Slow Radio brings nature to city-dwellers

Photo: Barbora Němcová

The singing of birds, the croaking of frogs or the sound of animals moving in the undergrowth – these are just some of the sounds you can hear if you tune in to Slow Radio, broadcasting live from a secret spot somewhere in South Bohemia. This high-resolution recording, which happens in real time, offers its listeners a unique glimpse into the heart of the country’s wilderness.

The real-time live broadcasts from a secluded pond somewhere in South Bohemia, were launched in May 2017 and just a few weeks ago they entered their fourth season. Jan Kužník, one of the people behind the project, says he got the idea to broadcast the sounds of nature after doing several “slow TV” projects.

"One of our slow TV projects was made at Prague’s Main Train Station. Afterwards we really enjoyed listening to the night sounds of the city, the train announcements in the empty hall as well as the sounds of trains.

"This is how we got the idea to broadcast something that would be nice to listen to without actually having to watch a video recording. We first considered broadcasting the sounds of the city, but that turned out to be too complicated. So we decided to record sounds of nature instead and started looking for a suitable location."

Finding a place that would be rich in bird and animal sounds but free from the noise of human activity turned out to be a very difficult task. Jan Kužník says it wouldn’t have been possible to find a suitable place without the help of the Czech Society for Ornithology, which suggested locating the recording equipment in the midst of the South Bohemian flatlands.

"We have deliberately kept the location a secret. We don’t want people to go there and disrupt the broadcasting. Moreover, it is a location that is not accessible to the public, because there are so many different bird varieties nesting there throughout the year.

Jan Kužník,  photo: Alžběta Švarcová / Czech Radio
"It is a place with both a forest and a pond. In the evening you can hear water birds landing on the water, as well as the splashing of fish and the croaking of frogs, while during the day, you can hear the singing of common songbirds.

"At the same time, there is also a mobile signal available, which is necessary for transmitting the sounds over the internet, and there is electricity, so we can plug our equipment into the grid."

Upon finding a suitable location, Jan Kužník and his friends had to install equipment that would capture the sounds of nature in the highest possible quality and transmit them to people’s living rooms.

“We bought first-rate professional microphones that are used by filmmakers and are suitable for recording outside. These mikes have been out in the open for three years and they have endured rain and snow, as well as freezing temperatures, and they have never broken down.

“We also have several dozen meters of electric cables, connecting the mikes with the base. Some of them are attached to trees while others are hidden underground. The only thing we need for the streaming is a powerful computer.”

(Over the three years the equipment had to sustain all kinds of weather events, from heavy rains to gale-force winds. The cables had to be reinstalled several times after being torn down by fallen trees or branches.)

Although the broadcasting station is located many kilometers away from the main road, it is still not completely free from the noise caused by human activity. You can sometimes hear people’s voices as well as the noise of cars and airplanes.

Photo: Tomasz Proszek,  Pixabay / CC0
But mostly you will hear all kinds of bird species, from nightingales and gulls to leaf warblers and finches. At night, you can listen to the screeching of the tawny owl and if you are lucky, you can also catch the swishing of the birds’ wings or the scratching of their claws on tree bark.

The sensitive microphones do not only record birds singing, but also other sounds of nature, such as the rustling of leaves in the breeze, the buzzing of flies and mosquitoes, the sound of animals moving in the undergrowth and, of course, drops of rains or a bolt of thunder. The broadcasting season of Slow Radio usually lasts from late March until October or November, depending on the weather. One of the last sounds you can hear is the flocking of wild geese, headed south in search of a warmer climate. With the clapping of their wings, the broadcasting shuts down for the winter.

Studies have repeatedly shown that listening to the sounds of nature can help people relax and reduces stress levels. And although it can hardly replace a walk in the outdoors, Slow Radio has established a stable listener base over the three years of its existence.

"We were really surprised when we started that our station, which only broadcasted the signing of birds and the rustling of leaves actually had a higher audience rating than some commercial internet radio stations.

“Of course the numbers dropped over time, but we still have a stable base of listeners. And every spring, people start asking if they can tune in to Slow Radio again. So this is a positive surprise. The negative one is that the noise of human activity is getting closer with every year."

As for Jan Kužník himself, he says he likes to listen to Slow Radio whenever he needs to focus on his work.

“I think Slow Radio is for everyone who lives in the city and cannot go outdoors as often as they would like to. It is for everyone who needs to lift their spirit.

Photo: Barbora Němcová
“My favorite time to listen is in the evening. You won’t hear the birds so much, but you can listen to the forest, the dripping of water, the croaking of frogs and the rustle of reeds. So it can be used as a background for all kinds of activities.“

Just a few days ago, Slow Radio also launched a special project, prepared in cooperation with the Prague-based Theatre of Spejbl and Hurvínek, which involves actors reading and performing songs on the background of the real-time sounds of nature.

So, if you feel like having a walk in the forest, while you have to sit in the office, just go to the website, and pretend you are in the midst of the South Bohemian wilderness.