Danish Public Radio

I’m sitting here reading the German on-line press, preparing my review of one paper’s treatment of the last Bush-Kerry debate (including quite a novel twist; I think you’ll be amused after a little while, when that weblog entry appears right above this one). But I feel moved in the meantime to let you know what I’m listening to on the Internet at the same time, namely Rosenkjærsprisen 2003 (4) on the first Danish public radio station, P1. As the P1 website explains, the “Rosenkjær Prize” is a 25,000 Danish kroner award (= €3.380) given each year by Danish Public Radio to a leading academic or cultural figure who is distinguished by his or her ability to explain complicated material in language (Danish language, that is) that the common man can understand. In exchange for the money, and the honor, that figure assumes the obligation to in fact deliver a series of lectures on his/her subject of expertise, on the public P1 radio channel of course.

What that means tonight is that I am sitting here listening on the Internet radio to an old man going on and on, talking at length in Danish with a voice that fortunately does exhibit some pretty good modulation. Except that this old man is last year’s Rosenkjær Prize-winner, historian Søren Mørch, delivering a lecture entitled The World As It Is that is basically a treatment of 20th-century cultural history. (That “(4)” in the program title means that tonight’s presentation is the fourth over-all, in a series of six. The P1 website already has the first in the series available for listening; I assume that the rest will be added to this on-line archive in time.)

To be honest, I myself am essentially listening to this because I need to hear some spoken Danish text, as an oral comprehension exercise to improve my ability to understand spoken Danish. And on the other on-line radio channels there is either a classical concert (on P2) or pop music (P3) – true, on the latter the DJ occasionally breaks in to say witty things in Danish in between songs, but that’s still hardly what I’m looking for.

No, it’s actually precisely that someone going on and on in Danish that I was seeking. And from what I can understand of it – between the spots that are still there in my oral comprehension, and the admitted fact that I’m not paying close attention even for most of the time, since I’m also busy reading German on another webpage and writing English – it’s pretty interesting. But to finally get to the essential point of this entry – yes, you’ve been patiently waiting, but I suspect that you already have an inkling of what I’m getting at – this sort of programming would never fly back in the US! In fact, this sort of programming would never fly in most places in this world that aren’t Denmark (“most places” – I can think of some other exceptions). An old man’s voice giving a forty-minute history lecture, and as it happens in “prime time” as well – from roughly 20.50 hours to 21.30: really, is Danish Public Radio at least one hundred years behind the times, or what?


Actually, you wonder whether even any Dane really listens to this stuff. This is public radio, I say again: funded by the Danish state, and so able to be rather insensitive to trivial considerations such as whether anyone out there actually listens to what it offers or not. And I have to tell you, P1 offers mainly things in this very same vein most evenings: science programs, interview shows, even a call-in lonely hearts, “Dear Abby” show for young people called Tværs (translation: “Against the Grain”). Tværs I absolutely will not listen to; too often I have tuned in only to find the young party on the other end of the telephone already reduced to tears by the discussion of his/her boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s recent behavior. (And by the way, you need to pair “his” and “her” with both “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” to produce all four possible combinations.)

But put Tværs aside. My own motivation for listening to P1 is a bit extraordinary, in that in most instances I am simply in search of someone to address me in Danish over the Net. But I suspect that there is a substantial slice of the Danish population that finds P1’s evening programming (“one hundred years old” and all) perfectly acceptable, even interesting – in short, just what they expect from their country’s/their culture’s news/talk public radio station. And what would you find anyway in other cultures where audience listenership gets to play a lot more of a decisive role in determining what stays on the airwaves and what gets pulled? Raving political talk radio? Raving sports talk radio? In America, as we know, almost all radio and TV stations are private (except of course for the likes of PBS and NPR) – and, last I heard, those stations feature scintillating programming such as “Fear Factor,” “Survivor,” and “Temptation Island,” no?, together with network news shows that steadily lose their broadcast time to the interruptions of ever-multiplying commercials for Geritol.


This idea that perhaps there is a good case to be made for actually giving up some of our consumer’s freedom to determine what will be broadcast, in favor of letting others choose at least some of our programming for us because they actually “know what is best for us,” i.e. they might actually know what programming is best to expand our intellect and our aesthetic sense, is one that I have had in my head for a long time. Actually, I have usually dwelt on this thought in the context of classical music stations, specifically of course publicly-owned classical music stations, of which Europe boasts an almost incredible richness, and which absolutely has no equivalent in all of North America, that I know of at least. But listening to that old Dane talk about history made me suddenly realize that the same thought could be valid when it comes to spoken-word broadcasts, too.

UPDATE: The time it took to write the above entry took me to the end of Prof. Mørch’s history lecture, and into an interview program called Eksistens (yes: “Existence”), where the guest was Prof. Mogens Niss from Roskilde University, author of the recent book Matematikken og Verden (“Mathematics and the Earth”), discussing mathematics particularly as it has to do with astronomy. Then there came the next program, Lige Lovligt (ooh, hard to translate; how about “Perfectly Legal”), another interview/discussion program featuring tonight a discussion among a priest, a politician, and a theology professor about whether “human rights stem directly out of protestant Christianity.” I tell you, if this keeps up too much longer even I will soon be off to see if I can get the Playboy Channel to watch somewhere. I have to hold out at least long enough to get the next weblog entry on line . . .

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