Julia Barton and Alexander Kleimenov

Intro from Jay Allison: As Americans we like to believe we are good. Others do not share that belief. Is this a problem of communication? We are in a time of failed communication across borders, a time when stories and news and propaganda are mingled, and therefore dangerous. Can we trust how others appear to us? Can we know how we appear to others?

This month on Transom, we welcome those who once were our enemies, or so we thought, in another time when stories were lost in propaganda, theirs and ours. Julia Barton and Alexander Kleimenov tell us of communicating by radio in the former Soviet Union, and the possible kinship between radio there and here. We are also inviting Russian radio workers to join us in conversation on the Internet. As Julia writes, "There are other kinds of isolation than just geographical, and the kind the United States is suffering now may be the worst. Discussion with and knowledge of our colleagues abroad is one small way to counter that."

Download this document in PDF

Russian Media Links & Radio Clips

From Julia Barton

I tried to download a map of the former Soviet Union to show you the locations of the 15 radio stations I visited during five months on a Knight International Press Fellowship last summer and fall. But there’s a problem with such maps: they’re too big. You can’t print them out on one page and can’t fit them on a computer screen without making the place-names too small to read.

End of the road: the half-frozen River Amur in Khabarovsk, near the once-disputed border with China.

So I’ll have to draw you this picture instead. At the end of October, we were standing on the shore of the Baltic Sea near Kaliningrad, a detached piece of Russia that will soon be imbedded in the expanded European Union. A week later we were looking at the Sea of Japan, 6,500 miles away. We had just flown from the longitude of Stockholm across that of Central Europe and Turkey (with a stopover in Moscow), then across the length of the Middle East, the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the angry border of India and Pakistan, not to mention all of the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, China, and divided Korea. Yet we were still in the same country. Imagine nine time-zones worth of jet lag, but still waking up to the same language and the same ads on network TV. Even the “Chinese” restaurants, despite our new proximity to their namesake, served the same scary lumps of unidentifiable matter braised in diesel oil.

The radio station director in Vladivostok (Russia’s Pacific port) was pretty blasé about our epic journey. “We were just in Kaliningrad looking at the Baltic!” we exclaimed. “Oh yeah, how is it?” he asked. He’d grown up there.

We visited radio stations that seemed surprisingly connected to the world, despite being in places that most of the world would think of as nowhere. We also visited stations whose reporters seemed frozen in a modern-day gulag with a mini-disc recorder. We worked with a lot of kids who’d been thrown on the air barely a clue as to what to do, but we also met respected announcers whose listeners brought them flowers and thanked them for years of good advice.

Alex writes down a few questions for an interview exercise at Radio Premier in Vologda, a city north of Moscow. As at many stations we visited, staffers chose the issue of the old Soviet system of heating whole city blocks from one boiler. The system is breaking down all over. “Who’s to blame?” is question number 3.

One thing is for sure: commercial radio in Russia is a lot more varied and interesting than in the United States. Sometimes we heard things that were discouraging, especially ads disguised (and not very well) as news stories, and silly DJ prattle that made us want to throw the radio out the window – except we were usually in the radio station at the time. Still, I have to give the stations credit. At least they HAVE news, and at least they HAVE DJs that are in the same town as the station, not pre-recorded into some computer in Florida. In fact, Russia’s under-staffed, inexperienced, overworked radio newsrooms reminded me of nothing so much as… your average local public radio station.

The connections between public radio and Russian commercial radio are stronger than just happenstance. The stations invited me through the Foundation for Independent Radio Broadcasting (known by the Russian acronym FNR), a Moscow-based non-profit that tries to keep some semblance of ethical reporting and social programming alive in that country. FNR works mostly with commercial stations in the regions, which in Russia means everywhere not Moscow. A couple of years ago, FNR’s director and editor-in-chief visited the Third Coast Audio Festival in Chicago. That inspired them to organize a series of regional audio festivals around Russia. They got funding from George Soros’s Open Society Institute with the help of none other than Bill Siemering.

I got to go to the first of these audio festivals in Khabarovsk, near the border with China (hence the rush from Kaliningrad to the opposite Russian shore). You could tell that the staffers of these isolated, Far Eastern towns were excited to have the chance to talk about their work and meet their colleagues. Although during Soviet times people moved around a lot – sometimes against their wills – it seems today that Russians in the regions are becoming more and more cut off, not only from the world, but from the rest of their vast country. It costs money to travel, and almost no one has that anymore.

As far as radio goes, more has been lost in the upheavals of the last 11 years. When we’d start talking about a technique like natural sound, which is almost never used on commercial radio in Russia, sometimes an old-timer would pipe up: “That’s how we used to do things in Soviet times.” Soviet radio, I got the sense, paid a lot more attention to the craft of audio, even if the content was in service of the state. Radio workers had training and standards they had to meet. Except for the efforts of training outfits like FNR, much of that knowledge has been lost to commercial radio today. But then again, there was no commercial radio in Communist times, so the transition was bound to be abrupt.

Two newscasters, Anton and Liuba, at Radio Alpha in Perm do a mock interview about, yes, heating problems. Liuba plays the role of a woman freezing in her apartment, despite paying all her bills on time. It’s not a hard role for Russian radio journalists. It is hard for them to wear headphones in the field, though, and Liuba said the sight of them bothered her.

But almost everyone I met was eager to learn these new-again broadcasting tricks. No one likes to go on the air without a clue, and we witnessed many great discussions and revelations during our seminars. I have to give a lot of credit to the person who traveled with me, Alex Kleimenov. He acted as my interpreter, because my Russian is fine for ordering a beer but not for explaining how to write into an actuality. As a stringer for NPR and other public radio programs in Ukraine, Alex is also a great teacher of radio himself. And he had a credibility that I couldn’t have. Alex survived the Red Pioneer and Komsomol Youth camps, he knows all the references to old Soviet movies that I’ve never seen – he is, in short, one of “ours,” a word that has resonance in the former Soviet Union in a way that it never could in the United States. I think no one should try to teach in that part of the world without someone like Alex.

So here he is. And after his thoughts, I hope we can have a discussion that includes some of the people we met in Russia. Alex has offered to translate for them.

There are other kinds of isolation than just geographical, and the kind the United States is suffering now may be the worst. Discussion with and knowledge of our colleagues abroad is one small way to counter that.

From Alexander Kleimenov

When right before New Year’s Eve in 1991 I watched on TV the Soviet flag come down over the Kremlin, I couldn’t possibly foresee all the changes about to come for the countries that I was used to seeing as one. But I felt for sure that my childhood dream of traveling to Vladivostok, a city some 5,000 miles away from Kiev where I live, would now probably never come true. But last fall, Vladivostok happened to be on Julia Barton’s workshop itinerary, so when she suggested I could join in, I knew this was my only chance for a Great Russian adventure, radio-style.

Alex at Chernobyl.

“And now it’s time for our regular program,” a DJ says in a rush, “which is called We and the Music where we let you know about the latest music trends and the coolest music bands and the music we all like to hear so much, especially on our station, because that’s the way our radio station is, and it’s not in vain that we are even called that way ‘AllMusicStation’ because we tell you important information about music and we play that music for you and you like us for that, don’t you?” This is a very typical excerpt from DJ banter on a Russian FM station. Although FM-radio has entered its 2nd decade in Russia, apart from Moscow – which is a world where rating science rules – many radio stations are still trying to figure out what they are on the air for. This puts their on-air talent face-to-face with a real problem: what to say and how?

Right away, I want to do justice to all people who work on Russian airwaves: they’re in for a tough job in a country whose freedom of speech status Reporters without Borders rated 121st in the world just a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t mean that a censor is assigned to every newsroom, but certain topics become taboo, especially at stations that feel financial insecurity. Once, when we suggested covering a story about draft-dodgers, the side opposing the authorities on this issue, a news director told us the authorities were listening and could make troubles for the station for such a report. We couldn’t tell if such fear was substantiated, but a station called Radio Lemma we visited in Vladivostok did come under armed siege a few years ago when local authorities decided the station was getting in their way. We could hardly improve the freedom of speech situation during our 4-day training sessions, but we thought we could give the on-air talent some ideas on how to make their shows relevant for the listeners.

Most of the stations we visited were music stations with news – not a typical setup for Russian FM stations, most of which take news from their network, read them from the Internet or, as the ultimate money- and headache-saver, do no news at all. Managers of the stations that invited us had decided that local news would give them a leading edge over competitors. The problem we sensed was this: how to draw a line between music and news? One news director told us he wanted his listeners to think a newscast was just another musical number that was supposed to keep them listening. At many stations, newscasts do sound like that: read over a techno beat in a tempo that slams all the sentences into one, they might produce an effect of something happening… but remembering the news you just heard – forget about it! When we asked why a music bed was necessary, the answer we heard most often was, “That’s our format.”

Ten years ago, there was no format on Russian airwaves. Nowadays, station managers freely juggle with abbreviations like AC or CHR. One morning, we even heard the news of Russian Gay Radio being launched on the Internet. Later that evening we checked it out, still in our “effective radio communication” mode. As most of the Russian Internet users, we could only get a dial-up connection preceded by many busy signals. On the gay radio’s site we saw a news update saying the gay radio’s e-mail accounts were locked, allegedly by government-connected forces, and the web site that came up after many delays could be shut down anytime. But when a jammed RealAudio connection kicked in, all we got to hear was the same repertoire that blasts from any taxi or a pirate CD kiosk in Russia: Phil Collins and Celine Dion. If they were the reason behind repressions against gay radio, the Russian government must have too refined of a taste, we thought.

A format for many Russian stations is more of an excuse for what the station does on the air than a research-based tool for the station’s correct positioning on the market. One station we visited claimed to be the #1 in its city and bragged about having no format at all: its DJ’s just played any music they liked and on Saturday nights, they reenacted on the air “a sex act.”
Commercial stations, especially the non-network ones, have few resources to research their audience and thus often make decisions by licking their thumb and sticking it in the air.

“Why do you air your longest newscast at 8 in the evening?” we asked journalists at one station.

“Because we decided so,” the journalists said. (Russian TV-channels have their main newscasts in the evening, stripping radio stations of their news-craving audience.)

“Why do you air a weather forecast only once an hour in the morning?” we asked at another station.

“How many times do you think we should do it?” we were asked back.

Managers do their best to make their stations stand out in cities where the FM dial is getting packed. They come up with special events and games, and encourage DJs and journalists to pitch all sorts of ideas to attract more listeners. One game we were told about suggested city bus drivers rush to an announced intersection on their route where a beer crate was waiting for the first driver to make it. Most games we heard aired in the morning and encouraged people to call in and engage in lengthy conversations with a DJ.

Mosaic of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin
This mosaic of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin adorns the post office in Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast.

We suggested the on-air talent to listen to their own work from a standpoint of their listeners. Some of them were very surprised to find out their shows became more interesting when they lost some of the sound-effects glitter and gained on usefulness of the content. One DJ happily discovered his show about musicians grabbed more attention when he used music from the actual musician instead of some generic beat. For some reason, radio people in the former Soviet Union have a special admiration for the artificial. Long, incomprehensible sentences and abundant sound effects on the air must be an equivalent of high heels we saw Russian women wear at negative Fahrenheit temperatures.

These temperatures, on the other hand, must be a legitimate reason why journalists rarely venture outside their newsrooms, often located far away from city centers where you’d need to commute for an hour in a crowded bus.

We saw stations with superb equipment and stations that couldn’t do any live programming (even their newscasts were pre-recorded) because they didn’t have mixing boards. We met journalists who were quietly happy with their routine and journalists who openly argued with their bosses and dreamt about moving to Moscow with hopes of self-realization. We encouraged them all to stay in touch, and some of them keep sending us their stories and ask advice. We hope they will get more chances to broaden their professional horizons and will have more exposure to radio work from outside Russia. That’s what we tried to do at least in some small way.

