Radio 4: And now an urgent SOS message…

This is a fascinating Radio 4 documentary about a BBC service that typically had a target audience of one individual.  Before the proliferation of telecommunications in the 1990’s, the BBC’s SOS message service acted as a communications link of last resort for people who needed to be urgently connected with loved ones.

This radio documentary reminded me of the fact that, even in our information age, radio can interact with a large audience of listeners who are doing everything from working to driving in a uniquely efficient manor.

I listened to this documentary yesterday, but it will be available on the BBC website for 5 more days (as of time of posting). Thanks to Andy Sennitt for bringing this documentary to my attention. 

(Source: BBC)

Radio 4 used to broadcast SOS messages – “could Mr and Mrs Snodgrass, believed to be travelling in the Cotswolds please ring this hospital where their auntie is dangerously ill”.

Eddie Mair wants to know more about them. He hears from listeners whose lives were dramatically changed through the SOS service. These short messages were transmitted regularly on The Home Service, and later Radio 4, for much of the 20th century. They appealed for relatives of dying people, often on holiday and thus, before mobile phones and internet cafes, uncontactable, to return home before it was too late.

Eddie invited readers of his Radio Times column to send in their recollections of the SOS Message Service, and little did the PM Presenter expect such a rich response of vivid memories, first person experiences and in one case, unexpected consequences as a result of the broadcast.

Some of these remarkable testimonies are told, in understated, haunting and even cheery ways in this narrative tribute to radio, and a nation, – “as it was”. Best summed up by the tale of a six year old girl in the North East who while staying with a relation in 1958, was hospitalised with a very serious illness. She survived and tells Eddie her story. In the days of very few domestic telephones, the BBC’s SOS message brought her parents to her bedside from London courtesy of an observant member of the public who heard the message and recognised the car number plate that had been announced.

The SOS Service, was the vision of John Reith, the first General Manager, and later Director General of the BBC. But its heart was the listener, as Eddie reveals.

RFE: Radio Farda Families A Target In Iran

One of the points I often make is that repressive regimes can track and take action against citizens who read online content from banned/blocked media sources. Here is a case in point:

(Source: Radio Free Europe)

In an escalation of ongoing efforts to thwart Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian-language Service, Iranian authorities are interrogating journalists’ family members in Iran.

Employees of Radio Farda believe that their journalism, which attracts over 10 million page views monthly on Radio Farda’s website, is the motive behind at least 20 incidents this year involving the interrogation and intimidation of their family members in Iran by officials of the country’s Intelligence Ministry.

In sessions that sometimes lasted for several hours, agents denounced the work of Radio Farda journalists and warned family members against having further contact with them. In several cases they instructed family members to tell their relatives to resign from their jobs and return to Iran; in one instance they demanded that a specific series of reports be discontinued. During questioning, family members were also asked about their foreign contacts and trips abroad.

The interrogations have targeted family members, who in some cases have been repeatedly summoned, in Tehran and at least six other Iranian towns and cities.

“This is a proxy war against Radio Farda. It shows the extremes to which the regime will go to prevent the exchange of information it doesn’t control,” said Steven W. Korn, RFE/RL president. “Our journalists make enormous sacrifices for the work they do and will not submit to this pressure on them and their families.”

Radio Farda, produced in and broadcast from Prague, is a leading source of uncensored information in Iran. Each month 1.5 million users inside the country defy the government by employing proxies to access Radio Farda’s website, which is blocked. Radio Farda and “Pasfarda,” its signature satire program, are active on social media, with a combined 300,000 Facebook fans. Iranians actively participate in Radio Farda’s weekly call-in shows, connect with it daily through hundreds of email and SMS messages, and despite government jamming, tune in to satellite radio and shortwave to hear its programs.

In media freedom surveys this year, Freedom House ranked Iran 192 among 197 countries surveyed and Reporters Without Borders ranked it 175 of 179.

Yet one more reason why shortwave radio is safer than the internet as a reliable source of news and information and one more reason why countries like Canada should not abandon this vital resource.

Paul will never travel without a shortwave radio again

This South African traveler, Paul Ash, will never travel without his shortwave radio again. It has taken him around the world and he has taken it around the world:

(Source: The Times Live)

[…]Some time in the 1980s, my ma gave me a Sony shortwave radio, nine shortwave bands in a box the size of a deck of cards. It was the equivalent of a permanent round-the-world air ticket. Night after night, I hopped frequencies, roaming with the Voice of America, the BBC’s World Service – the mother lode – sometimes the Dutch (when I could find them), and, occasionally, Radio Moscow. So, the Russians were real!

There were no radio plays here, to be sure, but drama – and propaganda – on a grand scale. One night, instead of swotting for the next day’s exam, I listened to the Berlin Wall come down, utterly transported from a summer night in Jo’burg to cheering with Berliners as they helped topple the concrete barrier in an orgy of tearful happiness.

