Excerpt from group discussion (focus group) session with soldiers from 7 Signals Regiment (British Forces Germany), Krefeld, Germany, 8th February 1995
(pp. 90-115 [here: 94-96, 110-113] as printed)
Fieldnote: The participating British soldiers (respondents nos. 5-10; aged 22-33 years; anonymised) have just been describing their backgrounds and daily work routines. The interviewer (O.Z.) is summarising what they have just said and is now trying to focus on media
usage (in particular BFBS radio and television). The atmosphere of the interview, taking place in a barracks function room, is casual and jocular although the situation
is slightly awkward for both sides. An officer (J.K., ca. 40 years old) who has been in the forces for much longer than the other ranks is supervising but also participating, thereby at times encouraging his staff to give answers (bias possible). Statements are documented as recorded.
The selected interview section evolves around the theme of the importance of BFBS radio, both on a personal level (work routines, distraction, mood management, morale boosting) and a collective/communal one (staying in touch
with families and other soldiers, feelings of commonality). Respondents' statements also point at particular functions of radio which is perceived as being more intimate and personal than
television. For the soldiers interviewed here, BFBS radio is an integral part of military lifestyle and - on a meta-level - an assurance of Life As We Know It.
O.Z.: So work normally starts at around eight o'clock... [general approval from respondents] ... and goes on until about five o'clock... [general approval] ... and you have [lunch]
breaks at around 12.30...? [general approval] And that's very typical, most people would have that...? [general approval] - When you're at work, where then are you
actually? I mean - is it an office or...?
8: We're everywhere. Inside, outside. [approval]
6: I work in the inside a lot.
O.Z.: ...where you got access to a radio?
6: I just got a radio in the other day to blast it. [laughs]
7: In my office I got a big radio.
5: The workshops have got radios and stuff. Inside and outside.
O.Z.: At what times of the day have you got the radio on, actually?
7: Whenever I'm in the office. Turn it on first thing in the morning, and when I go out it gets turned off. I turn it down quite low so it doesn't bother other people, but I keep it on constantly.
O.Z.: So it's in the background all the time?
7: Yes, it's in the background, and when you want to hear something particular you turn it up a bit.
O.Z.: Is that typical? Do you other guys have the radio on all day as well?
9: Yeah, nearly all the time. I listen to the radio coming in to work early in the morning to find out what the padre ['Just a Minute', a three-minute religious programme at 7.20 a.m.] has in stall... [general laughter] The things he talks about are so wacky
sometimes you want to find out if they're true... [general laughter] Lots of good stories in there... The theme of the story he gives you ... I think about it the whole day.
6: I listen to it first thing in the morning when I get up. When I go to work I don't listen to it. I listen to it when they have the news on or when there is something I want to hear. If there's something
on I don't want to hear I don't switch it on.
O.Z.: What is it that you want to listen to?
6: Sometimes it's a different kind of music that I want to hear. When they don't have that on I don't listen to it. You know, that rave music... When I know that's on I don't want to turn it on.
5: I really listen to it when I work inside. When I go down there there's that box of speakers around the stores. So it's on when I get to work early in the morning. And as long as I work down there,
it's on, I listen to the programmes that come on. Basically a lot of music, a lot of talking. As soon as I work outside - that's it. Apart from one thing. There's a DJ, Steve Mason ['The Steve Mason Experience', a two-hour late-night music show]. He does all that rave stuff
on the weekend. I mean it's Wednesday and Saturday night. And that's just one continuous blast, really. It's stupid music, basically.
J.K.: There's nothing here like Radio 5 in the UK, with sports. BFBS crosses to Radio 5 and takes live sports, football and other things. [My son] tends to listen to that. Because the television service [SSVC-TV, now BFBS-TV]
can't always accommodate everybody's taste in sport. So there's that alternative to listen to the radio.
O.Z.: But that's only on weekends, isn't it?
J.K.: ...and Wednesday. If there's a mid-week match, they'll take it.
O.Z.: So, which station is it that you tune in to? Is it always BFBS 1?
