some time next year, as listening with a Perseus takes time.”

The Perseus, if you are wondering, “is a software defined VLF-LF-MF-HF receiver based on an outstanding direct sampling digital architecture.” Details at the Italian website: http://www.microtelecom.it/perseus/ A thriving user group for this intriguing kit which is growing in popularity can be found at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/perseus_sdr/  

Logs from DXpeditions going back to 1996 can be found at the simple but effective website on the Parkalompolo expeditions in Sweden: http://www.furuogrund.se/pax/PAX/pax.htm  

Another Canadian’s website I recommend is Sylvain Naud’s Quebec DX. It’s a place I can always spend a fascinating evening. Packed with details of Sylvain’s listening days, from growing up with radio in Canada in the 1960s, to DXing in Ecuador, where he worked as a volunteer in a radio station, and also met his future wife. Some magnificent antenna arrays and photos, plus audio clips. The latter are in sections by continent with an extra DX curiosities section: http://www.quebecdx.com/  

Ydun Ritz is in Denmark and her website is another inspirational source. “News, Reports and Loggings from the Long and Medium Wave bands”. There is plenty of background and other information and even a photo gallery which includes Ydun’s visit to the studios of China Radio International: http://mediumwave.info/index.html  

Mulling it over
I am just back from enjoying a mulled wine at one of the many Christmas market stalls in the centre of Manchester. For ten years, traders from all over the continent, but mostly from Holland, France and Germany have driven to north-west England to set up festive fare and crafts. The music and languages you can hear from the stall holders make you realise what a European city Manchester has become. Manchester University station Fuse FM states that there are students from over 180 nations currently studying in Manchester.

Back home wrapping Christmas gifts from the markets, the festive music from all across Europe lives on by a tune around the bands. Some of the many options are Deutsche Welle (on 6170 and 9585 KHz at 1600 UTC, 11865 at 2100 UTC and 6180 KHz at many times in different languages). Radio Netherlands is on, amongst others, 11835 at 1430 UTC, 15185 at 1530, 7425, 11655 and 21525 at 2000 UTC.Finally a whole host of French stations on medium wave and long wave (Radio France on 702 KHz, France Bleu 711 KHz, 945 KHz, France Inter on 162 KHz and Radio Monte Carlo on 216 KHz) all offering midwinter merriment in neighbouring lands. The joys of radio!

My compliments of the season to all readers.

Monday 23 November 2009

RADIO WEBSITES NOVEMBER 2009, published in Radio User, PWP

Published in Radio User, PWP www.pwpublishing.ltd.uk

Ears to the world

Radio Prague has changed its website design: http://www.radio.cz/  

Editor-in-Chief Gerald Schubert says: “It’s quite a new, modern design and part of Czech Radio’s corporate identity…We have a lot of readers on our website, we will still present everything in text as well, but we have a new feature for listeners on the website, and that’s our own embedded player which means that listeners don’t need to have software on their computer. They don’t have to wait until a new window opens; they can just click on the player on our website and directly listen to the stories. We have about 800,000 unique visits a month in all our six language versions, and when it comes to opened articles it’s almost 1,500,000.” http://www.radio.cz/en/article/119815  

November of course sees the 20th anniversary of the sweeping changes in eastern Europe, A feature at Radio Prague’s website on how Radio Prague was two decades ago is at: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/122438 

With the changes to their website it’s even easier to catch up with favourite programmes one by one. For instance Mailbox and Soundczech (learning Czech), Magazine and Letter From Prague. All neatly marked around the site.

Experienced DXer Bob Padula in Melbourne, Australia continues to make the Australian DX Report audio news magazine available. Recent editions include propagation research, features, news and information about shortwave broadcasting, propagation, solar activity, monitoring notes, new schedules, extracts from schedules and schedule updates.

You can download, listen to or save the episodes as an mp3 file on your computer, set up a Podcast, and even receive or save it on your mobile phone or other portable internet-enabled digital device.

There is an online minute audio tour of the magnificent Bush House in London. Jonathan Glancey describes the entrance as "a holy of holies" where 1920s wooden banisters, marble floors and light fittings remain. As someone who worked there many moons ago I understand the awe he feels: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2008/09/080919_bush_house_wwt_sl.shtml

If hearing the tour inspires you to delve further, the BBC World Service Flickr website has plenty of photographs. They are in categories such as documentary, Outlook, sport, news, outside broadcast, such as the summer coverage of the Indian election when BBC WS covered the country in their special train: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbcworldservice  

An article I myself wrote on Bush House for an American journal some years ago can be found here at: http://dxinternational.blogspot.com/2009/08/tales-from-bush-house.html  

Retro archives
Smashing Magazine is an online-only publication with the rather cumbersome strapline of:

“We smash you with the information that will make your life easier, really.” It strays somewhat from my usual territory of radio websites, but has some overlap. It contains a wide range of articles and downloads on photography, posters, music, downloads, graphics and layout. It covers modern and retro with interesting consumer adverts from all over: 1940s Oldmobile cars to 1970s Swedish wallpaper and television. It’s a great read and has so much to offer visually: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/

BBC 1’s then futuristic science programme from the 1960s to the 1990s, Tomorrow’s World, now has an official BBC archive: http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/tomorrowsworld/ 

The first programme from 1965 is on there plus others that will be of interest. The home computer terminal or what passed for one in 1967 is fascinating. Trevor Bayliss’ clockwork radio in 1994 is another good episode. The episode featuring a cordless mobile phone from 1979 was posted by Trevor on the Radio User email group “The 1979 Tomorrow’s World video about an early mobile phone - actually an Amateur Radio 2 metre FM handheld for 140 and 153 MHz - is a good one.”

