NASWA Journal Columns · Easy Listening, March 1997

John Figliozzi • 45 Algonquin Rd. • Clifton Park, NY 12065 jfiglio1◊nycap.rr.com

Easy Listening, March 1997

Introductions Are in Order

John Figliozzi, pleased to meet you. I’ll be your interim Easy Listening editor, for the next little while. I’ve got big shoes to fill as Rich Cuff has done yeoman work gathering and presenting shortwave programming news, which (if you haven’t noticed by trying it yourself) is a darn difficult thing to do. Nonetheless, over the years Rich’s column has doubled in size and become the best of its genre available anywhere. I look forward to the challenge of living up to those standards, formidable as they are.

Of course, I expect you to do your part. Send me your comments, contributions, criticisms (and even congratulations) via the following delivery methods:

With so many options, you’ve really no excuse for not getting involved!

The SWL Wars

Shortwave listeners can be forgiven if they are beginning to feel like weary veterans of unrelenting foreign (electronic) wars.

Way back in the early ’90s, there was the first Canadian campaign. Complete annihilation was avoided, but at great loss to listeners. A little later there was the Czech campaign, a curious theatre where a seeming surrender was followed by victory. Then there was the Israeli campaign (leaving a marginal service) and the South African campaign (currently in a holding pattern), followed closely by the British campaign. (The latter has been a two-front conflict, where it has been hard to distinguish between friends and enemies.) There’s that secret little campaign I call “The Russian Attrition”. (After all, who can really hear Voice of Russia anymore?) There was also a “surgical strike” at VOA, that eliminated shortwave service to Europe and weekend service to the Americas (including “our” broadcast of Communications World).

We then all marched off to the second Canadian campaign, followed closely by the recently completed (and, thankfully, short) third Canadian campaign (more holding actions).

Now there are the worrying Belgian campaign and the threatening French front. And, in the last few weeks, we’ve been presented with a sneak attack–the Australian campaign–which has grown like a grass fire in the Australian summer (a little smoldering, followed by a widespread conflagration).

It’s all just a little tiring, disheartening and maddening all at once. Makes one almost begin to believe in that old discredited domino theory after all, eh?

More Radio Australia Changes?

Only if death can be characterized as “change”. Last month, this column highlighted some programming changes Radio Australia instituted in late January. While management has tried to put the best face on them, this round of changes was prelude to and made mandatory by expected new massive budget reductions that were expected to be ordered by the government and the domestic parent, ABC.

In fact, Radio Australia has undergone a series of budget cuts over the past half decade. It is a singular credit to RA staff and management that, to this point, the service has remained a 24 hour one and that the “on-air sound” of RA largely gives little hint of the predicament Australia’s politicians have been continually placing them in.

But just as these program changes went into effect (and as if to prove that no good deed goes unpunished), a commission appointed by the government to study public broadcasting in Australia and chaired by Australian “businessman” (uh-oh!) Bob Mansfield issued a report on January 24 recommending (among other things) that the ABC close Radio Australia to help salvage the ABC. The machinations surrounding the appointment and work of the Mansfield Commission is a fascinating piece of political theatre, which has been closely followed by the Australian press (see reference below) but is too lengthy to be recounted here. But there are a few matters which bear repeating and serve to give one a good idea of the “quality” of the “research” conducted.

The Mansfield Report claims that Radio Australia‘s listening audience has declined from 100 million listeners to 20 million over the past fifteen years. It is not clear what information this assertion is based on, but it should be noted that Radio Australia‘s listener mail has actually increased over that time. Furthermore, the Report incredulously claims that the number of shortwave receivers in use in the Asia-Pacific region has declined precipitously over the same period. Sales figures alone would appear to belie that statement. Perhaps even more telling, The Melbourne Age printed a leaked government report that appeared to indicate that this entire scenario was engineered by the Minister of Communications, Senator Richard Alston, last June to provide political cover for a planned major reduction in the ABC budget and changes in the ABC Charter that would weaken the public broadcaster and compromise its current editorial autonomy.

Despite strenuous efforts on the part of the government and the ABC to mute criticism and forestall any effective response to the Report’s recommendations (the ABC ordered Radio Australia‘s director not to comment on his organization’s proposed demise and the ABC scheduled a meeting of its Board to ratify the Commission’s findings for February 5, less than two weeks after the Report’s release), the initial reaction by RA listeners worldwide and even government leaders in the Asia-Pacific region has been overwhelmingly supportive of Radio Australia. Perhaps the most embarrassing (to the government) and the most heartening (to Radio Australia) gesture was made by the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, a relatively poor and underdeveloped Pacific island nation. He stated that Radio Australia was of such value to him and his people that he would forego Australian foreign aid if this would help save Radio Australia. (He went on to say that he was surprised to hear that the Australian nation was in such dire financial straits. Radio Australia‘s annual budget is A$20,500,000.)

I think it would be fair to say that both the government and the ABC have been surprised by the volume and depth of international support for RA. That meeting of the ABC Board in early February concluded without the expected ratification of the Mansfield Commission‘s recommendations regarding Radio Australia. The government, too, has been brought up short, with some of its members and the opposition joining to express support for the retention of Radio Australia. The government has established an inquiry into the future of RA and has invited interested parties to submit comments by March 10.Consult the RA web site <http://www.abc.net.au/ra/default.htm> for further info. You can also write to Radio Australia at GPO Box 428G, Melbourne, VIC 3001. The Melbourne Age site is at <http://www.theage.com.au> and The Sydney Morning Herald is at <http://www.smh.com.au>.

I’ll have more on this whole issue of “shortwave downsizing” next month.

BBC World Service Highlights

(times indicated are for the Americas stream)

Documentaries

Seven Stages: A History of the British Theatre, The Missionaries and Letters Home continue from February. Consult last month’s column for details.

Omnibus looks at cross border child custody battles (9th/10th) and The Last Jews of Cochin, the story of an ancient Jewish community that has flourished on the Malabar Coast of Southern India (23rd/24th). Omnibus airs each Mon.@1430 and Tues.@0230 and 0630.

Light Entertainment

Just A Minute continues to challenge its panel to ad-lib for 60 seconds on esoteric subjects without pauses or repetition. The results are hilarious and you get to eavesdrop on their fun, but only ’til the end of the month, on Sun.@0130, Tues.@1030 and Wed.@ 1715.

Popular Music (Not Popular Enough?)

There are ominous rumors circulating on the Internet about a coming change to BBCWS schedules that significantly cuts popular music programming. My requests for clarification from the BBC were not answered by the time this column was prepared. Along with Anything Goes and The Vintage Chart Show which were highlighted in last month’s column, possible casualties include A Jolly Good Show (Sat.@1215), Andy Kershaw’s World of Music (Fri.@0730/1030/1830), John Peel (Sun.@1830, Tues.@ 1215), the three times a week Multitrack series (Mon./Wed./Fri.@2330), Country Style (Mon.@0445, Wed.@1430 and 2315), Folk Routes (Wed.@0030), Jazz for the Asking (Sat.@1715, Wed.@ 1030), Jazz Now and Then (Tues.@1130/ 1445, Wed.@ 0645), and various recurring series such as World Ranking (Wed.@ 1530, Thu.@2330). Reading between the lines, March’s BBC On Air seems to hint that the latter five are the ones that are to be going, but at this point it is unknown whether their loss will be permanent or whether they will just join the ranks of other World Service “periodic” series sharing slots with other such musical series.

Drama and Readings

Saturdays, 2230: Plays of the Week include offerings timed to coincide with the Seven Stages series highlighted last month.

March 1: The White Devil, a Jacobean revenge tragedy first performed in 1612.

March 9: The School for Scandal, a comedy from 1777 satirising fashionable 18th century society.

March 15: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

March 22: St. Joan, George Bernard Shaw’s biographical play about Joan of Arc.

March 29: Look Back in Anger, John Osborne’s 1956 play that railed against the influence of the British privileged upper classes.

Tuesdays through Saturdays, 0445: Off The Shelf continues a serialized reading of Changes from last month, continues with individual short stories from the 6th through the 12th and concludes the month with Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers by Grant Naylor (13th to 28th).

Mondays, 0130: Short Story continues with listener authored tales.

Classical Music

The Composer of the Month for March is Claude Debussy. His life and music are chronicled on Mon. @ 0630/1030/1715 and Wed. @ 0230.

International Recital concludes this month with the Skampa Quartet from Prague’s Royal Academy performing Mozart and their compatriot Martinu (2nd) and Spirit Talk Mbira from Zimbabwe performing indigenous music on one of Africa’s most celebrated traditional instruments, the mbira (9th). The program is broadcast live to the Americas on Sun.@1401, repeated @ 2115 and on Mon. @ 0715.