“I learned more in four days with you than in a year at my journalism school,” one journalist told us in Vladivostok. It’s worth making a childhood dream of crossing Russia coast to coast come true to hear something like that, I thought.

Russian Radio Clips

Baltic Plus: Our Style

This is an excerpt from Julia and Alex’s appearance on the Kaliningrad weekly radio show “Our Style,” which airs on the station we visited there, Baltic Plus. In this bit, host Tatiana Ponomarenko asks Julia to confirm or deny certain Russian stereotypes about American women: one, that they don’t wear make-up, and two, that they don’t “torture themselves” with diets. Other topics covered: what kind of shoes we wear, who cooks breakfast, and how we juggle children and careers.

Download
Listen to “Baltic Plus: Our Style”

AvtoRadio

This is part of a newscast from Avtoradio in Novosibirsk. The Avtoradio format is aimed at car drivers–not as common a class of person as in the United States. Each newscast item is preceded by a male voice who swoops in to say what the story will be about, as in, “About money!” “About people!” and Julia’s personal favorite, “About that!” which is a euphemism for “about sex.” These buttons come pre-recorded from the Avtoradio network in Moscow, and the Novosibirsk engineers keep them in alphabetized sound files for sprinkling in during the hourly newscasts. Kind of a headache, but Avtoradio staff think they add excitement.

Download
Listen to “AvtoRadio”

Alex on The World‘s Geo Quiz

As for weird stories to emerge from Ukraine of late, Alex laid one to rest on The World’s Geo-Quiz segment a couple of years ago. But he did bring up another mystery, a mayonnaise-drenched salad that people there love to eat.

Download
Listen to “Alex on ‘The World’s’ Geo Quiz”

Creative Radio from Russia

This is the first half of a 12-minute documentary called “Our People” produced by Elena Uporova of the Foundation for Independent Radio. The series is about national minorities in Russia, focusing on native tribes in the Far East. The first 25 seconds is a series intro, then we hear an old Nanai tribesman sing and explain (in Russian) a song he made up about the Amur River. Then Elena introduces him, and he remembers his Russian teachers. Although his grandson doesn’t speak Nanai, he’s philosophical about it. Elena then talks about how Russian names for the tribal peoples and their own names for themselves differ. The tribal names come up as “errors” on the Russian Microsoft spell-check program. In the last part, she goes out on the street with a list of the tribal names to see if any Russians know what they mean. In a great montage, they make wild guesses–maybe they’re words from English, or Japanese, or some kind of anagrams–before someone dismissively guesses that perhaps they’re names of small nationalities.

Download
Listen to “Creative Radio from Russia”

Learning by Imitation

One of our students, Stas Berm at AvtoRadio Novosibirsk, got so inspired by hearing “Our People” that he immediately applied Elena Uporova’s keyboard sound effects to a little story of his own, about looking up the Guinness Book of World Records online to find Russian world records.

Download
Listen to “Learning by Imitation”

Russian Media Links

Julia Barton & Alex Kleimenov
Julia Barton & Alexander Kleimenov take a break during the broadcast of “Our Style,” a half-hour program on Baltic Plus radio in Kaliningrad.
Julia Barton

About
Julia Barton

Julia Barton edits the podcast The Life of the Law and is managing editor of the Radiotopia podcast network from PRX. She's also a contributor to Radiolab, PRI's The World, Studio 360 and other programs.

Alexander Kleimenov

About
Alexander Kleimenov

Alexander Kleimenov got a degree in foreign linguistics from Kiev Shevchenko University in 1995. In 1998, he received a Master's Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In 1999-2000, Alexander was a guest teacher for a class called Creative News Lab at the Kiev University Journalism School. Currently, he works in TV-production and freelance for NPR, CBC Radio and The World. Alexander adores traveling and photography.

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  • Jay Allison

    4.01.03

    Reply

    Intro by Jay Allison

    As Americans we like to believe we are good. Others do not share that belief. Is this a problem of communication?

    We are in a time of failed communication across borders, a time when stories and news and propaganda are mingled, and therefore dangerous. Can we trust how others appear to us? Can we know how we appear to others?

    This month on Transom, we welcome those who once were our enemies, or so we thought, in another time when stories were lost in propaganda, theirs and ours.

    Julia Barton and Alexander Kleimenov tell us of communicating by radio in the former Soviet Union, and the possible kinship between radio there and here. We are also inviting Russian radio workers to join us in conversation on the Internet. As Julia writes, "There are other kinds of isolation than just geographical, and the kind the United States is suffering now may be the worst. Discussion with and knowledge of our colleagues abroad is one small way to counter that."

    We invite you to take part.

  • Julia Barton

    4.01.03

    Reply

    Julia Barton and Alexander Kleimenov’s Manifesto


    End of the road: the half-frozen River Amur in Khabarovsk, near the once-disputed border with China.

    I tried to download a map of the former Soviet Union to show you the locations of the 15 radio stations I visited during five months on a Knight International Press Fellowship last summer and fall. But there’s a problem with such maps: they’re too big. You can’t print them out on one page and can’t fit them on a computer screen without making the place-names too small to read.

    So I’ll have to draw you this picture instead. At the end of October, we were standing on the shore of the Baltic Sea near Kaliningrad, a detached piece of Russia that will soon be imbedded in the expanded European Union. A week later we were looking at the Sea of Japan, 6,500 miles away. We had just flown from the longitude of Stockholm across that of Central Europe and Turkey (with a stopover in Moscow), then across the length of the Middle East, the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the angry border of India and Pakistan, not to mention all of the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, China, and divided Korea. Yet we were still in the same country. Imagine nine time-zones worth of jet lag, but still waking up to the same language and the same ads on network TV. Even the "Chinese" restaurants, despite our new proximity to their namesake, served the same scary lumps of unidentifiable matter braised in diesel oil.

    The radio station director in Vladivostok (Russia’s Pacific port) was pretty blase’ about our epic journey. "We were just in Kaliningrad looking at the Baltic!" we exclaimed. "Oh yeah, how is it?" he asked. He’d grown up there.

  • Julia Barton

    4.01.03

    Reply

    We visited radio stations that seemed surprisingly connected to the world, despite being in places that most of the world would think of as nowhere. We also visited stations whose reporters seemed frozen in a modern-day gulag with a mini-disc recorder. We worked with a lot of kids who’d been thrown on the air barely a clue as to what to do, but we also met respected announcers whose listeners brought them flowers and thanked them for years of good advice.

    Alex writes down a few questions for an interview exercise at Radio Premier in Vologda, a city north of Moscow. As at many stations we visited, staffers chose the issue of the old Soviet system of heating whole city blocks from one boiler. The system is breaking down all over. "Who’s to blame?" is question number 3.

    One thing is for sure: commercial radio in Russia is a lot more varied and interesting than in the United States. Sometimes we heard things that were discouraging, especially ads disguised (and not very well) as news stories, and silly DJ prattle that made us want to throw the radio out the window – except we were usually in the radio station at the time. Still, I have to give the stations credit. At least they HAVE news, and at least they HAVE DJs that are in the same town as the station, not pre-recorded into some computer in Florida. In fact, Russia’s under-staffed, inexperienced, overworked radio newsrooms reminded me of nothing so much as… your average local public radio station.

    The connections between public radio and Russian commercial radio are stronger than just happenstance. The stations invited me through the Foundation for Independent Radio Broadcasting (known by the Russian acronym FNR), a Moscow-based non-profit that tries to keep some semblance of ethical reporting and social programming alive in that country. FNR works mostly with commercial stations in the regions, which in Russia means everywhere not Moscow. A couple of years ago, FNR’s director and editor-in-chief visited the Third Coast Audio Festival in Chicago. That inspired them to organize a series of regional audio festivals around Russia. They got funding from George Soros’s Open Society Institute with the help of none other than Bill Siemering.

    I got to go to the first of these audio festivals in Khabarovsk, near the border with China (hence the rush from Kaliningrad to the opposite Russian shore). You could tell that the staffers of these isolated, Far Eastern towns were excited to have the chance to talk about their work and meet their colleagues. Although during Soviet times people moved around a lot – sometimes against their wills – it seems today that Russians in the regions are becoming more and more cut off, not only from the world, but from the rest of their vast country. It costs money to travel, and almost no one has that anymore.

  • Julia Barton

    4.01.03

    Reply

    As far as radio goes, more has been lost in the upheavals of the last 11 years. When we’d start talking about a technique like natural sound, which is almost never used on commercial radio in Russia, sometimes an old-timer would pipe up: "That’s how we used to do things in Soviet times." Soviet radio, I got the sense, paid a lot more attention to the craft of audio, even if the content was in service of the state. Radio workers had training and standards they had to meet. Except for the efforts of training outfits like FNR, much of that knowledge has been lost to commercial radio today. But then again, there was no commercial radio in Communist times, so the transition was bound to be abrupt.


    Two newscasters, Anton and Liuba, at Radio Alpha in Perm do a mock interview about, yes, heating problems. Liuba plays the role of a woman freezing in her apartment, despite paying all her bills on time. It’s not a hard role for Russian radio journalists. It is hard for them to wear headphones in the field, though, and Liuba said the sight of them bothered her.

    But almost everyone I met was eager to learn these new-again broadcasting tricks. No one likes to go on the air without a clue, and we witnessed many great discussions and revelations during our seminars. I have to give a lot of credit to the person who traveled with me, Alex Kleimenov. He acted as my interpreter, because my Russian is fine for ordering a beer but not for explaining how to write into an actuality. As a stringer for NPR and other public radio programs in Ukraine, Alex is also a great teacher of radio himself. And he had a credibility that I couldn’t have. Alex survived the Red Pioneer and Komsomol Youth camps, he knows all the references to old Soviet movies that I’ve never seen – he is, in short, one of "ours," a word that has resonance in the former Soviet Union in a way that it never could in the United States. I think no one should try to teach in that part of the world without someone like Alex.

    So here he is. And after his thoughts, I hope we can have a discussion that includes some of the people we met in Russia. Alex has offered to translate for them.

    There are other kinds of isolation than just geographical, and the kind the United States is suffering now may be the worst. Discussion with and knowledge of our colleagues abroad is one small way to counter that.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.01.03

    Reply

    When right before New Year’s Eve in 1991 I watched on TV the Soviet flag come down over the Kremlin, I couldn’t possibly foresee all the changes about to come for the countries that I was used to seeing as one. But I felt for sure that my childhood dream of traveling to Vladivostok, a city some 5,000 miles away from Kiev where I live, would now probably never come true. But last fall, Vladivostok happened to be on Julia Barton’s workshop itinerary, so when she suggested I could join in, I knew this was my only chance for a Great Russian adventure, radio-style.


    Alex at Chernobyl.

    "And now it’s time for our regular program," a DJ says in a rush, "which is called We and the Music where we let you know about the latest music trends and the coolest music bands and the music we all like to hear so much, especially on our station, because that’s the way our radio station is, and it’s not in vain that we are even called that way ‘AllMusicStation’ because we tell you important information about music and we play that music for you and you like us for that, don’t you?" This is a very typical excerpt from DJ banter on a Russian FM station. Although FM-radio has entered its 2nd decade in Russia, apart from Moscow – which is a world where rating science rules – many radio stations are still trying to figure out what they are on the air for. This puts their on-air talent face-to-face with a real problem: what to say and how?

