The “second life” of Czech Radio
Virtual worlds existing in the realm of cyberspace are very much in the focus at the moment. They are now being put to all manners of serious uses and are also encountering various real-world teething problems. Whole companies have established their virtual branches in cyberspace. Following the example of other media organisations Czech Radio recently launched its virtual presence in the internet-base virtual world Second Life, as an additional project to its airwave and online activities.
The man behind the whole idea was Jiří Malina from Czech Radio Online.
“More than a year ago at a European Broadcasting Union competition we saw the BBC’s Radio One present its internet project using the virtual environment of Second Life. We thought that would be a good way for Czech Radio to present itself. So we wondered if anyone here in the Czech Republic owned an island on Second Life which would bring together Czech and Slovak users. We did find it, the island is called Czechoslovakia, the capital city is Bohemia and that is where Czech Radio presents itself in a virtual tent.”
I was watching as Jiří Malina logged on to Second Life and teleported his avatar, his 3D virtual representation, straight to Bohemia City. Outside the historic town centre there is a modern area where we located Czech Radio’s broadcasting tent, an allusion to the original tent from which Czechoslovak Radio first broadcast in May 1923.
Czech Radio Leonardo is an online station dedicated to science and technology. In the tent you can listen to the same programmes that are being broadcast live online. On special occasions, you can see the presenters’ avatars in the virtual studio, too. And there are special virtual gifts for each visitor to the tent.
“In the futuristic tent you can find a virtual studio from where the digital educational station Czech Radio Leonardo broadcasts. In another section of the tent you can find another of our multimedia projects. It is ‘Odhalení’ or ‘Unmasking’, a live TV transmission from a gorilla pavilion in Prague ZOO that you can watch there on a screen.”
Radio Leonardo is not the only Czech Radio station that can be heard on Second Life.
“All over the Czechoslovak city, as you walk along the streets you can listen to Radio Wave, which is Czech Radio’s youth station. I must say that they were there a few weeks earlier before our virtual tent. And as the Czech community on Second Life is younger than the global average, I believe a youth station was the best and most natural choice.”
Jiří Malina told me that the whole project cost Czech Radio something around 50,000 crowns (2,500 USD).
As we visited the broadcasting tent in Bohemia in early afternoon when most users are at work or at school, we didn’t meet too many people or beings in the city. But come evening, the virtual city quickly repopulates.
“There are about 20,000 inhabitants in the Czech community but it’s necessary to say that only about twenty percent of this community are active inhabitants who return to Second Life again and again.”
Martin Dvořák knows all about Czechs on Second Life. There he goes by the name of Martin Duncker and works as the mayor of Bohemia City. I met him in person in a perfectly real-world café and asked him first about Czechoslovakia Island.
“It’s a small island. We bought it to build there the first virtual Czech city which is called Bohemia. There is the Old Town Square, for example, and also a park. For example, people can go there to a disco or they can rent a bike or a car, to talk to friends, to go to the pub and so on.”
I suppose that’s where you meet other people who also speak Czech...
“Yes, of course. It was the main goal for us to prepare one place where Czech and Slovak people can meet because Second Life is very large and at the beginning it was very hard to find someone who can speak Czech. A lot of Czech people can’t speak English and they didn’t know how to use Second Life, so we prepared this Czech town and they can ask there for help and they can talk with other people in Czech. So it is mainly developed for Czechs.”
How many hours do you spend on Second Life?
“I’m not a good example because I am there only for about one hour. Because I am mayor of the city so I have to go there to see how the city is living or if there are any problems but I know people who are there for about let’s say four, maybe five hours a day. That’s a lot.
Is the Czech community somehow different from other communities?
“We think so. We have done some research and we have found out that the Czech community is younger than the rest of the world because usually it is about 30 years, but for Czechs it’s about 20, maybe 22. In the Czech community there are 74 percent of men, 25 percent of women and the one percent is the rest. When we asked what it meant they answered us that they were animals, robots and UFOs and so on.”
Do you organise any interesting events on Czechoslovakia Island?
“Yes, we try to do at least one event every week. For example, in cooperation with Czech Radio we organised a virtual concert in Second Life. This Friday we are preparing university presentations where students can speak with the deans of faculties and so on. We also did about four virtual weddings in Second Life and of course, there are a lot of parties and celebrations and so on.”
Because this is going to be broadcast all over the world, how can potential visitors get to Czechoslovakia Island?
“The easiest way is to go to the search on Second Life and write there ‘Bohemia’ which is the name of our city and the first link is teleport directly to the Old Town Square in Bohemia.”
Do many people from other countries visit Czechoslovakia and Bohemia?
“Not too many because the city is prepared especially for Czech people, everything there is in the Czech language and a lot of people there are Czechs and they cannot speak English. So it’s mainly for Czechs, and Slovaks, of course.”