Spectres of Shortwave: near completion

SackvilleCurtainAntennas

I took this photo of the RCI Sackville curtain antennas in June, 2012. (Photo: Thomas)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares this CBC New Brunswick article about Amanda Dawn Christie’s film, Spectres of Shortwave:

(Source: CBC)

Amanda Dawn Christie launching documentary about demise of RCI towers

Documentary ‘Spectres of Shortwave’ to be finished in time for possible premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs

Moncton artist Amanda Dawn Christie says after six years, her documentary Spectres of Shortwave, about the demise of the Radio-Canada International towers in Sackville, is nearly complete.

“A project like this is very hard,” Christie said in an interview on Information Morning Moncton. “When I went into this project they weren’t supposed to be tearing the towers down.”

After budget cuts in 2012, CBC announced the shortwave service would end after 67 years of broadcasting around the world.

Christie calls that decision a loss for the international community.

“Shortwave communication is something that will always get through. Even though technology advances and people rely on the internet — not everyone can afford a computer or digital receiver … Canada was known for more objective, non-biased broadcasting.”

Continue reading on the CBC New Brunswick website…

Remembering Radio Canada International’s final shortwave broadcast

The transmitter building of Radio Canada International, Sackville, NB.

The transmitter building of Radio Canada International, Sackville, NB.

I spent the summer of 2012 in an off-grid cabin on the eastern coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada. That summer, I listened as two of my favorite shortwave broadcasters left the air within weeks of each other: Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Radio Canada International.

I was able to not only listen to the final broadcasts of Radio Netherlands, but also record them. I wrote a post about that memorable experience.

Ironically, though I was only a geographic stone’s-throw from the RCI Sackville transmitter site, I struggled to hear any Sackville signals as my location was too close for skywave propagation and a little too far for ground wave. Though I paid a visit to the transmitter site only two days prior, I was unable to hear or record RCI’s final broadcast.

Unlike RNW’s final broadcasts, RCI’s ended without fanfare and quite abruptly. This week, I heard a recording of that final RCI broadcast for the first time. My friend, Rajdeep Das, recorded it on June 24, 2012 in Kolkata, India. Rajdeep has kindly shared his recording with the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive and here on the SWLing Post.

This is a short 10 minute recording, beginning at 1550 UTC, June 24, 2012 on 11,675 kHz. Listeners will note that the broadcast ends abruptly during the mailbag program–obviously the Sackville transmitters were turned off prematurely.

Click here to download the recording as an MP3, or simply listen via the embedded player below:

While we’re talking about RCI, I would also like to thank @LeedsRadio, @UKDXer and Al Holt for sharing the following brilliant QSLs and pennant:

UK-DXer-RCI-QSL

Source: @UKDXer via Twitter

LeedsRadio-RCI-NorthQuebecService-QSL

Source: @LeedsRadio via Twitter

Al-Holt-RCI-QSL

Source: @grovekid2 (Al Holt) via Twitter

 

Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!

SWLing Post readers should note that Rajdeep Das has a DX blog you should visit. I’ve added Rajdeep’s site to our blog roll. Thanks again, Rajdeep!

Radio Canada International 70th Anniversary was bittersweet for some

The transmitter building of Radio Canada International, Sackville, NB.

The transmitter building of Radio Canada International, Sackville, NB (June, 2012).

RCI Action

We recently noted that Radio Canada International (RCI) celebrated its 70th year anniversary.  While it was certainly an amazing milestone–dating back to WWII–it was a bittersweet celebration for some. Check out this article on the RCI Action blog:

“The flood of wonderful memories, fueled by the old and not so old photos of Radio Canada International’s 70 years, is now, as I write this, suddenly mixed with regret, lost opportunities, and missing colleagues.

In a way I dreaded this anniversary, not knowing how to deal with this important milestone.

RCI has survived all these years since its first broadcast on February 25, 1945, as Canada’s Voice to the World. But now, almost three years after an 80% budget cut that took us off shortwave radio, cutting us off from our listeners, how do you celebrate? How do you not look with some exasperation, regretfully, wistfully, at how little people, even colleagues, know about RCI’s proud achievements, and its path-breaking innovations?

