Guns or Microphones

The BBC has a program called Revolutionary Radio. The teaser for the current episode says "A revolutionary General in Nicaragua asks what is more dangerous in the hands of the public, guns or microphones?"

This is a one hour radio program that documents how radio has played a part in many revolutions. It includes a lot of audio history of the use of radio starting in the first half of the 20th century. The program shows how radio was the tool but makes the point that it really was the use of new technology and that Facebook and Twitter are really just another new technology. The reality, at least in Nicaragua today, is that while tweets will speak to some, radio remains the best tool to reach the masses.

The history is interesting. Today, how we on the information has changed or at least been augmented by other communications methods but the concept has not. Basically, it is either marketing or propaganda, depending on which site you were on. You can listen the program on the BBC web site.

Over the past 90 years radio has proven itself a powerful political force, not just reporting on changes of government, but sending out a call to arms during some of the biggest revolutionary uprisings of the 20th Century. These events track radio's evolution, from its rise as an exciting new technology used by the Bolsheviks to demonstrate their modernity, to its reported demise amid the social media buzz of the Arab Spring.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Advantage of radio is that it's portable

Both for transmitting and receiving. I suspect that the net will have a majority coverage in Nicaragua in two years (it's now at the point where television was before saturation was more than 50% of households and that happened in two years. Given the changes in my service (subject to dropping back to way slow rates if the system is saturated), more and more urban households are on line (I think the next door neighbors are now on line, too).

Television tended to be a top down medium because the broadcast equipment was so expensive (there was one citizen's TV band when I was interested in shortwave radio). Broadcast radio on shortwave is quite inexpensive compared to even mimeograph, the other revolutionary tool of the 1960s.

Broadband is always going to be on expensive equipment, but since the cables, routers, and such are so expensive, companies need a wide user base and so tend to not be like television. And the net is cheap user side of the actual cables and routers side of things.

George Orwell made the observation that when weapons were cheap (rifles, bayonets), you got democracy. When weapons were expensive (tanks, rockets, high energy bombs), you got dictatorships or a tendency to autocratic regimes (like oligarchies). Maybe the same is true of communications, too.

Rebecca Brown