Radio show reaches for Latvians abroad

It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for another installment of “Latviešiem pasaulē,” a new show on Latvijas Radio 2 for Latvians living abroad. The two-hour show features a mix of popular Latvian music and messages from listeners read by hosts Roberts Buivids and Velga Vītola.

The debut of the show in January marked an interesting point in the history of Latvian radio broadcasting. First, it represents a return to the state-financed public broadcaster targeting listeners outside Latvia’s borders, an effort that ended in 1999 with shuttering of the shortwave program, Radio Rīga. Second, it relies on Internet broadcasting, because most of the intended listeners are well beyond the reach of Latvian radio signals.

International broadcasting generally is acknowledged to have been born in 1927, when Radio Nederland Wereldomroep began beaming shortwave signals to the Dutch East Indies. By the start of World War II, international broadcasting had become not just a means for reaching distant colonies, but was a powerful propaganda tool.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, international broadcasting in Eastern and Central Europe has changed dramatically. Some nations, such as the Czech Republic, still maintain shortwave outlets. Others, such as Latvia, have dropped theirs because of budgetary concerns or because the state broadcaster’s political role has changed.

In recent years, however, the migration of Latvian labor abroad has become notable, particularly to Ireland. The estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Latvian citizens now in Ireland, added to the tens of thousands of post-World War II Latvian emigrés and their descendants scattered across the continents (not to mention the descendants of all those who left Latvia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), represent a sizable audience. So it should not be surprising that Latvijas Radio 2 decided to put “Latviešiem pasaulē” on its schedule, making use of both its over-the-air frequencies in Latvia and live streaming over the Internet.

“In my opinion, every Latvian would be happy if there weren’t a need for this show and all Latvians lived in their homeland,” Buivids told me in an e-mail. Uldis Duka, director of Latvijas Radio 2, sees the show as a musical bridge meant to remind Latvians abroad that Latvia remembers them, loves them and awaits them, Buivids said.

“Besides, LR2 is not just the only Latvian music radio station in the world, but also a public broadcaster with a mission,” Buivids added. “To me that means that if just one of those living in Ireland, after hearing a greeting, decides to return to Latvia and their loved ones, then the show will have fulfilled its charge.”

The show’s format is simple. Listeners send in greetings, request a song, and Buivids and Vītola read the message on the air. The show also has begun to make use of press reports about Latvians abroad.

“In general, our goal is to generate positive feelings among listeners,” Buivids said. “That’s why we read, in their entirety, letters that tell about successful cooperation between Latvian communities in exile lands and those in the homeland.” He mentioned one letter about a Latvian-American who in his will left his savings to his childhood school in Latvia.

“Reading that, I understood how much this man was superior to the majority of those on the list of Latvia’s millionaires,” Buivids said.

But I wonder if the program couldn’t—or shouldn’t—at some point take on some weighty issues, such as the roots of the new emigration. Why have those thousands of migrants moved from Latvia to Ireland in search of work? How many will return? Sure, this question has been the topic of coverage in the Latvian media over the past year, but a radio show meant for Latvians abroad could serve as a constant sounding board for both the good and the bad of life abroad.

“Latviešiem pasaulē” may be heard Sundays from 10:00-12:00 hours in Latvia (08:00-10:00 GMT). An abbreviated version of the show is broadcast in Latvia from 02:00-03:00 Mondays (00:00-0:100 GMT). Both broadcasts may be heard over the Internet as live streams in RealMedia and Windows Media formats. Missed shows can be found in Latvian State Radio’s audio archive (a wonderful service!). Further information about the show itself is available from the Latviešiem pasaulē page.

By the way, for those still interested in hearing shortwave signals from Latvia, the old transmitter at Ulbroka near Rīga remains active on a frequency of 9290 kHz, renting time to various international broadcasters. Among them is Radio Six International, a Scotland-based rock music station.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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