Jonathan explores the past and present of the Radio Netherlands Madagascar Relay Station

Madagascar Transmission Towers (Source: Critical Distance)

Madagascar Transmission Towers (Source: Critical Distance)

Many thanks to former RNW Media Network host, Jonathan Marks, for sharing this insightful look at the Radio Netherlands Madagascar Relay Stationa must read!

Indeed, check out this article and many more on Jonathan’s Critical Distance Weblog.

If you were a fan of Media Network, you should also bookmark Jonathan’s Media Network Vintage Vault.

RNW looks into Zimbabwe’s history of media repression

Zimbabwe-MapIronically, Radio Netherlands Worldwide was once an international voice for those living without free press. In the following RNW article,  Dlamini points out that technology is advancing at a rapid pace and media outlets increasing; however, radio remains the most accessible means of receiving news and information, and unlike technologies that rely on the Internet and mobile phone networks, radio listening cannot be easily traced or monitored by those in power.

It is my sincere hope that, somehow, RNW’s voice will once again find the means to speak for those in need of free press.

Even 33 years after winning the fight for independence, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe remains a harsh critic of the white colonial government’s system. But with his recent ban on radios, he is imposing the same oppressive tactics that he himself once fought against to liberate his people.

By Nkosana Dlamini, Harare

As I write, Zimbabwe’s statutes are being stiffened with the state oppression that Mugabe himself once fought against. A case in point is the state’s recent banning of small wind-up radios with a short-wave dial.

To understand better, let’s first rewind a few decades…

Chiefs and Commandos
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, gained independence in 1980 after a protracted guerrilla war. At its peak, in the 1970s, the two main fighting movements, ZIPRA and ZANLA, established exiled radio stations in neighbouring countries where their fighters received training. These stations broadcast into Zimbabwe via short and medium-wave. It was the way to communicate with the local villagers who supported the war by sharing intelligence and foodstuffs.

But in a bid to thwart enemy operations, Ian Smith, the last white Rhodesian ruler, developed strategies that forced radios to be fitted with frequency modulation (FM), as opposed to short wave.

Manufactured by local Zimbabwean firms, Smith’s FM radio sets were branded with the name ‘Chief’.[…]Other radios were manufactured under the name ‘Commando’ and distributed to soldiers in the bush. The government’s intention here was to keep spirits up with music and programmes in which troops could request favourite songs and relay messages about their welfare to loved ones.

Mugabe’s heavy hand
Smith claimed – as Mugabe does now – to be shielding people from pirate stations broadcasting hate speech. In both eras, locals have been instilled with fear. They have had to resort to listening to exiled stations from under the blankets and in their barns, anxious that their neighbours might see them using forbidden radios.

[…]Even under Zimbabwe’s stringent laws today, it is not a crime to own a radio receiver. But, by day, Mugabe’s state agents confiscate the radios and harass citizens found in possession of them – a practice that gets revved up each time a Zimbabwean election looms. By night, the same agents return home to tune into exiled stations via the radios they’ve confiscated. In some instances, they distribute them among their relatives.

The state says it is confiscating the receivers because they are being brought into the country by NGOs without paying a customs fee. In some instances, the do admit they are trying to prevent ordinary citizens from accessing exiled Zimbabwean radio stations through shortwave – a unique feature in these radios.

In other ways, too, Mugabe has proven worse than his predecessor. He has made repeated attempts to scramble these stations’ signals. He is also allegedly responsible for the 2002 bombing of exiled station Radio Voice of the People and the 2000 and 2001 bombings of independent newspaper The Daily News.

Today’s listener
But Mugabe may be fighting a losing battle. Technological advances are no longer so slow. Today’s listener is not only more stubborn, but also more able to access alternative media sources such as the internet and digital satellite broadcasters.

Radio is also accessible via cell phone and computer. Most Zimbabweans now own cheap Asian-import cars fitted with radios that can access Studio 7, the exiled station most despised by Mugabe which has coverage even wider than that of the FM state broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation (ZBC). Radio Voice of the People and Short Wave Radio Africa are two other exiled stations that attract a generous listenership.

And the stricter Mugabe gets about the ban’s imposition, the more ravenous becomes the appetite of Zimbabwean citizens. They want to hear precisely what the state broadcaster cannot – or will not – put in their domain.

(Source: RNW)

Radio Netherlands Worldwide archives in danger

RNW(Source: NRC Handelsblad, with translation by Andy Sennitt.)

Radio Netherlands Worldwide and the Broadcasting Music Centre must find a new home for their archives by 1 July. RNW is still looking for a home for its extensive music collection, paper archives and recordings of many broadcasts in languages such as Indonesian, Arabic and Sranan Tongo since 1947. The Broadcasting Music Centre has from 1 August no place for five kilometres of sheet music, sometimes handwritten.

Media Historian Huub Wijfjes finds it astonishing. “We have institutions like Sound and Vision and the Eye Film Institute that were established to ensure that we don’t make the mistakes of the sixties and seventies when everything was discarded. Now the same thing is likely to happen again. For me, my sources will be lost. ”

Sound and Vision seems a logical place, but there is a problem. Collection Curator Hans van der Windt explains: “Access to large archives costs money that we don’t have. For example, we need to have the copyright to the material in order to make it available for research, but most organizations don’t want to give up the copyright.”

Many thanks to Andy Sennit for apprising us of this and for translating the original item from the NRC Handelsblad. I do sincerely hope that an educational institution or benefactor steps up to the plate to help RNW find a proper home for these significant and invaluable archives.

Trevor Baylis in the Vintage Vault

RNW-MediaNetworkEarlier this week, I posted an article about wind-up (clockwork) radio inventor, Trevor Baylis.

I recently discovered a 1995 episode of RNW’s Media Network, which featured Baylis–and the clockwork radio–in the context of inventions that would carry us beyond the new millenium:

(Source: Media Network Vintage Vault)

Remember Trevor Baylis and the wind-up radio? I organised a conference for Radio Netherlands at the International Broadcasting Convention IBC between September 11-14th 1995. We decided to celebrate the fact that we were 5 years away from a new Millennium by looking at the technologies that would carry us forward. That included a look at different codings for DAB, a reality check on radio by Sri Lankan broadcaster Victor Goonetilleke and a special performance about the Clockwork Radio from Trevor Baylis, the British inventor who turned up in Amsterdam and charmed the audience with his frank, funny and brilliant introduction to the concept of wind-up radios. A few weeks after the conference we produced a special CD for those who took part. This is a copy for those who missed it. It’s double the length of a normal Media Network, just over an hour.

You can download this archive episode of Media Network on the Vintage Vault website.

By the way, Jonathan Mark’s Media Network Vintage Vault has many, many audio treasures from the radio past. Certainly worth bookmarking!

RNW radio equipment for sale

mixing_board(Source: Andy Sennitt via Facebook)

From the Dutch website (my translation):

The disappearance of a number of tasks of Radio Netherlands Worldwide means some of the technical equipment is now available for sale. This includes a fully equipped Network Operations Centre with a network matrix of NTP, a complete Studer system with four presentation cells and and a master console, six Studer ‘WPM’s’, all of the type ‘On-Air’ 3000 or ‘On-Air’ 2500. In addition, many peripherals are offered, including Airtools voice processors.

Are you interested in these assets? Respond by March 15, 2013 by sending an e-mail to roland.hiltermann [a t]

“The era of short-wave radio is behind us” and other inaccuracies from the new RNW

RNWRNW announced “A new Radio Netherlands Worldwide” just yesterday on their website; here is their announcement in its entirety (my comments follow).


“This coming year is an important one for RNW. A year in which, at the age of 65, we will be reinventing ourselves. Our new Editor-in-Chief William Valkenburg officially begins today; he looks to what lies ahead of us in 2013.

“The era of short-wave radio is behind us; satellite and Internet are the communication channels of the future. The worldwide dissemination of information is no longer the exclusive domain of specialised broadcasters. Via internet, anyone anywhere can reach out to the world with a good story.

“That doesn’t mean journalists and broadcasters are redundant; quite the contrary in fact. Huge amounts of information are available more and more quickly and via all sorts of different channels. The need to filter, analyse and investigate all this information remains the same while the goalposts of journalism have moved completely.

Active link
“Our public is no longer a passive audience that very occasionally might write us a letter, but an active link in the process of newsgathering and distribution. Our public engages actively in discussion and has stories that are worth telling. They help us filter by letting us know what is or isn’t relevant to them. And via social media, our public spreads our best stories further abroad.

“RNW will have to forge a strong and unique identity if we are to win a place as a visible force in the new media landscape. Focus and specialisation are key. Free access to information, freedom of expression, good governance, and civil and sexual rights are the pillars of the new RNW: universal themes we’ll be tackling with an individualistic Dutch approach. We’ll be focusing our work in areas where freedoms are limited and aiming to appeal to a younger generation that is increasingly tuned in to new media.

New stories
“2013 is Year Zero for the new-look RNW. A year in which we’ll be looking more than ever to strengthen cooperation with our partners and audiences in China, Latin America, Africa and the Arab world. A year in which we’ll be actively looking for new ways to find and tell the stories that are important to our audience, and in which our audiences will be encouraged to play an ever more active part. A year in which we’ll be pushing ourselves to cement the ties with our audience and our themes. A year, in short, of dialogue and renewal.”


And, unfortunately, of short-sighted misstatements and errors. No doubt, SWLing Post readers know how we feel about this–it’s a recurrent theme in many of our posts.

Shortwave is not behind us, but RNW’s ability to listen may be.

As a shortwave radio broadcaster, RNW arguably had a dedicated listener pool in the millions. Of course, it’s hard to know, because those living in poverty and those living under repressive regimes–millions of listeners–who lack free internet access and whose free speech is regularly quelled, don’t have the ability to cry out, “We’re listening–!”

Millions of ears are still tuned to the static you recently vacated. Outreach in all forms–even via shortwave–is vital, and communication with those still without Internet or freedom (or the voices to tell you so) is a form of diplomacy more valuable than any money spent to achieve it.

