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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Victor Goonetilleke: A Life of Knowledge

Today, the 29th Day of November 2011, our beloved DXer and friend Victor Goonetilleke from Sri Lanka is celebrating his birthday. Victor is a Technical Monitor at Frequency Management (IBB) at Voice of America and a veteran Dxer from South Asia who started playing with radio sets at the age of 13 and till today he is serving the international radio community from his heart in many ways. He is a keen BC-DXer and Amateur Radio operator and operates under call sign 4S7VK. Radio is like another religion for this man and today he is inspiring many young DXers and Shortwave listeners around the the to experience the romance of radio tuning. This great teacher and friend of many new generation DXers is a precious resource for DXing as well as he is a very kind hearted, humble and culturally very sound person, which is really rare in today's world.



Several days back I requested Victor Goonetilleke to give me an online interview and today on his birthday he surprised me by spending hours in answering my questions in this interview. As a DX student of Victor sir, this gives me immense pleasure in publishing this interview on this special day in his life and this is my birthday gift to our beloved Victor Sir. Hope you all will enjoy this and also eagerly looking forward to your comments on this. 



Prithwiraj: Tell us how you have been attracted towards radio hobby of SWLing and DXing?


Victor:
I think DXers are born and not made. That love for radio, the romance and excitement of contacting or hearing distant signals is in our blood. It has to take something to make it come into the open. My father was an avid listener to foreign stations, and foreign lands always fascinated me and before getting into listening to foreign broadcasts I used to correspond with pen pals because we did not have a radio at that stage. The US Presidential election of 1960 and John F. Kennedy made me listen on my own. I was 13 years old then.


Prithwiraj: In those days the Digital receivers and modern means of communication like Internet and email were not available and people did everything by those analogue equipments and by post, but still they were more successful as DXers. Can you please share with us your experiences as a DXer in those days?

Victor: Our first radio was a 3 band domestic, valve radio with 2 SW bands and a magic eye for tuning. You could be as much as 200 kHz off the real frequency. But as you get along you improvise. A strip of graph paper even subdivided would be pasted over the front panel and marking known station and their frequency enabled me to be about 20kHz closer to the real frequency, but it was impossible to calculate frequencies. You had to first hear the station, unlike with today's digital portables even where you tune to the frequency and wait for the station!

I wouldn't say we were more successful those days. Definitely not, but there were many more stations, especially domestic SW broadcasters on the tropical bands. Therefore picking up new countries was easier than today. However, we had to work very hard. We learnt the art of propagation, thus we knew as experience gathered when a station could be heard. So after the easy stations had been picked up we had to plan our dx catches on the drawing broads as it were, and wait for them to propagate because we had exhausted our radios capabilities more or less. Before I got my first communications receiver in 1970 August 18th I had heard 117 countries and QSLd most of them. Of course stations would readily QSL those days compared to today.



Victor receiving Award from Dr. Adrian M Peterson for AWR First DX Contest 1980s.


Prithwiraj: Would you like to share with us your memories as a SWL and DXer? Also tell us something about UADX and other associations which you formed in the past to promote DXing.

Victor: The years were thrilling as well as very frustrating. I would dream of getting a better radio but I just couldn't ask my father to buy me a radio. That was unheard of, almost like today asking a parent for a computer, and definitely not a second computer!! It was also very despairing when I saw foreign DXers reporting catches from my neighbourhood and mentioning frequencies when I could hardly hear them leave alone measure a frequency close to +-5 kHz. But the thrill for a teenager to hear a new country and to get a new QSL lasted many weeks and was some compensation for the lack of a good receiver. The domestic sets could not handle big antennas as they would produce images and cross modulation and you wondered whether you heard some image or mixing product and not a new station.