    Right away, I want to do justice to all people who work on Russian airwaves: they’re in for a tough job in a country whose freedom of speech status Reporters without Borders rated 121st in the world just a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t mean that a censor is assigned to every newsroom, but certain topics become taboo, especially at stations that feel financial insecurity. Once, when we suggested covering in a story about draft-dodgers, the side opposing the authorities on this issue, a news director told us the authorities were listening and could make troubles for the station for such a report. We couldn’t tell if such fear was substantiated, but a station called Radio Lemma we visited in Vladivostok did come under armed siege a few years ago when local authorities decided the station was getting in their way. We could hardly improve the freedom of speech situation during our 4-day training sessions, but we thought we could give the on-air talent some ideas on how to make their shows relevant for the listeners.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.01.03

    Reply

    Most of the stations we visited were music stations with news – not a typical setup for Russian FM stations, most of which take news from their network, read them from the Internet or, as the ultimate money- and headache-saver, do no news at all. Managers of the stations that invited us had decided that local news would give them a leading edge over competitors. The problem we sensed was this: how to draw a line between music and news? One news director told us he wanted his listeners to think a newscast was just another musical number that was supposed to keep them listening. At many stations, newscasts do sound like that: read over a techno beat in a tempo that slams all the sentences into one, they might produce an effect of something happening… but remembering the news you just heard – forget about it! When we asked why a music bed was necessary, the answer we heard most often was, "That’s our format."

    Ten years ago, there was no format on Russian airwaves. Nowadays, station managers freely juggle with abbreviations like AC or CHR. One morning, we even heard the news of Russian Gay Radio being launched on the Internet. Later that evening we checked it out, still in our "effective radio communication" mode. As most of the Russian Internet users, we could only get a dial-up connection preceded by many busy signals. On the gay radio’s site we saw a news update saying the gay radio’s e-mail accounts were locked, allegedly by government-connected forces, and the web site that came up after many delays could be shut down anytime. But when a jammed RealAudio connection kicked in, all we got to hear was the same repertoire that blasts from any taxi or a pirate CD kiosk in Russia: Phil Collins and Celine Dion. If they were the reason behind repressions against gay radio, the Russian government must have too refined of a taste, we thought.

    A format for many Russian stations is more of an excuse for what the station does on the air than a research-based tool for the station’s correct positioning on the market. One station we visited claimed to be the #1 in its city and bragged about having no format at all: its DJ’s just played any music they liked and on Saturday nights, they reenacted on the air "a sex act."

    Commercial stations, especially the non-network ones, have few resources to research their audience and thus often make decisions by licking their thumb and sticking it in the air.

    "Why do you air your longest newscast at 8 in the evening?" we asked journalists at one station.

    "Because we decided so," the journalists said. (Russian TV-channels have their main newscasts in the evening, stripping radio stations of their news-craving audience.)

    "Why do you air a weather forecast only once an hour in the morning?" we asked at another station.

    "How many times do you think we should do it?" we were asked back.

    Managers do their best to make their stations stand out in cities where the FM dial is getting packed. They come up with special events and games, and encourage DJs and journalists to pitch all sorts of ideas to attract more listeners. One game we were told about suggested city bus drivers rush to an announced intersection on their route where a beer crate was waiting for the first driver to make it. Most games we heard aired in the morning and encouraged people to call in and engage in lengthy conversations with a DJ.

    We suggested the on-air talent to listen to their own work from a standpoint of their listeners. Some of them were very surprised to find out their shows became more interesting when they lost some of the sound-effects glitter and gained on usefulness of the content. One DJ happily discovered his show about musicians grabbed more attention when he used music from the actual musician instead of some generic beat. For some reason, radio people in the former Soviet Union have a special admiration for the artificial. Long, incomprehensible sentences and abundant sound effects on the air must be an equivalent of high heels we saw Russian women wear at negative Fahrenheit temperatures.

    These temperatures, on the other hand, must be a legitimate reason why journalists rarely venture outside their newsrooms, often located far away from city centers where you’d need to commute for an hour in a crowded bus.

    We saw stations with superb equipment and stations that couldn’t do any live programming (even their newscasts were pre-recorded) because they didn’t have mixing boards. We met journalists who were quietly happy with their routine and journalists who openly argued with their bosses and dreamt about moving to Moscow with hopes of self-realization. We encouraged them all to stay in touch, and some of them keep sending us their stories and ask advice. We hope they will get more chances to broaden their professional horizons and will have more exposure to radio work from outside Russia. That’s what we tried to do at least in some small way.

    "I learned more in four days with you than in a year at my journalism school," one journalist told us in Vladivostok. It’s worth making a childhood dream of crossing Russia coast to coast come true to hear something like that, I thought.


    This mosaic of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin adorns the post office in Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.07.03

    Reply

    Julia and Alex,
    these subjects are so big. I’m awed by your description of the size of the regions, and by the limitations and fears. It’s interesting how we live with whatever situation there is in every town and country.

    Here’s my fantasy: all newscasters, DJs and producers are paired with translators and sent to switch jobs across the globe for a few months. What would we listeners learn?

    I’d love to hear a little about you as individuals to start with. How did each of you come to radio and to this point?

  • Julia Barton

    4.07.03

    Reply
    fate = sud’ba

    (I thought maybe we could give little Russian lessons in here as well).

    Thanks for getting us started, Nanette. I got into radio by accident, after running into a friend at the University of Iowa, where I was in grad school. She was working at the local public radio affiliate, WSUI-AM, and recruited me to be an evening announcer. I was terrified–I didn’t know anything about broadcast equipment and was pretty certain that nothing I said during breaks actually went out over the air. So I know how it feels to be in that position (well, we probably all do).

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.07.03

    Reply

    I came to radio by accident really. When I started Grad School at the Univ. of Missouri, I had to take a radio class which included regular shifts at an NPR affiliate KBIA. Since I had come to the United States just 2 weeks earlier I hated the class–I had no idea what was considered news in Mid-Missouri. By the end of the semester, though, I got a better taste of radio news but, in the end, got a "B" for the class. Now, I think, I’m the only one from that class who reports for the radio.

    Back in Ukraine I started freelancing for NPR, The World and later for CBC Radio: Ukraine is not in the center of anyone’s interest these days and very few US media have their people here. (Does anyone really follow news from the ex-USSR anymore? And what are your particular interests then?) I find it extremely compelling to report about my country for audiences in North America. It also keeps me away from Ukrainian editors.

    It would be a great idea to switch news staff the way Nannette suggests, only you’d need to incorporate into the project a month of culture shock. The thing is, quite often, what Americans coming to this part of the world consider news is no news to people living here. It’s also true the other way round. On the other hand, people in many parts of the former Soviet Union really enjoy watching/listening to stories about their countries done by foreign journalists. A Russian TV network NTV has started airing reports about Russia from western TV-crews based in Moscow. The stories I saw were about "samogon" (moonshine) and "sosul’ki" (icicles). Both were very funny. But on a larger scale, what we might learn from these exchanges is the difference in values. What one nation considers its stronghold may turn out to have little significance fot others, where someone laughs–others cry, where some drift appart–others come together. It would great to know what these points are.

  • Viki Merrick

    4.07.03

    Reply
    crying and laughing

    Alex, interesting point about different views. I was hoping you’d elaborate. Did the samogon and sosul’ki pieces intend to be funny? or was it just a curious alien piece?

    What are some of those points of difference – what would you consider the sources of different "strongholds" that you speak of? Based on need? Geography? Climate?

    Knowing nothing about REAL life in Russia, I am fascinated by any fleeting details you share (bus drivers rushing to a case of beer…?), so any specific examples would make the discussion, for me, much more meaningful than the generic.

    Also, I am a little confused – there is no similar public vs commercial radio in Russia as in the US? Beyond the FNR efforts, Russian radio sounds like its goals are fairly superficial,even hedonistic based on the examples you’ve given . What do the "other" Russian citizens listen to?

  • Viki Merrick

    4.08.03

    Reply
    Isolation=Insulation?

    Julia – that was a nice little bomb you ended your manifesto with. I can’t get it out of my head. Living abroad clears the vision. When you speak of U.S. isolation, do you think this is something new, evolved? (meaning dissing the UN) Is it because we’re so big that the rest of the world is pesky like a mosquito disturbing its "well-being"? Russia is beyond HUGE GIGUNDA – is there room for understanding or even interest in the rest of the world, nevermind the rest of itself?

    This is assuming size has something to do with anything, as opposed to fear, ignorance and arrogance. Living in Europe, I felt like the rest of the world got a lot of play – in the news anyway. I was shocked when I got back to the U.S. to hear NOTHING on the tv-news about the rest of the world, and having to flip through the newspaper to the back "international" section ( this was several years back, "normal" time not war-time). It is not news of disaster that gives us a sense of other nations and cultures.
    It’s ironic today that the more wide open the channels for information become with satellites and internet, the more insidious this sense of censorship and propaganda hangs on me like mist on a foggy day. I find myself believing nothing I hear, assuming the opposite of what I am told. I wonder if this state of being may be as dangerously or equally isolating. Strange times.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.08.03

    Reply
    Gotta wrench?the mechanics of cross-cultural Xchange

    Well, shoot, Viki already did all that. We were typing away at the same time…But you two have been to grad school, so you can handle multiple posts and one that’s too long, I hope. I’ll be off line in a few days…

    Distracted by current events, I must say I was drawn to this topic by Jay’s introduction:

    >As Americans we like to believe we are good. Others do not share that >belief. Is this a problem of communication?

    >We are in a time of failed communication across borders, a time when >stories and news and propaganda are mingled, and therefore dangerous. >Can we trust how others appear to us? Can we know how we appear to
    >others?

    b Alex and Julia, do you care to respond more to these ideas? What was it like for you to introduce yourselves and to end up being in the role of representing your country? What advice would you have for other individuals, journalists and government officials about cross-cultural communications…?

    Jay’s intro isn’t broadcast, but it’s netcast. Could we look at it as an example? In copying parts of Jay’s intro, I almost left off the first paragraph. But the current requisite frame of every broadcast or netcast communication is "We Americans."

    I guess that so many people are on edge these days, it works to find a common denominator before you can say anything. Perhaps it calms people down:
    ("Okay, we’re all good guys here, right? Okay, so we are good guys…,")

    Then, ever so slightly introducing an idea:
    ("uh, we want to think we’re good guys…")

    so that then you can introduce an idea in paragraph 2 ("we’re in a time of failed communications…")

    If Jay had just launched into "we are in a time of failed communications" without the intro, chances are some readers would see that as some kind of attack, (who you callin’ a propagandist?…) and wouldn’t be able to listen to the ideas.

    b So.o.o I’m wondering whether you agree with what I just wrote, and, if so, I’m wondering what you think about finding common denominators/identities to make cross-cultural work. (as when Alex does stories about his country for the U.S. audience, and Julia says she’d like to do something about American isolation…)_

    I’m still reacting to a talk show the other day wherein a spokesman for the Poynter Institute, which teaches ethics to journalists, was asked about the use of American flag graphics frames on American TV network and cable news war coverage. I was stunned to hear him sound so blasé about it. He chalked it up to a cultural artifact just plain different from how the British do news.

    But to me the radio equivalent to flags would be having a bed of the national anthem under the news, If we can’t communicate without first setting a stage establishing that we are a common family of flag wavers, how broad can our thinking or reporting be? What information are we missing because it doesn’t fit into that frame?

    And how can we broaden the frame?

    I guess I like Jay’s use of "We Americans" followed by questions because it’s encouraging awareness, versus the use of the flag or war theme song music, which does the opposite.

  • Julia Barton

    4.08.03

    Reply
    mystery = zagadka

    Too many points to take up all at once, but I’ll start with with Viki’s question about public vs. commercial radio in Russia. The stations that we visited were all commercial, due mainly to the fact that my partner organization works with them. There is a highly developed state radio system in Russia, stemming from Soviet days, though it too takes some ads. Despite its state sponsorship, I’d say it’s more the bastion of radio professionalism there. It has the resources and the reach, plus an amazing network that reaches down to the neighborhood level in many places. If anything were to become like "public" radio in Russia, I think it would have to be a more enlightened version of this.

