Monday, 14 May 2012

Out of Africa

Extract from my monthly column Long, Medium and Shortwaves, Broadcast Matters in Radio User, May 2012,   Photo  of an Etón FR360 Solar Link radio.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a holiday on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands in February. This Spanish island is just 60 miles off of the western coast of Morocco so I also had the opportunity to try and listen for some African radio signals.

As expected, medium wave saw a proliferation of Spanish stations including the SER and COPE networks. On shortwave there were quite a few services that were aimed at or within Africa which were easy catches. These included Morocco’s Medi Un on 9575kHz, a signal that reaches the UK too. Morocco on 15340kHz was clear as well with some atmospheric local music. I was pleased to receive good reception and music from both Mali (9635kHz) and Mauritania (7245kHz) as they are stations that I enjoy on shortwave back home. From Gabon, Africa Number One was booming on in French on 9580kHz, often with a disappointing mixture of western chart music in English. This did improve when the station spiced things up intermittently with more localised sounds.

The Voice of America is still out in force when it comes to broadcasts to Africa. Their Studio 7 English programmes beam in from 1700 UTC on 12080 and on 15575kHz also in the Shona language. The English service aimed to Sudan, VOA Sudan In Focus, was a regular catch for me on 9790, 11905 and 13635kHz from 1630UTC when I first tuned in, with some interesting information and news about Sudan and South Sudan. This included the use of what I found rather a scary turn of phrase: “speeding up repatriation.”

The Sudan Radio Service on 17745kHz was another English language broadcaster I heard most days from 1630 UTC. This is an American funded station under the auspices of the Education Development Center in Washington D.C. Their Road to Peace programmes are modelled on the BBC World Service. EDC’s Jeremy Groce comments that “The Sudan has no history of independent media” and that until the EDC came along a few years back”radio in Sudan has been used as a propaganda tool by the government or the rebels. It is exciting to be the first source of trustworthy information.”

From the southernmost country of the continent Channel Africa proved to be a reliable source of news and entertainment on 15235kHz with the daily Africa Digest programme. Many of the rest of the regular international broadcasters are also still heard throughout Africa. I heard the familiar voices of Radio Taiwan’s friendly presenters bemoaning the conditions at an Apple i-phone factory in the region, on 15690kHz from 1700 UTC; NHK Radio Japan still struggling to come to terms with last year’s Tsunami on 21560kHz from 1400 UTC; TRT The Voice of Turkey from 1730 UTC on 11735kHz, as polite as ever “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, in today’s programme...”; The Voice of Russia powerful on 17805 and 21805kHz from 0800 UTC and Radio Netherlands on 5955kHz.

It was reassuring, from the point of view of a tourist abroad, to hear the BBC World Service clearly and on a wide range of frequencies. Morning, noon and night on shortwave with SIOs ranging from 222 to 555, on 13790, 15310, 15400 and 17830kHz kept me up to date and made me feel rather envious of some of the choices people living in Africa still have..

The Christian Voice African service proved a reliable station with some surprisingly interesting and varied programme content, 17695kHz with a selection of Christian pop music and other features such as Kickstart and Project Washington. Religious stations, especially Christians were to be found aplenty. Brother Stair’s strange rants on were simple to hear on the Overcomer Ministry on15190kHz on everything from Mitt Romney to “Chinese lies.” WYFR Family Radio on 7245kHz; and the ever reliable signal of Vatican Radio African Service on 13735kHz at 1730 UTC with a 433 SIO.

There were doubtless more exotic sounds to be heard but I just tuned in for the odd spare moments between sightseeing and exploring, enjoying the sunshine and the fine food of this lovely island. One station I could not identify which often played an exciting mix of Afrobeat music on 11750kHz and I usually caught it for 15 minutes or so around 1730 UTC before putting on the glad rags for a pre-dinner drink and a stroll along the seafront.

I have a friend who is currently doing Voluntary Services Overseas in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Another friend spends some of her annual leave every tear travelling to African countries to help build schools and community centres. Last year she was in Cameroon and this year it will be Malawi. These strong willed women asked my advice for a radio to take with them to be able to keep in touch with international events and just to provide entertainment via local radio.

I suggested to them a Trevor Bayliss inspired wind-up and solar powered radio. They obviously would best be served by a model that covered shortwave and medium wave as well as the FM band. The Eton FR360 Solar Link costs about £50 and I think should hold up to all conditions. It’s solar, wind up and battery powered and has AM, FM and a good range of the key shortwave bands. It’s a rugged looking little monster but aesthetics go out of the window when you are trying to protect against scorching heat, desert storms, wind and anything else that sub-Saharan Africa can throw at you.

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