UADX was formed after the Ceylonese SWL Club. As the name suggests the SWL club was just a listeners club did not last long as there was little participation from members. They expected us to provide schedules and information and even help to rig antennas. After 3 years of the SWL club we closed it down and gathered the few dedicated DXers and formed a specialised DX club, called the Union of Asian DXers. We concentrated on the harder to hear stations, reporting new stations, frequencies and other developments. We were no more a club listening to what other people reported, but setting the pace for others. We felt that there was a need to provide dxers worldwide with good and fast information. By then my mentor Sarath Amukotuwa and I had graduated to communications receivers, had ample experience about the International dx-scene and I would say even sought after by the freign dx community as reliable experienced dxers. We were also invited to take part in foreign dx magazines and club ads guest members. That gave us a launching pad and friends all over the DXing world. So UADX was the source of Asian information.


Sharing Lesson on Tsunami disaster communications, as guest of JARL at The Japan Ham Fair 2005 was held at Tokyo. 


Prithwiraj: You are one of the most experienced broadcasters and DXers from South-east Asia and you must have seen many ups and downs in this field till date. can you please tell us the difference between the radio scenes of yesteryear and today? Which period of time would you consider the Golden era of Shortwave broadcasting and why?

Victor: Well before the Internet and Satellite TV radio was the only means of information other than the print media. So, naturally radio was the king of the media. Radio was not only a source of information and education, but a powerful weapon in the cold war era. There was a lot of jamming and even crude propaganda on the airwaves. Millions were spent and invested in short wave broadcasting as opposed to the cut backs we see today. Clandestine broadcasting was also at its peak and I would say the crumbling of the Berlin wall was a watershed in international broadcasting. From then onwards it has been a bit down hill. However, broadcasting has become more sophisticated now than 35 years ago while losing its unchallenged position.


Prithwiraj: Sir, you were associated with RNW and its great DX program Media Network for a very long time. Would you like to share the story of your association with RNW and those lovely days when you were a regular contributor to Media Network? 


Victor: Short wave listening had a boom in South & South East Asia with the introduction of the transistor radio and the dx programme of Radio Nederland started to receive a huge response from Asia. Before an Asian DX Report was introduced there were only Pacific DX reports by Arthur Cushen, North American DX Report by Glenn Hauser, African dx report by Richard Ginby and a Belalux dx report by Marten Van delft as far as I can remember. They invited Greg Calkin who was the first secretary of the Canadian H.C. in Karachi to produce a dx report for Asia in 1973 or so as a stop gap until they could find a regular reporter from the region. When Greg was leaving for home he asked me to take over. After a voice test I was selected and my first DX report for DX-Juke Box was in December 1974.

A couple of years later Jonathan Marks was commissioned to change it to a media programme and we all know how he revolutionized the programme as Media Network. I think that is a story in itself.


Presenting Media Network DX Report at RNW Studios August 1989


Prithwiraj: Are Media Network past programs still available in the archival form on the web? If yes, please guide how one can listen to them.


Victor: Yes many of the programmes are archived by Jonathan Marks in http://www.jonathanmarks.libsyn.com/. I am sure anyone will enjoy the programmes as they were just not dx tips but real media stories which are still so current and exciting.


Prithwiraj: You are still associated with IBB monitoring team. Would you like to share your experiences monitoring IBB and other radio stations? Please tell us how IBB system works.

Victor: Serious Monitoring is quite different to DXing, though being an experience ed dxer is a tremendous advantage. Here we are not talking about catching rare dx, but working with the major broadcasters like IBB(VOA/RFE/RL/RFA/Radio Marti) to guarantee a good listenable signal to the average listener. I think a detailed account can be accessed at http://monitor.ibb.gov/IBB.pdf


Prithwiraj: Sir, I have heard that you are a HAM as well and you are also the owner of only Persuas receiver available online from the Subcontinent. Tell us about these. Why did you decide to become a HAM after pursuing DXing for so long? Also would like to know about that HAM society of yours in Sri Lanka and its contribution towards society.


