Thursday, July 06, 2006

Broadcasting House Fire reveals poor preservation of history

Mail Trail...

The damage to Broadcasting House by fire of unknown origin on Monday- Caricom Day- stands out as a stark indicator of how much those in authority value our national treasures and history.

Located at 44 High Street, St Philip's Green, Georgetown; the custom-built entity was constructed by Rediffusion in 1955 but from that our radio station was moved to administrative offices poorly converted to radio studios and control rooms on Homestretch Avenue.

Firstly, the Guyana government was either ill-advised or received or solicited no advice before removing the radio studios of the then Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) cum National Communications Network (NCN). Broadcasting House, despite its comparatively minor defects could have been remedied with good engineering. However, the authorities felt content moving the studios and associated departments to the GTV cum NCN TV location on Homestretch, Avenue.

But, like many things in Guyana, modern-day decisions are taken in pursuit of retrogression. The fate of Broadcasting House is no exception. Having been abandoned by NCN and sold to the National Commercial and Investments Limited (NCIL); the building is now a haven for junkies and other vagrants, who have virtually stripped the building of all of its electrical fittings and other fittings in search of copper-wire to be sold as a scrap-metal. The few pieces of unused and antiquated equipment, such as those that included vacuum tubes, should have been donated to the museum for safe-keeping and display.

But, above all, the most hurtful of discoveries that the fire has brought to the fore are discarded precious recordings on reel-to-reel tapes and records (which preceded the advent of cassettes, compact discs and min-discs.

However, one may very well argue that the tapes and records that can still be found on the floor of Broadcasting House and the bicycle shed in the yard may be better off than the many hundreds of volumes that have been moved to NCN Homestretch Avenue. Indeed, both the tapes and records and Broadcasting House have one thing in common- they both would have been better if they all had not been the victims of maladministration.

With regards to the tapes, they include short stories written, produced and presented by a doyen of Guyanese folklore, Alan Fenty, lending some credence to claims that even before the operations were removed from Broadcasting House that hundreds of recordings and records were discarded at the dump in the yard. As a former Control Operator, no one can convince me that the tapes and records are not of a good or reasonable quality to be played and transferred to a more durable storage device.

It is my understanding that the way the other records, cassettes and tapes that have been stored at NCN are hardly conducive to the proper preservation of our history. Unlike Broadcasting House, where comparatively better storage facilities in the archive and the library had existed, all types of recordings dating back to our pre and post-independence years are stacked on one another, lying on stairs and in other places, many of them having been thrown in a truck like any ordinary cargo and carted off from their original location on High Street to Homestretch Avenue. I would hardly be surprised if someone told me that many of these recordings are also languishing at the Transmitting Station, Sparendaam.

Already, many of those tapes are brittle and up to recent years were still in a state that they could have been transferred to much more durable types of storage like compact discs. With time and now poorer storage, the chances of rescuing our oral/audio history are getting slimmer with each passing day.

As far as the radio broadcasting operations of NCN are concerned, the movement to Homestretch Avenue has not been for the better. A cursory look at what passes for studios and control rooms reveals a number of deficiencies when compared to Broadcasting House. These converted offices are:

a) have extremely poor sound-proofing. Listeners can often times hear vehicles passing on Homestretch Avenue

b) the studios and control rooms do not have any sound-locks - interlocking doors ( a compartment between two doors leading a studio or control room)

c) by way of example, the Voice of Guyana studio is very small and creates discomfort for guests and technical challenges such as audio quality for listeners on panel discussions

In sum total, the Guyana government's approach to radio broadcasting has been shabby, irresponsible and despicable. Not only a historical edifice in the annals of local and regional broadcasting has been brought to near ruins and part of our oral/audio history has been relegated to the dust-bin but the programming and reach of the station leave much to be desired. Had the government been sincere about improving radio, the internationally recognised cheapest medium of communication, it would have expended resources on improving the Shortwave capacity of the radio station. Instead, we are exposed to the limited intellectual capacity and mismanagement of certain newcomers to the broadcasting scene who bask in the so-called achievement that NCN is being heard on the Internet. To this I say that significant segments of Guyanese in Guyana are being deprived of listening the radio.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have harshly criticised those in authority in this letter; I hope they would see it in good stead and take on board in good faith the following recommendations:

1) tighter security be put in place to prevent junkies and other vagrants from entering Broadcasting House, which is still structurally in an excellent condition for the purpose it was built.

2) Government and the National Trust should consider preserving this building because of its place in Guyanese and regional broadcasting history

3) The building should again be used, if not in the first instance as a radio station (whether government or private), but as a facility to produce programmes and advertisements, and train radio broadcasters and technical personnel

4) retrieve all remaining records and recordings for cataloguing and storing either by NCN or the National Archives

5) the National Archives and NCN urgently collaborate in sourcing the requisite human and technical resources to rescue, preserve and store all recordings of value to our political, economic, social history

6) target prospective private sector buyers, who would be keen on using this building to re-establish a radio station or use it as a training and production facility

My fear is that if none of this is done, one day we will see this historical edifice crumble under the weight of heavy duty machinery and replaced with yet another 'concrete monstrosity' lacking in architectural aesthetics and adding to overall defacing of Georgetown.

Best Regards.

Yours Sincerely,
Denis Chabrol
Former Broadcaster- Guyana Broadcasting Corporation.