A few moments ago, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas, and taking the name Pope Francis I. When breaking news like this is happens, I often turn to shortwave radio to hear it “from the source;” what better station for news about the Papal elections than Vatican Radio? Right?
Hm. When I turned to Vatican Radio on 13.765 MHZ at 20:00 UTC today, here is what I heard:
After a little music and announcement confusion–including what sounds like at least three audio feeds coming in at once–Vatican Radio settles on an announcement program which states, in several languages, “Vatican Radio’s programming schedule is currently being modified to cover the election of the new Pope.”
It wasn’t until thirty minutes later (20:30 UTC), when the Vatican Radio service to Africa started in French on 11.625 MHz, that I heard any substantive news about the new Pope:
Of course, I can find information about the new Pope from any one of two million different online sources, but it did surprise me that Vatican Radio wasn’t better prepared for this event. I even wondered if there was a different broadcast running on a consecutive frequency, so I checked; all were identical, however.
Still, the radio archivist in me can’t help but experience some appreciation of the confusion on the airwaves. After all, this is a genuine piece of radio history and a fascinating thirty minutes of audio in the wake of a big decision.
In my mind, I envision the Vatican Radio staff frantically stirring to assemble news–for which they had no advance notice–regarding the new Pope. No doubt, the CNNs, BBCs, and Al Jazeeras of the world had pre-prepared material on each of the papal candidates. When the white plume of smoke announcing the election was first spotted, these broadcasters were likely more than ready to pull out the appropriate material and publish.
Perhaps this is not how Vatican Radio usually operates. Indeed, I suspect their live feed of events experienced a technical difficulty which they have, no doubt, since resolved. And for what it’s worth, their website was appropriately up-to-date.
History: sometimes bumpy, but always fascinating. Especially on the airwaves.