Tag Archives: Radio Documentaries

“Empire of the Air” – a history of radio broadcasting

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mike Hansgen, who notes that Ken Burns’ film, Empire of the Air is now streaming on YouTube. This impressive documentary was originally broadcast in 1992.  The following is a summary taken from the Empire of the Air website:

For 50 years radio dominated the airwaves and the American consciousness as the first “mass medium.” In Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, Ken Burns examines the lives of three extraordinary men who shared the primary responsibility for this invention and its early success, and whose genius, friendship, rivalry and enmity interacted in tragic ways. This is the story of Lee de Forest, a clergyman’s flamboyant son, who invented the audion tube; Edwin Howard Armstrong, a brilliant, withdrawn inventor who pioneered FM technology; and David Sarnoff, a hard-driving Russian immigrant who created the most powerful communications company on earth.

Against the backdrop of radio’s “Golden Age,” Empire of the Air relates the history of radio through archival photographs, newsreels of the period and interviews with such well-known radio personalities as Garrison Keillor, the late sports commentator Red Barber, radio dramatist Norman Corwin and the late broadcast historian Erik Barnouw.

As with many videos on YouTube, this film could be removed at any time without warning. I suggest watching this soon:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Spread the radio love

The Voyager twins: weak signals and discovery from the depths of space

Artist’s concept of Voyager I (Source: NASA)

Yesterday, while listening to the BBC World Service, I heard this fascinating documentary focusing on the Voyager I and II spacecraft. It absolutely blows my mind that both of these spacecraft have been operating for 40 years and continue to send signals back to Earth. Talk about weak signal DX!

Note that you will have to visit the BBC World Service website to listen to the documentary via their media player.

(Source: BBC World Service)

Voyager 1 and 2: Still operating after 40 years in the depths of space. Voyager 1 is currently some 20 billion kilometres from Earth travelling at 15.5 kilometres a second. It takes 19 hours for a signal from the spacecraft’s 20 watt transmitter to reach home. Voyager 2 is 17 billion kilometres away and will soon leave the Solar System.

Launched in 1977, the twin spacecrafts have explored the giant planets and their strange moons, investigated the boundary of the Solar System and changed how we see our place in the Universe. The probes even carry a message for aliens in the form of a golden record.

Retired NASA astronaut Ron Garan meets many of the original team still working on the mission, nursing the twin spacecraft through their final years.

Click here to listen to the documentary via the BBC World Service website.

Spread the radio love

Elettra: The story of Guglielmo Marconi through his daughter Princess Elettra Marconi

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:

ELETTRA from Ronin Films on Vimeo.

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?

Click here to view the trailer on Vimeo.

Spread the radio love

Garth Mullins: “The Coming Zombie Apocalypse”

Garth-MullinsGarth Mullins is an SWL and a radio geek–he’s also a Sociologist and radio producer.

Garth’s latest radio doc, “The Coming Zombie Apocalypse” was recently featured on the CBC program Ideas with Paul Kennedy.

While the documentary doesn’t focus on shortwave radio, Garth did give a nod to shortwave at the end (well played).

Listen to “The Coming Zombie Apocalypse” via the embedded player below, or via the CBC website:

Be sure to check out Garth’s website: http://www.garthmullins.com/ and his previous radio documentary “End of the Dial.”

Spread the radio love

National Radio Quiet Zone featured in BBC Radio 4 series

GreenBankTelescope

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, David Freeborough, who shares this brilliant, in-depth radio documentary featured on the BBC News and BBC Radio 4.

This BBC News Magazine article introduces the documentary:

“Anyone driving west from Washington DC towards the Allegheny Mountains will arrive before long in a vast area without mobile phone signals. This is the National Radio Quiet Zone – 13,000 square miles (34,000 sq km) of radio silence. What is it for and how long will it survive?

As we drive into the Allegheny Mountains the car radio fades to static. I glance at my mobile phone but the signal has disappeared.

Ahead of us a dazzling white saucer looms above the wooded terrain of West Virginia, getting bigger and bigger with every mile. It’s the planet’s largest land-based movable object – the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) – 2.3 acres in surface area, and taller than the Statue of Liberty.

But it needs electrical peace and quiet to do its job.”

[Continue reading…]

The story continues on the BBC News site, but I would encourage you to listen to the five part radio documentary series on BBC Radio 4 first. Green Bank, WV, is certainly one part of the planet where a shortwave radio listener would be quite happy: residents have virtually no radio interference or obnoxious electrical noises that plague the rest of the modern world.

telescopes-1911The radio documentary can be streamed on the Radio 4 website.  I’ve included links to each episode below. As far as I can tell, there are no expiration dates on the Radio 4 streams:

My wife and I have camped near the NROA site in Green Bank–it’s a beautiful part of the world. I’m certainly long overdue to return!

Again, David, many thanks for sharing this!

Spread the radio love