    Still, I wouldn’t dismiss Russian commercial radio as completely "hedonistic." In some cases, yes, the stations are owned by greedy dudes who just want to make a quick buck. But others are just doing what they can to survive, and in a new market, they’re still trying to figure out what that means. Is credibility something to hang onto, or just something to sell off in pieces? It’s the same ethical quandary facing American media, though we’re more slick about it.

    One thing I did for FNR on this fellowship was write a paper on the history and structure of public radio in the U.S. That was very enlightening for me–I don’t know about for the Russians. I realized how completely accidental our system is in many ways. We have part of the FM band reserved for non-commercial broadcasting–simply because AM had been gobbled up by corporations in the 1930s, and they threw educators a bone in 1938: sure, you can have part of that experimental spectrum your engineering departments are developing. Then in the 1960s, public radio was something of an afterthought to public television, which was supposed to revolutionize society. Meanwhile, Pacifica Radio was already on the air, trying to do that.

    Such a weird sequence of events isn’t exportable–it’s barely even explainable.

  • Julia Barton

    4.08.03

    Reply
    details of Russian life

    I’m sure Alex could add many, many more, but here are some I remember vividly:

    Women selling flowers out of glass cases across from the theater in Omsk, Siberia. The cases have candles in them to keep the flowers warm. They’re also covered with astroturf, and a -40 degree wind is blowing the astroturf around. Women stand near the cases, bundled up like Michelin Men and talking about who brought what for lunch.

    At a basketball game in Perm’, in the Ural Mountains. It’s the eastern most point of the European league, and most teams don’t want to come here. The Perm team is called "Ural Great." The crowd has one cheer, U-RAL GREAT! U-RAL GREAT! which they repeat the whole game with great gusto. There are even cheerleaders–local aerobic dancers–who change into various skimpy pants-suits and do quick dances during the time outs. They are called "Support Group." The team mascot is in a head-to-toe blue spandex muscle body-suit with goggles. He stomps around in platform shoes. His name is Great Man. If you can imagine that pronounced with a Russian accent.

  • Julia Barton

    4.08.03

    Reply
    cross-cultural X-change

    Nanette, the only thing I know about good cross-cultural work is that you have to listen. Which also means listening with your eyes and watching for visual cues, since you probably won’t understand the language or all its idioms completely. It’s best if you have someone you really trust who can be your intermediary/interpreter to help you understand what’s going on, maybe after the fact. Finally you have to accept that you won’t be completely understood, and neither will you understand everything that’s going on. You become a bit of a fool, which for me turned out to be a nice break from being a reporter who’s supposed to know everything.

    What I love about working with radio people, though, is it’s not so hard or abstract. We’re dealing with the same equipment, in many cases, and those same jitters about going on the air and sounding like a dork. We could talk about our practical, shared problems and quickly break down a lot of barriers.

  • Michael Idov

    4.08.03

    Reply

    As I was reading the messages on this board, a sudden realization struck me: in my 16 years in the Soviet Union, I don’t remember ever listening to the radio there. At least, not consciously (as you probably know, some Soviet apartments came equipped with a peculiar amenity called "radiotochka," basically a built-in wall radio forever tuned to one station; you couldn’t turn it off, just minimize the volume). So: who listens? Julia/Alex, are there any statistics available on the makeup of the Russian radio audience (for instance, is it heavily skewed toward the young or the old or blue-collar workers etc)?

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.08.03

    Reply
    "svoboda slova"="freedom of speech"

    The "samogon" story (I think it was Dutch TV that did it) was looking into different recipes of moonshine. A man from some remote Russian village was showing his eleborate brewing machinery and the TV crew had to taste the product. The story was definitely very funny for both foreigners and Russians but probably for different reasons. While foreign viewers might see it as another aspect of Russian "weirdness," Russians are more likely to appreciate innovative uses of various household items and even jot down a list of ingredients ("Wow, I never used beets for that before!")

    The icicles story was about a special team in Moscow that knocks down chunks of ice from building roofs. The piece was set against a rich symphonic music bed which gave it a war-like mood. While many western-Europeans must have never thought of a 200 Lb. icicle falling on their head, people here have never looked at an icicle fight in terms of battlefield art.

    Talking of strongholds… one of them, sadly enough, is freedom of speech. "We Americans" may treasure it above many other things, "We, the average ex-Soviets" mostly take it as a passionfruit–we’ve always lived without it and we may just as well continue that way. Just the other day, for instance, Ukraine’s proscutor general has opened an investigation into "media reports damaging the reputation of president Kuchma." The prosecutor’s office describes such reports as "those that could prevent the president from fulfilling his duties, are offensive or defamatory." I doubt this decision will cause an aproar in the Ukrainian media.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.08.03

    Reply
    "skoochno"="boring"

    People here do listen to the radio quite a lot now. In Kiev alone, there are 27 FM stations (and that doesn’t include the "extended" FM range below 88 MHz that is also in use here.) There’s drive-time, there’s radio in the offices, even on mass-transit drivers listen to the radio (and skip stops sometimes.) "Radiotochka" still exists. Well, yours was probably broken because I could always turn mine off (which receives 3 stations–an improved version.) People still listen to it if it’s on.

    But most radio is music, and there’s very little chance you’ll run into a show you could actually learn something from.

  • Julia Barton

    4.08.03

    Reply
    wire radio

    I thought the "radiotochka" — roughly translated as wire radio, was a cool thing. But then again, I didn’t have to wake up to its Orwellian calisthenics/symphonic wake-up call to workers in the Soviet times. Basically, for people who don’t know, it’s not really radio in the "broadcasting" sense. The signals (the same as State Radio on FM) are carried to apartments through wires that run along with the electricity. It’s a sort of pre-cursor to cable TV. Now the system is breaking down because people don’t want to pay the pennies a month fee for it, or they break the wires when they renovate apartments.

    The "wire radio" audience is definitely older. I visited some commercial stations that had an hour of local time on the state radio network. It must be the PBS revolutionary in me, but I thought they did a better job during this hour than during their regular newscasts. They slowed down, did longer stories, and had guests in the studio who talked about relevant things. I think the main difference was that during this hour, the station KNEW its audience and its needs. The rest of the time, they were just broadcasting for everybody, which always boils down to "for the boss and advertisers," if you know what I mean.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.08.03

    Reply
    why do Americans want the war to end?

    On the subject of differences in values…

    Today, the first Ukrainian was killed in Baghdad.
    He was a Reuter’s cameraman.

    A few weeks ago, the Ukrainian parliament vigorously debated whether to send a batallion of chemical, radiological and bio-defense specialists to Kuwait (the batallion is there already), then a number of politicians here reaked havoc when they found out the White House included Ukraine into the coalition without parliament’s consent.

    But regardless of how many protestors show up in front of the US embassy in Kiev or how many politicians suggest supporting Iraq
    and not the US in this war, most Ukrainians may not even
    realize they’ve got their stakes in this war as well.
    Those stakes are their savings they prefer converting into $$$.
    The dollar has fallen since the war began and most Ukrainians
    want it to go up again. I was walking in downtown Kiev tonight
    and noticed the exchange rate had improved some.

    Just when I thought about it, some man yelled across
    his shoulder to his friend, "The dollar’s climbing… The war’s about to end!"

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.09.03

    Reply
    Public radio in Ukraine

    Although Russia doesn’t have a system similar to America’s public radio, Ukraine does have something slightly comparable.

    Public radio here is funded through grants (mainly from George Soros’s Renaissance foundation) which makes it independent from both government and commercial interests. Public radio produces news and talk shows (the total of several hours a day) which air on commercial stations.

    Public radio claims it provides a tribune for every Ukrainian but the authorities say the public radio largely favors the opposition. Since grants cannot cover all its needs, Public radio has started looking into placing ads in its shows which brought up the problem any other commercial station faces: advertisers want to be part of the content.

    Ukraine’s public radio can be found (and heard) at http://www.radio.org.ua

    Public radio’s founder and president Oleksandr Kryvenko was killed last night (April 9) in a car accident on a highway outside Kiev.

  • chelsea merz

    4.09.03

    Reply
    Newsworthy

    Hi Alex, Hi Julia. Alex, earlier you wrote: "The thing is, quite often, what Americans coming to this part of the world consider news is no news to people living here. It’s also true the other way round." Could you two please elaborate on the outsider’s sensibility. Alex, what did you think was news when you were in Missouri? And Julia, in the former Soviet Union, what did you consider news or potential radio stories ?

  • Julia Barton

    4.09.03

    Reply
    news = novosti

    Thanks for the question, Chelsea. I would say it depends on the nature of the "news" and maybe even more so, the expectations of your editor back in the States. For instance, it was news in Ukraine when an opposition journalist, Georgiy Gongadze, disappeared back in fall of 2000. And it was news when his headless body was found two months later. I reported on that for NPR. But the larger context–that freedom of the press is fragile to nonexistent in former Soviet states–is not news to anyone there, but it may be to Americans who occasionally hear these places described as "emerging democracies."

    The divide is stronger when it comes to feature stories. I’ve done profiles of rock stars from that part of the world–people with interesting stories to tell who’ve had a real influence on generations of fans. Such as Boris Grebenschikov and Yuri Shevchuk. Most Americans have never heard of them. But when I play these stories in Russia, the reaction is more, "Wow, those guys are lucky someone is still paying attention to them."

  • helen woodward

    4.09.03

    Reply
    WAR COVERAGE = ?????

    Hello Julia and Alex
    Thanks for your thoughts here. I was interested by your discussions about differences in perspectives; since the war Ive been comparing the NY times and Guardian uk websites and the difference in coverage is quite staggering, similarly with npr versus bbc. What does this war look like from over there? How are America and the UK viewed by Russian media?

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.09.03

    Reply
    war=voyna

    Since I’m not physically in Russia (I am in Ukraine), I can’t follow Russian war coverage in great detail. Strangely enough, there is even a difference in war coverage by Russian and Ukrainian media. The Russian media have been outright anti-war from the very beginning, mostly along the lines of "we saw Americans bomb our brotherly Slavs in Yugoslavia, we can’t let them do whatever they want anymore!" Though a number of analysts and politicians tried to convince the public that Saddam Hussein was still a criminal. But Russia isn’t involved in that war. Ukraine, on the other hand, is.

    When Ukrainian parliament was debating whether to send a batallion of chemical defense to Kuwait (see above), the media couldn’t simplify everything to the level of "Americans are bad." They were debating whether president Kuchma’s decision to send the batallion was merely a way to sugarcoat the White House which shunned Kuchma last fall in light of allegations he had authorized a sale of a sophisticated Ukrainian radar system to Iraq. Now, that a Ukrainian national (a Reuter’s cameraman) was killed in Baghdad (by a blast from a US tank), the war has come even closer to home for the Ukrainian media.

    Those are the differences on the editorial level. On the news coverage side, many Russian media have their reporters in countries around Iraq, in Iraq and even with the US troops. Ukrainian media have a much weaker presense there.

    Russian TV channels have tried to show quite a balanced picture of the war: apart from the news from the frontlines, they talk a lot about civilian casualties (they often interview Russian women who live in Iraq married to Iraqi men) and they constantly bring up the subject of the allies shooting each other and their precision weapons misfiring.

    Because Russian TV newscasts are much less flashy than TV news in the States, you concentrate on the reporter and pick up a lot from his/her emotional cues (without being distracted by graphics, scrolls, tickers, temps, flags, war coverage theme music, etc.)

    Unfortunately, I don’t get Russian radio stations in Ukraine and can’t tell how they cover the war, so maybe this would be the time for some of our Russian colleagues (and ex-students) to join this discussion.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.10.03

    Reply
    Da!

    (How do you spell pajalsta?)

  • Julia Barton

    4.10.03

    Reply
    tubby birds

    Ïîæàëóéñòà. But only if your computer can read Cyrillic fonts.

    This is off topic, but Helen brought it up. It’s great that we can read the British papers in the U.S. now. We didn’t have that benefit, really, during the first Gulf War. Journalists are of course influenced by national agendas, their own training, and editor’s expectations. So I think you just have to realize that and figure out your own strategy for understanding the world through them. I read the Guardian to figure out what’s going on, and then the NY Times to figure out what’s going on from an Establishment perspective, and also because they have more reporters on the ground. The Washington Post has not as many, but better reporters, on the ground. And the UK Independent is worth reading because Robert Fisk is always pissed off about something, and it’s good to see what. As for TV, forget it, I’ll just wait for the movie version, which will be better fiction.

    The Guardian lets its reporters be human. I wish US papers would do that. Here’s a great couple of paragraphs from Guardian writer Jason Burke in a Kurdish hotel yesterday:

    "There are two fat canaries in the lobby, the Kurdish version of a chemical weapons early warning system. One is called Diehard Two, the other is Diehard Three. Diehard One died relatively recently, though from overfeeding, not gas.

    Hopefully the remaining pair can now live out a happy retirement with no special function to fulfil, but merely as tubby, stupid, yellow birds."

  • Julia Barton

    4.14.03

    Reply
    directives

    By the way, if you want to learn more about the mechanics of direct government influence on the media, Human Rights Watch just issued an interesting report on Alex’s country, Ukraine. Station managers and editors get anonymous faxes dubbed "temniki" outlining how they should cover certain events, and what they should not mention. Everyone knows the faxes come from the Presidential administration, and the pressure to follow the orders has been growing.

    http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/ukraine0303/Ukraine0303-04.htm#P457_120514

    Alex and I saw some of this in action ourselves a couple of years ago when I was interviewing the Ukrainian President’s then-spokesman. He was interrupted by a phone call. He sat at his desk, smoking a cigarette, and saying, "No, you have to portray it this way. Write this." At least that’s what I recall. Alex, do you remember exactly what he said?

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.14.03

    Reply
    A comment from a journalist in Vologda, Russia

    This comment was sent by Larisa Telitsyna who works at Radio-Premier in Vologda.

    "We did a vox-pop the other day and asked people what they thought was the worst catastrophe in the last 100 years? About 80% of the people we asked said it was the war in Iraq.

    People only remember what’s happening now. Nobody mentioned September, 11 or Kursk [a Russian submarine that sank in August 2000 killing everyone on board]. Some people mentioned Chechnya, World War II and Titanic also.

    We did the vox-pop because April 14 that’s when Titanic sank. Apparently, people forget what happened before and only remember what’s happening now."

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.14.03

    Reply
    It’s in the Soviet blood type

    The practice of providing the media with guidelines on what they shouldn’t and should report and how seems so obvious in the context of the post-Soviet media that some bureaucrats who actually exercise it can’t get the idea that what they do is unacceptable.

    A little earlier, I mentioned Ukraine’s prosecutor general opening a criminal case against several newspapers that, in his view, prevent the president from fulfilling his duties. When asked "in what way do they do it?" a prosecutor’s representative said, "They cause emotional distress." I guess that tells a lot.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.14.03

    Reply
    Here and there

    Come to think of it, prosecutors and their political ambitions are causing huge amounts of emotional distress…

    Alex, the stories you tell are maddening and frightening. Thank you for reminding us how lucky we are in the U.S.

    But I still can’t quite sleep easily over here. The blinding nature of celebrity and the lust for its power (by prosecutors and others) is so strong, I fear not much real discussion can take place.

    Anyone, could you please paint a picture of the media landscape there and how it’s changed? Maybe you could describe where you live and what newspapers and television stations are available. I’m trying to put radio there into a context. I’m curious as to how much of a for-profit celebrity tabloid circus has evolved in the last decade, and how radio fits in.

  • Julia Barton

    4.15.03

    Reply
    vopros = question

    Hi Nanette,

    I put your questions to Larissa, our faithful correspondent in Vologda, which is a pretty interesting town in terms of media. We’ll see what she says.

  • Julia Barton

    4.16.03

    Reply

    This is Larissa, a reporter at Radio Premier in Vologda, a night’s train ride north of Moscow. Last October, they were celebrating the station’s sixth anniversary. Company anniversaries are a big deal in Russia, maybe because private companies haven’t been around that long.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.16.03

    Reply
    tort=cake

    Yeah, that’s right: company anniversaries are a big thing and Radio Premier was throwing a huge party in one of Vologda’s best restaurants (located in a former Catholic church) just as we had to rush to a train station to catch a middle-of-the-night train to Moscow. But the picture above is not of that party.

    This was our first visit to the station. We showed up around lunch-time and one of the reporters (you can’t see her on that picture) happened to bring a delicious self-made cake (which you can see). Cake-baking is a very common past time in the former USSR. People bake cakes (of unbelievable varieties) at home and bring them to work to feed their colleagues. No big occasion is necessary for that.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.17.03

    Reply
    A view from Vologda

    The following comment came from Larissa Telitsyna in Vologda and I translated it into English. (Alex)

    There are 5 newspapers in Vologda, a city of 300,000. Three of these papers are put out by either regional or the city government—they are the authorities’ loudspeaker. These ones talk about achievements, great deeds and publish official documents. One of these 3 papers is a daily, the other two—weeklies.

    The remaining 2 out of 5 newspapers are what we call “the independent press.” All of them are weeklies. One of them is in the same holding with my radio station and has the same name—“Premier”.

    All of these are local papers that cover the city and the region. In Vologda, you can also buy Moscow newspapers. And that’s the ones that people buy to actually get information, because people, mainly, are interested in what’s happening in the country as a whole. As far as I know, serious publications that talk about politics, such as “Rossijskaya Gazeta” or “Izvestiya” are a lot less popular than “Komsomol’skaya Pravda”, for instance, which, besides politics, writes about scandals, stars and rumors.

    Now radio. In Vologda, there’s only one city radio [that occupies an entire frequency and is not affiliated with some network]—“Premier”. We do 10 newscasts a day and rarely talk about world news or even Russia’s news. There’s also state-owned regional radio. They do regional and official news. They do 4 newscasts a day which air on the state-owned Radio Rossiyi. There’s also “Ekho Moskvy”, a Moscow-based independent news-radio, which, according to the latest research, only 1% of the Vologda audience listens to. There are also music stations like “Evropa plus” and “Russian radio.”

    TV—locally, we’ve got Channel 7 that does city news 3 times a day, the state-owned regional TV does regional news and official information—they do 4 newscasts on the nationwide state-owned channel “RTR”. We are also getting national TV like ORT, NTV and RTR (I leave out entertainment and music channels.) So people get their news mainly from TV and, in most cases, from national TV: there’s a habit in Russia to have breakfast and dinner in front of a TV.

    Star life—there’s only one thing I can say: coverage of “stars” is very popular in Russia and in Vologda, in particular. Rumors, scandals, gossips—that’s very interesting. For instance, here on Radio Premier we do showbiz news twice a day. A newscaster just pulls out from the Internet or magazines whatever curious might be happening with our actors and singers and then he puts together a short report. Research has shown people confuse these reports (rumors and gossip) with real news. Besides, papers write about “stars” get sold out very fast. I guess, in the province, people want a piece of a beautiful life and adventures, even some one else’s.

    Finally, the Iraq coverage. The local media basically don’t cover it anymore. People are considered to have enough information coming from the “central” media. I guess people in Russia have gotten tired of the Chechen war and have gotten used that somewhere in the world, there’s always some bloodshed.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.17.03

    Reply
    Somewhere in the middle of Europe

    Here’s an editorial from this week’s Kiev Post (Ukraine’s leading English-language newspaper) that highlights the criminal investigation into sveral newspapers alleged of "interfering with the president’s ability to do his job by causing him significant psychological stress."

    http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/editorial/15312/

  • Jay Allison

    4.17.03

    Reply
    thanks…

    This is really interesting stuff.

    It’s good to know, after all those years of conflict, that both the US and the former USSR are now safe for celebrity journalism.

    Alex, in your opening essay you said the big question facing broadcasters was, "what to say and how?" I suppose that question was answered clearly in the Soviet era. Now, besides the pop stuff, is anyone exploring new forms, European-style features, investigative journalism, radio art? Is there a cutting edge, per se? Is someone setting the standard?

    Julia, in your teaching, what was the spirit in the stations? Did radio workers see themselves as agents of change? How did they answer the question Alex poses above?

  • Julia Barton

    4.17.03

    Reply
    krysha= roof

    Hi Jay,

    I’d say the situation at regional stations in Russia is in many ways similar to the U.S.–or maybe how commercial radio was a decade ago before a few corporations started buying up all the de-regulated frequencies. Most people in radio are kids who see themselves as DJs, not news providers. A few have journalistic training. But their freedoms really depend on the ownership of the station. Sometimes the ownership will stand up to local authorities–like a station we visited in Vladivostok, Radio Lemma, which was under armed siege for a few days after hosting an "open microphone" speak-out against the city administration. Others have to find some sort of compromise. Radio Premier, although it was one of the strongest newsrooms we encountered, does air some blocks of news sponsored by the local administration, called "good news."

    I think a lot of young journalists would like to be more enterprising, but it’s almost suicidal in the regions to take on the powers that be. It’s just like in most small towns. Even on the national level, you need a "roof" or protector–and two of the biggest opposition roof-guys, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, are now in exile with their media empires in tatters.

    Our best students all dream of leaving the provinces–to Moscow or abroad. Larissa just won a scholarship to intern at German media outlets later this year. It would be nice if she could take her skills back to Vologda, but I wouldn’t blame her for wanting to work at a national network like Echo of Moscow or even Radio Liberty. Those have higher standards and more professionalism, but are in some ways marginalized.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.17.03

    Reply
    We could use a miracle…

    A friend told me about long and elaborate Easter celebrations among Russian American families in San Francisco. How is Easter noted in Russia now? Is there a secular celebration marking spring? (Are you busy right now?)

    And while we’re on the subject of inspirational sacrifice… and stories…In the nursery classroom where I’m helping, the teacher told a story of a hare (like the German story of the Easter hase or hare) that sacrifices by letting the dog chase him instead of his friend… In real life hares do that… and that might be where we in America get the Easter Bunny story about a rabbit who brings eggs…

    Back to the subject, do you agree that stories get into the news media if they fit into the general notion of what stories happen?.. Among the popular news media stories about stars, are there heroes who have sacrificed? Are they similar to the "American dream" "rags to riches" stories? are there "little guy against the big machine" stories? Is there a notion of the "big machine" or "military industrial entertainment complex?" or "local machine…" other general story lines that never fail to fascinate?

  • Jackson

    4.17.03

    Reply
    Amazing…

    Julia and Alex:

    Reading through all these postings has been — hard to say. So many different issues and elements leap up: freedom of the press or lack thereof, the new role of celebrity as opiate of the masses (was Marx doing a religious double-entendre there?), the variance between local, national, and world news perspectives.

    Given the fact that we can experience the media of other lands through the internet, I would be fascinated to learn:

    1) What Ukrainians feel about His Holiness, President Bush? Is there any appreciation or understanding of the born-again process? Has such a thing been an element of post-Soviet life?

    2) What is the weirdest story to reach the Ukraine out of America? The Washington snipers? The Bechtel gig in Iraq?

    3) I would ask Julia what the strangest story has been to reach the US out of the Ukraine, except, of course, foreign stories rarely touch Yankee shores. So, what Ukrainian story should Americans have learned about? And, for extra points, why?

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.18.03

    Reply
    Readers may find some of the images in the following message shocking

    Actually, the problem of "what to say and how" lies beyond the propaganda field. Yes, journalists still feel the pressure (from the authorities, but more often–from their news managers) to say specific things about specific subjects, but the real problem comes up when journalists get a freedom of choice.