When I started travelling, the radio came with me for entertainment and as an alarm – I figured if there was trouble brewing in whichever dodgy part of the world I was in, it would be the BBC who got wind of it first.

The little radio has been to Vietnam and Kenya, France and Senegal. It filled lonely nights while I roamed America like a freight-hopping bum. It survived a long kayak expedition up Lake Malawi and gave me and my cameraman a passable diversion during an ill-advised summer fortnight in the rotten Hotel Zambeze in Tete, the worst city in Mozambique, if not the world.

Last year, I ditched the radio in favour of a smartphone for a short trip to Poland. The bill for five days of roaming was R2500 without a single moment of entertainment. Never again.

Now the little Sony has fresh batteries and the shortwave frequencies are copied on the back of a business card. No charger, no roaming hassles and free to air. E-mail can wait. I’ll send a couple of postcards instead.[…]

Read the full article at The Times Live.

If you’re thinking about buying a shortwave radio for travel, check out our recommendations for the best travel radios.

In Zimbabwe, “if you want to hear the truth…listen to Shortwave Radio Africa…listen to VOA”

This is a brilliant piece on the lack of press freedom in Zimbabwe and the importance of shortwave radio. It was broadcast yesterday on Weekend All Things Considered. Links to the show and audio are below.

(Source: NPR)

In Seke, a rural community 40 miles outside Harare, James Chidakwa and his father eat roasted nuts and cornmeal inside a small brick hut. They’re farmers who rely heavily on maize and chickens to survive. James Chidakwa says that like many, his family refuses to listen to government TV or radio broadcasts.

“They always lie to the people,” he says. “Everything they say is a lie.”

So at 6 p.m. most evenings, they turn on a battery-powered, short-wave radio and tune in to a “pirate radio station.” Chidakwa says Shortwave Radio Africa and Voice of America are their favorites.

“If you want to hear the truth, wait for the end of the day to listen to Shortwave Radio Africa, to listen to VOA,” he says.

The stations, which are based in the U.K. and the U.S., send their signals through radio towers in countries that border Zimbabwe. That means Zimbabwean officials — who claim these broadcasts are illegal — have little recourse. In the past, they’ve confiscated short-wave radios. Chidakwa says that forces some people to listen undercover.

“Some of them, they will take the radios into their bedrooms and, low volume, they listen to the news. But the truth is, there is fear in them,” he says.

But for Chidakwa and his father, it’s a risk they are prepared to take.

The stations, which are based in the U.K. and the U.S., send their signals through radio towers in countries that border Zimbabwe. That means Zimbabwean officials — who claim these broadcasts are illegal — have little recourse. In the past, they’ve confiscated short-wave radios. Chidakwa says that forces some people to listen undercover.

“Some of them, they will take the radios into their bedrooms and, low volume, they listen to the news. But the truth is, there is fear in them,” he says.

But for Chidakwa and his father, it’s a risk they are prepared to take.

You can listen to the full story from Weekend All Things Considered, by clicking here (mp3), or read the transcript on this page.

This is just one more story we’ll file under “Why Shortwave Radio.”

RCI, and others, I wish you were listening. Those in Zimbabwe certainly are.

“Shortwave listening like a fishing expedition”

(Source: Ventura County Star)

Shortwave listening like a fishing expedition
Trading clicks for turns, clarity for static … and really loving it

It starts with a high-pitched squeal followed by a burst of static.

[…]We’re living in the richest time the world has ever known when it comes to the availability of information from around the globe. But much of it arrives filtered – downsized into sound bites and a few seconds of video carefully selected and massaged by an editor. Almost everything you see and read has been interpreted and edited by professionals.

But when I spin the dial on my shortwave I travel to the source. Perhaps it’s the voice of an airline captain over the Atlantic reporting his position to an operator in New York. Or I may happen on music from a country I couldn’t even begin to spell. At other times I’ll come across news broadcasts from around the world — news that is told with the built-in biases and prejudices of the originating country. It’s all unfiltered, all coming to me as it happens. It’s such a random smorgasbord of information that there would be no way to duplicate it with a television or computer.

Unlike TV or the Web, shortwave listening is a lot like fishing. You never know what you’ll catch. Those who try it for the first time often find satisfaction and even excitement as they troll these waters and make their own catches for the first time.

Read the full article at the Ventura County Star.

China blocks foreign websites for one hour

(Photo: International Herald Tribune)

(Source: The Guardian)

China’s internet users have been cut off from accessing all foreign websites for around an hour in an unexplained incident that sparked speculation the country’s censorship system was being tested or further tightened.

The “great firewall” already blocks many sites hosted from other countries, but users in Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China reported that they could not reach any foreign sites whatsoever on Thursday morning – although it was not clear whether the problems were universal.

Meanwhile, users abroad and in Hong Kong – which is part of China but not subject to Beijing’s net censorship – said they were unable to reach any sites on the Chinese mainland.

