Jul 152019

In 1929, probably just weeks before the great stock market crash, people were entertained by the sight of thousands of burning radio sets.

Some suggested that the apparent zeal with which these poor radios were burned had to do with the fact that they were obsolete regenerative receivers, notorious sources of radio frequency interference.

But no, the pictures make it clear that many of these old radios were simple tuned radio frequency (TRF) sets, not regenerative units. Besides, it was not until the early 1930s that superheterodyne receivers began to dominate the market.

No, this was just good old capitalism. People were encouraged to trade in old, “obsolete” radios and purchase new ones. And the wanton destruction of the old sets became a public spectacle.

One can only wonder about the amount of toxic smoke that was produced by this stunt. Not that anyone cared back in 1929.

 Posted by at 10:40 am
Apr 082017

Remember what radio used to be like, especially shortwave?

Many stations had an interval signal. This signal, usually just a few musical notes, was played whenever the station would otherwise be silent (e.g., between the end of a program and the time signal at the top of the hour.) I remember many an interval signal fondly.

But one of them, I just cannot identify. Namely this one:

Bugs the devil out of me.

 Posted by at 7:59 pm
Apr 202015

I just learned the tragic news: Less than 24 hours after I uploaded my previous post about the one-time CBC radio program Disc Drive, the program’s former host, Jürgen Gothe, passed away, after a long battle with cancer.

I am deeply saddened. I secretly hoped that one of these days, we will hear him yet one more time on the radio. But that’s not going to happen… his wonderful voice has been silenced forever.

Jürgen was 71.

What a loss.

 Posted by at 3:42 pm
Apr 082015

I am listening to The Disc Drive Disc.

The Disc Drive Disc is an audio CD. More specifically, it is an audio CD that was released by the CBC 24 years ago, shortly after the fifth anniversary of my all-time favorite radio program, Disc Drive.

Disc Drive went on for another 17 years or so, until it was unceremoniously dropped from the CBC’s schedule as Radio Two was revamped to cater to a broader audience. I am sure that executives at the CBC are still congratulating each other on such a resounding success, even as the station lost nearly 40% of its audience in the past eight years, in their desperate search for the lowest common denominator, an audience that views “classical” as just a minor, unpopular genre.

And most unfortunately, they lost host Jurgen Gothe and Disc Drive: a unique, eclectic program in which it was not uncommon to hear something from Mozart, followed by Ella Fitzgerald. As Jurgen himself put it on The Disc Drive Disc, this program was unique in the English-speaking (or anything-speaking) world. And Jurgen’s whimsical commentary! It was a joy to listen to his stories about music, food, Herbie the cat or the Willis Point Fire Department. I was looking forward every weekday afternoon to 3 PM, when I could turn on my radio and enjoy a productive few hours at my computer while listening to the program.

Alas, this wonderful, unique, joyful program was taken off the air in 2007. If only I had the presence of mind, I would have recorded as many shows as possible. I didn’t. I did record the very last Disc Drive, which was mainly a replay of the very first Disc Drive, but that’s it.

Except that back in 1991, the CBC did issue the aforementioned CD, The Disc Drive Disc. Of course it is not an easy disc to come by 24 years later. When I searched for it online, second-hand copies were offered for hundreds of dollars on Amazon or eBay. But then, I came across a German music store that claimed to have this CD, still available, for the not so princely sum of 9.99 euros.

I picked, I clicked, and a few weeks later, today that is, I found a nice cardboard envelope in the mail, with The Disc Drive Disc inside. So one very last time, I was able to enjoy something new (to me, that is) from Jurgen Gothe and his team (and cats) from subterranean Studio 20.

Thank you, Jurgen, for the memories.

