NASWA Journal Columns · Easy Listening, May 1999

Richard Cuff • 42 North 37th Street • Allentown, PA 18104 richard◊thecuffs.us

Easy Listening, May 1999

BBC: Another Opinion

Accepting my challenge to provide input the column, NASWAn John Lyon sent me the following note regarding his thoughts on the changes the BBC World Service has been implementing of late:

Any seasoned listener to the BBC recently has noticed a profound change in program content and style. The current BBC director is said to be of a commercial radio mentality — which is obvious. That he is dismantling one of the United Kingdom’s greatest current cultural assets seems irrelevant to him, based on his behavior.

No matter what the source, everyone has to evaluate his or her news source(s). Because American news sources have become so shallow, it’s natural to turn to short wave to avoid the rewritten press releases, the interference of advertisers, and the adolescent happy talk of radio talk shows and TV. It was said decades ago by TV executives themselves, that TV is aimed at the guy with the 6th grade education, sitting on the couch in his T-shirt, with a can of beer in his hand. That is apparently the demographic the BBC now desires. Nowadays, marketers are trying to reach women as well as men, but the principle is the same.

The strength of BBC in the past has been its objectivity and factualness. Although EU-centric, at least you knew that BBC’s coverage wouldn’t take sides most of the time. It was clear that candor suffered, but balance, credibility, and depth were its strength. Now we have Rent-A-BBC. Maybe it started before the Gulf War, but that’s when I first noticed regular BBC dispatches on both on local stations and national. Since then, the BBC seems to like the smell of American greenbacks. A recent program at 1000Z on BBC is World Update, tailor-made for American-style public radio. The anchor is one Vicki Barker, with an American accent. At times she reminds me of the tabloid-style broadcaster David Page, of Radio France International, and at other times of our own shallow, US media personalities. Some hard news, lots of folksy human-interest features especially on female topics, and lots of repetition for the attention impaired. BBC Lite. And that raises an interesting question. In a completely hypothetical example, let’s assume you are a public radio station somewhere that has a corrupt, multinational business advertiser, sorry, underwriter. Do you suppose BBC would ever have any story about that business that wasn’t sweetness and light?

Most of the entertainment programs have been watered down for the guy with the beer can. Pandering seems to be the order of the day. Several BBC listeners objected, in the Write On letters show, to the use of sound effects/music to artificially increase the drama [read hype] of programs, while not adding to the content. BBC producers, when questioned, did their duty and fell on their swords, maintaining that the sounds were justified even though they would not have been used only a short time ago. Infotainment, as in NPR. Style over content. Hmmm, maybe David Page really is a consultant to the BBC after all.

What’s a hard-core news junkie to do? My other news source since college, the New York Times, has also gone Infotainment. Any long-term reader has seen a similar dumbing down. It has even added new lifestyle sections to the paper, and the only purpose for these sections seems to be as a place holder for advertisements. The Paper of Record is becoming the Paper of Advertisers.

What’s next? Tabloid sleaze and tease? My respect for the BBC, even after decades of listening, has diminished. I can’t help but think the BBC is designing it’s content to what it — or marketing — thinks the target market wants to hear — in order to facilitate the revenue stream. For any of us, when someone pays, we dance to his or her tune. Time to start seriously considering the BBC’s short wave competitors for objective, hard-core news.

Agree? Disagree? To add your two cents to this discussion, drop me a line via E-mail or snail mail. I’m less critical than John is regarding the BBC’s changes, because I recognize that the BBC will need to change to reach a younger demographic as the rest of us get older. The statistic I’m hoping to find out is how people listen to the World Service nowadays. Is it via shortwave? Local relays? Public Radio? The Internet?

BBC — Additional Items

VOA’s News Now vs. BBC’s World Today

When the NATO air campaign in Kosovo got underway late in March, I thought it would be a good opportunity to compare the two English language “rolling news” broadcasts currently on shortwave: the Voice Of America‘s News Now service, and the BBC World Service‘s World Today program. Both programs provide news and current affairs in comparatively small, digestible chunks; both services focus much of their efforts on Kosovo.

News Now seems to rely on media spokespersons’ regular briefings for much of its content. Both NATO and American generals’ comments are aired, but these comments appear to be culled from daily briefings and press conferences, not interviews. There is some field reporting, but this reporting generally appears to be field-based spokespersons. Sports reporting figures more prominently in News Now than in The World Today, but the sports tend to be, naturally, American sports. Cricket and soccer fans are out of luck.

The World Today features a more diverse mix of coverage, with substantially more field reporting than News Now. To some extent, one hears the same spokespersons on The World Today as on News Now, but the BBC often obtains one-on-one interviews, and involves the spokesperson in direct question-and-answer dialogue. While the VOA’s coverage is certainly more plentiful than on any domestic USA radio network, it doesn’t measure up to the depth, analysis, and field correspondent base the BBC has.

BBC’s all-news World Service

Somehow I missed this when the news first came out in February. The BBC has announced what had long been rumored: the creation of a second English-language world service, with a 24-hour rolling news format. This service will not be 100% available on shortwave, but will be available via satellite (presumably for local distribution) and via Internet audio. I would assume that the World Today program amounts to this second all-news service; the night the NATO air strikes began, I tuned into the World Service at around 2200 UTC, and the Americas stream had World Today programming. At that hour, The World Today is only scheduled for the Far East and Asia.

This second World Service stream has been shown at the broadcast.com home of the BBC’s 24-hour webcast for several months, but hasn’t featured any unique content. This second World Service stream wasn’t available when I checked the link during preparation of this month’s column. I’ll provide an update once I get additional information.

May BBC World Service Highlights

Music

The World Service joins Music Live, the UK’s biggest broadcast live music festival, for the first time in 1999. The festival comes from Glasgow, Scotland, and both classical and popular music will be featured.

Sundays, 1515, May 30th and June 6th: International Recital airs two special editions; the group The City Waites performs popular music from the Middle Ages with period instruments, costumes, and street performers on May 30th. The Whistlebinkiesis a Scottish traditional music ensemble that’s been around since the 1960s; they use authentic Celtic instruments and will perform on June 6th.

Features

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 0055, and Mondays, 0030: My Century themes for May include The City, which looks at trends towards urbanization in the 20th century, featuring Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who designed Brasilia, and Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York. The Secret State, in the third week of May, examines the world of secret agents and spies, and hears from Hermann Arndt, the Mossad agent who tracked down Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960.

Thursday, May 13th, 1130: Assignment investigates Cuban society, as Cuba has turned the corner from its economic crisis, thanks largely to a dramatic increase in tourism. Jonathan Fryer investigates the largely two-class society and meets a diverse group of men and women, including some of the original revolutionaries. First airing Thursdays 0730; an audible African airing is 1930. The airdate for this edition may change based on current events between now and then.

Drama

Saturday, May 8, 2230, Play of the Week: Playing Sinatra by Bernard Kops was first staged in 1991, and has a revised ending, presumably because Frank Sinatra died a year ago. The play itself is about an agoraphobic bookbinder who lives with his caretaker sister in South London; their relationship of dependency and bitterness is settled only with the music of Sinatra, which calms him down, and gives her the will to live on. North American West Coast listeners can also hear Play of the Week Sundays 0530 UTC.

Program Exchange

African Music

Bob Montgomery sends along the following suggestion:

We all have different tastes in music and as the mode strikes, so does the music. I have to say near the top of my list of most listened to music would have to be almost anything from Africa. It seems to have a care free spirit, always happy music. A good diversion from following various world situations and work, is music, no matter the language. My first stop, and I usually spend the evening till fade out is Afrique Numero UN from Gabon which is in French. I am sorry to say I don’t speak the language but that is not needed for the music. Starting on 9580 I try to start around 2100 or so. The listing shows it to go off around 2300 but have many times heard it later. When it finally shuts down move to 4777 and the music continues. Both frequencies are an easy catch here on the east coast of the US. On a Saturday evening, after a couple of adult beverages, you might find yourself dancing across the shack.