The programme’s jazzy and familiar sounding theme tune was by John Dankworth. YouTube has examples. Try Stratworth 78 with plenty of vintage themes at: http://www.youtube.com/user/Stratman78  

You can also hear the theme tune, and music like it by similar artistes at the ever reliable Last FM. Just type in the name of a band or musician: http://www.last.fm/  


Atlantic 252 was a much loved Longwave station broadcasting from Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s. It was heard all over the UK. There is a detailed official tribute site at: http://www.atlantic252.com/  

“We're piecing together the history and memories of the UK's most influential national radio station. This is the only place you'll find the anecdotes direct from the DJ's that spun the records right through to the listeners who won the prizes. Everyone is welcome to contribute and we look forward to receiving your memories and contributions.”

The picturesque town of Trim, County Meath was home to Atlantic 252. Frank Courtney's site features some superb photos of the town including the River Boyne and Trim Castle where Braveheart was filmed: http://www.trimtown.com/

There was an unofficial Atlantic 252 Day in Trim in September. Details of at: http://www.atlantic252.co.uk/  
A Myspace page too at: http://www.myspace.com/atlantic252  

Will we remember them?
When Remembrance Day comes around the Merchant Navy does not have as high a profile as the military men and women who died in World War II. An excellent archive contains names of masters, mates, engineers, skippers and mates of fishing boats, going back a couple of hundred years, is at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/militaryhistory/merchant/

The British Merchant Navy forum has plenty of interesting photos of cargo ships, engine rooms and potted histories. Primarily a reunited type website, there is plenty there for the casual observer too:

The gripping real-life story of a Merchant Navy radio officer’s exploits and experiences during World War II is at the evocatively titled website “Through salt sprayed eyes”: http://throughsaltsprayedeyes.co.uk/ 

Robert Welsh’s graphic account of when he was a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy and involved in the Battle of the Atlantic. “The cold hand of death haunted as the U Boats sank their ships, and as fierce storms or the power of a typhoon were encountered.” Other memorials can be read about at: http://www.merchantnavymemorials.co.uk/  

There is an understated and very tasteful war monument to the 42,000 merchant seamen and fishing fleets that died in World War II. It is in Trinity Square gardens, Tower Hill, alongside the Tower of London and, perhaps fittingly, by the river Thames. Weather beaten heroic statues line a remembrance garden naming all those who died and their ships. Most touching is the amount of young who perished, denoted a by a ‘”Master” before their name.

Men from as far afield as the Baltics and Hong Kong are remembered there. A photo website is at The Cemetery, Graveyards, Memorials and War Graves Pages, specifically: http://www.allatsea.co.za/cems/towerhillmemorial.htm

More details and indeed, better photographs are at the poignant website: http://www.merchantnavymemorial.com/thm.htm  

It is worth stopping there for a few minutes quiet reflection.

Friday 23 October 2009

NHK Radio Japan (B09 schedule)

NHK Radio Japan - Interesting shortwave station, fabulous QSL cards

English to Europe from October 2009

0500-0530 UTC on 5975 KHz
1200-1230 on 9790
1400-1430 on 11280
0000-0020 on 5920

English webpages:

Learn Japanese with NHK:

Tune in on shortwave, basic guide:

Thursday 15 October 2009


David Vaughan, the former head of the English Section writes:

It has just been announced that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs is looking for Radio Prague to end all shortwave transmissions from the Czech Republic at the end of 2009. This would be an irreversible step. Radio Prague is the only customer at Litomysl and this would result in the closing and dismantling of that transmitter site.David has written a letter which he would like to be as widely circulated as possible:

12th October 2009

Dear Friends of Radio Prague,

You are probably not yet aware that the future of Radio Prague – the international service of Czech Radio – is under serious threat. The station began shortwave broadcasts in 1936 and, with the exception of the period of the wartime German occupation, has been broadcasting to the world ever since. Like most international public service broadcasters, Radio Prague is state financed. It is paid for through the state budget, via the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Radio Prague is facing a 20% cut in its budget for 2010.