 Posted by at 3:07 pm
Sep 032013

szabad-radioI am reading a letter of resignation, written by a journalist who worked for the newsroom of Hungary’s public radio network until July this year. Unlike many of his colleagues who began their carriers in communist Hungary, Montreal-born Janos F. Antal was a Radio Free Europe correspondent. Here are some experts from this disturbing letter, in my rough translation:

“I was already working on the restoration of national sovereignty when many of you were still standing at stiff attention, listening to the Internationale […] At the time of ‘regime change’ I did not need to switch sides or become a turncoat, I just continued what I began much earlier, at Radio Free Europe…

“I am a spectator, not a participant; a chronicler, not an evangelist. A journalist – not a politician.

“All came to a head, however, when one day someone appeared behind my back and over my shoulder, staring at my monitor, began giving instructions to move this news item up, leave that one out, insert thit one, rewrite that – just like that, in such a tone.

“Moreover, this censorship brings about the growth of manipulative, propagandistic content. Once again the ‘repertoire’ includes production news of the type for which real demand existed only in the Kadar era.”

Yup, that’s Hungary’s national broadcaster in 2013.

 Posted by at 11:22 am
May 282013

The destruction of public radio in Canada continues: Our beloved bureaucrats at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decided to allow the CBC to air commercials on Radio 2.

Dear CRTC: the CBC is not a private company. It is partially funded by the Canadian public. Its mandate is not to make money but to promote Canadian culture. Instead of allowing this travesty, how about holding them to account for the on-going destruction of a national treasure?

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
Dec 022012

I came across this picture on Facebook the other day, a photo of the cheapest car radio made in Hungary back in the 1970s. It was a very basic radio manufactured by Hungary’s dominant electronics manufacturer Videoton. We had the exact same type of radio in the exact same model car (a Lada 1200 if I am not mistaken) when I was in grade school.

Funny thing about this receiver is that it wasn’t an AM-FM radio. It was an AM + shortwave radio, with a single shortwave band tuned to 49 meters.

The same 49-meter shortwave band that was the preferred band used by Cold War era propaganda stations broadcasting in Hungarian, including Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, even The Vatican.

We lived in the town of Visegrad at the time, only 40 km north of Budapest but separated from the capital by some hills. Because of the terrain, reception of Budapest stations was often spotty. Which may explain why this little car radio had trouble tuning to the 2 MW transmitter of Radio Kossuth, located in central Hungary, but had no trouble at all with the reception of the aforementioned propaganda stations; those were always crystal clear.

As to why a communist-era state-owned electronics factory was manufacturing a car radio with such excellent short wave sensitivity, I have no idea. Perhaps, in an early experiment with capitalism, they were trying to respond to market demand?

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Nov 202012

I like the CBC. CBC Radio 2 is pretty much the only radio station I listen to these days (though I admit I liked them a great deal more before they changed the station’s format and eliminated some unique programs, most notably Jurgen Gothe’s Disc Drive). In the evenings, I like to watch local news on CBC Ottawa. CBC Newsworld still has some excellent documentaries. And so on.

The CBC is about to have its licenses renewed. It is asking the CRTC for “more flexibility”, including permission to run commercials on Radio 2. And this makes me pause. Do we really need the CBC?

Yes, I think Canada needs a public broadcaster. One that is dedicated to provide Canadians with unbiased information; one that takes on a role of cultural leadership.

But no, we absolutely do not need an ill-managed private broadcaster that loses a billion dollars a year in public funds.

I have heard of the conspiracy theory that Stephen Harper’s government is purposefully allowing the CBC to be steered in this direction, as a means to devalue and, ultimately, destroy the CBC for ideological reasons. I don’t like conspiracy theories but I admit I sometimes wonder…

 Posted by at 8:43 am
Jul 042012

Sometimes one comes across Internet gems just as they are about to disappear.

Just south of Budapest, near the expressway that leads to Lake Balaton, there is a small village by the name of Tordas.

Tordas has had a small community radio station for the past 12 years. For the first decade, it was a pirate station, broadcasting without a license, but as of 2010, they are officially licensed to operate their 1 W (!) transmitter.

Alas, not for much longer. They are about to go silent this weekend, buried by bureaucratic requirements imposed by Hungary’s new media authority.

I read about this today and tuned into Radio Tordas over the Internet. I was in for a treat.

For instance, I heard a version of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, sung in Latin (!) by the late British MP Derek Enright.

I heard a cover of These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, sung by songwriter Lee Hazlewood, with alternate lyrics that end with the words, “this is the part of the record where the engineer Eddy Brackett said if we don’t fade this thing out, we’re all gonna be arrested”.

I heard an wonderful song, Guns of Brixton, by the French band Nouvelle Vague.

I heard a rather unusual and humorous cover (mostly vocals and acoustic instruments) of Jean Michel Jarre’s electronic composition Oxygen, by the Hungarian band Zuboly.

I heard an amazing cover of The Rolling Stones’ Play With Fire. I have no idea who was singing, which is a pity, because he almost sounded like Tom Waits. (No, I don’t think it was Tom Waits.)

I heard many other things, including two rather unusual children’s tales from the immortal Ervin Lazar, known in Hungary for, well, his rather unusual children’s tales.

And this radio station is about to go off the air for good. Perhaps they’ll survive on the Internet. If so, they’re on my list of stations worth listening to.

 Posted by at 4:49 pm
Apr 302012

I am reading about plans to introduce commercials on CBC Radio 2. Looks like a done deal unless the CRTC disagrees, which I think is unlikely.

What has been done to CBC Radio in the past 25 years is just unconscionable. They are turning a once world-class national broadcaster into a run-of-the-mill radio network that is more and more indistinguishable from its commercial counterparts.

Meanwhile, here in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, for much of the day there are no radio stations broadcasting anything that could be described as “high culture”. None. No classical music, no jazz, no arts programs, no literary programs, just commercial music, talk radio and the like.

Oh well. Thanks to the Internet, we can always listen to the BBC. Or ABC from Australia. Or Bartok Radio from Budapest. Or other national broadcasters from countries much smaller and much poorer than Canada who nevertheless believe that investing in high culture is not worthless elitism but an investment in the future.

 Posted by at 10:43 pm
Mar 172012

I have been exchanging e-mails with a friend. We discussed, among other things, Rush Limbaugh’s now infamous comments on Sandra Fluke.

In response to comparisons of Limbaugh to some of the vile comments made by left-wing personalities like Bill Maher in the past (who called, for instance, Sarah Palin a ‘cunt’), I said this:

“I also note that Limbaugh’s rant went way beyond the use of an offensive word: he discussed Susan [sic!] Fluke’s sexual habits repeatedly and in detail, and once he was done demonstrating his complete ignorance on the topic of birth-control drugs (no, the amount of birth control pills consumed is not related to the amount of sex a person has, he must have confused it with the pills he takes for sex; and no, Fluke was not discussing recreational use of birth control pills but specifically their widespread use to treat serious gynecological conditions) he actually asked her publicly to make a porn video of her sexual activities. And, unlike the liberal comedians mentioned (who are, after all, comedians) Limbaugh did this in all seriousness. If I had been in Fluke’s place, I’d have called Limbaugh a lecherous, drug-addled dirty old pig. Fluke was more of a lady than I am a gentleman, I guess.”

And then I realized that I should not be ashamed of my words. Instead of saying what I should do in Fluke’s place, let me just do it, plain and simple:

In my opinion, Limbaugh is a lecherous, drug-addled dirty old pig.

 Posted by at 11:00 am
Feb 242012

Looks like I am into signing petitions this week. I don’t like it, but I take it as a sign of the times that we live in.

Today, it’s the CBC’s turn; specifically, the unbelievable news that the CBC may begin dismantling its physical music archives next month.

I added the following comment when I signed the online petition: “Decades from now, the decision to discard these archives will be viewed as a grave, irreversible act of cultural vandalism. It is inconceivable that the leadership of the CBC is considering this. Then again, looking at what they’ve done to CBC Radio 2 and the Radio Orchestra, perhaps nothing should surprise me anymore…”

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
May 222011

Here’s an interesting argument explaining why the decision to dilute CBC Radio 2 could be strategically devastating for the CBC: the supporters they lost were not only vocal in their opposition to the changes, but also the most fierce defenders of continuing government support and funding for the CBC. No offense to rapper “Buck 65” but I seriously doubt that his listeners would write to their MPs when the CBC’s funding is threatened… certainly not with the same ferocity as listeners of Jurgen Gothe’s unforgettable Disc Drive did while that program was still on the air.

