Before television came to Guyana, radio was popular. There was hardly a home without a radio.
In my home, there was a radiogram – consisting of a radio and a gramophone or record-player. The radio unit on my radiogram had shortwave, medium and long wave bands.
Every morning apart from listening to the local radio, I would tune in on shortwave to listen to the BBC World Service, Caribbean Service. There was a one-hour news programme of the main news stories around the world. There were also interesting programmes, including, at times, live coverage of Test Match and county cricket.
The Caribbean Service would end around 10am each morning. If you wanted to continue listening to the World Service, you had to use another shortwave band but unless you had an external antenna, the reception usually was very poor. The Caribbean Service would resume in the afternoons and go way into the evening. It was among the staples of lovers of radio before the advent of television.
Voice of America (VOA) was also available on shortwave throughout the day. But the reception was better at nights.
During the dark days of political repression, Guyanese would be forced to listen to the Radio Antilles newscast each evening in order to get the truth about their country’s politics. The state-media then, as now, was totally controlled by the government and was biased and partisan and very often twisted the facts. Radio Antilles operated out of Montserrat. It stopped its service in 1995 by which time there were two independent newspapers in Guyana, the Stabroek News and the Kaieteur News.
But without Radio Antilles, Guyanese would have been in the darkness about much of what was taking place in the country.
Prior to the advent of television, the main source of information came from the radio. Guyanese tuned in to foreign radio broadcasts from the BBC, VOA and Radio Antilles for news and information.
VOA is owned by the American government but, like the BBC, it is not about solely disseminating the American viewpoint. When it does provide the perspectives of the American government in a commentary, it informs the listener that the views expressed on the programme are those of the US government. It can and does provide in most instances fair coverage.
VOA is a valuable source of information of a variety of issues and it does have excellent features. The first time I heard Chick Corea was on a late-night VOA programme. The VOA still has excellent arts and culture features as well as a international news programmes which bring news from all around the world.
This is not to suggest that the VOA does not have a political role. It does. The VOA is seeking to reach audiences in countries where there is no free press or where the press is being suppressed or there are such perceptions.
VOA, because it is a liberal multi-media service, has attracted its fair share of accusations that it is a propaganda arm of the United States government. It has been accused of having a political agenda. VOA Persia Service has been accused of vilifying Iran. It has also been critical of Venezuelan President, Nicholas Maduro. But most western media can be similarly accused. But similar criticisms cannot be made of most of the content of the VOA.
With the Internet, one no longer needs a shortwave radio to listen to programmes of the VOA or the BBC. The state-owned NCN used to relay BBC programmes, mostly late at night. It also did the same with Chinese state-owned television network.
With the internet, you no longer need a shortwave radio to listen to programmes aired by the VOA or the BBC. These are now streamed online and you can actually download programmes or otherwise listen at your own convenience.
The internet has changed radio and it has certainly changed, for the better, the programming which listeners can access from services such as the BBC and the VOA. Those who are tired of television news – and especially of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News – may wish to consider radio once again. The BBC has multiple radio channels which are available online. And the VOA is also streaming its programmes.
VOA is not all propaganda. Its news reporting does embrace, generally, journalistic standards.
The VOA conveys the American liberal values of a free press and a democratic government. And are those not the same values to which our local politicans claim to subscribe.
Guyanese, if they wish, can opt to view foreign radio stations such as the BBC and the VOA as instruments of western propaganda. But in so doing, they will be missing out on some quality programming, from which the older radio-listening generation benefitted.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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