    During our seminars, we were often surprised by what items were included in newscasts and left out. Journalists have a difficulty judging newsworthiness for their audience, or so it seems. For instance, in one city we visited, a huge fire broke out. A powerplant providing electricity to a large portion of a multi-million city was about to explode. All national newsmedia lead with the story. But the station we came to didn’t even send a reporter there. Why? Maybe because they had their airtime filled up with advertisers disguised as "guests", maybe because they figured people don’t like local news and will listen to reports from Moscow.

    To illustrate "and how" I’ll mention another radio station where one minute after a newscast aired we asked the journalists (who had contributed to it and listened to it with us), "What do you remember?" They were really puzzled and couldn’t tell what most of the items were about.

    Journalists often fail to see their listener in front of them. This results in radio programs that are rarely compelling, engaging and memorable.

    Features are difficult to produce and take a lot of time and skills. We never came across really good features while we were traveling. Mostly, journalists were telling us features were too long for their audience to handle. The best examples of features we heard were produced by the Foundation for Independent Radio (who has time, money, skillfull journalists to do them and doesn’t need to worry about ratings.) FNR makes the shows they produce available to stations across Russia, but we never heard any station using them.

    It’s difficult to assess innovation on Russian or Ukrainian air-waves. Many radio people here think that innovation consists of a multitude of soundeffects and incomprehensible words they use in their shows. There’s little innovation in terms of using radio tools to the fullest to make shows relevant for the audience. The best examples of innovation we came across were a show were people called in to sell whatever they wanted (sort of a garage sale on the radio) and establishing no format as the winning format.

    I think what we could call "cutting edge" applpied to the radio in the former Soviet Union is an attempt to transform it from background noise to a communication tool. Julie gave an example of Kaliningrad where a radio show for women became for many women their best friend because they could always trust it.

    On to Nannette’s question:
    The day I came to Moscow to join Julie, the top story on the news was a murder of a regional governor in downtown Moscow. Today, the top item is a murder of a Duma deputy. At one of the stations, one journalists told us something like "if no one gets murdered it’s a slow day." Last night, Ukrainian TV aired a story about a mother and two children who live in a sewage well and the woman wouldn’t let her kids go to school. The story that shocked me the most in the past several months was footage of Russian soldiers getting their throats cut in Chechnya. They were pleading for mercy and cried but as a knife was slowly entering their bodies. This was shown in prime-time by Russia’s most central TV channel. There was no "disclaimer."

    On President Bush: earlier, I already talked some about Iraq war coverage in Ukraine. Many Ukrainians don’t have much sympathy for President Bush (maybe because he never read Shevchenko), but most don’t equal Bush with the United States. However, many probably do. If there’s a stereotype about America here it’s that Americans are badly educated. And because of the war, many people extend this stereotype to the US leaders as well.

    The weirdest story from the US: definitely, not the sniper. We’ve got those here as well. I think the weirdest stories are often about law suits. People here are amazed at the law suits Americans file and win. Ukrainians and Russians rarely appeal to courts because they don’t believe courts could make any difference.

  • Rolf Siverson

    4.18.03

    Reply
    American Pop

    I’m interested to know how much of an effect American pop culture has on media and entertainment in Russia/the Ukraine. I know from some of the places I’ve been, it can be so strong that it really marginalizes local domestic media. German guys listening to Metalica and former Egyptian terrorists who love Bruce Willis movies, that sort of thing. I listened to a major radio station in the heart of japan, and all of the DJ’s were Americans some of whom spoke no Japanese. Has American culture had a similar effect in eastern Europe? And do you think it is negative?

    On a similar note. It has been mentioned in earlier posts that Russian media try to make their broadcasts better by adding loud sound effects and unintelligible words. When I listen to the biggest radio station in my area it does exactly the same thing. Loud fast paced drum beats behind every announcment, even news (which I might add is the usual celebrity gossip), and robotic announcers with distorted voices. And its not just my local pop station, look at the lead in for CNN’s war coverage. It’s the same thing. I guess what I’m getting at is, do you think this idea of sound over substance is an attempt at emulating American success (or perceived success)? And do you see any danger in this?

  • Julia Barton

    4.18.03

    Reply
    popsa

    Hi Rolf,

    The former Soviet Union has its own highly developed pop culture that goes way back. This is, after all, the original Borsch Belt. Kitschy music, tacky costumes, syrupy lyrics–you can find it all in a 60s-80s era genre called "estrada" that developed independently of American pop, though there were definite influences from abroad, maybe more from France and Italy than America. So the locals have their own traditions to draw upon, and their own star system to gossip about. (On a side note, sadly, there are no Russian 8-track cassettes. This technology was truly American and in the days before our complete global hegemony, never made it abroad. But clunky 8-tracks would have been the perfect format for clunky Soviet pop!)

    Definitely now, of course, you hear plenty of those global stand-bys, like Eminem and Madonna, on the airwaves. But it’s a different, "exotic" experience for people who don’t fully understand the lyrics. Listening to Western pop is more about making a statement than being assimilated, for the most part.

    Also, it’s fascinating to see which Western bands have really taken hold–in your average pirate-CD store, you’ll find plenty of copies of even the most obscure Queen album. The Eagles are big, too. But R.E.M., for instance, is still unheard-of. My esteemed friend Michael Idov has a theory that every nation has its own preferred chord. Russia’s is A minor. The U.S. is C major. The Eagles have lots of songs in A minor, hence are easily accepted in Russia. REM is a lot of C and G major, so are not.

    As for sound effects, I just think it’s something no one can resist in commercial radio. Public radio in many ways defines itself against that trend. When we’d play NPR newscasts for Russians, they thought the lack of music bed made them sound Soviet. So in a sense, yes, they are declaring their modernity by jazzing things up. It’s also more fun and easy to insert another "tchooo! zap!" than to do boring old newsgathering.

  • Julia Barton

    4.18.03

    Reply

    Listen Alex on The World‘s Geo Quiz
    Streaming MP3 (64 kbps) | Download MP3 (1.6 mb)

    As for weird stories to emerge from Ukraine of late, Alex laid one to rest on The World’s Geo-Quiz segment a couple of years ago. But he did bring up another mystery, a mayonnaise-drenched salad that people there love to eat.

  • jake

    4.20.03

    Reply
    samizdat

    Julie & Alex: ochen priatno s vami poznakomitsya – a pleasure to meet you, virtually. This is my kind of transom topic, having made my way, sort of, to public radio through a zig-zag path that took me to Moskva for several years back in the mid-90s.

    Explain please how is it that T.a.t.u., god help us, becomes the first Russian band to hit big in the West? Perhaps because A minor is the relative minor of C major?

    You’ve alluded to this above, but how does other media you encounter there (Russia and/or Ukraine) measure up with radio in terms of successfully offering either significant journalism, creative independent expression, or some genuine truth-telling in any mode? Are there blogs, ‘zines, indie film, alternative newsweeklies. Or nyet?

    What about radio distribution (a particular interest of mine)? Are the national networks distributed by satellite? Were any of the stations you visited using the Internet for actually acquiring audio for broadcast rather than just information? (I imagine broadband is not much of a reality yet)

    Who gets to own or buy or start a radio station? Is Michael Powell chairman of the Russian FCC too?

    If you can get your hands on it, it would be great to post one of those insane 30-second news-traffic-weather-over-cranking-music updates you hear on commercial music radio in Russia. I knew I reached some sort of language saturation when I finally started to understand least half of what they were saying…

    Spasibo!

    P.S. I’m listening to the mp3 stream you posted from Radio Lemma, live from Vladivostok…

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.20.03

    Reply

    Jake, when was the last time you saw a US lesbian-behaving school-girl-looking duo reach the top of the charts? Not since Sigfried&Roy, I guess. So, Russia just happened to offer the right product at the right time to fill up the niche. It’s just like the US that gave us Pepsi back in 1980 which we happily chose because there was no Coca-Cola. And just last night, I danced to 2 of the T.A.T.U (or TaTy [Tah-too]-as we know them here) tunes at a disco–and they were, by far, not the worst thing that DJ was spinning.

    FCC-Russia has its own and so does Ukraine.

    Who gets to own a station?–whoever has money and wants to run for president (or help some one out on that treacherous path.) Actually, lots of Americans do own or found stations in Russia and Ukraine. One of the greatest examples is StoryFirst Communications–a US company based in Moscow that founded Radio Maximum (one of the big Russian radio networks) and CTC–Russia’s most successful entertainment TV-channel. In St.Petersburg, the top radio station was founded and manged by Americans. The funny thing is, people from another station who told us about that also said the US experience would hardly be applicable in Russia.

    Radio distribution–most networks deliver via satellite, some do separate feeds for various time-zones (CTC TV does that very successfully.) Some companies do distribute via the Internet. For instance, two public radio companies in Ukraine distribute all of their programming to affiliates on-line, some stations put it live on the air. I don’t think you should presume certain technology is not available in this part of the world–we’ve seen a few state-of-the-art equipped stations.

    Blogs–FNR did a project called Radio Diaries. They distributed MiniDisc recorders to regular people who were recording their diaries over a period of time. The recordings were then edited and made available to stations. Most of them were very interesting. Also, a friend of mine (and Julie’s) has her own weblog: http://vkhokhl.blogspot.com

    Do U 2 do 2 Tah-too tunes?

  • Julia Barton

    4.20.03

    Reply
    tatu you

    Well, I’m glad somebody finally brought them up. For those who don’t yet know, the duo are famed 18-year-old pseudo-lesbian pseudo-nymphets chosen from auditions of hundreds of middle class (by Russian standards) Moscow girls. They have videos that feature girly-girl kissing and faked masturbation. They appeared on the Jay Leno show recently wearing shirts that said, in Russian, "FUCK WAR." So of course they’re going to be a big success!

    The weirdest thing for me was hearing one of their songs on a bus in Vladivostok. The song features some prolonged gasping and panting, and we were sitting there with all these implacable grandmothers and their shopping bags bulging with potatoes. But that’s the beauty of modern Russia.

    As for other media, the graphic arts are really quite good in Russia–maybe a tradition that goes back to Constructivism and Socialist Realism posters. Another friend of ours (and boyfriend of the above blogger) is art editor for the St. Petersburg edition of an entertainment magazine Afisha. (http://spb.afisha.ru/index-spb). He says Afisha is one of the few magazines in Russia that doesn’t take paid articles. That sell-out tendency is what keeps a lot of the content of newspapers and magazines at least partly mediocre. Then there’s also the tendency of many journalists to see themselves as paragons of clever metaphor and preachings than providers of basic, usable information. (Call it the New York Times syndrome, without an editor).

    But then again, it’s can be hard to find a decent read at your average drug store news stand in the United States as well.

    As for distribution of radio programs, FNR has set up an Audio Exchange site so that producers and reporters can share their work with each other. It works via a central FTP server. If you can read Russian, you can check out how it works here: http://www.fnr.ru/raen.phtml.

    Finally, any foreigner who’s lived in Russia should also check out the useful website BigRussianSoul.org. It’s all tongue in cheek, I assure you. Or is it?

  • Jackson

    4.20.03

    Reply
    About Tatu

    Surely the curious response to these Russian equivalents of Brittany Spears is a failure of the American imagination. I find them charmingly weird — Julia, thanks for translating the t-shirts on Leno.

    Radio and sex. You speak of hearing Tatu on the bus with grandmothers. Somewhere in these pages there was some thought that we should explore the pornographic side to pledge.

    Should PubRadio team up with the Russian dynamic duo? And why are Americans so nutty about sex? How do we choose one president (Nixon) who watches nothing but porn films and end up with another who, in the immortal worlds of Charlie Pierce, embodies (in all senses of the phrase) the Avignon Presidency?