Victor: I think it is natural for any serious dxer after picking up signals from stations to also want to transmit and experiment with radio signals. I always think that first you have to be a listener before going into transmitting. Today with the abolition of the Morse Code as a requirement for a Ham(Amateur License) any body with a smattering of electronics can pass the examination in a matter of weeks. It not only degraded the Amateur Service, but also saw people becoming radio amateurs who soon lost the interest as they were not dedicated people who wanted to get into communications through sheer love for it. Easy come easy go as we say. Amateur Radio is not just a hobby but a service and it can play a vital roll in disasters like the Radio Society of Sri Lanka(RSSL) showed in the Tsunami on December 2004 that when all other modern communications fail, simple HF radio can play a life saving part. The RSSL was awarded the coveted "Golden Antenna Award" for disaster communication for 2004.


Receiving the "Golden Antenna Award 2004" for Tsunami Disaster Communications on behalf of the RSSL as President of the Radio Society of Sri Lanka, from the Mayor of Badbethiem DNAT (Association of German & Netherlands Amateur Radio Clubs. Germany June 2005


Prithwiraj: These days many people officially or individually monitor frequencies of different radio stations, but so many end up only filling up the reception report forms as prescribed by a particular station. Can you please give some tips to our new generation of DXers on how to proceed to monitoring any station frequencies and how to write an useful reception report.

Victor: Well there are two types of Monitors. One who undertakes to voluntarily and regularly watch the station's frequencies on a normal radio set and inform the station on a regular basis, as stipulated by the station for which the station will reward by sending gifts and souvenirs. You do not need vast experience and sophisticated equipment to do so and you can report when ever you have the time.

Professional monitoring is a totally different thing undertaken with a firm commitment and when you have the skills to really help the broadcaster. The IBB article will enlighten people about this aspect of monitoring.

Prithwiraj: In the Subcontinent the SLBC was the pioneer in radio broadcasting. Would you like to tell us about the Golden days of SLBC and its contribution to radio broadcasting in the Subcontinent? How is SLBC doing at present?


Victor: Radio Ceylon was a pioneer in external commercial broadcasting. In a way it happened accidentally one could say. When SEAC Radio was closing down after the war years from the Ekala transmitting site the transmitters were gifted to the Ceylon government. Ceylon had an excellent English commercial service on the "local beam" as they called it then, which was listened to by many in South India and as far up as Goa and Bombay. Therefore it came naturally to go in for commercial external broadcasting and it was an instant success. Listener's letters and postcards for musical requests came in bags of several hundred a day from India. Reception was excellent and broadcasting standards were set, I might say for the whole of South Asia. Radio Ceylon was a household word.

Well SLBC is a ghost of what it was then. Mainly because of changing media delivery and India picking up with commercial broadcasting with the Vividh Bharthi programme and vast improvements in the domestic broadcasting scene in India. This resulted in a steep drop in revenue and along with poor management I might add that the SLBC's All Asia Service in both English and Indian languages is on the verge of total collapse. The emergence of commercial private broadcasting hasn't helped the situation either.


Prithwiraj: Sir your wife has always been a great source of inspiration for your work and heard that she helps you a lot in every aspects of life. Tell us about her and how she has been your inspiration in the way of your life. If you don't mind tell us something about your family and your loved ones.



Victor: Yes my wife and meeting her I would say was also a turning point in my life. She is a very educated English teacher, a terrific personality, not only as a house wife but a professional in many fields. She has been very supportive and also a great hostess when I have my radio visitors in our home-Shangri-la.

Here is a video made by Jonathan Marks  at the time of visiting Shangri-la in 2003. You can see the video clicking the following link : http://vimeo.com/7924483

I have three children, the eldest who is a qualified architect and a novice class radio amateur as well, is married to an IT specialist who is a full class radio amateur and live in Australia with their 4 year old son. My daughter though is more into professional photography.

The elder of the two son's is a crazy motor racing enthusiast and also works in that field working as the General Manager in a motor firm and my youngest son is close to finishing his masters in Counseling and university administration in the USA.

