BBC World Service – my first university

Disclaimer: Since  I wrote this post  more than three years ago I have changed my  opinion of this broadcaster for reasons I state in a comment of the 27th of December 2014.

On my birthday, the 27th of March 2011, BBC World Service is ending transmissions on 648 kHz, medium-wave. It might be the least important piece of news these recent weeks with reports from Japan and Libya coming in ,almost in real time, but to me it has some significance, at least from a nostalgic aspect. Some of you might not even understand what I’m talking about. Let me explain:

Imagine the setting: Early 1970s. My mother and I living in a rural village in Northern Sweden. We had just a small widow and child pension to make our living of. We had no car. We couldn’t afford going anywhere. What did I do? I started listening to international broadcasting stations from all over the world on an old domestic radio set with glowing tubes. It truly opened my eyes and ears to the world. I think that it has had a huge impact on my personal development and course of life.

As still a boy I listened to Radio Bangladesh just after the state of Bangladesh was proclaimed. I heard a Greek clandestine station playing Zorba’s dance before Greece became a democracy. I remember Radio Luxembourg playing Lynn Anderson’s ”Rose Garden” several times every hour. My teachers at school did not understand what I was doing when I brought cards, letters, stickers and pennants from all over the world with me.

(Later I remember when Radio Moscow acknowledged the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 1986. When the Communist block fell apart I heard DDR and Romania jamming the transmissions from Radio Moscow, thinking they were too liberal.(!) I heard the Swedish transmissions from Radio Moscow during the military coup 1991. The announcers read the statements they were forced to read, but they read it very ironically so a Swede could easily understand what they really thought about the statements. When the two aircraft hit the Twin Towers September 11, 2001, I listened to BBC World Service as it happened and understood that this was a crucial event in modern history, so I started recording on audio cassettes.) All this are dear memories and significant moments for me.

OK, but what about the title?

Well, everyone knows that BBC in general stands for reliability, class, objectivity and quality. BBC World Service is, in my humble opinion, the Crown Jewel in the BBC bouquet of channels. They transmit 24/7 with news reports every 30 minutes. Remember that BBC World Service has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at least once. Over the years I’ve listened to BBC World Service for countless hours. As a boy, as a teenager. During my medical studies 1981-87 I listened while studying. When I fixed the roof of our house, 1999, I listened. I remember ”Letter from America” with Alistair Cook, the ”Jolly Good Show” with Dave Lee Travis and many more shows and features. I remember phrases like: ”There are certain information to suggest that…” I’ve visited the BBC World Service shop at Bush House, The Strand, London, twice.

Before internet one could pick a radio with shortwave and tune in BBC World Service at any time, but as internet has become a necessity for every man it’s expensive and a not so good use of money to pump electricity out in the air, except when it comes to transmitting to for instance Africa. So transmission sites have closed down one after another. Nowadays it’s difficult, even for me as an experienced listener, to tune in BBC WS on short- or medium-wave.

And on the 27th of March it’s time to say goodbye to the 24h transmitter site in Orfordness, covering Europe during darkness. (As I’m writing this I’m sitting in an old cottage in Kopparberg, Sweden listening to News Hour from BBC on 648 kHz from this transmitter.) When I’m traveling it’s a perfect way to end the day listening to BBC World Service. OK, I can accept that it’s time to close down this site as the cost per listener is probably astronomical, but I accept this with a mixture of sadness, nostalgia but most of all, with gratefulness.

BBC World Service was my first university, formed me during my young years and opened my ears for the world and made me appreciate culture, class, education and good language. What would I have been without BBC World Service? I don’t know really…

5 responses

  1. Lennart- like you, I too grew up listening to the BBC World Service, and the Voice of America. Growing up in a rather backward part of India, I learnt about the world that existed outside my small city listening to these two radio broadcasts on an old German Telerad SW/MW radio set, with glowing tubes, like yours.
    The BBC stopped broadcasting to the USA a few years back, but I listen to it becasue a US radio channel, called NPR re-broadcasts it here locally.


  2. Dear Sid and Mrs. Duffy,
    Thank you so much for taking your time to reading and commenting on my writing, You both are good members on Fountain Pen Network.
    Now I have fewer possibilities to listen to BBC WS on the radio and I have of course the internet, but for me it’s not the real thing…



  3. BBC World Service may have been my first university, but is definitely not my present…

    After admiring BBC WS for decades, I have now dropped them from my list of “likes”.
    I’m so saddened by their political correctness, their dropping of Judeo-Christian values and the lack of traditional reflective features like “In praise of God”, Letter from America etc.

    My biggest disappointment was a very long phone-in program about circumcision of small boys without even mentioning the real problem, FGM, Female Genital Mutilation.

    So, now I’m relying totally on Deutschlandfunk…



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