David Eldridge - tuning in to Radio Prague for four decades

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For international stations like Radio Prague it is quite difficult to find out exactly who your listeners are. That's why letters from listeners are so valuable, informing us about reception quality or voicing complaints and suggesting improvements. Over the years we have been receiving regular mail from listener David Eldridge from England, who listens to many international stations and now tunes in to Radio Prague every day. Recently Mr Eldridge visited Prague and we invited him to our studio for a chat.

I began by asking him when exactly he started listening to Radio Prague.

"I first started listening in 1964 when I remember hearing a report on BBC radio about how socks were being unravelled in Czechoslovakia, as it then was, in order to make woollen cardigans and so on. And the authorities had put material into the socks to stop them being unravelled which seemed a very nasty thing to do. So I wrote in to Radio Prague then to ask them what this was all about and they came up with quite a feasible explanation actually, I thought. They said the sock had been made for socks. They thought it was a waste of effort for them to be unravelled and made into jumpers. It seemed a fairly reasonable answer, so I've always thought to check out things with Radio Prague to get the other side of the story. And that's when it began."

And you've listened to Radio Prague ever since?

"On and off. I remember going in for a competition which I won - or was I winner? - way back in those days. And my name and address, strangely, was actually printed and I got a lot of Czech pen-friends at that time. I came over to visit some of them in 1968. It was in August 1968, just a couple of weeks before the Warsaw Pact troops moved into Czechoslovakia, which was an interesting time and that was my first visit to Czechoslovakia. In fact, there were some Czech people on the train coming out of Czechoslovakia at that time, in the same carriage as I was and we got to know each other and they actually stayed in my flat in London for a while. And they were there over the night of the troops moving in. When we turned the radio on the next day and heard about events they really didn't believe that was happening. What happened to them I don't know. They moved on and they are one of the many people we hear of these days who've been over there, in the West, for all these years."

You have been visiting Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic since, I suppose - you must have been noticing so many changes in the last fifteen years or so.

"Yes. A steady change, but a marked change. I think it has been steady and progressive. I notice the amount of cars going up all the time but then, of course, a lot of these things also happen in the West. So it's not necessarily because of political changes in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic but also technological changes."

And have you been noticing a similar sort of change in Radio Prague's broadcasts?

"Yes, I have. Probably I am a little bit surprised on that. Because very often radio stations are directed to places where there is a propaganda value. And I think very often when countries find themselves allied, very often you find the quality of the broadcasts actually goes down or there is less of it. I can think of many countries within old Europe where there used to be fairly strong cross-broadcasting between the countries and it's now all gone. But with Radio Prague it's gone upwards and the quality and the professionalism has definitely gone up."

Thank you very much. Now, many of our listeners are either second or third generation Czechs, or people married to a Czech or people who are somehow connected through their families to the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia. Do you have a Czech connection?

"No, I have none, other than I like the Czech Republic. I find it a pleasant place to be in. I find it relaxing. There is just so much here to see. I tend to like nice countryside of which there is plenty in the Czech Republic. What I do like in particular, compared with what I have in London, is that you have some excellent facilities to have a reasonably priced meal anywhere you go. Which can be difficult in London. So all that is very relaxing and that's really what I like about the Czech Republic."

From your letters it is apparent that you know a lot about not only the Czech Republic but the whole Central European region. Did you study the history of Central Europe or how come you are so knowledgeable about this part of the world?

"Well, I don't know whether I am all that knowledgeable. But I think you do tend to pick it up over a period of time. Particularly if you listen to features and articles, you can sort of pick it up and eventually put it all together. I have been to summer schools in Olomouc to pick up a little bit of Czech and they do include on that some lectures on Czech history and culture, so you can pick it up a little bit, bit by bit, in that way. But I think Radio Prague has an excellent little taster on history on its website to pick up the basics of the history. And with your current competitions that you have - I'm new to them and I'm finding them very interesting indeed to whet the appetite when looking through on the internet to try and find the answers. I think they are excellent from that point of view."

Thank you very much. Speaking of the internet; I suppose you listen to us on shortwave but you also look up our programmes online. Which way do you prefer or how do you combine these two ways?

"I prefer the shortwave broadcasts because it puts me to a routine that I want to be put into, to have set aside a certain time each day, just to sit down, have a meal and listen to the shortwave broadcast at that particular time. Reception in Britain is usually quite good. That's the way I prefer, though I am increasingly coming round to listen to the internet at times I haven't been able to hear the broadcasts - like at the moment, being in Prague, I shall have to go home and listen to the last few days on the internet -, and secondly, at times when reception is bad, which is probably about ten percent of the time, or a little bit less, then it is useful to be able to switch to the internet live broadcasts and listen to the programmes in clarity. I hope that you continue on shortwave, I think that's important - not for me so much but, certainly, it is important for many of your listeners, I'm sure, where the internet is not so readily available. I think it's important."