Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A few words about the Media Network Vintage Vault


Welcome. I'm Jonathan Marks. If this is the first time you've visited this blog, then I'm glad you dropped by! As you may know, I currently work with all kinds of high-tech startups and scale-ups in many parts of Europe, but especially in the Eindhoven region. I can frequently be found at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, now home to more than 140 extremely interesting companies. I'm particularly interested because this region is where international broadcasting started in Europe and where the properties of shortwave radio were first discovered in 1927.
Radio Netherlands when it was a broadcasting station

Reliving Mainstream broadcast heritageNearly six years ago, in early February 2010, I began an on-line experiment with podcasting to understand how the distribution system works and see whether we could rebuild an audience. We wanted to recreate a place to listen to vintage editions of the Media Network programme as broadcast on short-wave by Radio Netherlands in the period 1981-2000. It is over 35 years since the Media Network was launched as the name of the media show on Radio Netherlands, building on the rich heritage of programmes that went before it.

We ran on the shortwave wireless from May 7th 1981 until the end of October 2000 with more than 1000 editions. Many of the features are gradually making their way onto the website as a celebration of international broadcasting's second Golden Age.

Radio Netherlands no longer exists as a radio station in English in the way that we knew it. (They signed off at the end of June 2012 as documented on this site). The RN Classical Music station was around for a short while after, but that too had been yanked from the Interwebs. Join me in raising a glass to the great days of analogue adventures!

I release between 6 and 8 vintage Media Network's a month, as time permits. We have now reached more than 538,845 downloads, numbers being boosted by interest in the programmes about China and several documentaries about propaganda, during the Second World War and later.

Media Network was one of the first international communications magazines of its time. I hosted and produced the programme, but a lot of the content was made by a network of volunteer monitors, reporters and researchers located all over the globe. Diana Janssen also joined me as co-host during the last 5 years of the programme. She made a considerable contribution to the programme. 
RNW studios in 2001
I kept copies of most of the programmes, especially those that dealt with specific issues or were connected to current events in that period. Since leaving Radio Netherlands in 2003, I have gradually digitized the tapes as part of my research into international broadcasting and where it might go after shortwave. Personally, I find it amazing to relive this era, especially as most of it was pre-Web, pre-Skype, pre-YouTube, pre-email, when most people thought twice about picking up the phone to call a radio station in another country. There is also a lot to be learned from what worked and what failed. Too many recent media ventures could have learned a lot from those who went before them. 

I am always interested in your reactions, especially from people who may be discovering this material for the first time. It will encourage me to post more. Looking at the site stats, it would seem that around 13% of the subscribers are downloading via iTunes. The rest do so directly from the site or using 3rd party apps. Please tell friends about the vault and encourage them to subscribe. 

There are also radio related videos which I made more recently over on my video vault.

Finding a show 

If you want to see what has been put up since February 2010, click on the Media Network Archives orange button on the right and all the editions will be listed. You can also subscribe in iTunes by searching for "Media Network Vintage". As each "new" edition is published, it will download automatically to your MP3-player of choice.

The statistics show that most people download the shows through this site directly or through Facebook. As of the end of December 2015, the most popular programmes have been those on wartime deception, Radio London (offshore station and the train), the MN Jingle collection and the RNI Libya programme. Note that programmes are now archived under the months in which they were published. I know some of the material here is niche stuff - but I also know that people interested in international communications and broadcasting are very passionate people. Because of the politics, it provided a constant wave of stories. I also believe that we developed one of the first collaborative formats on international radio, where individuals could do some detective work, report their results, and share experiences with those with a similar passion

Recent remarks on Facebook and Linked-in have generated all kinds of reactions including a request to share some statistics.

Here are the stats for 2015. When I post series of programmes, the number of monthly downloads goes up considerably. The peak in July 2015 was nearly 80,000 downloads which I think is pretty amazing considering the age of this material and the fact that it was never intended for a mainstream audience.

MN.25.12.1997 Christmas Special

The feature producers at Radio Netherlands were always given the task of making extended pre-recorded Christmas and New Years Day programmes because there were no current affairs magazines like Newsline aired on those days. So Media Network suddenly became 46 minutes long. I'm glad I found this Christmas Day show from 1997 in time for Christmas 2015. It includes a feature about offshore radio. You will hear the voices of Jim Cutler, Lou Josephs, Vasily Strelinikov, Andy Sennitt, Bryan Clarke, Esther van Pluym, Willemien Groot, Ray Anderson et al, Victor Goonetilleke, Katherine Farnon and Mike Bird. Please don't write to those addresses or call the answerline. Although it sounds fresh, this is time travel back to 18 years ago.  Christmas was always a special time at Radio Netherlands, especially for kids of staff and freelancers. The visit of Sinterklaas a few weeks before at the start of December was always a highlight. Wherever you are this year and whatever you celebrate, I wish you peace, happiness and joy.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Monday, December 21, 2015

MN.16.03.1995.Benidorm & BVN

This edition of Media Network includes details of Radio Netherlands summer transmission schedule, an interview with the late Joop Heintz about the project together with Radio Benidorm and Director General Lodewijk Bouwens on the setting up of the BVN Television service. I see that BVN is finally streaming its service online for viewers outside the Benelux, though I am not sure why they are using a rather old-fashioned Flash-based player.