When public institutions hire executives from the private sector, they must keep this in mind. The much coveted younger demographic may not be what public institutions need to go after… as they are not necessarily the ones most likely to vote.


 Posted by at 6:33 pm
Apr 032011

I am listening to the Classical stream of CBC radio, and the music selection is very good. It is also utterly soulless.

You see, radio without presenters is no radio at all. I miss the likes of Jurgen Gothe who’d tell me something about the music. Why it was composed. When it was composed and where. Something about the composer, and why this particular piece was chosen to be played tonight.

For instance, right now I am listening to the 1st movement of Bax-Arnold’s Concertante. Back in the good ole’ days, Jurgen Gothe would have told me who this Bax-Arnold was. Yes, I can use Wikipedia and find out that “Bax-Arnold” is really English composer Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, and that he wrote several pieces titled Concertante between 1918 and 1949, and thanks to Google and the disk number provided by the CBC, I can even figure out which of these is being played (it’s the Concertante for Piano Left Hand) but Internet searches are no substitute for the warm, friendly voice of a radio host who would tell me all this and more, anecdotes, back story, or completely irrelevant trivia about Ashley Wass on the piano, conductor James Judd, or perhaps the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and its relationship, if any, to the Bayview Retirement Home in Bournemouth in the British sitcom Waiting for God.

The music now changed. CBC now informs me that I am listening to the 3rd movement, Marche Funebre, by a composer named “Not Found”. Whatever happened to poor Chopin that a national radio station can no longer find his name?

Not to mention that unlike this sterile Classical stream (really just an endless playlist with an incomplete tombstone database), CBC Radio 2 wasn’t purely classical. Jurgen Gothe in particular had an eclectic selection of classical and modern, pop and jazz, Canadian folk music, and more. He was always full of surprises. The changes made to CBC Radio 2 just drastically narrowed the station’s scope for much of the broadcast day, because now, the richest musical genre of all (really, a collection of many genres) is simply excluded.

No wonder I nowadays listen to BBC 3 more than the CBC.

 Posted by at 4:37 am
Jul 042009

The CBC is tinkering with Radio 2 again. After the devastation last year, they may have made some tentative steps in the right direction for a change. VERY small steps, to be sure.

But there are also some bad news: Jurgen Gothe is no longer on Radio 2 anymore. I admit I didn’t listen much to his Sunday program Farrago this past year, as the time slot was just too inconvenient. But, I still shake my head in disbelief at the CBC’s decision last year to cancel Disc Drive, arguably one of the best damn radio shows ever made.

So I’ve been reading some comments on the CBC Web site. There is near universal condemnation of Radio 2’s management: nearly all who posted comments believe that Radio 2 lost its direction, that taxpayer money is wasted on a radio station that is sounding ever more like commercial radio, that the station got rid of its knowledgeable hosts, and that its choice of music is just awful.

I think one big misunderstanding is the notion the listeners of the old Radio 2 only wanted classical music. That’s nonsense. Jurgen’s program was great not because it was classical, but because it had the right mix of classical, jazz, folk, and yes, even pop music. This eclecticism is now lost, and they cannot bring it back easily because the hosts who made it possible are gone, too.

Here are two comments, in particular, that I rather agree with, typos notwithstanding:

“Separating the genres works for people who only like clasical [sic!] or only like pop or only like jazz but a very large part of the population quite like an eclectic mix. It is possible to like both Beethoven and Michael Jackson, De Bussy [sic!] and Salsa.”

“Now that Jurgen has totally left the CBC, when will some bright adventure capitalist start up a private subscription radio or Internet station with Jurgen Goth, Danielle Charboneau, Rick Phillips et al. My subscription is ready.”

