NASWA Journal Columns · Easy Listening, January 1996

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

Easy Listening, January 1996

From Poolside to Sleet

You may remember my mentioning a planned Far East business trip in my December column; I’ve returned from the adventure, just in time for some lovely Maryland sleet. It was difficult to leave Singapore and Malaysia, with their 92-degree afternoon high temperatures and sunny afternoons, but it was nice to return home.

As for the Easy Listening shortwave spectrum, it’s clear the Far East has benefited greatly from the development of overseas relays. Much as the BBC dominates the North American airwaves courtesy of its Canadian and Caribbean relays, the BBC also dominates the Pacific region. At all times I tried, I could easily pick up the Beeb.

A full column this month precludes a detailed report, but two broadcasters were easier to hear in the Far East than Stateside: Voice of Russia and Radio Pyongyang. I found Radio Pyongyang to be both pathetic and humorous at the same time, if that’s possible. It appears the most challenging aspect of program script writing at Radio Pyongyang has been the need to convert the present tense to the past tense. The name of Kim Il-Sung is still mentioned reverentially every two or three minutes, even though his bones are now rotting away. It was fun to listen to Radio Pyongyang in armchair quality sound, but only for a few minutes.

I also listened to Radio Australia on 9580 and 9860 kHz at the same times I normally listen to in time-shift fashion here in North America, except over there it was early evening.

I also had a chance to listen to Radio Singapore for the first time while I was in Tokyo. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to Radio Singapore extensively; I was able to hear a brief news report followed by popular music. Having experienced Singapore firsthand, though, it would be nice if the station were easier to receive here in the USA. It’s an interesting place.

I’ll be in Germany, France, and the British Isles in January, and I’ll take the Sony along this time as well. Love those Frequent Flyer miles!

Target Topic: Mailbag Programs

One of the first thrills upon my return to the shortwave listening hobby ten years ago was having a letter I’d sent a shortwave station, in this instance Kol Israel, read over the air. My letter was nothing unusuala favorable comment on Kol Israel‘s Calling All Listeners program, plus a request for schedule and frequency information. I thought it was pretty nifty to hear my name originating from a studio thousands of miles away. I still have a warm feeling for Kol Israel years afterwards. Face it: Most of us enjoy hearing our names announced over the air, especially young people and newcomers to the hobby. Mailbag programs are among stations’ more overt means of soliciting listener feedback, and tend to be among the longest-running programs on a particular station. The program formula is reasonably consistent from station to station, normally with a chatty male-female tandem. Mailbag program hosts normally have more effervescent personalities than, say, your basic news presenter.

I’d wager that a significant percentage of the more memorable long-running Easy Listening programs on the air have been mailbag programs. For example, probably the second most popular Radio Canada International program in its mid-’80s heyday, after Ian McFarland’s SWL Digest, was Listeners’ Corner, also co-hosted by Ian. Moscow Mailbag has kept its name while its station changed its name to Voice Of Russia. Its host, Joe Adamov, is probably one of the most recognizable voices of the international airwaves, and Adamov continues to be profiled in the hobby magazines for his role in the communist days of Radio Moscow and in the days since glasnost.

Arguably one of the most unique mailbag programs on the air today is Monitor Radio International‘s program, Letterbox; it’s noteworthy particularly because it airs every weekday as part of the MRI program block.

Ken MacHarg of HCJB sent me an E-mail with info relevant to January’s Target Topic.

HCJB has two mailbag programs which carry on a friendly rivalry over the airwaves. Musical Mailbag has been on the air for over 20 years and offers 30 minutes each week when the listener drops in on the Musical Mailbag party as they eat food, go through listener’s letters, and joke with each other. Musical Mailbag is heard each Saturday on HCJB.

HCJB also offers Saludos Amigos with host Ken MacHarg each Sunday. This program just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Saludos Amigos pays a bit more attention to each letter, reading parts of them at length, and commenting or responding. Saludos Amigos is HCJB‘s International Friendship Program, and invites all listeners to take part.

