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The end of radio

The world of shortwave radio listening often captures the final moments of a radio station somewhere in the world making its last announcement before closing down forever, and our Shortwave Transmissions project captures the melancholy of several final broadcasts, three of which we break down for you here, along with compositions built from those recordings.

First up we’re off to Italy, where Andrea Borgnino shares the following off-air recording clips of the final shortwave broadcasts of a program for North America from Radiotelevisione italiana (RAI) in 2007:

Original recording:

Grey Frequency’s reimagined piece came about like this:

“For this reimagining I wanted to turn a disparate collection of sounds into something more cohesive, but with a structure and flow that mirrored the original radio recording. I also wanted to utilise audio solely from the original source material, without introducing additional musical elements.

The electronic bird sounds at the start were recorded onto an analogue dictaphone and played back at a local allotment. This was then re-recorded, along with ambient sounds of the surrounding area – bird song, wind, distant traffic etc.

A short section of the bell chimes were cut up and looped with a gated delay and reverb. This was slowly increased until the loop was completely saturated and totally unrecognisable.

For the last section of the piece, I digitally processed radio interference and other sounds, and introduced looped vocal samples, run through a granular synthesizer.”

Memory version:

Next, we move to Canada to tune into Radio Canada International’s final shortwave radio broadcast, recorded by Rajdeep Das on June 24, 2012. Listeners will note that the broadcast ends abruptly during the mailbag program – obviously the transmitters were turned off prematurely, truly a sad ending.

Original recording:

Matt Chapman Jones reimagined this recording, and notes that “there was limited melodic material available in this recording and what I could get kind of implied a more sample based approach, instead of trying to create “instruments” from the recording, and that led to a more hip-hop/beat driven sound than I usually go for. Past that I was interested to explore what messages I could find by rearranging the words spoken in the recording.”

Memory version:

Finally, it’s the last broadcast from BFBS Malta, as recorded by John Bruno:

“Richard Astbury was the last announcer to speak from Floriana, followed by the Evening Hymn and Last Post, an instrumental version of L-Innu Malti and a church choir sings God Save The Queen, accompanied by a Church Organ and a Military Band. The final program was the Eurovision Song Contest 1979, won by the host nation Israel. The studios of BFBS Malta are still around as of 2018 as for the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. This occurred on the final Saturday of March in the seventies because of the withdrawal of British troops ordered by President Anton Buttigieg.”

Original recording:

Andy Lyon’s reimagined piece is called “Out of the static”:

“I’ve been fascinated by shortwave radio since a young age – way before the internet – the appeal of being able to hear transmissions from any where in the world was always intriguing. Sadly it’s been in decline for a number of years now, you often don’t hear many stations these days.

That was the inspiration for this piece, preserving some of the original recording overlaid with signal loss and degradation. I’ve used the recording as the only sound source, it has been processed with a grain sampler in Hollyhock 5 and I’ve also used Cataract, Polygon (Glitchmachines) and Shaperbox 2 (Cableguys) and various delays and reverbs to create glitchy, cut-up type effects.”

Memory version: