SWLing Post readers will surely enjoy this brilliant BBC World Service documentary about Radio Berlin International Service to Africa. “Comrade Africa” offers a 53-minute fascinating blast from the cold-war past with many nostalgic RBI airchecks and programming analyses.
How Communist East Germany tried to influence Africa via radio, during the Cold War. The West often saw the GDR as a grim and grey place, so it’s something of a surprise to find a radio station based in East Berlin playing swinging African tunes. Yet Radio Berlin International (RBI), the ‘voice of the German Democratic Republic’, made it all happen over the many years it broadcast to Africa. It built on the little known strong bonds between East Germany and several large states in Africa such as Tanzania and Angola during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
Dr Emily Oliver, a historian of postwar Germany from Warwick University, finds out why multicultural Radio Berlin International was a special place within East Germany and what happened behind the scenes. The government set tight reporting restrictions on output. Staff faced the dilemma of following the rules while competing with the likes of the BBC World Service. They were also conscious of the output of the station’s main direct rival, West Germany’s Deutsche Welle, which portrayed the world quite differently. And how did RBI employees coming from nations like Tanzania cope with working for the oppressive East German regime?
Emily hears how RBI appealed to listeners in Africa, reveals how East Germans and Angolans made friends over coffee and tractors, and discovers how the Cold War played out in Africa at a time when many African states were fighting for independence.
Presenter: Emily Oliver
Producer: Sabine Schereck
Researcher: Balthazar Kitundu
Editor: Hugh Levinson
Readers: Neil McCaul, Leone Ouedraogo (podcast only), Ian Conningham and Adam Courting
The Two Comrades: Will Kirk and Greg Jones
SWLing Post friend, David Goren (the same fellow behind Shortwaveology and the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map) has just produced and presented a BBC World Service documentary about the pirate radio scene in NYC.
Spoiler alert: it’s amazing–!
Below, I’ve included the description and audio links from the BBC World Service:
New York City’s pirates of the air
As the workday winds down across New York, you can tune in to a clandestine world of unlicensed radio stations; a cacophonous sonic wonder of the city. As listeners begin to arrive home, dozens of secret transmitters switch on from rooftops in immigrant enclaves. These stations are often called ‘pirates’ for their practice of commandeering an already licensed frequency.
These rogue stations evade detection and take to the air, blanketing their neighbourhoods with the sounds of ancestral lands blending into a new home. They broadcast music and messages to diverse communities – whether from Latin America or the Caribbean, to born-again Christians and Orthodox Jews.
Reporter David Goren has long followed these stations from his Brooklyn home. He paints an audio portrait of their world, drawn from the culture of the street. Vivid soundscapes emerge from tangled clouds of invisible signals, nurturing immigrant communities struggling for a foothold in the big city.
With thanks to KCRW and the Lost Notes Podcast episode Outlaws of the Airwaves: The Rise of Pirate Radio Station WBAD.
Producer/Presenter: David Goren
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who shares a link to this BBC documentary about pirate radio:
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Hansgen, who shares the following documentary film about the evolution of broadcast radio. This film was actually created for a senior thesis presentation at St. Michael’s College. The film “includes interviews from BBC World Tonight & Joe Reilly (Former President NYS Broadcasters Assn), Empire Broadcasting The Jockey, Clear Channel, WEQX, ESPN, SirusXM, VPR, Skidmore College, & more.”
Impressive film especially considering this was created as a senior thesis!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Hansgen (K8RAT), who shares the following “Modern Marvels” documentary on the history of radio:
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, William Lee, who notes that the radio documentary Elettra is now available to rent (A$5.10) or download via Vimeo. Note that this program has geographic restrictions and may be limited to streaming in Australia:
Encouraged by her friendship with Australian broadcaster, Ben Starr, the Princess opens her home and her heart to recall and relive her family’s saga.
Her own story is counter-pointed by her memories of her father and all he achieved. As a girl, Elettra watched her father create magic. For her, the use of radio technology to save the?lives of the Titanic survivors and to track down criminals was just part of her father’s wizardry. He had started a revolution. Wireless became the most fabulous invention of the 19th century: the public thought it was miraculous, and leading scientists of the day could not understand how it worked.
Elettra inherited the Marconi empire when she was seven years old. Having spent her life travelling the world to promote her father’s legacy, the Princess now plans to turn her crumbling family palace in Bologna into a radiant academy for the arts and science.
From the gardens of enchanted villas, to the corridors of the Vatican, we peek into the cracks of a new “Dolce Vita”, where nothing is quite what it seems.
For all her joyful enthusiasm, the Princess has found little support for her plan in Italy’s dysfunctional ministries and is searching far beyond. Can she make her dream come true?
If you enjoyed Garth Mullins’ radio documentary “End of the Dial” you might also enjoy his follow up, “Snow on the Dial-The Voice of Denendeh Falls Silent.”
Mullins also produces the podcast, East Van Calling, which focuses on radio and various social justice issues in Canada. Subscribe to East Van Calling via SoundCloud: