Monday, 21 November 2011

Interview with Daniel Walsh

Daniel C. Walsh is an assistant professor at Appalachian State University in the Department of Communication. He wrote the book "An air war with Cuba: The United States radio campaign against Castro" (publisher Mcfarland) and he accepted to be interviewed.

1) Where and when were you born?

I was born in Greenville, North Carolina, USA December 2, 1969.

2) What is your first memory of listening to a radio?

I guess my first memory of listening to a radio is riding around in my mother's station wagon. I also remember as a child playing radio station where I would pretend to be a radio announcer and introduce records on a turntable. When I got older I put a walkie talkie up to the stereo speaker and then would go to another room with the other one to make it seem like a real radio.

3) When did u become interested about US propaganda towards Cuba?

I became interested in U.S. propaganda for Cuba when I was in graduate school at Marshall University. I needed a research topic for one of my classes and thought it would be interesting to examine Radio Marti. I thought it was interesting that the United States spent a lot of money on a Radio Free Europe type station for Cuba yet Fidel Castro was still in power. I created a proposal for evaluating the effectiveness of Radio Marti but never actually did the study. A few years later, the Elian Gonzalez custody battle forced people to think about relations with Cuba again. I thought the topic should be studied and wished I could have actually completed the study I proposed. When I was getting my Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina a few years after that, I began thinking about picking up where I left off. The United States and Cuba were still adversaries and Radio Marti was still on the air so I thought it was a legitimate topic.

4) In Cuba there is a dictatorship, how difficult is it to get fair reports about audience studies in Cuba?

Research of Cuban audiences is extremely difficult. One of the primary ways in which the United States obtains information about radio listeners in Cuba is by interviewing immigrants to the United States. The validity of these results is questionable. A Cuban who decides to leave the island and come to the United States may not be a typical Cuban. That person has demonstrated positive feelings toward the United States. One would assume they might be more likely to have positive feelings about Radio Marti as well.

There is a television version of Radio Marti called TV Marti. Practically no one has seen it because the Cuban government has jammed the signal. Radio Marti gets through because a radio signal is more difficult to jam. Officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana have conducted their own research in Cuba regarding TV Marti and found that most people on the island cannot see it.

A few years ago the U.S. did a telephone survey of people in Cuba and asked them if they listened to Radio Marti. Most people said they did not. A lot of these people thought that the phone calls were from Cuban officials testing their loyalty to the revolution. A people of the interviewees asked that someone from the government stop by to repair some things. It was obvious that they thought the interviewer was a Cuban official.

5) You are building an archive of international broadcasts, which are the main radio stations in your archive?

The archive of international radio broadcasts was supposed to include Voice of America, Radio Marti, the BBC, Radio Vatican, and as many other radio operations as possible. When I tried to analyze Radio Marti for my dissertation I found that I could not obtain recordings of the station. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act makes it illegal for the federal government to release recordings of radio broadcasts of Radio Marti, VOA, Radio Free Europe or other operations to U.S. citizens. This stipulation was included in the 1948 to prevent the federal government from being in a position to disseminate propaganda to the domestic population the way the Nazis did prior to WWII. The restriction was still in place more than 40 years later.

The law makes no sense in that it only prohibits U.S. officials from releasing recordings or transcripts of programs to U.S. citizens. It does not prevent a U.S. citizen from having these materials. U.S. officials are allowed to disseminate these materials to people outside the United States. The broadcasts encourage listeners to request the materials. What this means is that a U.S. citizen who wanted a recording of a Radio Marti broadcast could have someone in Canada request the information and then mail it back to the person in the U.S. This is legal. That's what I did. to get recordings of Radio Marti. The interesting thing about it was I got the idea from people at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the people that originally originally told me that they couldn't release the materials.

This made no sense to me. I also realized that it made it extremely difficult to research these stations. There is almost no transparency and no way for the public to hold the stations accountable. I thought it was ironic that we fund the broadcasts but cannot listen to them. I thought it would be easier for people like me who wanted to analyze international radio broadcasts if there was an archive of recordings. Vanderbilt University has an archive of television news programs dating to 1968. I was trying to do the same thing for international radio.

The archive is currently on hold. In December of 2010, I contacted some amateur radio groups about recording programs and contributing to the archive. One person said my proposal was a scam and accused me of trying to manipulate people into bypassing copyright restrictions. Most international broadcasts are in the public domain. This person also told me that he or she would be turning my name over to the FBI, CIA, FTC and other authorities. I don't think what I am trying to do is illegal. I contacted officials in Washington who didn't really give me a definitive answer. They said that some of the material is copyrighted because it comes from people contracted to produce content. They didn't say much more than that. I have suspended the operation for now (no recordings were ever collected). I am hoping that some people will express interest and offer to help. No one has so far.

6) Do you think that propaganda radio stations are still useful ?

I do not believe that radio broadcasts are effective propaganda tools in that they cannot "force" a population to overthrow a government. There are examples of how radio broadcasting can be used to create a false sense of reality but that is only if the person is willing to believe. Radio propaganda cannot cause a person to do or believe something the person does not want to do or believe. I think Cuba is the perfect illustration of this. The United States has bombarded the island with propaganda for more than 50 years and the people there have not taken up arms against their government. They don't want to.

I believe that there is still a need for informational (not propaganda) international radio broadcasting. In the early years of Radio Marti, the station covered stories on AIDS and the Chernobyl disaster. Neither had not been covered by Cuban media. The Internet and social media have diminished the role of radio broadcasting in developed parts of the world but not in some of the underdeveloped areas, which tend to need the information more than anyone. Cuba has Internet access but it is limited and often monitored by the government. I think radio also overcomes literacy barriers, which is still a problem for many regions. Until the Internet can be perfected and eliminate the reading requirement, there will be a need for international radio.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Interview with Gunnar Garfors

for the pic, thanks to Berit Roald, Scanpix

Gunnar Garfors is CEO of Norwegian Mobile TV Corporation (NMTV), he blogs here.

1) When and where were you born?

In Hammerfest, Norway (“the world’s northernmost city”) in May 29, 1975.

2) What is your first memory of radio?

The first thing I remember from the radio was the news about the Alexander Kielland oil rig that capsized in the North Sea on March 27, 1980, killing 123 people. My mom was pretty much in shock, something that made a big impression on a four year old. I remember the scary atmosphere and both the news reader and the reporters being very much effected of what they were reporting. I really started appreciating radio when I was a little older. My parents gave me a FM/SW/MW/LW radio that I used a lot and that taught me to love the power of radio and the great pictures it created. I listened to sports, quiz shows and youth programs from NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) and to SW broadcasts from BBC and Radio Ulster in particular. The latter were playing great music and had a funny DJ at the time I was supposed to be sleeping.

3) What is your opinion about digital radio? Do you think it could work in any country?

Digital radio is a major part of the radio future. It opens up for more radio channels, easier navigation, better coverage and a lot of additional services that work together with the internet and open up for exciting opportunities when it comes to functionality and revenues. It can undoubtedly work in any country. We see that the de facto standard for digital radio, DMB/DAB/DAB+ is being adopted in over 40 countries. The standard is advanced, widespread, mature, already here and it secures equal digital opportunities for everyone.

4) Some experts like Grant Goddard (i interviewed him last year ) are skeptical about the transition to digital radio; what do you think about their views?

I do not consider Grant Goddard an expert in this field. He certainly knows radio from the content side, maybe he should concentrate on that. He portrays himself as a skeptic in order to get PR which he needs for his consultancy business. The best way he can get PR is to distance himself from broadcasters, listeners and advertisers. By doing that he gets to be the guy the media calls to get “the other view.” But what will he do when radio has gone digital, as is about to happen in Norway (FM switch off in 2017), Great Britain (announcement of switch over expected in 2013), Denmark (Minister of Culture wants to switch off FM) and other countries? I think he may be better off staying an expert on content and formatting, even though it will get him less airtime. His views are anyhow extremely conservative, at best. He is doing his best to prevent the transition radio needs, to go digital as the last media out there. Why does he not want to give everyone equal opportunities when it comes to radio? I want more choice, more money to better programs, better reception and easier usage. It is even much greener too. The transition for TV went smoothly, now providing better choice and quality to the vast majority of people. Many people will have to get new radios or to have them adapted, but this is also the case for all other receivers. People do for instance change much more expensive devices such as mobile phones and computers every 1-3 years. Why are radios different in this respect?

5) You are in favour of switching off FM; what should we do on 87,5-108 MHz?

Power companies are looking at these frequencies as a way of transferring data about electricity usage. Other machine to machine communications could also use these frequencies. Frequencies will in any case always be attractive. Offer them to businesses, and there will undoubtedly be good ideas.

6) What do you think of DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale)? Is there a future for digital radio below 30 Mhz?

DRM is great as a complement to DMB/DAB/DAB+ if you are looking to cover vast areas with few people with one or two radio stations. The DRM consortium should push for receivers that combine DMB/DAB/DAB+ and DRM. That way, they will be able to ride on the wave of the digital radio movement we are currently seeing. For DRM to stand on its own will be very difficult as I don’t think it in an isolated manner can compete from technical, financial or functional points of view.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Interview with Jason Manolopoulos

Jason Manolopoulos is a greek expert of economy, he wrote the book "Greece's odious debt" about the economic situation in Greece. He studied economics in UK (short bio) and he runs an alternative investment fund.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in 1975 in Athens, Greece.

2) In your opinion, what went wrong in Greece?

Let us recap on how we got here in the first place. The PIGS were lent massive amounts of money by institutions during the era of Greenspan, when there was ample liquidity and low interest rates.There was pressure for free flow of capital under deregulation and free markets mantra. This capital was too great for the countries to productively absorb. (Look at how some of the National Lottery winners typically spend their windfalls – poorly). Politicians misled electorates and other institutions; either by lying on statistics, breaking the Stability & Growth Pact rules, overplaying the eurozone’s inevitability, or pursuing unsustainable fiscal policies.Investors and lenders did not conduct proper due diligence on whether these debts could be paid back. Hence there were numerous events that preceded some hedge funds taking opposing bets. Institutional investors did similar things, selling bonds and going on a buyer’s strike, for the same fundamental reasons – poor credit metrics.

3) When did you start writing the book "Greece's odious debt" ?

April 2009

4) What do you think it will be the solution for Greece and/or Eurozone? / 5) Do you think there will be a future for the Euro?

The questions we should initially focus on are: Should a low value-add production economy be lumped with a high value-add or upper-end economy? Does sufficient labour mobility exist in euroland? Do all countries have flexible product and services markets? The answer to these is no. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t start from here. Exiting the euro would be catastrophic, but staying in means many years of austerity and high unemployment, and difficult conditions in which to make essential economic and political reforms, because the exchange rate is so high relative to the productive economy. Either way, Greece has lost a huge amount of national sovereignty, because we cannot bear these huge debts without default and/or surrendering autonomy to investors or other rescuers who will be in a strong negotiating position.

Too much emphasis has been put on the currency aspect per se. A currency in itself, is no silver bullet. The UK had the British pound in the dismal 1970s and still does today, yet the country is a very different place, post Margret Thatcher’s sweeping reform. Turkey was a basket case over run by corruption in the 1990s and early 2000s, having to resort to IMF bailouts. Today post reform and its cleansing process, its economy is growing strongly and has become a strong regional player. It still has its national currency, as it did previously. Sweden and Zimbabwe have independent currencies un-pegged national currencies, with clearly widely differing economic results.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Interview with David Hendy

David Hendy is a media historian with a broad interest in the social and cultural impact of broadcasting and cinema over the past two centuries; he's a reader in media and communication in University of Westminster.

He wrote the books Radio and the Global Age (2000) and Life on Air: a History of Radio Four (2007).

I had the chance of interview him.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in 1962 in the small city of Wells in the west of England - and spent most of my childhood in the region.

2) What is your first memory of radio?