Also, from Hans Johnson:

Keep an ear on Libya’s frequencies of 11815 and 15435 if you like African music. They are playing a fair amount of this stuff as part of their Voice of Africa effort. Recently Hans heard a real good Chadian music program; with the state of Chad’s own transmitters and frequencies selection, this is the best shot we have at such music. Best times to catch them: After 2000 UTC till about 0300.

Radio Australia: Correspondents’ Report

In the style of the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, Radio Australia features this program on the weekends. Correspondents’ Report is a series of field reports from various locations — not necessarily the Pacific — with a slightly longer focus than in a day-to-day current affairs program. The reports are either standup reports by the correspondent, or interviews with others having an analytical perspective. Topics are current affairs; recently, Kosovo has figured prominently. Air times: Sundays 0310, 0630, 1010. I found the 1010 airing on 13605 kHz, which is a new frequency and is shown on the Radio Australia webpage.

Radio Netherlands: Wide Angle

This is a new Radio Netherlands program, occupying the Newsline program slot on Sundays. Wide Angle deals with a single issue for the entire 15-minute program, much like Insight on the BBC World Service. A recent edition featured the role of the Internet in the Kosovo war; it was interesting to hear Jonathan Marks on something other than Media Network. Wide Angle is a well-done program, not surprising given its roots with the Newsline team. Sundays 2338 to the Americas.

Easy Listening — Multimedia Opportunities

Programming Discussion E-mail List Reflector

One of the problems we have as shortwave listeners is that it is hard to find out in advance what is going to be aired on upcoming programs. Near term forward promotion, when it is done at all, is usually only done by voice announcements. Some services have published printed program guides, but the lead times associated with the print and mailing cycle have made the inclusion of detailed information in many programs impossible. Some broadcasters are now posting more detailed information on web sites but the burden is on the listener to go find and download the information.

In an effort to help the broadcasters reach their listener community, several shortwave listeners have decided to establish an e-mail reflector for the specific purpose of quickly sharing information on program content. Each of us has adopted a major broadcaster and have begun posting detailed program information to help inform the others of interesting upcoming programs.

The list is primarily focused on broadcasters targeting the Western hemisphere in the English language but information related to musical programs in any language are also welcome. You can subscribe to this list and receive the benefit of this effort. If you desire to and have the ability to gather information on upcoming programs, you can also adopt a broadcaster and begin posting information to the list.

In addition, the charter of the list also permits the critical discussion of program content and general program philosophy of international broadcasters.

The list is limited to 500 subscribers, so if you are interested in program content, sign up today before the list is full.

To subscribe, either visit the website http://www.topica.com and search for the group swprograms or send an e-mail to the address swprograms-subscribe@topica.com. Nothing is required for the body or subject of this message.

So far, we have “adoptive parents” for Radio Australia, Radio Canada International, the Voice of Russia, Radio Austria International, Radio Taipei International, and Radio Netherlands, and I’m posting information on the BBC World Service. If you have an ongoing dialogue with any broadcasters, even including these, your input would be most welcome.

Thanks to Peter Bowen, Saul Broudy, Joe Buch, John Figliozzi, Maryanne Kehoe and George Maroti for their insight, support, and ideas in setting this reflector up; thanks specifically to Joe for the synopsis appearing above.

“Programming Focus” on DXing With Cumbre

I’m pleased to announce that I am now providing a monthly five-minute report on programming topics on DXing With Cumbre, the shortwave hobby program hosted by NASWAn Marie Lamb on World Harvest Radio‘s outlets (WHRI, WHRA, KWHR). Generally my report will air the first weekend of the month, though this might vary from time to time. If you have any late-breaking information with a shelf life too short for the NASWA Journal but of interest to the radio audience, please send it my way.

Easy Listening Website

I have an Internet home page set up at http://www.angelfire.com/pa2/ezlistening with selected links, observations, and thoughts relevant to international broadcast program listening . Don’t expect to see all that much new content out there, but I’ll have a package of links specifically tailored to program listening.

Don’t forget to keep those contributions flowing in; until next month,

73 DE Richard

Read more Easy Listening columns.

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