Also, Peter Bowen provided the following mini-review on Radio Netherlands‘ new listener contact show, Sincerely Yours, for the month:

A recent addition to the mailbag shows on shortwave is Radio Netherlands contribution, entitled Sincerely Yours. This 17-minute program hosted by Pete Myers concentrates on answering listeners’ comments and questions about Radio Netherlands, and, because of this, provides us with much useful background information about the station’s programming and other policies.

A guest reader presents listeners’ letters, which are grouped together according to a common theme. This gives the program an important sense of coherence and structure. Pete Myers then replies to issues raised by the listeners, with other station personalities often appearing on the show to further explain what is happening behind the scenes at Radio Netherlands. Contributions of both the host and guests relate to points raised by the listeners.

Pete Myers has been around Radio Netherlands for some time now, and has personality to burn. His honesty and frankness regarding Radio Netherlands policies and mistakes is commendable and refreshing. His exuberant sense of humor is often enjoyable and quite witty. There are times, however, when this same sense of humor is silly, childish, and even offensive. This was true, unfortunately, of his stint as host of The Happy Station, and it is also true of his time at the helm of Sincerely Yours.

Sincerely Yours is a great addition to the Radio Netherlands program roster. It provides interesting and important information what is happening at one of the world’s best shortwave stations. It is well produced, well-presented, and, on the whole, entertaining.

It suffers, however, from the over-exuberance of Mr. Myers, who sometimes shows a distinct lack of understanding of what constitutes good taste. And an understanding of what constitutes good taste is, in my opinion, a vital requirement for the production of truly high quality programming.

It will be interesting to see how mailbag programs evolve with the increasing use of electronic media to correspond with international broadcasters. One question I’d like to pose to Internet-active broadcasters is if the ease and immediacy of E-mail versus “snail mail” have resulted in a net increase of listener contact. Maybe I will ask that question at the Winter SWL festival!

Here are a few samples of mailbag programs from John Figliozzi’s Shortwave RadioGuide; as I’ve noted recently, this information may have changed in recent months, so I apologize in advance if times or frequencies are incorrect.

0010 Thu R. Prague Calling All Listeners
0030 Sun HCJB Musical Mailbag
0030 Mon R. Sweden In Touch with Stockholm (alt. weeks)
0035 Mon R. Vland. Int. P.O. Box 26
0035 Mon R. Ext. España Radio Club
0040 Mon/Wed China R. Int’l Listeners’ Letterbox
0049 etc. Tue-Fri Monitor R. Int’l Letterbox
0109 Mon HCJB Saludos Amigos
0110 Mon Deutsche Welle Mailbag
0115 Sun Swiss R. Int’l Capital Letters (4th Week)
0130 Mon R. Canada Int’l The Mailbag
0145 Sun R. Austria Int’l Listeners’ Letters
0230 Sun V. of Free China Mailbag Time
0315 Sun R. Japan Hello from Tokyo
1245 Sun R. France Int’l Club 9516
0145 Mon BBC Write On

BBC Monthly Highlights

Here’s what you can look forward to from the BBC in January.

A new six-part 30-minute series, Surviving The 20th Century, is this month’s most noteworthy effort. The program looks back at momentous events through the eyes of ordinary people who survived these events. Thursdays beginning January 4th at 2330, repeated Fridays at 0330.

News and Feature Programs

Mondays beginning January 15th, 1515: International Question Time is a new eight-part 45-minute weekly phone-in program. While previous phone-in programs have normally had their topics identified well in advance, International Question Time is differentthe topic is up to the caller. Phone calls are accepted on +44-171-379-7444 beginning Saturdays at 1715 (two hours before the first airing); faxes are also invited (+44-171-240-8776), as is E-mail ( The only mention of who will be answering the letters is a “distinguished panel of guests.” Sheena McDonald will host the program. The first airing is Saturdays 1915 in all releases; other European airings include Sundays 0815 and 1515, and other African airings include Sundays 0815.

