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
Check out this brilliant BBC Witness History piece regarding the British propaganda effort during WWII:
How sex, jazz and ‘fake news’ were used to undermine the Nazis in World War Two. In 1941, the UK created a top secret propaganda department, the Political Warfare Executive to wage psychological warfare on the German war machine. It was responsible for spreading rumours, generating fake news, leaflet drops and creating fake clandestine German radio stations to spread misinformation and erode enemy morale. We hear archive recordings of those involved and speak to professor Jo Fox of the Institute of Historical Research about the secret history of British “black propaganda”.
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, Tracy Wood (K7UO), who shares the following guest post:
Bolivian Miners’ Radio Station Documentaries
Bolivian mine workers’ radio stations have long held an affinity among these Altiplano communities. Many were stations were targeted for shootings, bombings, etc. by forces loyal to earlier dictatorships. Today, few stations remain as the mining sector has declined in importance and newer generations migrate to the larger cities and lowland farming regions.
Radio Nacional de Huanuni and the Catholic church’s Radio Pio XII are two of the remaining miners’ stations with some long-standing shortwave presence; others like Chocaya’s Radio Ánimas permanently signed off with the mining center’s closing.
Two documentaries have been made about this earlier Bolivian miners’ broadcasting movement. The first one is a 30-minute 1983 UNESCO documentary entitled “La Voz del Minero” (“The Voice of the Miner”). This grainy 16-mm Spanish-language documentary fortunately has been ported to YouTube. The film features audio and video clips from several stations including Radio Nacional de Huanuni, Radio Pio XII, Radio Ánimas and Radio Vanguardia. Sharp eyes will notice at the 26-minute point a console-mounted Hammarlund HQ receiver in Radio Pio XII’s studios.
The second documentary is from 2017 but remains in limited release. It includes many interviews/images. The film is called “Las Voces del Socavón” (“Voices of the Tunnels) by Argentine filmmakers Magalí Vela Vázquez and Julia Delfini.
“La Voz del Minero”:
“Las Voces del Socavón” (trailer)
(interview on ATB TV)
Listening to the Huanuni station you will hear 1970’s-era taped IDs listing the shortwave channel. Evenings and Sundays are the best times for those flashback moments.
For further backgrounder Don Moore published a 2004 Monitoring Times piece which can be found here: http://www.pateplumaradio.com/south/bolivia/miners.html
A larger complex topic read is the 2004 book by Alan O’Connor titled “Community Radio in Bolivia: The Miners’ Radio Station.” (Edwin Mellen Press Ltd, ISBN-13 978-0773463929).
As an aside, perhaps the most esoteric cinematic reference to shortwave can be found in Kiro Russo’s 2016 Bolivian mining-themed movie “Viejo Calavera” (Dark Skull). In one nighttime scene, Radio Pio XII (Siglo XX) plays in the background with announcer mentioning Pio XII is broadcasting their shortwave call-in show and getting DX reports from Sweden. (Sorry, this cool background banter is not subtitled to English.)
Finally, both documentaries feature the haunting song “El Minero” by Savia Andina sung in Spanish and Quechua. The best YouTube video of the song with Quechua-to-Spanish translation is found here:
Musica.com has the lyrics.
Celebrating UNESCO’s International Year of indigenous Languages with shortwave radio!
– Tracy Wood (K7UO)
Thank you so much, Tracy, for sharing these fascinating documentaries!
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David shares the following note:
“Endless thanks to DJ Cintronics, and Dren Starr for sharing their stories. Thanks also to Myke Dodge Weiskopf and Nick White of KCRW for their incredible, skillful work and dedication bringing this to fruition.
If by chance you are not a hip hop fan, I would still encourage you to listen to this compelling two person narrative about people who love music and the lengths they go to put it on the air.”
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: