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Radio Magic at Transmediales


Panel discussion featuring: Alejo Duque (Columbia)-- Ham radio satellite radio SWL short wave listener cool toys and antennae Satellite hacking Sarah Washington (uk)--radio artist musician Heidi Grundmann (Austria)--journalist art critic, founder of Kunstradio, until the 1990s the Austrian state had a monopoly on radio and pirate radio was heavily sanctioned. Alejandra Perez Nuñez (Chile)--Noise, media archeologist and moderated by Knute Aufermann (Germany)--Resonance FM London

My Expectations before the Talk

I expect them to talk a lot about podcasting.

When I heard that the internet and cell phones had been turned off during the demonstrations in Egypt, I spent some time thinking about what we could do in such a situation to communicate with the people we care about. The only thing I could think of was radio. Note to self: create a short-wave radio network among my friends.

I think there is a workshop this week about how to make radios. Gotta see if there is any room left in that.


Kunstradio was a project in Austria in 1995. Artists made work for internet and radio. It was a big deal, especially because the Austrial government had had a monopoly on radio up to then.

How Technicians Handle Art Radio

In the Kunstradio project, the engineers were divided into those who thought it was nonsense and those who were really into it. FM (London) is run strictly by volunteers, both the engineers and the programming. Very quickly, the engineers started to do programming and participate as personalities. Many of these guys were eventually hired by the BBC.

Knute told an anecdote about overhearing a guy who was talking to the sound engineer for his show. When the guy told the engineer that he was going to have someone on the show playing a window, all the engineer said back was, "How do you want to mic that?"

Are Radio Waves a Form of Pollution?

The solar eclipse affected radio waves.Sarah did a project of recording the sound of a short-wave station that could only be captured at night during the solar eclipse. The theory was that you would be able to capture the show during the eclipse, but that turned out not to be the case. Nonetheless, you could hear the eclipse as a change in sound.

Alejandro's project Electromagnetic propaganda is about the effects of pulsating microwaves on living tissue. Cell phones and microwaves especially, but radio waves, though less harmless, are part of it all as well.

While Alejandro was working in Valparaiso, Chile trying to prevent cell towers being built, she met other activists trying to protect the harbor from being closed down, preserving funiculars (a traditional mode of transport), fighting bad trash management, and so on. She found that in all the problems, they had the same enemies. There was corruption in land development. The government is weak in the face of the corporations.

They discovered a common front line for civil society. They used radio to expose these political truths.

Live vs Alive, the Archive Problem

The ipod generation doesn't understand the idea of live... there is no rewind in the real world.

There is a difference between listening at your convenience and listing at the same time as something is happening.

Alejo holds the radical view that it should be live or nothing. He's deleting his archives. I wonder how does the digital anthropologist feel about that?

It's not just about being live alone. There is an intensity of the moment, which increases with how many people are connected to the moment. Some pre-produced shows also have this quality. It comes to life.

One guy in the audience argued that a lot of fantastic radio is lost forever after broadcast. You lost out on time travel.

Knute made the point that archiving in radio is a schizophrenic activity. For example, great German public radio shows rot in the archives and will never be heard again because of legal issues.

The Tesla used to host a radio listening session through the radio archive, but they weren't allowed to have more than 30 listeners or it would have been illegal.

Archiving is also money and time consuming. The archiving is just not worth it for most small radios. Let the archivists do the archiving. Let the radio creators create radio.Some radios have their audience help them archive. Archive gardening isn't worth it most of the time and not everything should be archived.

In Germany, radio stations have to keep a recording of everything they broadcast, but that is not an archive. It is not searchable or useful. Contemporary society is obsessed with recording and keeping everything. It's not smart and it's not sustainable. It's not even useful.

Alejo made the funny remark that soon Google will do all the archiving for us.


Nobody is talking about Egypt, which I think is kind of surprising.

Finally! Heidi is talking about Egypt. Radio is also controlled in Egypt. She has her doubts about whether it is possible for anyone there to use the airwaves. I find it surprising that it took them so long to talk about this topic, and also surprising that none of them seems to have a clue about if there is anything coming out of Egypt about what is going on there over short-wave radio.


Somebody in the audience, during her comments, made reference to "the M-word." What is "the M-word"?

89% of the world population listens to radio. Only 80% watch TV. (Uncited statistic!! Achtung!)

Video will soon be able to go through digital radio with a new protocol that is being developed. This will be very important for the Southern hemisphere.

Alejo told us that there is US defense satellite that has been hijacked by Brazilian radio pirates. Free, live, 24/7 use. The Americans try to jam it, but that is all they can do. It covers SA, NA, and Europe. It's in an expensive spot. It can't be moved. It's somewhere near Greenwich.

First, Alejo played a recording of the station, which was ironic after all his radical posturing on the all live all the time question. I'd have enjoyed seeing that antenna in action.

Short wave radio gives you the excitement of realizing that there are other people out there beyond your sphere of life.

Ham radio was censored and nerdy.

The magic eye was a vacuum tube that glowed depending on how strong the signal is. I WANT ONE!!


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