End of an era? Bell tolls for iconic Czech railway train jingles

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů

The Czech state railways administration has been quietly developing a new, uniform audio announcement system that will do away with unique station jingles, beloved by train-spotters and many a nostalgic commuter. Over the past two months, such jingles – directly associated with specific destinations – have disappeared from Frýdek-Místek, Pardubice, Hradec Králové, Valašské Meziříčí and even Brno. But a petition is afoot to stop the move in its tracks.

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
“Hradec Králové main train station. Czech Railways passenger train no. 5529, direction Jičín, now arriving…”– This distinct main train station jingle and announcement by voiceover artist Václav Knop (more on him a bit later) sounded quite possibly for the last time in February.

The jingle, along with many others, was withdrawn from service by the Railways Infrastructure Administration (SŽDC) in the name of “simplification, uniformity, the shortening of announcements of departures/arrivals, and gradual prioritization of the visual system”.

The 4-second Hradec Králové main station jingle comes from a traditional folk song, “Okolo Hradce”, which begins “Around Hradec, in a small garden, three roses grow. One is red, another white, and the third blooms blue”– the colours of the Czech national flag.

“Okolo Hradce” is said to have originated around the time of the Battle of Králové of July 1866, a turning point in the Austro-Prussian War, in which half a million troops had amassed outside the city. The song’s refrain (loosely translated) captures the dreadful excitement:

Soldiers go, soldiers go, God how beautiful
Soldiers go, soldiers go, nicely in a row
Soldiers go, soldiers go, how girls’ hearts are full
Soldiers go, soldiers go, nicely in a row

The Battle of the Station Jingles

Up in arms over the move to phase out such distinct regional jingles are patriotic train-spotters from across the Czech Republic. As of this Thursday, more than 1,770 people had signed a new online petition aimed at halting the process and restoring the station tunes.

The petition organisers, Nádražní Hlášení (Railway Station Announcing), list in chronological order on their website (hlaseni.net) the “casualties” so far in what one could call the Battle of the Station Jingles:

• Jun ’19 Vsetín – "V tom Vsetínském zámku"

• Jan ’20 Frydlant nad Ostravici – "Beskyde, Beskyde"

• Jan ’20 Frydek-Mistek – "Okolo Frýdku cestička"

• Feb ’20 Pardubice main station – " Vraný koně"

• Feb ’20 Hradec Kralove main station – " Okolo Hradec"

• Feb ’20 Valašské Meziříčí – “My jsme Valaši”

• Feb ’20 Brno main station – “Hvězdy jsou jak sedmikrásky nad Brnem”

Prague’s main train station,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
Hhlaseni.net has links to audio recordings of virtually all jingles ever used in a Czech train station – and the names of the respective announcers. Among the most iconic voices is that of Václav Knop, who has being making railway announcements now for a quarter-century.

In an interview for Czech Radio last summer, the voiceover artist noted with humility, affection and a dash of bemusement just how attached to, how nostalgic for, the old announcements (not to mention jingles) many people are.

“For quite some time, my voice was used at Prague’s main station. Along came another company with different announcers. Some ‘šotouši’ as we call them – train-spotters and railways fans – started a Facebook page called ‘Václav Knop back to the main station!’ They tried but of course failed.”

Mr Knop has lent his voice to the effort of train-spotting group Nádražní Hlášení, after months of silence, the group says, the Railways Infrastructure Administration finally responded to their enquires, acknowledging jingles would be phased out this year, and as of 2021, replaced by a single “universal gong”.