The contradictions of how some viewed us and the reality is almost too much to bear. People say we used outdated technology, weren’t moving with the times, and no longer needed to explain Canada to the world.

Yet none of this is true.”

[Continue reading on RCI Action…]

Sheldon Harvey

My good friend, and host of the International Radio Report, Sheldon Harvey was interviewed  by Lynn Desjardins of Radio Canada International regarding Radio Canada International’s 70th anniversary. Here is a link to the story and the audio of the interview now accessible through RCI’s webpage

Amanda Dawn Christie

Amanda Dawn Christie

Amanda Dawn Christie

On a similar note, you might check out this interview between Wojtek Gwiazda and film marker, Amanda Dawn Christie. Amanda is making a documentary film about the destruction of the RCI Sackville transmitter site.

Click here to listen to the full interview via Radio Canada International online.

Check out Amanda’s short video of several towers as they were taken down:

1945: Radio Canada International’s first broadcast

RadioListeningMany thanks to Mark for sharing this bit of radio history from the CBC Digital Archives:

“In February 1945, the “Voice of Canada” spoke to the world for the first time. The CBC International Service was founded to broadcast to Canadian Forces overseas in the Second World War. At war’s end the radio service focused on telling the world about Canada in over a dozen languages. Despite budget cuts and critics who accused it of employing communists or operating as a government mouthpiece, the service now called Radio Canada International has persevered. CBC Archives looks back on RCI’s six decades on shortwave.”

Based on this recording, I believe RCI used the same version of O Canada until their very last days as a shortwave broadcaster.

Click here to listen to the clip on the CBC Digital Archives site.

Amanda Dawn Christie shares footage of RCI towers falling

RCI-SpectresOfShortwave

Documentary filmmaker, Amanda Dawn Christie, has been gathering footage to create Spectres of Shortwave: a 90 minute documentary film focusing on the Radio Canada International Sackville transmitting site. Little did Christie know when she started shooting the film several years ago that the site would not only be be shut down but dismantled.

Christie recently shared back-up footage of the towers falling. She describes her videos on Vimeo:

“In the spirit of the founding principles of the CBC and public access to information, i am sharing the back up videos i shot this week of the RCI shortwave towers falling. I retain the copyright to these images, but i do want to share them with anyone who would like to watch them sooner rather than later (given that my film will still be a few month in post production before release). i would also like to thank the CBC for giving me permission to film, and all of the workers on site for being so cooperative and supportive.”

Click here to continue reading and to watch Christie’s footage on Vimeo.

It’s with a heavy heart that I watch these majestic towers fall. After all, I’ve been pretty vocal about how foolish I think Canada is for destroying Sackville. Still, I’m glad someone is documenting it properly. Click here to follow Spectres of Shortwave on Facebook, set to be released later this year (2014). I’ll certainly post updates about the film here.

CTV: Sackville towers will fall soon

1-IMG_2216(Source: CTV News Atlantic)

The international radio transmission towers that have been a fixture on the Tantramar Marsh for decades are being demolished – a lost landmark to people who live in the area.

[…]Radio Canada International erected the towers in Sackville during the Second World War due to the location, which is far enough from the earth’s magnetic pole and a former salt marsh, which means nothing interferes with the signal.

[…]“The little transmitter huts are gone. The antennas that stretch from tower top to tower top have all been removed,” says Sackville resident Allan Smith. “Now, they’ll systematically take down the towers.”

[…]“It’s an old, old technology in radio, and it’s not really used very much anymore,” says Smith. “But still, in places like the Canadian north and Africa, there are still people that use shortwave systems.”

The teardown is expected to take a few months.

Having visited Sackville and spent time with their staff (who have all been relocated or made redundant), I’m very sad to see such an amazing, modern transmitter site be demolished. Such a waste.

Thoughts after the Canadian RCI/CBC Senate hearing

CBC-RCI-HearingLast night, I listened to a live stream of the Canadian senate hearings regarding last year’s Radio Canada International cuts to shortwave radio. CBC president Hubert LaCroix and RCI director Michelle Parent met remarkably little criticism or resistance in the hearing, and it appears the report to the senate will be nothing short of cheerleading for the CBC. Indeed, the hearing’s tone overall was one of self-congratulation.