At first glance, this figure does not seem like a mortal blow, but its impact will be devastating. The Foreign Ministry has stated explicitly that it considers shortwave to be an anachronistic means of broadcasting and has called on Radio Prague to terminate its shortwave broadcasts entirely from January 2010. As a result the transmitter in Litomysl (east of Prague), will almost certainly be dismantled. Radio Prague will continue primarily as a website. The saving to the state budget will be tiny. In order to save around half a million euro, Radio Prague will end as a shortwave broadcaster after more than 70 years.

In the course of my time as a BBC correspondent and than as editor-in-chief at Radio Prague (until 2006), when I was also active in the European Broadcasting Union, I followed developments in international broadcasting closely. During that period a number of international broadcasters abandoned their roots in radio – nearly always at the bidding of bureaucrats rather than those involved in the stations themselves. Almost without exception the outcome, sooner or later, was the demise of the station altogether. There are several reasons for this.

One helpful parallel is to compare the position with that of a newspaper with a long and rich tradition, which stops appearing in paper form, and maintains only a web presence. Although the worldwide trend towards digitalization is clear, this does not mean that it is wise to throw out overnight all the advantages of producing a "traditional" newspaper. In the case of radio, the risks are still more evident, because public service broadcasting is a very specific medium with a distinct tradition and audience, and at its core is the spoken word.

In the seven decades of its existence, Radio Prague has built up a huge base of know-how and an impressive reputation internationally: Its role in the events of 1968, when Radio Prague journalists defied the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia is legendary. Radio Prague has built on this tradition in the two decades since the fall of communism, transforming itself into a thriving modern broadcaster.

There can be little doubt that it has a far larger audience than any other Czech radio station, but unfortunately these listeners are scattered around the world and do not form a strong domestic lobby.

Shortwave broadcasts are in decline, but they have to be seen as part of a broader mosaic. Today's international broadcasters have long been aware of the need to broadcast on a number of different platforms: shortwave, medium wave, FM, satellite, internet and others. The more forward-looking among them have learned to be flexible and innovatory. In this respect, the modern transformation at Radio Prague began over fifteen years ago when it was one of the first international broadcasters to set up its own website. That was back in 1994. This was quickly followed by its daily email news service and other innovations, including its enthusiastic commitment to satellite broadcasting. At the same time it has modernized the way that radio is produced; its journalists today take it for granted that they are working in a multi-media environment, where the spoken word is reinforced by text and image.

And Radio Prague has learnt to be extremely cost effective, broadcasting around the world in six languages for the equivalent of less than three million euro a year. In order for this to continue, it is absolutely crucial for Radio Prague not to forget its core activity.

The station's current success is built on its status and tradition as a radio broadcaster. If it forgets its identity as radio, it will inevitably lose its way, desperately trying to compete in a field that is not its own. The news of the latest cuts puts the staff and management of Radio Prague in a difficult position. It will not be easy for them to launch a campaign to save the shortwave broadcasts, as they could find themselves facing the alternative of having to cut jobs instead. Given that the amount of money needed to save the shortwave broadcasts is so small, I am convinced that the cause is worth fighting for and that it does not have to be a case of pitching jobs against shortwave.

If the decision-makers in the government and at the ministry can be made to understand what is at stake, I am sure that the money can be found. That is why I am writing this letter – to encourage listeners around the world to rally behind Radio Prague at this difficult time.

With warmest regards
David Vaughan

Radio Prague needs to get listeners support at this time. Their address is:Radio PragueVinohradsk√° 12120 99 Prague 2Czech Republic

Tel: (+420) 221 552 933Fax: (+420) 221 552 903E-mail: cr@radio.cz

Listeners should also contact The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic

Email: podatelna@mzv.cz
Listeners should contact the Czech Embassies and representatives in their own country.

A List of Czech Embassies can be found at: http://www.mzv.cz/jnp/en/diplomatic_missions/czech_missions_abroad/index.html

Sunday 11 October 2009


first published in Radio User October 2009, PW Publishing http://www.radiouser.co.uk/index2.asp
by Chrissy Brand

It never ceases to amaze me how the quantity of radio related websites is ever increasing. Even more surprising perhaps is that the quality of information and material out there is so high as well. Many broadcasters, radio clubs and individual enthusiasts around the world do a great job in maintaining standards and delivering ever more fascinating content: photos, audio and written. So there is no shortage of websites to share with you here each month.

European educators and entertainers
Radio Tatras International was a station that aired on shortwave from 2005 to earlier this year, having been created a few years before that. This Slovakian station, named after the Tatras mountain range that straddles the south of Poland and north of Slovakia, also had the aim of helping Europeans practice their English: http://www.rti.fm/

The closure of the station didn’t stop RTI programme content. However as you will hear and read in the blog at the website. Eric Wilshere’s often entertaining Postcard from Poprad podcast is a case in point. You can also link to the station via the usual social networking tools of Twitter, Facebook, My Space etc. Contact them directly via email: studio@rti.fm

Presenters Rob, Peter and Elizabeth have an enviable job, being the on-air team at 106.5 Riviera Radio in the south of France. For over 20 years, English broadcasts have entertained and informed people on 106.3 MHz in Monaco and 106.5 MHz in France. Local news and traffic, weather, BBC World Service news, music from the 1970s to today can be heard online at: http://www.rivieraradio.info/, a website which evidently receives two million hits per month.

