Wednesday, May 19, 2010

706 Radio Taiwan International

706 Radio Taiwan International

(TAIPEI) -- The huge radio towers look sinister at night. Skeletons with red lights stretching to the heavens, sending 15-thousand-plus kilowatts -- more than 15 million watts -- into the ionosphere and then back down to earth in 13 languages, telling the story of this island. Our guide, Rachel Luo says in her perfect, British English "you don't want to know about our electric bill."

Radio Taiwan International is a government service, much like our own Voice of America. This means you can't hear it here. At least not over the air. Anywhere else you can hear it. Much of Australia. Russia. Most of Europe. Most of North and South America. Africa. Here on the island, you can't get the programs unless you go to the internet and listen to the streams or the podcasts. Thirteen languages. Down from 18. One anonymous source says "every time there's a budget cut we drop a language."

Rachel offers a copy of the 2009 annual report. It is as impenetrable as anything Exxon, Enron or General Motors can provide. RTI either made a profit or didn't make a profit in 2009. Impossible to tell. One balance sheet talks about surplus, another about loss. Congratulations to the government of Taiwan: you have mastered the American system of obfuscation in financial reports.

Rachel knows the history. Founded in 1928, still the infancy of the medium. Founded in China, but brought to Taiwan when the Nationalists came here. They have a history room. Shows Chang-Kai-shek announcing the end of the Sino-Japanese war in 1945. There's an audio console made by RCA in the 1940s, used here until the 1960s or 1970s. They still have cassettes. They still have tape cartridges, called "carts" ("Cats" if you're from ABC.) They still have reel-to-reel tape decks, Studers, made in Switzerland and able to withstand floods, earthquakes, typhoons and ham handed users. They have RCA 77DX microphones, the industry standard from the 1930s to the 1980s.

This is or was Taiwan's Ministry of Truth, up until 1998. It was a propaganda arm largely designed to swill the mainlanders with Nationalist Bumbo. For the last 12 years, says Ms. Rachel, less so. Maybe that's right. Maybe it's become more subtle -- again, like our VOA.

Next stop, the interview. Shirley Lin is Boston educated. She lies somewhere on the scale of interviewers between Barbara Walters and NPR's Robert Siegel. Shirley's done a lot of different stuff in her life. She was a math and economics major. But she insists she can't help her kids with their math homework. She was something or other in an investment firm, but she doesn't have any recommendations this day. She is worldly, sincere and has mastered that interviewers' skill that makes you think she's really interested in you. Maybe she is, maybe not. The suspicion is "she is." She makes the interview into a conversation and 12 minutes in you realize you've told her your life story and maybe more than you wanted to.

Radio Taiwan International is trying to present the case for Taiwan to the world without seeming to be a ministry of propaganda. This is a tough spot. They're really careful about the way they report news. Right down the middle. Guys like Wes Gallagher at the AP and Steve Capus at NBC would approve. But they still have that heritage: it's a government operation, dependent on government funding.


--The Chinglish phrase of the day. It's on a woman's t-shirt and apparently is supposed to say "Biker Chick." What it DOES say is "Biker Chich."

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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