RNWin2013Perhaps host of the previous RNW’s acclaimed program The State We’re In, Jonathan Grubert, had a point when Jonathan Marks interviewed him on the night of RNW’s final shortwave broadcast. Marks asked if RNW had stayed on shortwave too long, to which Grubert responded by saying, “Yeah, I think Radio Netherlands stayed on shortwave too long.” I think Grubert believed that RNW had remained faithful to shortwave at the expense of resources required for other contemporary and future media. And at the expense of their future.

As much as we hate to admit it, he was probably correct…in part. The fact is, the previous incarnation of RNW should have focused on making their shortwave broadcasting arm more lean and efficient, in order to continue to target parts of the world that need it most, while diversifying their media delivery systems to include the Internet, satellite and wireless in all forms. Instead, the organization failed to adapt, and funds were cut completely, leaving RNW gutted. But the lesson is apparently not learned:  the new but-not-proved RNW seems to be putting all its eggs in one (Internet) basket, as well.

Indeed, this is the problem with shortwave broadcasting in general.  Many broadcasters developed their transmission infrastructure either during WWII or in the Cold War, when countries were willing to invest vast sums of money in order to have their national voice heard. Broadcasting sites were never intended to be efficient: resources were either cheaper when the services were initiated or efficiency simply was not a concern in the days before fiscal cliffs.

Today, it’s true that shortwave radio is on the decline in many parts of the world, particularly first-world countries. In the great pie chart that represents all of the content delivery systems an international broadcaster has at their disposal, the shortwave slice should be thinner, while Internet and wireless-based systems must also be included. Diversification is key.  Indeed, I would also argue that a small, separate slice of the budget should be reserved for future HF content delivery systems–such as innovations that are based upon the shortwave radio medium and existing infrastructures. We’d like to think that many are doing this now. After all, shortwave is still the only international communications medium that is resilient to jamming and thus to censorship.

What’s obvious is that shortwave is still highly relevant to those who rely on it, just as the Internet is crucial to the future of international broadcasting. There’s a false dichotomy in the “shortwave vs Internet” argument, and broadcasters and the governments that support them are fooling themselves if they think cutting shortwave will lead to their fiscal salvation and a promised future in new media technologies. One might as well argue the relative merits of wealthy versus poor, or of first world nations versus third because that’s where the divide takes place…Does the former have more “right” to information than the latter?  “Free access to information, freedom of expression, good governance, and civil and sexual rights are the pillars of the new RNW.” Already, the first “pillar” of RNW is crumbling under its complete dismissal of shortwave–a tested and effective international content delivery system that requires no subscription and streams at the speed of light.

We found at least this statement from their announcement to be accurate:

“RNW will have to forge a strong and unique identity if we are to win a place as a visible force in the new media landscape…”

In order to achieve this goal–namely, to actively engage a global audience on the “new” world wide web–RNW will need spectacular content created by exceptional talent–much like they had only last year, that is, before they incomprehensibly severed it. As much as we want to believe that Radio Netherlands will continue to have something to contribute to the media landscape after shutting down their shortwave service and gutting their resource pool of talented and dedicated journalists, we’re deeply, profoundly skeptical.  To say the least.

Why? They’re nearly two decades late to this game. Obviously, the Internet is no longer a “new” media landscape; it’s absolutely saturated with content and communications innovations. RNW has dispensed with the one thing they might have brought to the Internet–their programming. Once we learned that RNW was going to cut The State We’re In–an award-winning program, arguably RNW’s most popular–we knew RNW wasn’t making logical goal-based decisions to mark their place in future media.  RNW’s claim that it will “forge a strong and unique identity” in the face of cutting all that made it respectable, listener-worthy and unique, shows a decided lack of judgement…a lack of direction.

RNW, no one is going to listen if you’ve nothing worth hearing. We hope you can find what you’ve lost–your talent, on the one hand, and millions of listeners, on the other.  Connected via radio.

Severance pay of Radio Netherlands CEO under scrutiny

Outgoing Radio Netherlands CEO, Jan Hoek (Photo: RNW)

Outgoing Radio Netherlands CEO, Jan Hoek (Photo: RNW)

(Source: de Volkskrant, translated by Andy Sennitt)

The severance payment for the outgoing CEO of Radio Netherlands Worldwide is excessive. This is what Sander Dekker, deputy minister responsible for the media, wrote on Thursday in a letter to the Lower House of the Dutch parliament.

RNW Director-General Jan Hoek was originally set to receive a fee of 1.1 million euros. Following an urgent request by Mr Dekker and his predecessor, the RNW Supervisory Board agreed with the Director-General to reduce the severance pay to 800,000 euros. Despite the reduction in the amount, according to Mr Dekker it is still “too high and therefore inappropriate and undesirable.”

The Deputy Minister willl investigate the legal issues, but sees no possibility of preventing payment of the severance premium. Mr Dekker says that taking the matter to court offers no solution, because according to the agreement signed in 2001 Mr Hoek is formally entitled to receive his full severance payment.

A new law regulating the salaries of public officials goes into effect on 1 January. This will prevent excessive payments in the future. Under the new rules, a severance payment will be restricted to a maximum of 75,000 euros. But agreements already signed are not covered by the new law.