Jana Klusakova - a voice with a story

Most listeners of the Czech Republic's national radio station Radiozurnal will recognise the voice of presenter Jana Klusakova, but few people know much about the person behind it. In the first edition of Profile - which is Radio Prague's brand new feature devoted to the lives of contemporary Czechs - Pavla Horakova introduces radio journalist Jana Klusakova.

Her voice is well known to almost every person in the Czech Republic. For many years now, Jana Klusakova has presented political roundtable discussions and talk shows on the national radio station Radiozurnal. In the "Who's Who section" of the station's website Jana says she cannot remember her date of birth, all she'll say is that she's 39 years old - at the most. She admits she feels uneducated although she went to various schools and she likes almost everything about her job. Jana Klusakova has worked fulltime for Czech Radio since 1990. Now she hosts three different talk shows and she also writes and presents a popular weekly programme about new books. Most people associate the voice of Jana Klusakova with the last decade, since the fall of communism. But Jana started presenting radio shows long before that.

"I first started working for the radio in the 1960's, that's a very long time ago. I was young, slim and lovely. At that time I worked in film and there was this programme on the radio called "Mikroforum". Once a week I had a ten-minute slot on the show about new films. But then came August 1968 and the Russian occupation and everything was over."

In her own words Jana was not allowed within "shooting distance" of the Czechoslovak Radio building after 1968 and, moreover, she also lost her permanent job. But luckily, she had studied Russian - a much favoured language at that time...

"Russian actually saved me because in 1971, I was forced to leave my permanent job, so I became a freelance translator and interpreter. I studied Russian and in those days many Russian speakers were needed. It's actually quite interesting that even translators and interpreters were divided into categories depending on their political reliability. There were three categories: a, b, c - and I was c. That means I was allowed to interpret at dog shows but, of course, never at the Communist Party congresses."

Towards the end of the 1980's, shortly before the fall of communism when the atmosphere was becoming less tense, Jana Klusakova was once again allowed to do short programmes for the radio. She was enthusiastic about all the new trends in culture and art in Mikhail Gorbatchev's Soviet Union. As she says films, literature and theatre in the 1980's were much freer and almost cutting edge in the Soviet Union compared to Czechoslovakia, which was reluctant to accept the wind of change blowing from the Kremlin. Some Soviet films were so daring for conservative Czech censors that they would not allow them to be distributed here. Jana says she was trying to tell Czech listeners about those great changes in Soviet art.

"I tried to spread this information on the radio. In those days, everything was pre-recorded, perhaps only the time signal and weather reports were broadcast live. So I always recorded the programme, rushed home, sat down and listened eagerly. But very often, they played a song instead of my programme. There were censors who listened to all programmes before they were broadcast and they often found mine inappropriate."

Life in the communist system was often full of paradoxes. People relied on hearsay and, sometimes, nasty rumour could get you sacked or persecuted. But on other occasions, a simple misunderstanding could bring unexpected benefits, as in the case Jana told me about.

"My married name is Klusakova. And before 1989 there was a culture minister called Milan Klusak whose wife was the daughter of the Czechoslovak president Ludvik Svoboda. He had curly hair and most likely spoke Russian - I had curly hair and spoke Russian. Very often customers thought I was his relative, most often his daughter. Nobody ever asked me directly, but people often approached me saying: Give my best regards to your father. I always said Thank you, I will, although I knew it was a mistake and, besides, my own father was no longer alive."

And that's how she got the prestigious job of translating drama. Among the plays she translated was Three Sisters by Chekhov and Pazukhin's Death by Saltykov-Shchedrin as well as works of contemporary Russian authors. Jana says she used to enjoy translating very much. Unfortunately, she has little time to spare now and translating has become a hobby for her rather than a regular activity. From time to time she does subtitles for Russian films and programmes on Czech TV. Czech film distributors started buying Russian films again only a couple of years ago and Jana translated subtitles for all the three that have made it to Czech cinemas - just to keep herself in shape, she says.

Last year, Jana Klusakova got a chance to switch radio microphones for TV cameras. She and a few other presenters took turns hosting a weekday talk show called "Prescas" or "Overtime". Jana says when she finally got an idea what television work was about, it was time to introduce a new lot of presenters.

"The work is completely different. I was really afraid people would start recognising me on the street and that they might be unpleasant. They did start recognising me but they were not unpleasant. By the way, I got this dress I'm wearing now from the TV. At least that was one perk of the TV job."

...says Jana laughing and showing off her blue dress, perfectly matching her deep blue eyes.

Jana Klusakova told me she feels a new wave of enthusiasm for her work these days. She and her colleagues are a good team and Jana says she thinks the work they are doing is meaningful. And so do the listeners for many of whom Jana has become almost another family member.

The guests of Profile can request a piece of music they want us to play at the end of the feature. Jana asked for a song from the latest album by Czech singer and songwriter Jan Burian. So here's a song called "Ziju" from Jan Burian's new album "Zrcadlo".