What can I say. My subscription is ready, too. Where do I sign up?

 Posted by at 2:34 pm
May 032009

Speaking of Rogers, one thing they do is that they substitute local commercials during commercial breaks of American cable channels, including CNN. The local commercials are almost always the same, and almost all of them are advertising services of the Rogers media empire… including radio station Y101.

Y101 is a country station, and its commercial, which I must have heard a thousand times, includes snippets from supposedly popular country songs. Including a song by Brad Paisley.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the lyrics of this one, though. What my ears heard just didn’t sound right: “I would like to check you for ticks.” Surely, he must be singing something else, but what could it be?

Finally I decided to look it up. Now I know. The song says, “I would like to check you for ticks.” And just to be clear that there is no misunderstanding, the song’s title is quite unambiguous: “Ticks”.

 Posted by at 7:17 pm
Feb 172009

I’ve been listening to a Hungarian public radio station, Radio Bartok, much of the day today. There was some serious classical music there, and by serious, I mean something other than what you would expect to hear from the Boston Pops. There was an arts news broadcast. There was a classic radio play (Ferenc Karinthy’s “Steinway Grand“, a hilarious “play in one act”). In short, there was culture.

Culture that used to be there on CBC Radio 2, too. Until it was at first slowly eroded, and then completely destroyed last fall.

I used to be proud of CBC Radio 2. Whenever I traveled, in the US or in Europe, I always proudly spoke of the quality of our public broadcaster. Alas, those days are gone. Now, I am just ashamed.

And annoyed. Annoyed because neither the CBC’s masters nor its critics really “get it”. The former demonstrated their utter contempt toward their listeners when they attempted to placate them with Internet-only playlists that have no hosts and no commentary, nothing that would give them life. The latter, by bemoaning the fate of classical music on the CBC, not realizing that a lot more was at stake; indeed, that many of the old programs that we mourn were not exclusively classical either, but had a well-balanced mix of music of all genres, so long as it was music worth playing, that is, to a civilized, educated audience.

 Posted by at 2:45 am
Dec 292008

… and CBC Radio 2 is not faring well. After the cultural vandalism by its bureaucrats last September, the ratings of Radio 2 here in Ottawa are down by a full one third compared to the same period last year: in 2007, the market share of CBOQ was 5%, now it’s down to 3.3%.

The theory behind the revamping of Radio 2 was that by going for the lowest common denominator, pop music, Radio 2 will attract a bigger audience and will better represent Canada overall. What was forgotten was that it is not the mandate of a public broadcaster to be popular… commercial radio already does that. The public broadcaster should be the guardian of high culture (and if that sounds elitist, maybe it should be) not a promoter of pop culture.

The ratings prove my point.

Ratings of CBC RAdio 2 in Ottawa

Ratings of CBC RAdio 2 in Ottawa

By the way, some people argue that it’s wrong to promote music written by middle aged white men. (Not that the CBC was exclusively about music written by middle aged white men. I learned a lot about jazz, Canadian folk, South American music, African music, and more on the “old” CBC.) Anyhow, when I hear that argument, I feel the urge to respond by asking, are you also upset that science classes teach the physics or math of middle aged white men? That engineering schools teach the engineering of middle aged white men? For better or for worse, much of our world’s science and technology was developed by Europeans, and until recently European civilization was very male-oriented (some argue it still is.) This doesn’t change the validity of, say, Boltzmann’s thermodynamics, Einstein’s gravity, or Feynman’s QED. Why should it be different when it comes to music? Is the music of Beethoven less valuable because there weren’t that many symphonic orchestras in the 19th century (or even today) in sub-Saharan Africa? I don’t think so. In any case, if we think that an area of science or culture is dominated by middle aged white men, the correct solution is not to banish their contributions, but to make sure that they become accessible to others… which is precisely what the CBC is no longer doing. Now that’s real “elitism” in the most pejorative sense of the word.

 Posted by at 4:56 pm