Radio Caroline has also introduced English on the continent, with Radio Caroline Spain across the Costa Blanc on 102.7 FM and online at: http://www.radiocaroline.es/

A Dutch ham with a blog in English is where we turn to next. PA1JIM gained a novice licence in 2003, and broadcasts from Bilthoven (a village east of Utrecht). His website contains reviews such as a Kenwood TS-450SAT and TS-850SAT. Also various projects such as building a voice lever, condition updates, DXing in the French High Alps and links. A posting in January 2009 about the status of QSL cards these days is interesting, as is the QSL card accompanying it. It is a spoof, featuring a semi-naked lady stating it is of an HCJB announcer called Mildred Reed: http://www.pa1jim.nl/

My suspicions were confirmed when I tracked Mildred down to Don Moore’s Bland DX site, which I have mentioned here before, but is so humorous that it deserves a mention every month. See: http://www.blandx.com/ but especially the Naughty QSLs from Ecuador at the “Dead DXers’ Stuff” section: http://www.blandx.com/ddx/hcnaughty.html

North American narrators
A more believable blog is that of Ted Landphair. The Voice of America broadcaster and author writes on many aspects of American life. Readers will be most interested in his blog of 30 July this year on the Voice of America Park: http://tedlandphairsamerica.blogspot.com/

You can visit it in West Chester, Ohio and see the site where “VOA transmitters once sent the mightiest signals in international radio into the heart of occupied Europe and elsewhere during World War II; a three-in-one museum that chronicles VOA’s story, the saga of wireless communication going back to Marconi, and local broadcasting history in rich detail; a large and beautiful park named for the Voice of America where you can hike, fish in a 14-hectare lake, sled down a long hill, get a match going on one of 24 soccer fields or a cricket pitch, bird-watch in meadow that’s an official wildlife preserve, and even get married!...a university learning centre that also carries the name of the Voice of America and even a good-sized VOA shopping centre.”

Doing their bit for the Food bank charity in Canada are Colin Newell, Ian McFarland, Bob Zanotti, Kim Elliot, John Figliozzi et al. The long awaited CD Series 3, Yesterday and Today is a 20 year retrospective of SW broadcasting covering the past, present and future of International broadcasting. At a running time of about 155 minutes, the two CD set features a little of the old and a lot of the new, and a bright look into the future of radio. Available to buy at $17 via http://www.dxer.ca/ It took about a week for my CDs to arrive and highly stimulating they are too.

Amongst the many US radio stations that I enjoy hearing online is 88.5 FM WFCR, which broadcasts National Public Radio news and music for the western New England region. As well as good features such as The Liar in your Life and What Dogs can and can’t do, they run an annual coffee mug painting contest. There have been some excellent winners in previous years. Release the artist in you and submit an entry to vcerillo@wfcr.org by 1 October, or hold on until 2010. Details at: http://www.wfcr.org/

New technology
The Q2 Cube internet radio is new this autumn, being launched at IFA in Berlin in September and aiming for the Christmas market. This is an annual consumer electronics event: http://www.ifa-berlin.com/ The Q2 Cube is an innovative way to hear internet radio “with a twist”. It has no controls as such, with each side of the cube playing a different station and a fifth face is dedicated to the speaker. You tilt it forward to turn the volume up and backwards to turn it down.
It is developed by Cambridge Consultants: http://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk/ and www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk/news/article/default.aspx?objid=62034

It is also featured at the Infoniac website: http://www.infoniac.com/ This useful site also has all sorts of information and news from the most dangerous computer viruses in history to Cartier filing a lawsuit against Apple after it discovered that several iPhone applications involving fake Cartier watches were available. Worth dipping a toe into, as is Radio Banter, which brings together all kinds of internet forums discussing many aspects of radio: http://www.radiobanter.com/

Thursday 10 September 2009



Published in Radio User, PW Publishing: http://www.pwpublishing.ltd.uk/

We have the regular selection of entertaining and off beat websites for you this month with some quality You Tube channels, a language lesson, innovative free radio and some staggering transatlantic FM DX.

Down the tubes
Back in its early years Channel 4 aired a television series entitled “The secret life of machines”. A gentleman by the name of Craig Tube has generously now uploaded these programmes to his YouTube website at http://www.youtube.com/user/CraigTube. The programme on how radio works was of great interest to me, although reminiscent of those 1970s BBC 2 Open University programmes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ehVVpY6XE4

BBC Worldwide sensibly jumped on the YouTube wagon back in 2007, and instead of sitting back and seeing its copyrighted clips compromised, simply broadcasts some of its own work: http://www.youtube.com/user/BBCWorldwide Dr Who extracts, documentaries, news and soaps are featured as well as links to other official BBC You Tube channels including:: http://www.youtube.com/bbc

Giampiero Bernardini in Milan and his Catalan friend Jordi Brunet visited to Bocca di Magra (Liguria region, Italy) with Dario Monferini in October 2008. Giampiero made a superb video, testing some radio and antennas, which captions, which you can enjoy yourself. “BOC 13 International DX Nights” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZbJ0Wy1Q64

This excellent nine minute video is one of several put up on YouTube by Giampiero, also known as Sprintmania’s channel, at: http://www.youtube.com/user/sprintmania

Late summer treats
A few things now to take on any late summer holiday you are planning: CDs, books and a language course.