As a reminder, primary frequencies for North America at different times of the day are 5965/5975/6175/6195/9515/9590/9740/15220/17840.

On a closing note, in March’s BBC On Air, Simon Spanswick in his Waveguide column states that, central to BBCWS Managing Director Sam Younger’s strategy to take the service into the 21st century is “research and development for a second English language World Service radio channel”, which will be a 24 hour news service.

R. Netherlands Documentaries

(on Thu.@0053/0453 and Fri.@2353)

March 6th/7th–From the Wireless to the World Wide Web–Part 2 of 7 (50 years of Radio Netherlands)

March 13th/14th–Andorra: The Mini State (how does this nation of 55,000 people fit into the EU?)

March 20th/21st–The Eleventh Insight (New Age in the Netherlands)

March 27th/28th–The Marshall Plan (achievements and legacies after 50 years)

[Radio Netherland’s frequencies: 5995 (at 0453)/6020 (at 2353 and 0053)/6165 (all times]

Potpourri

Glenn Hauser, on his World of Radio program, reported that Deutsche Welle has rearranged some of its feature programming in its broadcasts to North America at 0100/0300/0500. Specifically, Religion and Society now airs Sun.@0335; Mailbag on Sun.@0135/0535; Arts on the Air on Mon.@0108/0308/0508; Living in Germany on Tues.@0132/0532; and German Tribune on Thu.@0132/0532. A new science program called What’s New can be heard on Fri.@ 0132/0532.

Radio Sweden apparently (and unfortunately) has reduced its excellent listener contact program, In Touch with Stockholm, to a once monthly program now hosted by Nydia Hagstrom. It had been airing fortnightly on Sundays @ 1230/1430 and Mondays @ 0230 and 0330, alternating with the pop music program Sounds Nordic. In Touch… airs the first Sunday/ Monday of the month with the ubiquitousWeekend program occupying the third week. Weekend is produced by Radio E, a consortium of Europe’s public international broadcasters, and the program airs on every one of them.

And congratulations to HCJB in Quito, Ecuador for its excellent on-site coverage of that country’s presidential impeachment crisis during a tense week in February. HCJB has always intelligently balanced its primary service as a missionary radio station with well-produced programming on more earthly concerns. It also has consistently treated its host country with great respect by using its transmitters to offer the world an accurate depiction of Ecuadorian and Latin American current events, history, music and culture.

March’s International Holidays

(Special programs may air on some stations.)

1Heroes Day (Paraguay); Independence Day (South Korea)/3Liberation Day (Bulgaria); Labor Day (Western Australia); Independence Day (Morocco); National Unity Day (Sudan)/6Independence Day (Ghana)/8National Day (Syria/Libya); International Women’s Day (Russia)/9Decoration Day (Liberia)/10Commonwealth Day (UK/ Canada)/11Independence Day (Lithuania)/12Renovation Day (Gabon); Youth Day (Zambia)/15Day of the 1848 Revolution (Hungary); Two Trung Sisters Day (Vietnam); Pancho Villa Day (Kulpsville, PA”if one were to know…”)/17St. Patrick’s Day (Ireland); Canberra Day (Australia)/18Day of Supreme Sacrifice (Congo)/19St. Joseph’s Day (Spain, Italy, Malta, Costa Rica)/20Independence Day (Tunisia)/21Benito Juarez Day (Mexico); Vernal Equinox Day (Japan); Independence Day (Namibia)/ 22Arab League Day (Jordan)/23Pakistan Day; Purim; Palm Sunday /24Independence Day (Philippines)/25Independence Day (Greece, Argentina)/26Independence Day (Bangladesh); Arbor Day (Spain); Day of Democracy (Mali)/28British Evacuation Day (Libya); Good Friday/29Youth Day (Taiwan)/30Easter Sunday/31Easter Monday (Bank Holiday/UK); National Day (Malta) (source: The 1997 World Calendar)

That’s it for this month. Expect some experimentation over the next month or two as I get my feet wet. If you’re coming to Kulpsville, look us up! Rich Cuff and I will be doing the “Easy Listening” session at 9 sharp Saturday morning. And we’ll talk shortwave radio as long as you like (over the proper tuning oil, of course). Until then or April…

73, John

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