Some believed it was purely a technical failure, with several suggesting that Wednesday’s massive earthquakes had hit an undersea cable, disrupting services. In 2007, a tremor hit a major cable and dramatically slowed access to overseas sites for months.

Xu Chuanchao, an executive at Sohu, one of the country’s biggest internet portals, wrote on his microblog: “This malfunction is caused by the failure of China’s backbone network and is under renovation.”

But one company, Data Centre for China Internet, posted: “Latest news: most foreign websites can’t be accessed. Analysis: for commonly known reasons, a large number of foreign URLs are blocked. It is possible that the great firewall is undergoing some readjustment, mistakenly adding many foreign websites to the blocking list. The details are unclear.” (Continue reading article…)

What is clear is that we know China actively blocks foreign websites that criticize their government.   The Chinese website of the Voice of America and Radio Canada International have been blocked for years.  China also censors search engine results.

I believe this incident was most likely a fault in their “great firewall” rather than any network backbone. International broadcasters should take note: as you pull shortwave services targeting China, how will your audience there hear you?

Censorship in Djibouti: International broadcasters, take note

I just caught wind of a now all-too-familiar story in international broadcasting–this time, via Reporters Without Borders.

While I encourage you to read the full press release below, the summarized story is that Reporters Without Borders has launched a mirror web site for La Voix de Djibouti, an independent news source in Djibouti. Why? Because the regime in power in Djibouti, in an effort to stifle the free press, have decided to block the primary website of La Voix de Djibouti.

The article states (we add the boldface):

A Europe-based exile radio station that supports the opposition Renewal and Development Movement (MRD), La Voix de Djibouti, began by broadcasting on the short wave and then switched to being a web radio, but the authorities have blocked access to its website from within Djibouti.

The decision to move off of shortwave has, in essence, severely limited their freedom of the press and their listeners’/subscribers’ access to information. Reporters Without Borders is addressing this censorship by actively creating mirror sites of La Voix de Djibouti that are hosted outside of the blocked domains.

This is admirable, and we strongly support their worthy efforts in creating mirror sites.  However, this solution is, at best, full of holes:

  1. How do those who wish to follow the news find each new mirror site after it has been blocked?  And presuming they can do so, how long will this take to figure out?
  2. Will the website reader be tracked by the government and/or punished for attempting to circumvent imposed blocking? (Hint: Most regimes now have tools to do this: read this and this.) Has anyone considered these consequences to any individual  caught for circumventing a blocked site?
  3. What if the regime decides to simply turn off the internet? Can they do this?  Sure they can…and frustratingly, they may.

As we’ve stated here many times before, the Internet is a wonderful information resource and it is proliferating across the planet. But with the Internet, as with FM radio, cable TV and terrestrial TV, repressive regimes can and do hold the power button, as well as the ability to control the content, or even take it over.

Shortwave radio is comparatively immune to this, and moreover, is untraceable. When we eliminate the infrastructure that supports shortwave broadcasting (as is happening at RCI Sackville) we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Poor child.

Full article as follows:

(Source: Reporters Without Borders)

4 April 2012–Reporters Without Borders has today launched a mirror site of radio La Voix de Djibouti’s website,, in order to help circumvent the government’s censorship and allow the population to have access to a news sources to which it is being denied.

The media freedom organization invites Internet users to go to in order to access an exact copy of the original site.

“As this is a country without media freedom, where only government propaganda is tolerated, we think it is crucial to help the population to gain access to other news sources,” Reporters Without Borders said. “While it is true that the level of Internet use is still low in Djibouti, it is not negligible, and use of social networks in particular is growing. The population will now be able to read critical news bulletins online.”

A Europe-based exile radio station that supports the opposition Renewal and Development Movement (MRD), La Voix de Djibouti began by broadcasting on the short wave and then switched to being a web radio but the authorities have blocked access to its website from within Djibouti.

So that independent news websites that are targeted by cyber-attacks and government blocking can continue posting information online, Reporters Without Borders has started mirroring sites. The first sites to be mirrored were those of the Chechen magazine Dosh and the Sri Lankan online newspaper Lanka-e News. The organization has also been urging Internet users all over the world to create more mirrors of these sites in a chain of solidarity.

Mirror sites can be used to circumvent blocking by governments. Although the government of Djibouti is blocking access to La Voix de Djibouti’s site,, by blocking the site domain name or the hosting server’s IP address, Internet users can still access the Reporters Without Borders mirror site,, because it is hosted on another server with another domain name.

The mirror site will be regularly and automatically updated with all the new content posted on the original site. If the mirror is itself later also blocked, the creation of further mirror sites together with a regularly updated list of these mirrors will continue to render the blocking ineffective in what is known as a Streisand effect.

Reporters Without Borders urges Internet users who want to help combat censorship and have the ability to host a site on a web server to follow suit. Send the URL of the mirror site you have created to wefightcensorship [at] The next mirroring operations launched by Reporters Without Borders will be reported on the @RSF_RWB and @RSFNet Twitter accounts with the #RSFmirror hashtag.