What did SWI swissinfo.ch sound like for the first seven decades of its existence? The short answer: a radio station.
From the mid-1930s to 2004, Switzerland’s international service was Swiss Radio International (SRI). The first few decades of SRI’s existence were the heyday of shortwave – it was often the only way of getting news directly from other countries.
A brief history of SRI, the predecessor of swissinfo.ch, helps explain why you hear what you do in the video above.
What began as the Swiss Short Wave Service in 1935, would grow from broadcasting programmes in German, French, Italian and English to include other European languages and Arabic, and eventually change its name to Swiss Radio International.
The international service was considered a voice of neutrality during times of war, first during World War II, followed by the decades of the Cold War and up to and including the first war in the Gulf in the early 1990s.
This decade would mark the beginning of the end for Switzerland’s shortwave broadcasts. Shortwave transmitters gave way to relaying programmes via satellite, and this, in turn, would give way to the internet when the service went online in 1999 as SRI’s website.
In 2004, the plug was pulled for good on SRI as part of budget cuts, but not swissinfo.ch. Now producing exclusively online, the international service extended its linguistic reach by adding Russian, Japanese and Chinese, and publishing more video and audio reports.
Journalists working in swissinfo.ch’s current ten languages collaborate closely to set the editorial agenda, providing the necessary context in their stories so they are understood wherever they are read, seen, or heard in the world.
Project ‘The Sounds of…’
This article is part of the project “The Sounds of…” produced with our partner media organisations Polskie Radio, Radio Canada International, Radio Romania International and Radio Prague International. Further videos have been produced by journalists at these outlets, to give an insight into their work in these countries.
SWLing Post reader, David Freeborough, writes:
I thought you might be interested in this podcast on Swiss Radio International:
Fascinating! Many thanks, David. You can listen to the podcast on SwissInfo.ch, or simply use the embedded player below:
During the Second World War, Switzerland’s fledgling short wave radio service was essential to its attempts to communicate its policies and actions to an external audience made up of both foreign governments and the Swiss abroad.
The archives of the Short Wave Service (SWS), founded in 1935, have been digitalised and are now available online (See link). SWS was the forerunner to Swiss Radio International (SRI) which later became swissinfo.ch.
The manuscripts of news bulletins from this dark time in Europe reveal Swiss thinking on events both out of its control and right on its doorstep as the country desperately held on to its beloved neutrality.
In Switzerland’s national languages (German, French, Italian) as well as English, Spanish and Portuguese, SWS broadcast news and analysis of military events on both sides.
It also reported on living conditions of Australian, New Zealand, South African and American POWs interned in mountain retreats, and issued sharp rebukes of external criticism of Swiss government policy.
“Switzerland finds herself today in one of the most peculiar situations of her long history. From a certain viewpoint, she is surrounded by one power only. From another viewpoint, she is surrounded, among others, by three defeated powers: Austria, France and Italy. Under these circumstances Switzerland has remained true to her traditional role of guardian of the Alpine passes,” began an English broadcast from Hermann Böschenstein in the wake of the fall of Mussolini in 1943.
The same broadcast went on to discuss dashed hopes that Italy’s fall would see a reopening of transport routes to the sea, praised the Swiss influence of the International Red Cross as “incontestable”, and noted that “all-out” training of Swiss army troops had resulted in “quite a few casualties lately” with the use of flame-throwers being responsible in some cases.
Lausanne University’s François Vallotton, a specialist in contemporary audio-visual and media history in Switzerland, was unable to resist the lure of such a treasure trove of documents.
Vallotton, whose work focuses in particular on the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) – the parent company of swissinfo.ch – convened a seminar to undertake initial research on the SWS archive documents.
The archives, which have been formatted into a database searchable by keyword, are particularly interesting for historians because the historiography of international radio services has not yet been developed, particularly in Switzerland.
Vallotton says analysis of the archives is unlikely to reinvent what is already known about Switzerland during the Second World War, but: “What is interesting is that it is a source that allows us to see the image that Switzerland wanted to present to the outside world.”
“That is something that is really new because before we examined local media which was aimed at the Swiss public.”
Broadcasts by SWS at that time were also notable for the fact that they were the first news bulletins produced by a dedicated radio editorial team; previously news bulletins had been written and read by journalists from the Swiss News Agency, a press organisation.
“The service treated events in a different manner than to the local media,” says Raphaëlle Ruppen Coutaz, who is doing his doctorate on the subject. “For historians, it’s precious because it is the only Swiss media outlet to address those abroad during the war.” [Continue reading…]
I have really enjoyed looking through the archives. Of particular interest are the corrections that were made before reading the news. They’re all there.