Wednesdays, beginning January 10th, 1145: Traditions Of The Prophet is a new six-part 15-minute series looking at the life of the prophet Mohammed. While the Qur’an (new spelling for Koran) has no details about the Prophet’s life, his contemporaries preserved stories in great detail from Mohammed’s formative years until his death. Also repeated Fridays 1430 and 2315.

Science and Technology

Mondays 0130, monthly on the first Monday following the first Saturday of each month: Seeing Stars is an ongoing 15-minute program on the astronomical highlights of the coming month. The long, crisp winter nights often present the year’s best opportunities for amateur stargazing here in the Northeast, and Seeing Stars can help make your stargazing more enjoyable. Another tip: I know of many young people with an interest in astronomy; this program might be a way to pique their interest in shortwave listening, too. First North American airing Saturdays 0615; European airings include Sundays 0430 and 1045.

Mondays 1215: Three science-based programs aimed at new BBC English language listeners are aired in a sequential block: From Pins To Paperclips is a weekly 15-minute series looking at everyday products with unusual origins; Bluffers Guide To Science is a 5-minute program explaining scientific jargon, from the ozone layer to the big bang; The Gene Shifters looks at the techniques of genetic engineering and gene therapy. The series airs for seven weeks; additional timings include Mondays 0630.

Music and the Arts

Sundays, beginning January 21st, 0330: The Story Of Western Music is the final nine-part conclusion to a five-year project of thirty-nine 30-minute programs on Western (European and North American) classical music. The final installments cover the 20th century, from Elgar and Debussy to Bartok, Gershwin, and Bernstein. Also airs Thursdays 1215; European airings include Mondays 1230 and Wednesdays 2130.

Saturdays, 2230: Plays Of The Week include Queen Of The Rebels (January 13th), a radio adaptation of Ugo Betti’s ‘50s play looking at the development of socialist power in Eastern Europe versus the previous royalty; Lake No Bottom (January 20th), a tense psycho-thriller involving a love triangle and set lakeside in the midwest USA; and, Jordan (January 27th), a powerful and disturbing drama based on the true story of a woman on trial for killing her baby son, and exploring the chain of events culminating in the terrible deed.

Sundays, beginning January 7th, 0130: The World In Your Ear is a new six-part fifteen-minute series shown under “Popular Music” in BBC Worldwide but probably fitting into several program categories. Bizarre stories from around the world are presented in comic sketches, offbeat characters, and fun music. The program will feature a World Service Talent Search, go behind the scenes at Bush House, and have listeners live on the air. Your most outrageous stories are solicited, too. Has something embarrassing happened to you? To a friend? Heard a good joke lately? Read something funny in your local paper? If so, send your contributions to Rick Adams, The World In Your Ear, to the usual Bush House address. Repeated Tuesdays 1445; also airs to Europe Sundays 0445.

Light Entertainment

Mondays, beginning January 8th, 1130: Screenplay is a new six-part 30-minute quiz show on the USA’s most enduring export: feature films. Movie music, war films, Marilyn Monroe, and Bette Davis are all covered; for example, can you name five of Elvis Presley’s more than 30 films? Tune into Screenplay, not to this columnfor the answer. Also airs Sundays 1530 and to Europe Tuesdays 1830.


Upcoming Target Topics:

I’m sure you’ll find information on the Ninth(!) Winter SWL Festival elsewhere in this month’s Journal. If you have never attended and have the time available, it’s worth the trip. I always enjoy meeting the faces behind the books, programs, columns, E-mails, et cetera, and I find we all learn from each other in this wonderful hobby called shortwave listening/DXing.

Hope to see you all there!

Thanks to John Figliozzi, Peter Bowen, and Ken MacHarg for their contributions this month.

Until February,
73 DE Richard

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