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Russia, August 5, 1997

There is Only One Radio Station

Play that funky music, white boy!

Under the Soviets, Russian television and radio were tightly controlled mediums of course. What is amazing to me is the length the Soviets went to in their quest for control. Nothing less than absolute control over the mediums was enough. I cannot agree with the method, or the message, but the result is amazing.

If you go into a Russian home, the first thing you will notice is the huge TV or stereo they own. After 70 years of denial, they are going to get the biggest and loudest system they can buy. If you look closely, you will see that everyone had a radio in their homes already, usually in the kitchen.

Radio Russia was everywhere under the Soviets and remains today in almost all un-remonted apartments. The radio has one plug and no antenna. You plug it into a special socket, where electricity and the radio signal are sent from a central station in the city. Essentially, the entire country was hard wired with one radio. In fact, it was illegal (and punishable by a trip to the gulag) if you owned a standard western radio that could pick up broadcasted radio waves.

There were three stations, Two broadcasted from Moscow, and one from the regional oblast administration. I actually like Radio Russia. The music is excellent, and varied. I never knew what I would get when I turned it on. Everything from traditional music from one of Russia's hundreds of minorities, to bluegrass from Kentucky, or random European music. There were never any commercials (which I abhor), but they would have long interviews and conversations that I only half understood. One radio, three stations, that was it. Not much choice, and you could never turn the radio off, just down, unless you unplugged it from the wall.

Once the Soviet system collapsed, there was an explosion of commercial radio stations and everyone bought western stereos as fast as they could. Now Russians no longer listen to Radio Russia, unless they are in the far provinces, and they usually toss the radio after they remont an apartment. When I asked my landlords if I could have Radio Russia installed in the apartment, they looked at me in shock. I think I might have actually offended them! Crazy Americans!

Of course I have a huge stereo too, gotta keep up with the Jones's, but I have it set on one station, all the time. The station (106.8FM) plays dance music weekday evenings, and all weekend. Exactly what I need to keep up my action packed lifestyle. Nicely enough, the station warns you when they are going to play commercials, and there are no car salesmen yelling at you about the four floors of Fords they want to sell. I give 'em two years before the ads are obnoxious as the ones in America.

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