Colin Newell, Ian McFarland, Bob Zanotti, Kim Elliot , John Figliozzi et al have released their long awaited CD Series 3, Yesterday and Today - A 20 year retrospective of SW Broadcasting - the past, present and future of International broadcasting. At a running time of about 155 minutes, the 2 CD set features a little of the old and a lot of the new - and a bright look into the future of radio - starring some shortwave gurus.

This is available to buy at $17 via http://www.dxer.ca/ My own copy came from Canada in about a week and is excellent value for money. “In the year 1979, the average shortwave listener would not have given a second thought to the longevity of radio - It had always been readily available. TV had been the competing medium for over 30 years - and in light of its success, and the inability of television to replace radio, the accepted theory at the time would have been: World band radio is here to stay.”

Jerome Berg’s hefty tomes on international broadcasting do not come cheap ($65) but would make an excellent gift. His “Broadcasting on the shortwaves from 1945 to today” and its sister companion “Listening on the shortwaves from 1945 to today” are 500 pages, year by year of stations, technologies and memories.

Published by McFarland, http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/ it follows on from his first, 1990’s volume of “On the shortwaves 1923-1945”. His related, successful and oft updated website is also a treasure trove for all those interested in radio then and now: http://www.ontheshortwaves.com/

KBS World Radio, the overseas broadcasting branch of the Korean Broadcasting System, has published a 244-page conversation textbook and CD for people who want to study the Korean language.

“Let’s Learn Korean,” is a beginner’s guide in ten different languages including English, comprised of 20 lessons that introduce different situations in airports, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, department stores and popular tourist sites in the country. The contents of the book and the audio recordings are also available at the KBS World Radio website http://world.kbs.co.kr/ specifically at: http://world.kbs.co.kr/learn_korean2/

I spent a happy hour myself practicing my pronunciation and dipping in and out of the lessons.

Radio loose ends
A useful and very simply designed website which lists broadcasters by language is at:
http://radiolanguages.tk/ You choose the language you want information on, then are led to three options of viewing a spreadsheet b7y frequency order, time order or station order. It appears to be updated very regularly so might well be worth bookmarking. Maintained by an individual going by the mysterious name of Sintsixtus. Incidentally the tk in the internet address is for Tokelau, a Pacific island.

A highly entertaining radio blog can be read at:
http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2006/03/adventures_in_a_1.html This is called WFMU Beware of the Blog- a radio station that bites back. WFMU FM is a listener-supported, non-commercial radio station broadcasting at 91.1 MHz FM in Jersey City, New Jersey, right across the Hudson from lower Manhattan. It is currently the longest running free freeform radio station in the United States.

The station website itself is at http://wfmu.org/ They play a real mix of oddities and thought provoking music, and, for me, this is what radio should be all about. The website offers a photo of the day, and if you click on it you get a sound bite of the day. WFMU is innovative and worth an evening of your internet time.

Paul Logan, a well known FM DXer based in Northern Ireland, has been having another good summer of Sporadic E openings. His greatest catch this year was hearing 90.7 FM WVAS in Montgomery Alabama at an astounding distance of 4011 miles (6456 km). WVAS is an 80 kw Jazz and National Public Radio station celebrating its silver jubilee. It beats his previous record braking catch of 2003 by some way.

For us mere mortals our best chance of hearing jazz or any type of music from Alabama is online. WVAS is at: http://www.wvasfm.org/ Like any self respecting radio station these days it also has a web presence in Twitter and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ www.twitter.com/wvas

Paul Logan himself is not short of websites. Try these three Paul’s Listening Homepage: http://geocities.com/yogi540/ has details of his radio and TV DXing activities, nicely illustrated by mp3 files, RDS and tv screen shots. More photos are at his Flickr account, which includes QSL cards, radio photos and RDS grabs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/radiofotos/ Paul also has a YouTube channel, where he is known as Yogi 540, containing recordings of some of his catches. This includes a Mexican medium wave station, also local band scans and some experimenting: http://www.youtube.com/user/yogi540

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Tales from Bush House

From the Archives:
Tales from Bush House by Chrissy Brand

Cover Story in Monitoring Times, September 2002. Grove Enterprises Inc, North Carolina, ISSN: 0889-5341

This article covers:

History of Bush House
Happy Days at the World Service Shop

This year [2002] is the 70th anniversary of the BBC World Service. Starting in 1932 as the British Broadcasting Corporation Empire Service, since 1941 it has been located in Bush House, Aldwych, London, on the edge of The Royal Courts of Justice, just to the north of Waterloo Bridge and the River Thames.