MN.26.11.1981 Live Asian Special

In 1981 we experimented with live special editions of Media Network directed to South Asia. There was a lot of mail coming in from India and Sri Lanka (mainly postcards) which we couldn't handle in the regular show. It was always a balance too - we were talking about technology that was not readily available in South Asia. But the feedback we got was that was an excellent reason to listen. This programme is 34 years old - from an era when phone calls were very expensive and mail sometimes took up to 3 months to arrive in Hilversum.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.02.07.1981. BBC Cuts & 2EA

This early edition of the Media Network programme has details of proposed cuts at BBC World Service with a call to Douglas Muggeridge, the Director General. There was a feature on ethnic stations like 2EA in Sydney and short-term holiday stations in New Zealand. 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.10.06.1995 Live from the Hilversum Broadcast Museum

In June 1995 we decided to borrow some airtime from Robert Chesal and broadcast a live programme from the Netherlands broadcasting museum. The premises were on the South side of Hilversum on the Oude Amerfoortse Weg 121 in what looked like a warehouse in those days. This was a decade before they moved to brand new premises on the Media Park, although much of the collection of old equipment didn't move with them. Since it was 60 years of the Dutch transmission authority NOZEMA we put on a ham radio station from the broadcast museum, in line with similar experiments we did on the Flevo polder in 1985. The shortwave transmitter site still stands on the Flevo polder, and Peter Veenendaal has posted a lovely video of the silent transmitter site which is now owned by the Dutch Ministry of Defence. We're told it is a backup system in case satellites fail or get hacked. One thing about analogue shortwave radio, it is difficult to block.

This programme was one of several live segments Jeff Clayborn and I did during the day marking 100 years of radio, 60 years of NOZEMA, and 10 years of Flevo. Check out the helicopter sequence when they put a new antenna on top of the Lopik TV Tower.

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

MN.01.01.1998 New Year Receiver Survey

This extended edition of Media Network broadcast on January 1st 1998 contains an extensive international survey on the state of the international shortwave receiver market. This was probably the peak of the shortwave listening period, when more than 60 receivers were available on the market. This was probably the most extensive survey we ever completed. Presenters Jonathan Marks and Diana Janssen. Enjoy! 

This episode is hosted on the Media Network vintage vault

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Future of BBC World Service discussed on BBC Radio 4

I managed to get a name check into the latest edition of Feedback, the listener response programme on BBC Radio 4. It's actually a much better programme than "Over to You" on BBC World Service, which is often a 9-minute breathless summary which seems to end before it starts. Feedback is an intelligent 25 minutes. You can download it as a podcast and keep it.

This is what I sent:

Hello. My name is Jonathan Marks and I’m based near Amsterdam, The Netherlands. But I’m often travelling. I listen to a wide range of BBC output on a tablet, including World Service.

It is good news that the British government finally understands the value and influence of independent journalism, especially at a time when many foreign media are closing bureaus abroad to cut costs.

I think it’s important that the BBC World service uses the right media mix to serve a wide variety of audiences. Shortwave radio still makes sense in Somalia and Northern Nigeria, whereas TV and mobile is the way forward in places like India and Russia. 

I think the weakest network now is BBC World service radio in English which is a shadow of its former self 5 years ago. Whilst a rolling news service on TV makes sense, why not bring WS radio much closer to the output of BBC Radio 4. Cherry pick from the best science, business arts and documentaries – contribute the better world service productions like Click, the forum, and from our own correspondent, don’t meddle the sports, and then make much better use of your archive. The BBC spends an enormous amount of money making some excellent projects on the history of Africa, the Amazon river, climate change. And yet there are quickly gone from BBC website which could be so much more effective….and few people in the UK know they were ever made because the search function is awful. 

So I’d like to know what is the World Service group going to do with BBC Media Action, which has grown into a separate production and training agency with its own annual budget of 40 million pounds and claims a reach of 200 million listeners? Any why can’t the BBC make better use of its Monitoring Service in Caversham? I think World service with a single vision would be more effective than a the current fragmented BBC "group"…..