WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

Reflections on Global Communications - Technological Apartheid

I always come back from radio hobbyists' gatherings with mixed emotions.

So it was with the annual Shortwave Winterfest in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, which combined nostalgia with the coming "Brave New World" of telecommunications technology.

For example, hearing the interval signals and theme music from international shortwave stations long gone (which, for radio hobbyists, can evoke long forgotten memories, similar to hearing a 'golden oldie' you haven't heard in years or decades!).

And then, minutes later, discussing the technology which could transplant you and your corporate colleagues from around the country into a virtual conference, where you'd have the illusion of your colleagues all around you. The ultimate teleconference!

In between, we experienced today's technology, for example, viewing satellite TV channels typically unavailable on U.S. cable systems: Everything from European and Latin American channels, to the Middle-East, sub-Saharan Africa, and east Asia.

You discover the global outreach of Iranian television, or Al-Jazeera. The fast-paced, risque Brazilian channels. The soap-opera type shows on Saudi television.

Countries you wouldn't necessarily expect to have top-notch channels with fast-paced, quality production, such as TPA2 from Luanda, Angola. (Oil money maybe?)

But you also learn how Western broadcasters, such as the Voice of America and the BBC World Service, presumptuously assume most people - even in developing countries - have easy access to the Internet, or that local stations in Third World countries will automatically relay VOA or the BBC - even during unrest or worse.

Our banquet guest speaker from Sri Lanka - a longtime technical monitor for international broadcasters - spoke passionately about the idiocy of Western broadcasters cutting back their broadcasts in indigenous languages (or even English, as in the case of the Voice of America), while the Chinese have begun to fill the vacuum.

He noted broadcasts from Beijing - bulging with Marxist rhetoric - were just about unlistenable three decades ago. In contrast, modern Chinese broadcasts are gaining an audience in Third World countries.

A young man who has championed the cause of delivering portable wind-up shortwave radios to young people in developing countries told the story of an eleven-year-old girl in an East African country who was learning about the world through international news broadcasts. She didn't want music; she wanted news. And she recited the names of numerous world leaders - and the political situations in their respective countries - with an accuracy and enthusiasm that would put most U.S. kids to shame.

In other African villages - still beyond the reach of television sets or cellphones, let alone the internet - a single portable wind-up radio can educate an entire classroom - or community gathering.

Posted at 6:34pm on March 16, 2009 by Allan Loudell

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