The decision to cut RCI in this manner is a prime example of a few officials with all-too-limited knowledge making decisions in the absence of experts’ input.  The business decision seemed to them essentially sound, and yet the impact of the decision has far-reaching negative consequences–for Canadians and as well as the rest of the world–that these officials may never fully comprehend.

Notes from the hearing:

  • All but one senator patted CBC and RCI management on the back for becoming more innovative in the wake of devastating budget cuts; only one suggested that such innovation could have been achieved prior to them
  • No one asked if the CBC explored the possibility of scaling back shortwave services without closing the Sackville, NB transmitter site and eliminating shortwave broadcasts altogether, which would have been a much better use of funds as well as maintaining foreign relations and domestic security
  • Hubert LaCroix basically suggested that people living in oppressed regions could gain access to RCI via mobile platforms (sadly, this is not the case)
  • When asked how cuts to shortwave have effected their listenership and demographic, LaCroix basically shrugged his shoulders and pointed out how difficult it is to judge how many people listen on shortwave.  (My response: What areas of our world lack a power grid infrastructure? Fully 1/4 of our planet.  These are the underserved who rely heavily on shortwave)
  • No one inquired about the impact upon their Chinese audience, as RCI’s website is blocked in China; meanwhile, shortwave continues to be comparatively impermeable to firewalls and is untraceable in restrictive countries

Monsieur LaCroix made it clear that the primary CBC mandate is to be a creative, innovative media force within Canada. For him, and most of CBC management, Radio Canada International must have felt like a leech to their dwindling budget. Were I in his position, with limited information and a mandate to protect his main “client” set (Canadians living in Canada)–I might have made the same decision.   And yet…it was the wrong one.

What would have solved the problem in the first place?  Radio Canada International should have been its own entity, with its own budget to manage, however modest–and if anything, funded through the foreign office rather than the domestic public news/entertainment body. After all, what RCI accomplished on shortwave was far more humanitarian and diplomatic in nature.

I’ve written at length about the RCI cuts and will not go into them further on this post. But I do believe RCI Sackville could have been a more efficient and productive operation if it employed some sensible changes. Sackville had just finished installing a (paid-for) technology infrastructure to remotely operate the entire transmitter site. Moreover, Sackville management told me they had planned to cut their staff to a skeleton crew (of three people, if memory serves), only to be there if something mechanical on site needed service. These new adjustments were not even tried.

Additionally, using a market model, RCI/Sackville could have offered their relay services to more broadcasters at competitive (even market) rates. Their hourly rate to broadcast on shortwave was simply too high, thus potential customers sought more efficient cost-effective transmission sites. Sackville was never given the tools to become a self-funding operation like so many private broadcasters have become.

Sackville’s infrastructure was an incomparably valuable resource in which many millions in taxpayer money was already invested and paid in full; sadly, these cuts have destroyed this investment.  The Sackville site, moreover, had the potential of a sleeping army, both in foreign affairs…and in Canadian security.  But it’s gone.  Simply because a few politicians doing their near-best didn’t have all the relevant information.

RCIFor what it’s worth

RCI still has some great talent on board. Canadian expats living abroad, and those  who are connected to the web, can still enjoy RCI via the website or on mobile platforms. That is an audience that may actually expand through a social media presence–something they could have done more effectively prior to the budget cuts last year.

I was also encouraged to hear that there is a serious effort to distribute RCI’s online audio content–free of charge–to broadcasters in local radio stations around the world. This is very positive: FM, though not as accessible as shortwave in Africa, has a strong community following and stations are appearing everywhere. I hope RCI has a dedicated employee whose sole focus is to identify and build connections with these local outlets for their content.

Barring a takeover or drastic re-organization, it sounds like Radio Canada International over shortwave is now destined for the history books. To honor this history, I sincerely hope the new RCI innovates and penetrates new markets. And I hope RCI employees, many of whom have long memories, find challenge and renewed confidence going forward. We certainly appreciate all of the years during which they graced the shortwaves, and wish them all the best.