JUNE 1999. And so began my time working with NGO’s in trouble spots around the world.
I have to admit 3 things here….
1) Having lived in Shanghai throughout most of the 90’s running a multi million dollar commercial pop music radio programming operation in China I had never HEARD of an N. G. O. and had no idea such things existed.
2) I had no idea where Macedonia WAS!
3) Im ashamed to say I knew very little about the breakup of Yugoslavia apart from some of what I had seen on TV and because I was living mostly in Shanghai I had seen little of it on TV. My mind and energy throughout the 90’s was directed at China although I had travelled by train through Yugoslavia for a couple of days in 1987 and had slept on the station platform in Novi Sad for a night because I had got on the wrong train in Belgrade.
I had moved back to Scotland full time at the beginning of 1999 and at that time was utterly fed up with ‘business’
and ‘greed’ and wanted to do something that felt “useful’ again. I was advised to see someone who lived just outside Inverness who I was told did a lot of media related work around the world. He came to see me in my cottage just outside Nairn and seemed impressed with my radio studio and computer recording system in my garage.
Next day he phoned and asked if I would like to go to Macedonia for a week to help set up a daily 30 minute radio programme in Albanian aimed at the Kosovo refugees. Of course I said yes and was told that we had to be in Skopje the capital on Sunday. I had to look at a map to find out where it was!
We had not once talked about money but I assumed that all air fare and accommodation would be provided and that some sort of government or United Nations grant would cover the cost. I was expecting and fully willing to work for nothing but was amazed when he phoned the next day and said “By the way we can pay you £250 pounds per day”
We arrived on the Sunday afternoon and the programme was to begin at 7pm on Tuesday evening. I was impressed with how they had arranged for it to be broadcast across Macedonia on a national commercial station KANAL 77.
The NGO had paid the station for 30 minutes per day airtime broadcast on FM throughout the country. Local Albanian language stations had then agreed to rebroadcast the programme each day by doing a live link with Kanal77. It was a clever and technically easy thing to do using our small studio plugged into an ISDN unit loaned by - hired from - Kanal77.
All day monday we recorded promos in Albanian and Macedonian for all the stations to play and a small team of Albanian journalists gathered material. It all went very smoothly indeed with about half the programme material made on my own mac powerbook. I was WELL used to making radio programmes in languages I could not speak!
7 o’clock Tuesday evening arrived and we had a 30 minute programme made and ready to go. Kanal77 faded us up as contracted at precisely 7 o’clock and Samir our engineer hit the play button.
Whats wrong said someone and the British NGO boss guy looked gormlessly at the mixer and at me.
“Samir switch it to MONO and cross your fingers’ I said.
And we were on air after perhaps 15 seconds of silence.
Somehow the signal had been out of phase but was fine when switched to mono. Im not at all a technician but experience and common sense saved the day and got us on air.
On this page are two promos…… One in Albanian and one in Macedonian.
And…. a 30 minute programme recorded walkabout style - thanks to my Radio Tees and Moray Firth Radio experience. Somewhere I have a translation of this and will post here if I can find.
My first experience of the madness of the Balkans came while we were driving to the refugee camp to record this programme. It was me and three Macedonian Albanians in the car and when we stopped to pay a motorway toll the guy in the toll booth was a Macedonian Macedonian and argued with the Macedonian Albanians I was with and they were calling him every name under the sun as we drove onto the motorway.
I was to experience MUCH more Balkan madness a few weeks later in Kosovo.
So…… I really enjoyed my time in Skopje and very much enjoyed working with some very cool Albanians. One said she read the news on a local TV station TV ERA and I spent an evening in their studios. WOW…… A young engineer guy had taken the sound from a Mines Awareness promo I had made and added pictures turning it into a TV spot…. Impressive but the studio technology was junk and it was amazing how they got the programme on air!
The newsreader was in the studio presenting the programme and the young engineer was at the controls……. For the inserts into the news he was playing from a domestic VHS recorder with the top taken off…….. he held the tape away from the spinning video head with his fingers and let go to put the inserts to air.
I have NEVER seen anything like it.
I spent a day and a night in Tirana in Albania on the way back to ‘deliver’ some money and work with some people making programmes for the Kosovo refugees in Albania and will post some audio soon.
Always remember what one of the Albanian journalists said to me in Tirana as I left…… “You’ve been here for just 24 hours and in that time you have restored my faith in Radio”
I returned home and a few days later had a phone call from the woman in Geneva who ran the NGO.
“We like what you did in Macedonia and want you to go to Pristina in Kosovo for a month. We need you to specify, order and built two radio studios…. one for a daily programme in Albanian and the other for a daily programme in Serbian. And by the way we overpaid you in Macedonia so this time we will only be able to pay you £200 per day”
Filimiri Promo - Albanian
Filimiri Promo - Macedonian
Filimiri - Full Programme
BE CAREFUL!! MINES CAN KILL YOU!!
Mines awareness…… The first words I learned in Albanian “Kudes! Mina Arret!!
More mines awareness…… Featuring children - Pictures were added to this by TV ERA in Skopje to make a TV spot