I suppose I remember being a small child, maybe about 2 or 3 years old, playing in the kitchen while my mother did the housework. While she loaded the washing-machine or prepared the evening meal, the radio would be on. It was mostly speech radio, so I'm guessing it was the BBC's old 'Home Service', which included news and plays and discussion programmes, plus a little music every now-and-then. And I can remember sitting next to the radio set one day in particular, to hear my father, who was being interviewed for some reason or another. But it wasn't until I was about ten or eleven that radio's peculiar magic took hold of me. I’d just rescued an old Bakelite radio set from my parents’ attic and installed it next to my bed. I listened mostly at bed-time, when the lights were off. My ear would be pressed hard against the cloth-covered loudspeaker, so the volume could be down low and I could evade discovery. In the darkness, I was transfixed by a small, round, blood-red bulb fixed to the dial. It pulsated into glowing life, decayed into invisibility, then into life again, as I turned slowly through the frequencies to try to catch the faint chatter of distant voices. Out of the electromagnetic swell of white noise, I heard programmes from Paris, Hilversum, Rome. But the ones that gripped me the most were from the other side of the Iron Curtain: Radio Tirana, Radio Moscow… Radio Peking. I can’t remember what they said. It didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that as they spoke, I felt connected by a gossamer thread with someone 5,000 thousand miles away. As a teenager, then as a student, I briefly lost this connection with radio - I was, I suppose, too busy with other things. But perhaps subconsciously, something of this earlier experience remained, to be re-awakened later, in my late-20s.

3) How much time did you need to write the books Radio in the Global Age and Life on Air?

There are two very different answers to this. In the sense of actually sitting down and writing, Radio in the Global Age took about 1 year. But I started writing it only after several years of working at the BBC and several more years teaching about - and subconsciously thinking a lot about - how radio worked and what it's importance was. So in another sense, Radio in the Global Age was several years in the making. For Life on Air, again, I was drawing, in one sense, from many years of working in radio, listening to radio, talking to radio practitioners, and thinking about the subject. But in practical terms, I spent about a year planning and scheming and doing initial research, then about two years researching in the archives full-time, and finally another two years writing - so about five years altogether, though with some teaching and other work during this period.

4) What is your opinion about digital radio?

I feel ambivalent about digital radio. There's no doubt that digital phenomena such as podcasts and the ability to 'listen-again' to radio has improved my life in many ways. I no longer fear missing my favourite programme on, say BBC Radio 3 or BBC Radio 4: I simply subscribe to it as a podcast and then listen to it when driving the 50 miles or so between home and work. Sound quality's improved, too - and that makes a real difference when listening to music or drama. On the other hand, there are features of the digital revolution that have made little difference to me. Choice is supposed to have multiplied exponentially - but that, I think is more illusory than real, because so many of those who run radio stations are too unimaginative about the medium's possibilities and therefore end up producing programmes that all sound very much alike. Of course, Internet radio makes it theoretically possible to listen to any station or any genre of output from anywhere around the world. And, occasionally, I have taken advantage of this facility, tuning in to, say, a college radio station in the US. But, more often than not, I have experienced no real feeling of 'connection' to such stations. Finding them satisfies an idle curiosity, much as finding radio from beyond the Iron Curtain did when I was a child. But at some crucial psychic level, radio maintains a distinctive 'national' or local bond with its listeners. Perhaps it's because, in Britain, we have the BBC, which is a phenomenal resource that we take too much for granted, yet which has infiltrated British life to an extraordinary degree. Whatever the reason, I miss the BBC terribly when I am abroad. In 2010 spent a lengthy period working in the United States. But despite it being the land if infinite choice, I struggled to find any station - commercial or public service - which gave me pleasure in the way that BBC Radio 3 or 4 have done for years, and will continue, I hope, to give me pleasure for the rest of my life. And, one of the reasons these stations give pleasure, is that in a profound way they are a 'gift' - given to me without any expectation of me having to respond. There is value in passivity. It creates the space to absorb and to think. And there is danger, sometimes, in a forced 'interactivity that removes the opportunity for reflective space. To use the old radio metaphor, we sometimes need to stop 'transmitting' in order to enjoy simply 'receiving'.

