The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, March 26, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ...

I like to get my news while driving in my car. So, I make use of good old fashioned AM radio. I have my pre-set buttons tuned to two different commercial newsradio stations (unfortunately, both CBS affiliates), NPR, Bloomberg radio (focusing on financial and economic topics), and a local New Jersey “oldies” station (need to hear some music now and then). But I have one more pre-set button, and I have been searching for the past few months for a worth station to lock-in on. The other day, I stumbled across something quite interesting – AM 1430, the Voice of Russia. Yes, Russia, Vladimir Putin’s Russia; once our mortal enemy and still not always our friend. Why does Russia run a newsradio station in the New York area (and also one in Washington DC)? I’m not 100% sure, but I’m glad that it does.

Ted Koppel wrote an article last November summing up the current status of American broadcast news media, in contrast to how it was in the time of Walter Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley. Once upon a time, the big TV and radio networks provided high-quality, mostly unbiased news shows as a public service. They did not expect to make a profit on the news; they ran commercials during newscasts, but generally did not during “live coverage” events like the Apollo moon flights or reports on the Cuban missile crisis.

Nonetheless, the big corporate broadcasters spent a lot of money on news coverage back then, given that the federal government tightly regulated the airwaves and imposed a “public service” requirement and a “fairness doctrine” in return for broadcasting bandwidth. CBS, NBC, Westinghouse radio, etc. largely fulfilled this “service” requirement by providing very high quality news journalism. In return, they could put on whatever junk that would sell as much soap as possible during the remaining 21 to 22 hours each day (e.g., corny sitcoms).

Today, things have changed. The FCC is still there but the public service requirements have been dropped — arguably because there is now so much more bandwidth, so many more forms of media and so many providers that the big players like ABC and CBS no longer have a chokehold on what news people get and how they get it. As such, news has become both entertainment and opinionated argument. In order to get an accurate picture on the state of the world, we need to “go into the market” and sample the wares of many providers, just as we buy our food from a variety of vendors (restaurants, supermarkets, fast food chains, convenience stores). Luckily, you can find “Voice of Russia” in the midst of our modern news market!

In a way, Voice of Russia newsradio is like our NPR, but without the “pledge drives” and with a slight accent. The announcers try to affect an American-ish twang or a British-like tone of propriety, but the classic Rusky patois seeps through the cracks. There’s also something very intense about it all, as if the life and death of the world matters on the issues being discussed. As a result, the reporting on current events is often quite good; things are discussed in great detail, even beyond what NPR would do. I’ve learned more about the historical background of the situations in Libya, Yemen and Syria from VofR than from any American news outlet. On the negative side, the radio-Ruskies still seem to be grinding something of an anti-American axe, as if the cold war weren’t quite yet over. So, the anti-imperialist tone goes well beyond NPR’s fashionable liberalism. (Of course with much hypocrisy, given Russia’s history of imperialism; also, in discussing the nuclear meltdown situation in Japan, I don’t hear any VofR reporters recalling their own big atomic mess at Chernobyl.)

But finally, there’s a bit of a cultural entertainment value in listening to Voice of Russia. NPR tries to be very cultural, and likewise VofR reports on art, filmmaking, literature, music and such. Like NPR, VofR injects musical clips which are truly awful (but actually more awful than the “world music” that NPR profers; it’s either over-done techno-clips played way too frequently, or dirge-like Russian folk singing that makes one jab quickly at any other pre-set button on the radio). However, the cultural entertainment of VofR is a bit different than NPR’s; it’s the entertainment of hearing the Russian soul exposed. It’s a mixture of pomp, hubris, humor, desire to be accepted, desire to be better, and yet not quite living up to western standards of polish and presentation.

VofR is giving my daily journey home a bit of an international flair! I’m glad that I found it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:20 pm      

  1. Jim, You are right about the news. I find myself noticing that nowadays “new” includes what celebrities are doing in their lives. What??? Cronkits and Huntley-Brinkley wouldn’t be caught dead even mentioning something like that. Now celebrity news is part of the headlines that start a program. I find myself wondering what has happened to a nation that must have it’s “celebrity fix.”

    Then your mentioning Russia set me to thinking about something I’ve always admired (right word?–maybe “wondered” here too, as above) about the Russian people–how much they love their homeland. They may have a dictatorship, may have had seriously deficient rulers in one way or the other, but the people all seem to love their country.

    In addition the only thing I think of when it comes to Russia is cold. Yet, again, no matter: The people love their country. There must be something about Russia that is special. I find myself pondering what that special-ness is, could be. But whatever it is, it must be real to have the people love their country so. We can see many reasons why we love our country–well, at least I do. So the Russians too must see many reasons why they love their country. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 27, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

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