    C’mon, people!! Islam has nothing compared to our religious right. Don’t let political correctness blind us to the fact that there are zealots running our country. A Handmaid’s Tale is right around the corner.

    Sorry for venting. There just doesn’t seem to be any place to do it properly.

  • Jackson

    4.20.03

    Reply
    About AvtoRadio

    Could somebody give a brief rundown about the content of the audio clip? I think I heard some talk of telegrams, but I’m not sure.

    What leads me to ask is an experience in Spain at a flamenco concert. The singer was wailing, but when I asked my native informant what was troubling the singer, she said, "You don’t want to know."

    "But yes I do."

    "Well, apparently, he got a new suit from the tailor, but the pants are too tight."

    Are tight pants a problem to Russian drivers?

  • Julia Barton

    4.22.03

    Reply
    sex = [ooh, can’t say that]

    Tight pants are maybe more of a topic for Sasha (Alex) but he’s on his way to Moscow for a television conference. I’m sure he’ll give us an update once he’s settled into an internet cafe there.

    I’d just note that Russian attitudes about sex are about varied as Americans’ but I can make some observations after traveling the continent. One is that women like to, or have to, look sexy in terms of artifice: high heeled boots, tight skirts, and make-up are very common. But I think the younger generation, especially in Moscow, are breaking free from this and you see girls dressed more like they would be in New York, in flared sweat-pants and fake Adidas stripes. In general, though, the whole burden of "sexy" in Russia is on women. Men just all seem to wear the same black or brown leather coats.

    Sometimes people would ask me why Americans are so uptight about sex (this particularly occurred at the radio station where they re-enact "a sex act" every Friday night. We unfortunately forgot to tune in). But I didn’t see Russians being that much less inhibited. For one thing, they have very strong taboos against saying naughty words, especially women saying them. They have all kinds of euphemisms (like "about that" for "about sex" and "horseradish" for that word on Tatu’s shirts). I learned a lot of Russian from trash-talkin rock music, and would sometimes cause much wincing when I’d use a word from a song that I thought was innocuous. So I think they’re just as confused as we are, although in different ways, which is always interesting.

  • Julia Barton

    4.26.03

    Reply
    view from Azerbaijan

    This is a bit farther afield, though still of the post-Soviet world. I taught a radio journalism course in Azerbaijan in February, and recently e-mailed one of my former students to ask how people there are feeling about the war in Iraq. Azerbaijan is the only country besides Iran and Iraq that is majority Shi’ite Muslim. But its history is very different, having been ruled by Russia since the 1800s and only recently becoming an independent, secular state. Azeris speak a language very similar to Turkish and consider themselves ethnically Turkish. My student’s response shows some of the complexities of this part of the world. His name is Maarif Chingiz, and he reports for Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan service. He writes (in Azeri-accented Russian, which I’ve tried to translate here):

    "…Azerbaijan has long been a part of Europe. Our people view the conflicts between various [Shi’ite] groups as very bad. In our mass media, all viewed [the war] as victory over dictatorship. We never had any sympathy for Saddam. Because during his dictatorship were killed many people, among them many Turkmen. We are not different from them–they are also Azeri. In Mosul and Kirkuk everyone speaks the Azerbaijani language, no different from ours."

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.27.03

    Reply

    Julia,
    when and how did you learn Russian?

    I wish there were more opportunity to hear radio by independents from various countries, and I wish people in other countries could hear more from American independents. We just need translated subtitles. (Actually, we’re close to having that technology…)

    Are you frustrated by the language barrier? personally or for other people?

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    4.27.03

    Reply

    I brought up
    b religion
    some posts back and I don’t think anybody answered. It might have been just lost in the shuffle of many subjects. OR is it considered
    b an awkward subject?
    Not very much on people’s minds?

    Here in the States I’d say there’s a difference between traditional religion and a more current (and some say ancient) orientation toward spirituality. Among educated people including journalists, I’m guessing they see themselves more in the latter camp.

    Are there parallel orientations in Russia?

  • Julia Barton

    4.28.03

    Reply

    I started studying Russian my first year of high school–it was the only one in Dallas that offered the language. Those were the years of the "evil empire," so everyone assumed I wanted to be a spy. I just wanted to be weird, though in some part of my mind, this evolved into wanting to be like the NPR correspondents I heard in Moscow.

    But I never majored in the language because I’d always get bored with language classes. So my fluency and confidence were limited. I think it got better after being in the country for a longer time. The language barrier is definitely a frustration, but not so much so if you have some vague understanding of what’s going on. I had a harder time with that in Azerbaijan, when I didn’t know if the interpreter was on the right track. You just have to remember not to focus in on, say, a specific phrase in a story, because it may not be there, it may just be a product of interpretation.

    As for religion, I didn’t know how to respond because people in Russia don’t bring it up much. Seventy years of (seemingly successful) state atheism will do that. For most people, church seems to be a matter of going to light a candle on Sunday or holidays. But the churches I saw were crowded, so that seems to be a popular activity. Near the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod, I got to go to a spring-fed pond that was supposedly blessed by a St. Seraphim–posthumously, as his spirit appeared to some Komsomol workers scouting out the area. People go to the lake on religious pilgrimages. You’re supposed to dunk yourself in the freezing waters three times for good luck. So we did that. There was a guy ladling out spring water from the source, which people take to wash with, also for good luck. He was one of the few obviously happy people I saw in Russia. It’s just rare to see people smiling to themselves there. He’d had some kind of heart attack and decided to leave his life in Moscow to come out here and help the convent that runs this site. He looked totally delighted to be handing out water to pilgrims and hearing their shreiks as they plunged into the water.

    So I had a small sense of the role religion can play in people’s lives. After our pilgrimage, we bought cheap gasoline-type vodka and some salty snacks and got very quickly drunk on the ride back…which I suspect was a more typical spiritual experience.

  • charles maynes

    4.29.03

    Reply
    losing my rel-eee-jen

    Sorry to come to this discussion so late, but I just spent the last hour scrolling through – and much enjoying – the posts. Many thanks to Julia and Alex for their comments; they bring up a lot of thoughts, questions, and memories…but I figure I’d start with pop culture given that it’s too much fun to kick around. Some comments from time spent in that part of the world:

    1) Julia’s not entirely correct in saying R.E.M.’s unheard of in Russia, but there’s definitely something to that A minor/C major theory! A case in point: ‘Losing My Religion’ was all over the radio dial when I studied there in 94. Out to make friends, I taught the chord pattern (mostly D minor, A minor as I recall…) enough times to count me a former fan.

    2) re: ‘estrada.’ I think it’s only responsible to warn that, in this case, ignorance is bliss. To my mind, there is no emptier feeling on the planet than watching those monthly estrada pop marathons on state television. I don’t know…it’s got something to do with how the performances tend to be these grotesquely happy displays. It’s just so completely divorced from the Russian reality; instead of lifting your spirits, it only takes them further. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    3) re: snapshots. It’s always fun to hear about these ‘Russia moments.’ Everyone’s got them and — for what it’s worth — here’s one of my favorites: I was sitting with a friend in a restaurant in St. Petersburg when out of the side window I see what I take to be the shadowy outlines of 1) a pirate 2) a cab driver and 3) some guy with a Walker Texas Ranger fetish. How not entirely wrong I was…. No sooner did these three enter the place and behold: impersonators of Peter the Great, Vladimir Lenin, and…Chuck Norris! The holy troika of imperial, communist, and post-soviet Russia out for a night on the town. Weird, sad, and funny all at once.

  • Julia Barton

    4.29.03

    Reply
    lookink back on ven I…

    Those are great observations, Charles. Alex did clue me in on the "Losing my Religion" rage, but was too kind or distracted to rebuke me on these pages. Mea culpa.

    I saw that Lenin impersonator too! Or one like him. He came with Brezhnev into this crappy German restaurant in St. Petersburg that we were leaving because the waitresses had ignored us, and anyway, they had almost nothing that was listed on the menu. We felt so Sovietized that all we needed were to see these guys in the coatroom to complete the impression.

    But if we’re going to share musical moments, I think my favorite was when Alex and I went to see a "jazz trio" at a cafe in Vologda. It was mostly this woman singing Beatles covers in pretty good English while the middle-aged crowd swayed and drank it all in. Then the guitar player, a crusty old dude with a pony tail, broke into Stevie Wonder. I knew from previous numbers that he didn’t really know English, he was just approximating the words. Now he was doing "I Wish Those Days." I whispered to Sasha, "He’s going to sing the words ‘nappy-headed boy’!!!" Which came out more like "neppie khedet-boy." But it didn’t matter, everyone was having fun.

    So many times I wish I’d been recording in Russia, but that wasn’t my mission this time.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    4.30.03

    Reply
    A look from Vologda on TATU’ed fashion, the views of the youth and the money-swelling image of homosexuals

    Here’s another installment from our Vologda colleague Larissa whose radio station Radio Premier has just won in 4 out of 5 categories at a regional audio festival held by the Foundation for Independent Radio. “Our newscast and a special report got the 1st prize and “Showbiz news” and “Women’s things” got the 2nd prize. We also got a special prize for the selection of subjects for our special report. One of them was my story about blood,” writes Larissa.

    Then Larissa writes about how much she enjoyed master-classes by FNR which only proves the point that journalists in the former Soviet Union usually appreciate quality training that helps them improve their skills and move on in their carreers.

    Finally, Larissa moves on to TATU:

    “Our station doesn’t air them—not our format. But they have a lot of success at youth-oriented stations. They’re also popular with teenagers. But, probably, not any more popular than many other youth bands. This is fashion. TATU have fit into a very convenient music niche. Russian “poopsa” hasn’t had a lesbian couple on stage before (even if they only pretend to be ones.) Homosexuals are there, they sing and earn good money on such an image. People are always attracted by something new and interesting. I think TATU is just a very successful commercial project. It has lasted for 3 years now and has a ton of fans. It’s not really about talent, but more about how you come across. Any show is always in value. Take Anna Kurnikova, for instance. A Russian tennis-player who loses more then wins but gathers packed stadiums. Because she is more of a show personality than a sports player. And when it’s necessary she can always sell her face for a good price and get into some little scandal. That’s what TATU does.

    So, Russians of the older generation, who were brought up in the puritan USSR, are shocked and perplexed by the popularity of TATU, while teenagers have no problem listening to simple little songs. The youth, most probably, is sorry for the girls. Because very few believe they are real lesbians. The girls are widely considered to have been forced to become who they are right now. In this case, we could only regret that the singers themselves and their parents allowed the producers to develop such an image for the duo.”

  • Julia Barton

    5.01.03

    Reply
    prazdnik = holiday

    Happy 1st of May, everyone! Workers of the World Unite!

    Ukraine has been on holiday since Orthodox Easter nine days ago, isn’t that right, Sasha?

    There’s going to be a big hangover tomorrow…

  • Alex Kleimenov

    5.01.03

    Reply
    Recent observations

    Well, that’s true, we are enjoying some 9 days off at the moment. The country will go back to work on Monday and then we’ll be off again for Victory Day May 9.

    I just got back from a trip to Moscow and then, quite unexpectedly, to St. Petersburg. Here’s a great Russian moment I’d like to share with everyone who was sharing their thoughts with Julie and me throughout this month.

    I was in Moscow for a TV market which was held in Moscow’s World Trade Center http://www.wtcmoscow.ru/ab_01e.html . It’s a giant complex with an exhibition center, two 5-star hotels and a shopping mall. Ten minutes after my boss and I checked in, we left our room and walked along a gallery (it’s an atrium hotel) to an elevator. When the elevator’s doors opened, two girls stepped out and basically grabbed our arms saying, "Hi, guys! We saw you from downstairs and came up especially for you."