Prithwiraj: You are a very active member and mentor of Indian DXing Corporation Forum in the Facebook and always encouraging many young SWLs to become quality DXers. In your opinion how these present day DXers should nourish their art of DXing and what they should not do? Shall be happy to get your valuable advise. Do you have any future plan for these young DXers or for the DX forum in Facebook?


Victor: To be a good dxer one has to be dedicated like in any field. You must read a lot and learn from the experiences of your predecessors and also contemporaries. You must grow with your hobby and not be static. Don't let your equipment limit you. As you gain experience you must get better equipment and also your knowledge must advance. Learn the technical side of the hobby, at least to use a soldering iron and learn antenna theory and above all radio propagation.

Face Book is a tremendous interactive forum. Some older people frown at Face Book and similar social media., but when used well with proper privacy setting is a wonderful way of exchanging information and being in touch with people. To be very honest my interest in serious dxing has been somewhat rekindled thanks to Face Book radio related groups. I am sad many of my long time DX associates are missing the fun of the hobby due to not being on Face Book. To an extend the Yahoo Groups replaces the printed bulletins and Face Book related groups have even replaced Yahoo Group type reflectors due to the ease with which information, pictures , video and sounds can be uploaded. I hope people will look at these groups in a renewed perspective.


Prithwiraj: Last but not the least, in your opinion what is the future of radio broadcasting, specially shortwave broadcasts, in the world?


Victor: It is hard to answer this question in a phrase or two. It is a case of money as many traditional broadcasters struggle with their economies and resultant budgets. There will always be a good market for excellent programmes with a good signal be it via analog or digital DRM. Whether the broadcasters have the will to do it is another matter. Management like to believe that going on the Internet is cost effective and also transferring a part of the of the cost to the listener is the answer. However I think otherwise. As I have always said when a major broadcaster goes off the airwaves they go from being one of the 5 or 6 strongest signals on the air to being lost among the millions of websites or voices on the Internet. The day they go off the airwaves they cease to exist like many European broadcasters.

The Rapid-fire Round

=> Your Favourite radio station: Voice of America

=> Your favourite radio program: All VOA Special English programmes.

=> Your Favourite DX program: AWR Wavescan amongst the very few left.

=> Your best earned QSL: A few very hard ones. Falkland IBS. 4VEH Haiti on SW

=> Your favourite station signature tune: Hard to say.

=> Your favourite Interval signal: Vatican Radio.

=> Your idol DXer: Its not fair as many helped me along the way and I admire many from whom I have learnt much and still do.

=> Your favourite broadcaster: Jonathan Marks

=> Your favourite receiver and antenna system: Perseus SDR and LF Loop designed by 4S7RO my brother.

=> Your best moment in DXing: My first visit to EDXC Stockholm as guest of honour of Radio Sweden.

=> Your worst moment in DXing (if any): DXing has brought me endless joy.

=> Your most cherished award: International DXer of the year 1993 by the ANARC Association of North American Radio Clubs.

=> Your DX philosophy: In my hobby pursuits "Be honest to thyself that thou be not false to others"



Prithwiraj: Sir thank you so much for spending your valuable time for me and this interview and also thank you so much for being with us as a friend and mentor always.

3 comments:

Partha Sarathi Goswami said...

WoW, its an exclusive interview and so nice to read every words. Thanks a lot!

Madhukar - VU2MUD said...

Great work Prithwi - you have all the makings of an upcoming journalist ;)
Thanks for the effort in bringing out this interview!! We are greatful to both you and Victor!!

Harald - DL1ABJ said...

Thanks for the interview. I have met with Victor many years ago at an EDXC conference in Denmark. And last year I was lucky enough for meeting him on the 20 m amateur radio band for a short talk. Nowadays we are in contact through e-mail. He really is a great guy and a well-known DXer.
Regards from Germany
Harald - DL1ABJ