Despite cutting the shortwave service to North America last year [2001] the BBC remains a respected major international voice, both on radio and television, broadcasting in more than 40 languages to over 150 million listeners a week. In 1982, as part of the celebrations for 50 years of BBC international broadcasts, the BBC World Information Centre and Shop opened, known as BBC World. Due to remain open for just the 50th anniversary year, it soon became a popular visitor centre for World Service listeners, tourists and Londoners alike. So read on as we look at some of the incidents and characters that passed through the Information Center in its early years, along with other tales from Bush House.

The building of Bush House
The Bush House building itself owes much to the U.S.A. It is named after Irving T Bush of the New York Bush Terminal Company, who originally planned for an international trade center to be built on the site, complete with luxury accommodation, a club, galleries and restaurants. Architect Harvey W. Corbett of Helmle and Corbett, New York had to downsize when a 1921 slump caused financial problems, and only the main centre block was built to the original specification, with the other wings of the building scaled down.

The building itself was opened on Independence Day, 4th July, 1925 and early tenants included the Herald Tribune, but it was to be another 16 years before the BBC moved in, due to a bomb at Broadcasting House early in World War II. It has been the home of the BBC’s international radio services ever since, with BBC domestic radio located three miles away at Broadcasting House, in Langham Place; itself an equally imposing building, built in art deco style, resembling an ocean liner gliding down a narrow London street. It cost $1.25 million to build Broadcasting House, from 1928, whereas Bush House was considered the most expensive building in the world in 1929, at a cost of $10 million.

The BBC lease on Bush House is up in 2008 (sadly the Beeb never owned the building)and the current plan is for them to relocate to the revamped Broadcasting House by the end of this decade.

A further early American connection was that of artist Malvina Hoffman, who made the statue which sits above the words carved over the front entrance:  To the friendship of English-speaking peoples. The Indiana stone statue (the rest of the building is in British Portland stone) is of two men holding a torch and shields depicted with a British lion and an American eagle. One of the statues was damaged by a German bomb in World War II and remained without an arm until the Indiana Limestone Co. voluntarily repaired it in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

During building renovations in the 1980s a popular sales item in BBC World were paperweights made of chunks of Portland stone from the building, encased in plastic, bearing the legend: A piece of the BBC. Bush House is being rebuilt. This Portland stone came from its walls.

Halcyon days at the Information Centre and shop
Working in BBC World in its formative years was never short of a dull moment. With the BBC’s global reputation thousands of tourists would visit to pay homage, buy a souvenir or just to tick it off on their holiday itinerary. A number of loyal listeners, having finally reached Bush House, wanted to go on guided tours of the studios or newsroom, or meet their favourite presenters and newsreaders.

Although some international broadcasters may have allowed tours or visitors pre-9/11, the BBC did not, for two reasons; an endless parade of visitors would soon interfere with the production of programmes, and, being on the air 24 hours a day there was never any downtime when people could be accommodated. Secondly for security reasons. Then as now, there were security risks, with turbulent times in the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe. It had only been a few short years since 1978 when Bulgarian dissident, Radio Free Europe and BBC broadcaster Georgi Markov was killed with a poison-tipped umbrella on Waterloo Bridge.

Many listeners would bring gifts for newsreaders and presenters, such as chocolates, paintings, and even Persian rugs, and would be delighted if the person in question was on duty and able to receive the gift in person. This is the closest that visitors could get to the inside of the BBC.

When the shop opened it stocked a conventional line of merchandise, which was supplemented over the years to an ever more esoteric range. Items such as BBC pens, postcards, diaries, airline bags, towels, bookmarks, baseball caps and sweaters were joined on the shelves by furry insects and golf balls bearing the BBC logo. An optimistic order for thousands of BBC cups created a six foot high pyramid in the stock room. 2,000 white china cups with the BBC crest and motto Nation shall speak peace unto Nation, and 2,000 with the slogan BBC World Service, a world of difference. If you have one of these in the kitchen it is more of sentimental value rather than a valuable rarity.

Most visitors to BBC World had straightforward requests. A copy of the programme guide London Calling (later to become BBC Worldwide and BBC On Air) or the Arabic version Huna London. Maybe a cassette or video from the BBC comedy archives such as Fawlty Towers (yes, they really did only make the 12 episodes), or a tie-in television book such as David Attenborough’s The Living Planet.

Other visitors required a little more attention, such as a retired lady from Norway who had missed the end of Play of the Week and wondered if we had a copy of the script available. Thirty minutes and a few internal phone calls later, an assistant from the Drama department arrived with the script, the lady sat down and read the conclusion to the play. Unfortunately she then declared that she hadn’t understood the ending.