    During our trip with Julie, we rated every hotel on the level of prostitute-infiltration and the "bother" (or "buzzer") factor. The thing is, in almost every hotel we stayed at, from the moment we walked into our rooms and until late into the night (sometimes, until 3 in the morning) both of us were receiving phone calls with offers of "room service." No pleas to leave us alone had any effect so I ended up writing a complaint in one hotel’s Complaint Book (all establishments serving the public are required to have one.) But this time in Moscow, my boss (who doesn’t travel much abroad) was assuring me that prostitutes were a regular service at any hotel. I couldn’t remember of any hotel outside Russia that attempted to offer me that service and decided to ask you, guys, if you think the sign "Prostitutes" would lure more customers to a Radisson than "HBO"?

    Also, for those who haven’t been to Russia in a long time: I flew to Moscow in a Russian-operated Boeing 737 and my luggage arrived within 5 minutes of our landing, the Domodedovo airport looks like a shopping mall with planes docking to it, we booked our taxi over the internet and the driver was holding a sign for us, he charged exactly what he was supposed to… I travelled to St. Petersburg in a high-speed train which covers the distance of 420 miles in 4 hours 45 minutes, there I visted a friend who stayed in a 5-star hotel and ordered a 130 Euro breakfast to his room, with other friends we took a brand-new SCANIA bus (a Swedish bus assembled in SPb.) which felt like Stockholm, we also ate the most delicious "Pirog" (a pie with all sorts of fillings) I ever had in my life in a cafe that looked like it was hijacked from New York’s West Broadway. I also saw people of various Asian ethnicities being harrassed by the police.

    Finally, I hope I’ll get to undertake another trip across Russia sometime soon because I met too many great people I’d love to see again. There’s also a great many stories in that country the world should hear about.

  • charles maynes

    5.02.03

    Reply
    neppie-khedet-boy etc.

    No mea culpa intended Julia….just having fun. In any case, that Stevie Wonder story would undoubtedly put a smile on Berry Gordie’s face. The ‘nappy khedit boy’ line reminded me of Russia’s own lil’ bow wow: teen dreadlocked ‘khard kore’ rapper Detsl. But I digress…

    I’ve been thinking about Alex and Julia’s work in Russia and some of the questions on the state of Russian radio. "Is there anything like NPR or anyone producing ‘Transomesque’ stories?" If not what are the hurdles?

    One thing that seems to me in our favor is technology. I don’t know what Alex and Julia found in their travels, but in my experience, more and more Russians (particularly young…) DO have access and knowledge to computers, the Internet, and digital audio software mainly because — much to Bill Gates’ and other American computer giants’ chagrin– so much of it is free. For just a couple dollars, Russians can buy a CD with the latest version of Windows, all the audio software you can imagine, FTP programs…in short, most of what you need to file stories from anywhere. I’d be curious to hear if either of you know what the response has been to the Russian audio exchange site you mentioned? Are people filing? And is anyone downloading the audio to use on programs in Russia or abroad? It seems to me that it should be relatively easy to encourage…or, given the economy there, build incentives…for people to start experimenting.

    And if we’re talking about the United States, for example, why should English fluency be a requirement? Everyone uses the fade down/voice over for interview cuts, why not invert and do it for narration as well?

  • Julia Barton

    5.03.03

    Reply
    incentives

    Yes, I agree that a lot of stations in Russia have the technology to start doing more complex stories. It’s a question of seeing that as a possibility. The culture of public radio in the U.S. came out of some unusual circumstances and, I would argue, some folks in the right place at the right time (being the 1960s). Now it has 30 years to draw upon. But if you live in a country where you don’t hear these kind of stories being done, it’s hard to imagine doing them, much less how. The other factor in commercial radio, of course, is that time = money. We often encountered the attitude that if someone wasn’t paying for every minute of informational programming, then it wasn’t worth doing. The sad corollary to that being, that if someone WAS paying for it, one could broadcast any kind of crap.

    All that said, we saw people at some stations overcoming the hurdles occasionally just by ignoring them. A young man at a Novosibirsk station did entertainment features and was open to all kinds of experimentation–he just did what he felt like and the management, being new to radio too, didn’t stop him. Also, producers at FNR do all kinds of innovative stuff with programs they make. I’ll try to post some of that here. The only problem is that not many stations air the modules, which are paid for by Western grants.

  • Julia Barton

    5.06.03

    Reply
    More Audio…

    Listen Creative Radio from Russia
    Streaming MP3 (64 kbps) | Download MP3 (2.4 mb)

    This is the first half of a 12-minute documentary called "Our People" produced by Elena Uporova of the Foundation for Independent Radio. The series is about national minorities in Russia, focusing on native tribes in the Far East. The first 25 seconds is a series intro, then we hear an old Nanai tribesman sing and explain (in Russian) a song he made up about the Amur River. Then Elena introduces him, and he remembers his Russian teachers. Although his grandson doesn’t speak Nanai, he’s philosophical about it. Elena then talks about how Russian names for the tribal peoples and their own names for themselves differ. The tribal names come up as "errors" on the Russian Microsoft spell-check program. In the last part, she goes out on the street with a list of the tribal names to see if any Russians know what they mean. In a great montage, they make wild guesses–maybe they’re words from English, or Japanese, or some kind of anagrams–before someone dismissively guesses that perhaps they’re names of small nationalities.

    Listen Learning by Imitation

    Streaming MP3 (64 kbps) | Download MP3 (.6 mb)

    One of our students, Stas Berm at AvtoRadio Novosibirsk, got so inspired by hearing "Our People" that he immediately applied Elena Uporova’s keyboard sound effects to a little story of his own, about looking up the Guinness Book of World Records online to find Russian world records.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    5.07.03

    Reply
    Den’ Radio=Radio Day

    Congratulations, everyone, it’s Radio Day in Russia today–the official holiday of every worker in any way connected to the Radio. It’s celebrated on the day when Popov invented this magnificent device. (I see some objections coming up…) The Soviet Union was famous for its "professional" holidays–even workers at ballbearing plants got one–so, why not enjoy the occasion… and have a drink. To the Radio!

  • Jackson

    5.08.03

    Reply
    Russia only offers days? What? Don’t they have National Frozen Food Month?

    Alex: Thanks for letting me know that yesterday was Radio Day. I kept finding myself wondering why I was about to burst into tears throughout the day. You’ve clarified everything.

    Working myself on a Microsoft story, I am touched, too, that the Russian version of Word doesn’t know how to spell the indigenous tribes of the far east. Is that a reflection of the power center of Russia? Is it possible that the people of Moscow really don’t know their own Far East? I love the wild guessing game — reminds me strangely of Americans and geography.

    You mean there is a place called O-MAH-HAW in these here United States?

    No doubt I’ve already heard the Russian translation of that…

  • Julia Barton

    5.09.03

    Reply
    and today is the Day of Victory of the Soviet People in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 !

    See, Jackson, Russia (and other former Soviet states with some nostalgia for the past, probably not the Baltics) has its hands full with all these Victory Days, Revolution Days, Constitution Days, Orthodox holidays, and various other anniversaries of great poets, heroes, workers–not to mention private name days and birthdays. No time yet for National Frozen Food Awareness Month, though it could be just a matter time.

    It looks like this discussion will be off the front pages of Transom soon, but if anyone has more questions or is traveling to exotic locales in Siberia, we’re always available. Also, please e-mail me if you work at a station that might be interested in developing a sister-station relationship with your colleagues abroad. There are many details that would need to be worked out, but I think it’s one of the best low-cost ways we can help them and help our listeners learn more about the world. The stations in Russia who’d had some kind of contact with people abroad were so proud of it. And in these days of e-mail and MP3 sound files, it’s easier to communicate–we just have to figure out a way around the language barrier.

    Thanks to Transom for having us here, and to everyone for their interest. Na zdorovia!

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    5.10.03

    Reply

    what do sister (or brother) stations do?
    and thanks for the Russian lessons, Julia.

  • Alex Kleimenov

    5.10.03

    Reply
    Slookhee=Rumors

    Today was one of those rare (thank God!) days when Kiev could turn paranoid. Ever since Chernobyl blew up 17 years ago (the power plant is some 50 miles from Kiev), every once in a while, Kiev would get sweapt by rumors of another disaster. I rememeber twice in these 17 years I was woken up in the middle of the night by some friend of our family’s who called to say some other friend had called them to say thay had received a call from a friend who knew someone at Chernobyl who said there was another "ejection" of radiation and everyone needed to fill up everything with water before it all got contaminated. By the morning time, the entire city would be going nuts and state TV would call up some panel to dismiss the rumors.

    Today, a relative called me and said the following, "I need your help. You work for the radio, you must know the truth. A friend called and said she had heard on the radio there was another horrible accident at Chernobyl and now we need to seal up our windows. Is it true?"

    Since my TV was on all day and there was no emergency "address" from the authorities, I told her it was another false alarm. But then she called me again and said she had called the Emergency Ministry and they told her she was not the first to inquire about the accident. They said they couldn’t understand who started these rumors but said there was no emergency at Chernobyl.

    Why am I bringing all this up? Well, because it’s got a nice radio angle. The "news" "came" from "the radio." And I, as a radio person, was called upon as an ultimate authority (which was very funny.)
    It’s also funny, how one day a post-Soviet radio station captures everyone’s attention with a Rumor show (see above comments from Vologda), but then another station might launch a regular Dismissing the Rumors broadcast.

    So much for the post-Soviet reality.

  • Julia Barton

    5.11.03

    Reply
    sestra = sister

    What do sister stations do? Whatever they want, really. It’s up to the initiative of the managers and staffs. It could be behind the scenes, just exchanging e-mail and pictures, but ideally it would be a project shared with listeners. I could imagine all sorts of things: a profile of the station & its town with sound sent via MP3. "Man on the street" interviews from different countries on the same topics (the war in Iraq, for example, would have been a VERY good topic in Russia). If the sister-station is trying to do socially-relevant programming in a poor country, its US partner could even work at raising funds. I don’t think this would be appropriate for Russian commercial radio, but in other places it might be.

    Now I just have to gloat for a minute on behalf of two of my former students who won the national "Popov Award" in Russian radio this year. Apparently it’s the top radio award in the nation. One is Alexei Kryachkov of Baltic Plus in Kaliningrad (the studio pictured on this page). He does a "topic of the week" story very much like an NPR feature. The other winner is the very young Stas Bern (I misspelled his name before) at Avtoradio Novosibirsk. He won for a theatrical profile piece, which featured good use of relevant sound and chronological story-telling, ideas we emphasized in our seminar.

    I wrote Stas to congratulate him, and here’s what he replied: "If you and Sasha hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have gotten it! I wouldn’t have known about ‘living sound,’ and I wouldn’t have known what’s bad or good. Because of your help with this, I fell in love with natural sound. It’s our award!!!"

    Well, teaching doesn’t get any better than that. It also shows that the professional jury of the Popov award is looking for the kind of audio craft we were trying to teach, and we put our students on the right path.

  • Julia Barton

    5.14.03

    Reply
    more from Novosibirsk

    Since it’s pretty quiet around here, and Alex is off to Amsterdam on a translating junket (did I mention he speaks five languages? Hrmph.)–I thought I’d post the link to Stas’s winning feature.

    http://www.popov.guzei.com/2003/8-4.mp3

    It starts with Stas introducing his program, called "Falling Star," to the judges. Then we hear the Falling Star ID, which sounds a little like someone being thrown down a well, but nevermind. The profile itself is about an actor Vladlen Berekov, who played some kind of role in a Soviet serial for 16 years–the best years of his life, Stas says. It’s a mixture of interview, music, and theatrical excerpts. Not unusual for arts profiles here, but definitely for commercial radio in Russia. Stas wrote me more about how after our visit, he became totally enamored of mixing lively interviews with sound. He has a theatrical background, so that no doubt helps. Too bad he’s going to Moscow soon to work in television.

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