5) Are you working on another book?

I'm currently working on two books. Almost finished is a small book called 'Public Service Broadcasting' for publication in 2012. It tries to explore what public service broadcasting is in terms of its role in civic life. My second book, much bigger in scale, is 'Media and the Making of the Modern Mind', which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2014. It explores the ways in which four 'new' media - radio, cinema, television and the internet - have each in turn changed the ways we think and have understood the world over the past 120 years. Some of the ideas in the book were explored, more briefly, in a five-part radio series I presented for the BBC in 2010, called 'Rewiring the Mind'.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Interview with James Cridland

James Cridland

James Cridland is an english radio expert and a conference speaker, he's managing director of Media UK and he blogs at James Cridland's blog.

I had the chance to interview him.

1) When and where you born?

I was born in London in 1971: the year that the mandatory radio licence was abolished in the UK. It was another two years before commercial radio started broadcasting.

2) How and when did you discover your interest in the radio?

I saved up vouchers from a box of breakfast cereal, and sent off for a free radio. It arrived (in the shape of a box of breakfast cereal itself). I used it for a few hours on the first day I got it, and was very disappointed as I went to sleep: I thought it had ran out. "How does the latest news get in there?" I wondered. "How will it get the latest music? I'll have to buy a new one." The bug had bitten me: and from then on, I was determined to work in the industry.

3) When you were growing up, which radio stations were you listening to?

Radio 4, like my parents - it's a serious news and speech radio station and I felt very grown-up listening to it. Then I listened to a small local private radio station, Signal Radio, when it first launched: and I was hooked on the idea that this station was coming from just down the road.

4) What is your opinion about the transition towards digital radio (DAB,DAB+,DRM, etc)? Do you think that FM-band should be switched off by law (like the british government suggests)?

It's helpful that the government has indicated that simulcasting between FM and DAB should cease. However, in my opinion, the only people who should decide whether analogue radio should be switched off, I believe, are the radio broadcasters. It is not the government's place to commit mass-murder on an ailing commercial radio industry by forcing them to switch off their FM frequencies.

My post in the blog has more on this.

I believe that the future of radio is a multi-platform future: one that includes FM, DAB, and the internet. I also believe that broadcasters should take far more of an interest in the receivers, since it is in their interest to ensure that these are "platform-blind". The listener should not care whether their favourite radio station is on FM, DAB, DRM or the internet: they should just be able to listen. It's silly, in this era of content, to expect listeners to know whether their favourite radio station is on FM or DAB: it should just appear, by name, on their radio.

Apple, Sky, Canal +, Freeview, and many other broadcasters and content providers are working hard to ensure a standard, simple user interface to access their content. It appears odd that radio broadcasters are not doing so.

5) How do you imagine the future of radio?

The future of radio is a multi-platform future.

We have to have broadcast radio to reach hundreds of thousands of people at the same time: the internet can't do that.
We have to have more than one broadcast standard to offer the choice people expect.
We have to use the internet to deliver on-demand content and personalisation; and niche, out-of-area content.
And we have to have all this in one, easy-to-use, device that we'd like to call a "radio".

The future of radio isn't on-demand over live; internet over FM; personalisation over a linear stream - it's all of these things. That'll help keep radio fresh and exciting.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Interview with Marshall T. Poe

Marshall Poe (1961) is associate professor of history at University of Iowa. Last year (2010) he wrote the book "A history of communications. Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet" (the book is "not yet published" in Cambridge University Press site but it's available in Amazon)

I had the chance to interview him.

1) When did you start using the Internet?

That would be about 1992. I remember because I'd just come back from a year in the Soviet Union.

2) We've seen the crisis of music industry, the crisis of rent of home video (and other similar examples) and do you really think that Internet changes nothing?