A large green world map on the wall had a dial underneath to tune into the live output of all 37 languages broadcast at the time. The studio feeds were piped into BBC World and informed us of breaking news to the chimes of Big Ben. Some programmes made a pleasant backdrop to work to, especially the classical music output such as Baker’s Half Dozen with Richard Baker, The Pleasure’s Yours with Gordon Clyde, or Edward Greenfield's Classical Record Review. Other programmes kept us up to date with developments in science and the arts, (Science in Action, Meridian, Omnibus), and others were just interesting in their own right, like The Merchant Navy Programme, Sports International and The Farming World.

The dial was usually set to the English Service, but at 1700 UTC each day an Eastern European gentleman would arrive, politely take a seat and listen to the Polish programme. At the time, with no Internet and minimal satellite television, these feeds, but more so the actual short wave broadcasts, were a valuable source of news, especially for Eastern European residents or expatriots. This was later illustrated when it transpired that imprisoned Polish politicians and opponents to the regime were able to hear those very same Polish broadcasts in the Darlowek internment camp. Lech Walesa and Alexander Malachowki, both to later become members of the Polish Parliament, were able to tune in, Malachowki by hiding a radio in his long bushy beard.

Another useful source of information were the daily bulletins from BBC Monitoring at Caversham, to the west of London. These Summary of World Broadcasts arrived daily and we had regular visitors who would come to read details of what All India Radio had to say on developments in Pakistan, or what the view was from the Soviet Defense Ministry on the arms race.

Britons living overseas would stock up on recordings to take home with them, to remind them of life back in Britain, as they sat on verandas in Sierra Leone sipping gin and tonics. One lady purchased the entire BBC audio catalogue of drama and classical music, on audio cassette, to replace the vinyl versions she had in her Malaysian home; the tropical heat tending to warp the vulnerable vinyl records.

Photo below: Spring 1985 window display launching Hancock videos & BBC Everyday Mandarin course. (Copyright C Brand)

A BBC map of the world, complete with details of transmitter sites, was a best seller, but it had its downside. The maps were rolled up and sent to mail order purchasers in a 3 feet long cardboard tube, marked ‘fragile’. However, dozens were returned damaged by not so careful postal staff or airways baggage handlers around the world. A battle commenced, with us sending them out in ever more durable containers, and the world’s postal services seeing this as a challenge to to bend or buckle them. I think the record was seven attempts to an address in Australia.

We ran trailers on the air for various merchandise available by mail order. Products were also promoted periodically by continuity announcers looking for something to fill in gaps between programmes. A promotional feature for the world map was accidentally left in a continuity studio for a whole month, which led to it being read out on air more frequently than planned. This in turn led to a new deluge of map orders and another battle with the postal service.

The world on eight floors
The construction of the 8 to 10 storey Bush House building is such that to get from one wing to another you usually have to go to the ground floor, cross a courtyard and use an elevator. There are few connecting bridges, making for a lot of elevator travel, and henceforth a lot of impromptu language lessons should you eavesdrop in elevators crowded with different nationalities. To reach the studios, offices and departments in each of the four wings occupied by the BBC (south-east, east, north-east, north-west) often requires you to go via the main centre block where there sits a large marble bust of a elderly Roman man, watching over the building. He was discovered in the excavations when Bush House was built. From there you can, if you feel energetic, walk up the elegant marble staircases and along corridors of Indian hardwood flooring to the office you are searching for. It is said that the building layout is so confusing that it takes two years of working there before you really know your way around.

The BBC has never owned the building, and leases it from the current owners, a Japanese organisation called Kato Kagaku. Previous owners have included the Church of Wales, and previous tenants have been on both sides of the political fence: The Soviet Steamship Company, newsagency TASS, Intourist and a Russian bookshop; The British Air Ministry, The Parker Pen company, TNT, the Inland Revenue (British Taxation body) and the British Secret Service. There have been various alterations carried out for the BBC. Studio 6 in the South-East wing basement was originally a swimming pool, Studio N42 in the North-West wing was a cinema, and there was once a badminton court in the North-East wing.

As you might expect the building is a microcosm of the world containing all of the BBC language services; Albanian to Arabic, Bengali to Burmese, Hausa to Hindi, Kinyarwanda to Kyrgyz, Turkish to Thai, Ukrainian to Vietnamese. The canteen and BBC club bar in the basement is all the better for such multiculturalism, with a wide range of cuisine on offer and people wearing a range and variety of clothing that you don’t often see on the comparatively drab London streets. Bush House is probably the most cosmopolitan office block in Britain.

As with many parts of Bush House the canteen is open 24 hours to sustain the workforce, and to act as an impromptu meeting place. A studio production assistant from the Sinhalese service might be having her lunch whilst on the next table an engineer from the scheduling department is starting his breakfast.The exotic smells emanating from the canteen could be replicated if you picked up a recipe book in BBC World. The popular range of cookbooks which we shipped all over the world included Vegetarian Kitchen, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery, Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian cookery, and the ubiquitous quintessential English cook, Delia Smith.

