Radio broadcasting can be a lonely job
Radio broadcasting can be a lonely job. You sit there in a small studio, sometimes feeling claustrophobic, wearing headphones which make you feel cut off from your immediate environment; you look toward a darkened glass screen behind which sometimes your sound person sits adjusting the quality of your sound. But often there is no one, you are all alone. Alone but speaking to an invisible incalculable audience who listens to your voice and picks up every nuance of your feeling. Because radio is, after all, the only medium in which you cannot lie.
On the first hours of last Thursday, just before dawn, dozens of riot police in Athens raided the headquarters of the country’s former public radio and television broadcaster (ERT) in order to evacuate the building. A few dozen people were in the building. One of them, Nikos Tsimbidas, was in the studio when he saw uniformed and plainclothes policemen entering his studio while he was on-air. Here is what he said:
“Police forces are in the studio... The time is 5:32. You can hear their walkie-talkies…I imagine their sound goes through the air…The time is 5:32. From the ERT headquarters in Aghia Paraskevi, from where you are listening to us, all over the country…This broadcast is continuing under the eyes of policemen….(sounds of walkie-talkies). ‘Yes, these are my things outside. The rucksack and the sleeping bag’… A plainclothes policeman is shooting everything with camera … New morals, new practices … Outside, there are two police platoons … We are waiting to be arrested … ‘Good Evening’ … Greece of 2013, welcome 1930. Welcome to the Middle Ages … I hope someone is recording this … We are waiting … Our time will come at any moment … Unfortunately, we cannot do much … Thank you all … Believe me, it is shocking to be in a studio with two police platoons behind the glass. The sound engineer is not in his position. In the broadcasting studio, plainclothes policemen are recording us with cameras … When this microphone shuts off, what you will be listening to will not be the voice of public radio, it will not be your voice… We are being evacuated … I have been told that there is an order that I should stop talking … ‘Is that your order? Can I get my things? My personal things?’ Somewhere here we finish, we will meet again. These microphones are being shut off.”
Since last Thursday, the large building which housed the administration and production center of Greece’s public broadcaster has been empty, guarded by police. All journalists and technical staff who were defying the government’s order to leave their post and kept broadcasting a bootleg news channel over the Internet are now gone. A few remain outside the building and broadcast a TV news program from the street in front of a live audience. It is only a matter of time before all traces of a previous era are wiped out to give space to a new, smaller public radio and television which will accord with the demands of Greece’s creditors for drastic cuts in the public sector even in the important sector of public information.
The dramatic events of last Thursday, witnessed by a huge audience, were actually the last scene of a drama that started almost five months ago. ERT, Greece’s public broadcaster, officially launched in 1938 as radio only; on June 11, it was officially “declared” dead, having expanded to three national channels and 28 regional radio stations. On that day, the Greek government announced unexpectedly that it had decided to close it down and cut its 2,656 employees from the public payroll. It was the only EU country to ever close its public broadcaster. But responsible ministers insisted that it was the only way to restructure an already-malfunctioning and corrupt public organization. Already a new interim radio and TV channel has been on the air for the last three months. The opposition is accusing the government of setting up a new “shop” with its own friendly staff.
One of the characteristics of radio is its resilience at any attempt to silence it. The dramatic shutting off of the microphones in Athens has now turned over the task to the regional radios that continue broadcasting.
Nobody knows when those microphones will be shut off. But one should not underestimate another powerful tool of radio: the huge impact on its audience.