“Every year on the midsummer solstice, the BBC broadcasts a special half-hour programme for the scientists and support staff of the British Antarctic Survey Team, positioned at seven permanent bases dotted around Antarctica and South Georgia. Our midsummer is their midwinter, the time of celebrating the deepest darkness at the South Pole, and the tradition of World Service broadcasts began when the only way of communicating with the people stationed there was via shortwave radio.
Nowadays Cerys Matthews presents the programme combining music requests from the base residents with messages from their friends and family and a few famous voices, and it’s available to hear around the world via the World Service. This year it was more poignant than ever. Listening in the midst of a stuffy, still partially locked-down British midsummer, the broadcast was a fresh snowy breeze.
David Attenborough contributed a recording of a blackbird singing in Kew Gardens, sending his own best wishes in the middle of Antarctic midwinter: “the good weather is going to come again,” he said. Lauren Laverne read Emily Dickinson’s poem, The Brain is Wider than the Sky, and Bill Bailey performed a specially composed song about longing for “the bright lights of Antarctica” from muggy London.
The personal messages, though, were the highlight: mums, dads, friends and relatives saying to their loved ones that “I hope you’re fixing more things than you’re breaking”; “I’m glad I don’t have to talk to you about the football”; “So happy you’re doing what you’re happy doing”’; “Get that beard trimmed”; “You continue to inspire us with your sense of adventure – we love you”; “Give those seal pups lots of kisses”; “Love you to the South Pole and back, son”; “Love you lots, darling boy”.
There was a healthy sense of humour about, too. The inhabitants of Bird Island Research Station requested the song “I like birds” by Eels. And there was music from Seal; and Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers. And the final requested track was a note of hope for the returning light: the infectiously cheerful Sunny by Boney M.
Bringing together midsummer and midwinter into one beautiful celebration across the world: how magical is radio?”
(Daily Telegraph via Mike Terry via wor io group)