Hallowed corridors of Bush House  (Copyright C Brand)

Listeners and visitors
As well as the day to day visitors we received sackfuls of mail from just about every country in the world. Mostly the letters were requests for technical and frequency information or orders for merchandise, but there were more esoteric letters that asked for copies of the Bible, begging letters to help fund children’s education, or requesting free items of clothing.

Such letters were further proof of the BBC’s reputation and impact on millions of listeners. Monitoring the letters over one sample four week period illustrated the range of correspondents, as we received post from continents and people as as diverse as a Chinese farmer, the Tibetan embassy in Belgrade, a Church Minister in the Central African Republic, a Guatemalan student, a Japanese businessman, along with the usual letters from the western world.

A number of technical questions were raised and answered by the Waveguide programme, and the programme also produced a series of leaflets which were eagerly snapped up in BBC World. Reviews of new receivers, such as the Sony ICF2002 with digital readout (one of the first of its kind in 1983), information on why wavelengths are changed with the seasons, and overnight frequencies for night time listeners in Britain were useful handouts used to fend off repeated questions from many visitors.

The information literature on offer was of great interest to listeners and visitors. Stacks of schedules in all languages, product reviews, photos of presenters, calendars and posters. The English by Radio and television broadcasts spawned a lot of audio and video material, which customers from all over the world would come to Bush House to buy, or order by post. Best selling titles around the world included Follow Me with Francis Matthews and the children’s series Muzzy in Gondoland. Getting on in English, Choosing Your English, English for International Co-operation and other output catered for all levels of English learners; from beginners to advanced, tourists to businesspeople. English by Radio output included programmes such as Can I Help You? and Paedagological pop.

You could also learn other languages with the BBC. Courses available, many of which accompanied televsion programmes or audiocassettes included Russian Language and People, Everyday Mandarin, Buongiorno Italia, Digame, Deutsche Direkt, A Vous La France and the ‘Get By’ series.

A secret weapon used to disseminate the barrage of facts and figures from the public was a battered card file index behind the counter, containing all sorts of pertinent information. There were answers to standard questions such as local bookshops that stocked Persian language learning materials, or simple tourist information on times of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Any questions which required a bit of research, and there were many, would be faithfully recorded and indexed, ready for the next time a visitor happened to ask what the theme tune is for The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? (Journey of the Sorcerer by the Eagles) or the marching music for Radio Newsreel (Imperial Echoes).

Some of the most popular World Service programmes have always been those that feature pop music. Although standard fare on UK radio stations, British pop was much in demand for a younger global audience. The Latin Amercian service started Ritmo in 1965, a Saturday night request show, and other language services broadcast programmes. Disc Jockey Dave Lee Travis (DLT) had a request show on the World Service, called A Jolly Good Show, which may have played similar music to his programme on domestic BBC Radio One, but he commented that the main difference was in the type of requests he received. For example, in Broadcasting House for his domestic show he would be playing songs ‘for Tracy in Scunthorpe, from Gary who says he’s really got the hots for you’. In comparison his Bush House show would have far more eloquently phrased letters, such as √Āngel writing to say that Zohra is akin to the delicate orange blossom in a spring time shower.

At BBC World no two days were the same. There might be a book signing by a media personality or politician. A famous actor having finished recording Play of the Week, or DJ or famous musician might be passing through on their way to record a programme or interview. It might be a day for a surreal Monty Python type experience trying to sell an English teaching course to someone who didn’t speak English at all, necessitating a phone call to the appropriate BBC language section for a translator. It might entail playing music down the phone to someone who wanted to purchase a soundtrack but wasn’t quite sure what it was called or what it sounded like.

There might be time for an interesting chat with a Swahili presenter or Romanian secretary, looking to purchase a BBC T-shirt or pen for a competition prize, or a Greek producer looking for inspiration for programme themes amongst the books and merchandise.

There is some uncertainty to the BBC’s future within Bush House when the lease runs out in 2008. The BBC wants to merge all its news services in one central location in a state of the art complex in Broadcasting House. Whether this will happen is as yet unknown, but there would be opposition amongst the employees at Bush House. Either way, if you are visiting London, get along to the Information Centre and soak up the atmosphere of the marbled corridors and distinguished voices that have floated across the airwaves these past 70 years.

Update 2012: BBC WS eventually vacated Bush House for Broadcasting House in June 2012.

One of the infamous BBC World maps, mention in the above article, and one that didn't stray far from Bush House in fact- it being for sale at the 2012 auctions of Bush kit and miscellanea.

A World in Your Ear, Reflections on Change by John Tusa, Broadside Books, London 1992.
BBC World Service www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice
Update 2011:
Other websites that detail Bush House’s proud BBC past include a 1960s review at Mike Baker’s website: www.bakerlite.co.uk/bush_house.htm  

The Richardson Media website is another place which packs a wonderful array of Bush House tales and photos of studios and people behind the scenes as well as those behind the mikes, spanning 50 years from 1950 to 2000: www.richardsonmedia.co.uk/Bushlog.html

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