Thursday, January 13, 2011

Silence in the Air - 1: The Sound of Silence

A new nostalgic feature from Wavescan

Quite recently, the nationwide networks of All India Radio and Doordarshan TV were paralyzed in a two day strike by disgruntled employees who were upset over what they described as management inefficiencies and delayed payment of regular salaries. The strike began at 9:00 am local time, corresponding to 0330 UTC on Tuesday November 23.
In view of the fact that the two major points of disagreement were not met to the employees satisfaction, another strike, perhaps a continuing strike, was threatened by the 38,000 members of the employees union of Prasar Bharati and this was scheduled to begin on Monday December 13. However, in view of the fact that this 2nd strike did not take place, it would be apparent that discussions between management and employees must be making progress.
As a result of the strike late November, the programming of all government radio and television stations throughout India was affected and a large number of stations were off the air during this time period. This gave a remarkable opportunity for international radio monitors in India and neighboring countries to check the mediumwave and shortwave bands for previously unheard distant stations on the temporarily empty channels in India.
The employee strike in India is by far the largest strike against any news media anywhere in the world. However, other strikes against other radio stations in other countries have occurred, and there have been other occasions when mediumwave and shortwave stations have been silenced, due to various reasons. That is our topic in this feature item: Silence in the Air, or if you like, according to the title of a popular song, the Sound of Silence.
On occasions there have been short term and limited strikes against both the BBC in London and Radio Australia in Melbourne and these events have affected the programming of both international shortwave stations.
Back in the year 1981, there was a strike by some of the personnel employed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and this affected the output from the large shortwave station operated by Radio Canada International at Sackville New Brunswick. The BBC London was on relay from RCI Sackville for 11 hours a day during that era, and because of the strike, this program relay was reduced to a little less than 3 hours a day.
Under the title, the Sound of Silence, let’s go way back to the beginning. On August 22, 1922, the entire telephone system throughout the United States and Canada went silent for exactly one minute, beginning at 6:25 pm. The occasion was the death of the illustrious founder of modern telephone technology, Alexander Graham Bell. At the conclusion of the funeral service, every telephone in North America was silenced for one honoring minute.
A similar event occurred as a memorium to Guglielmo Marconi when he died. Marconi is credited as the founder of wireless and radio, and during his lifetime, wireless grew from a crude simple piece of noisy electrical apparatus that could send Morse Code a few miles, to radio that could instantaneously communicate worldwide and entertain all dwellers upon planet Earth. Marconi died of a heart attack on July 20, 1937, at the age of 63, and in his honor, radio stations all around the world observed two minutes of silence.
Over in India on January 30, 2005, all radio stations went silent for a period of two minutes. On this occasion, it was not a strike by disgruntled workers, but rather a memorium in honor of freedom fighters who lost their lives in India’s earlier struggle for independence from Great Britain. At 10:59 that morning, sirens sounded throughout India. Traffic on the roadways came to a standstill, pedestrians came to a stance, trains, planes, buses and ships delayed their 11:00 departures by two minutes, and all radio programming went silent.
A similar circumstance took place in the Philippines on the one year anniversary of the mass murder of 58 people, including 34 radio & TV personnel, the largest mass murder of media personnel anywhere in the world. On November 29, just 6 weeks back, all radio & TV stations throughout the Philippines went silent for 58 seconds, one second for each death.
For a different purpose, all radio broadcasting stations in the United States, all 10,000 of them, went silent for half a minute on May 26, 1989. The purpose of this event was to publicize to the nation the importance of radio in daily life for every person. This project was organized by NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters.
Six years later, a similar event took place in Spain. At exactly 8:30 am on Wednesday October 4, 1995, all radio stations in Spain went quiet for exactly one minute. The purpose for this exercise was to draw attention to the importance of radio in the life of Spain’s 20 million radio listeners.
There are times when radio stations have gone silent for other reasons, including economy. Back in the 1940s during an era of electricity rationing because of strikes in coal mines in Australia, all radio stations throughout the continent were required to reduce their hours of transmission, closing in mid evening. This gave the avid DXer a wonderful opportunity to tune in to mediumwave foreign radio stations on his battery operated radio receiver, radio stations not normally heard down under.
Then, for example, the American mediumwave station WPHC in Waverly Tennessee was noted in December 1995 with just one hour of programming every day. Due to financial constraints and yet to keep the station active, it signed on daily at 1:00 pm local time on 1060 kHz, and after one hour it went silent until the same time on the next day.
We asked Jose Jacob VU2JOS over there in Hyderabad, just what stations were heard on the empty channels during the November strike in India. From his information, and the information of others, we learned that no startling new DX stations were heard, just a few stations in China and other nearby countries in Asia. Those stations in the AIR network that remained on the air during the strike were usually just playing continuous unannounced Indian music, though some gave out test tones, and a very few seemed to be on the air with regular programming.
Next week here in Wavescan - the Sound of Silence Part 2.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS98 via Adrian Peterson)