Since the 19th century, we in the West have had a deep bias for new technology, and particularly media technology. We think it's going to save us, to fix us, to make a brighter future for us. We fill it with our hopes, and therefore exaggerate its potential. If you read what pundits of the 1950s wrote about, say, television, and compare it to what pundits of the present say about the Internet, you get an eerie sense of deja vu. Television was supposed to "change everything" and the Internet is supposed to do the same. But the former didn't, and the latter won't either. The history of modern media--mass newspapers, radio, TV, and now the Internet--is strikingly continuous. Each provided (and continues to provide) news, entertainment, and commerce, and each is funded primarily by advertising or the state. That later media are "better" than earlier media is some technical sense is important, but not important enough to "change everything." Like its modern predecessors, the Internet will change some things and not others, and the system in which it is entrenched--modern liberal capitalism--will remain unaltered.

My sense is that many people don't know this and some don't want to believe it. If I were to write an essay called "The Internet Changes Everything," few people would pay any attention to it and those who did would probably agree. But if I were to write an essay called "The Internet Changes Nothing" (which I did), it would get a lot of attention, most of it negative (which it did). Why the radical difference in responses? The reason is not empirical: "the Internet changes everything" is just as false as "the Internet changes nothing." No modern medium changes everything or nothing. Rather, the split has to do with ignorance and investment. Again, many people don't know that the history of modern media is continuous (they believe the hype) and many others are committed to the idea of discontinuity (they create the hype).

So, in direct answer to your question, no, I don't believe the internet changes nothing. When I called my essay "The Internet Changes Nothing" I was trying to make a point about about our tendency to exaggerate the impact of modern media technologies in general and the Internet in particular. What I believe is that like mass circulation newspapers, commercial radio, and broadcast TV, the Internet will change some things and not others.

3) Don't you think that Internet may probably need longer time to change social structures of the society?

I'm reminded of that famous quip attributed to Mao. A reporter asked the Great Helmsman what he though of the French Revolution. "It's too soon to tell," he responded. The history of media shows that it sometimes takes centuries for the implications of new forms of communication to work themselves out and reach a kind of equilibrium with the other institutions and values in a society. This was the case with writing and print. But I'm not sure that it will be the case with the Internet. Writing and print were quite different than the media that came before them, so they were disruptive (though they took a long time to disrupt). That's not really true of the Internet. It looks and acts a lot like a TV. What do you use a TV for? Mostly for news and entertainment. What do corporations use TV for? Mostly to sell you stuff. What do you use the Internet for? Mostly for news and entertainment, though you can also look things up and chat with friends. What do corporations use the Internet for? Mostly to sell you stuff, though they also use it to store and communicate data. Nothing really set the stage for the reception of writing and (mass) print; TV set the stage the Internet, at least in the Free World.

4) You think that Internet won't change everything but don't you think that Obama wouldn't be president if Internet had not been existed now?

No. The reason Obama was elected has much more to do with the two-party system than the Internet. Nothing about the Internet favors Republicans or Democrats. Internet or no, a Republican or Democrat is going to occupy the White House. This time it was a Democrat; next time (some next time) it will be a Republican. The Internet won't change that, at least anytime soon.

5) What do you think about sociologists like Manuel Castells who built an entire theory around network society (a kind of Internet-society)?

I don't really like the the phrase "network society." It's redundant. All human groups ("societies") of whatever size, shape or purpose are made of networks, that is, non-random (structured) links between people. What's interesting to me is that different media technologies enable people to create different kinds (sizes, shapes, purposes) of networks. Speech makes speech networks, writing makes writing networks, print makes print networks, audiovisual media (TV and the like) make A/V networks, and the Internet makes Internet networks. Once writing was invented, none of these media-enabled networks was "pure," that is, existed in isolation from other media (and here I mean in place with writing). The first writing network was really a speech + writing network; the first print network was a speech + writing + print network; and so on. Today we in the developed world live in a speech + writing + print + A/V + Internet network. This being so, it doesn't seem sensible to speak of "Internet society," for there is no such thing. There is an Internet network, structured by the capacities of the Internet medium. But it's embedded in other, earlier media. Because it's embedded, it's hard to study the internet network in isolation. It's not impossible, though, and sociologist like Castells are doing their best.
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