Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BBC World Service Radio - End of an era

The past few days have seen the end of broadcasting of the BBC World Service Radio on medium wave from the Cyprus relay, receivable in Israel. I have found very little discussion of this fact online, and the BBC's website doesn't say anything, except for listing the frequencies for the Middle East starting on March 31st 2013, which no longer include 1323 kHz. It seems that cutting their transmissions to listeners in Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan is no big deal.

Since immigrating to Israel in 1978, my mother has been a regular, loyal listener to the BBC World Service. It helped her maintain her connection with England. She listened around the house and in her car. Now this service has ended, and she feels bereft. While she can, and does, still watch BBC television, this is not the same thing as having the radio available.

Personally, I listened to the BBC World Service for many years, and more recently have subscribed to some of their podcasts.

The formal reason for cutting the broadcasts is probably budget cuts. However, it also reflects the changing nature of radio and media in general. Nowadays, it is possible to listen to radio stations online, on a computer or mobile phone. Podcasts are also available, and have the advantage that you can listen when you choose rather than at fixed times. However, it is more difficult to do this in the car.

I have always enjoyed listening to audio, because I'm a verbal person and the audio format doesn't allow the use of visual gimmicks the way television does. When someone wants to express something in sound, the only way to do it is through language (and perhaps music and sound effects). I find, for example, that audio documentaries contain a lot more information than television documentaries, because they are not trying to find interesting visual images and atmospheric musical interludes. I also enjoy being able to do other things while listening, which would be more difficult to do while watching television. This is one reason why I don't have a television.

As the Internet became an increasingly important part of my life, I found myself listening to the radio less often, but spending an equivalent amount of time listening to various podcasts, both informative and entertaining. This is how I now consume audio. Presumably, radio is as much a victim of the Internet and people's resulting habits of media consumption as the printed newspaper.

I foresee a time in the not too distant future when there will be no more broadcasting. Everything will be available online, and consumers will choose when to watch/listen. The idea of having to tune in at a certain time to find the programme you want will seem dated, an imposition on our busy schedules that we no longer have to accept. This does mean, however, that people will have to plan what to listen to while driving, unless they use their mobile phones to stream live media.

I have mixed feelings about the technological changes that are taking place and their social impact. While I embrace and welcome many of the advantages of the Internet as a tool for research and communications, I still feel some sentimental attachment to "old" technology such as printed books and broadcast radio.

As technology changes, people have to adapt. I will have to show my mother how to listen to the World Service live on its website, and how to use podcasts. I hope this will help fill the void left by the sudden absence of a station which was like an old friend to her.


ariadne said...

Your mother's and my mother's generation are in crisis with all those modern technology. My mum had trouble to adjust to digital TV as she coulld not use two remore controls.And of course the fact that even taxes are done with computers without even thinking of people who can't use them is cruel. AriadnefromGreece!

Carlos Jorge Carvalho said...

For many years I work alone outdoors for long hours in north Israel. The BBC World Service has been my companion and tedious breaker and a major connection to the outside world news, technological and scientific information. I even joined BBC Global Minds to avoid the day the BBC will cut broadcasts, but it did not help. It seems that I have no longer to walk around with a radio hanging from my belt! As a foreigner living in Israel, the BBC World Service made me feel closer to home. I know many people that live in Israel that listen to the BBC World Service broadcasts that only have access to the traditional radio and they feel "left behind". Even though I have the possibility of listening to the BBC World Service on my cellphone or through the satellite receiver, I still like to "stick" to the schedule and the surprises that traditional radio brings. Listening to the BBC in the car will be the biggest challenge...