All: [General approval]
8: Yeah, it's BFBS 1. I tune in to WDR [Westdeutscher Rundfunk, German public broadcaster] as well to listen to the travel news. Because you don't always get the travel news on BFBS. You get some good
travel news on WDR, so I tune in to that as well.
6: BFBS 1, all the time.
5: Tuned to that. Never changes. [...]
O.Z.: Do you ever try to find something else on the dial?
5: No. Just BFBS.
O.Z.: How important is BFBS to you? Is it simply like, "Well, that's all we get," or
what is it that makes BFBS important to you?
9: Depends on your job! If you're [stationed] in Bosnia you want to speak to your wife live.
It's like in the business. It's really a brilliant way of contacting people, of passing
messages, a great idea.
5: If you're couple of months out here, like in the workshops, if the radio is
not on in the background, it's just not the same. You can have a conversation with
somebody, but it's still not the same unless the radio is on in the background. It's
just a big hall... You feel uncomfortable without, so you just put it on. And if you're
working with the radio on in the background you say, "Thanks for borrowing the
adjustable. I see you at NAAFI [canteen] break...," and you carry on! You get bored when people
start carrying their own stereos down to play a tape or a CD and hearing the same songs
seven times a week [laughter from other respondents]. Without it there'd be a big
gap! You gotta put on music - in the background. The radio is definitely good for that.
You get a few comments and the music at the same time as you're working, "Tornado just
hit Hong Kong" or something. Good music makes your day just a bit more brilliant,
especially when you're working down in the garage and it's raining, and you carry on
working, and they're playing a song...
J.K.: That's the sort of level that it exists, that it's there! You never doubt
it's there until it isn't. That's the sort of thing we have, really.
7: Most of the workshops have their radio on at daytime. If you go through
compartments you hear echoes of BFBS! They're all listening to it. People put their
personal stereos on the desk, or down there we got that massive big system, one of the
more powerful ones.
J.K.: In units in England you don't hear anything 'cause everyone's tuned in
to a different station. Everybody used to have his radio on and everybody's turning
the volume up to overcome everybody else's sound. So somebody at the senior level
someday said, "Turn it off!" But not BFBS. Because everybody's got the same radio
station tuned in. If you go around the offices they're relatively low. They don't bug
anybody, they're just there as background music. That's an advantage. No one's tuned
to something else.
9: You get big niff if you do... [approval and laughter from other respondents]
O.Z.: Now, if someday, for whatever reason, BFBS would not be there, would be
switched off, what would you do then? Would you...
5: They'll not go.
9: It'll get solved in seconds...
J.K.: It wouldn't happen.
9: Wouldn't happen. Not for more than an hour. Just wouldn't...
6: There are people who are depending ... in all walks of life within the Army...
9: Just think of the poor blokes in Bosnia. I mean - they write to their wives and
all that, but when can they actually send a live message over the radio? To them who are
away from their wives and children for six months or whatever it means an incredible
O.Z.: What would you do if BFBS wasn't just gone for an hour so due to a transmitter
failure but gone for good like when the German government said, "We won't tolerate BFBS
any longer" - what would that mean to you?
7: If you work on your own it's not that critical. I mean when I'm working I
always like listening to the music, don't want to hear someone else's. It's not critical.
But if you're sitting in an office constantly working, it's something there to distract
you, you know, to listen to while you work.
J.K.: The military command wouldn't tolerate [switching off BFBS]. 'Cause they know
the value of it. In the Gulf [War (1990/91)], everything stopped to get BFBS in and work. I gave
up the best part of a week to get antennas and dehumidifiers in and other minutiae, like
CD players, to get radio to the troops. If the war starts, get BFBS on the air! It's
that important. I mean - you don't see it here, but it is. Take it away and you'll see!
Really, so important when you haven't got it.
8: It's one of the best ways to get information to a wide number of people.
Everyone's got the radio on. They can pump one message out and everyone will listen to
7: When there's somebody going on holiday to England they can put on a message on
the radio to contact home. Or he got to contact his unit. If he hadn't got the radio on
he wouldn't get it.
O.Z.: Do you think BFBS is "your" community radio?
9: It's a good means in community and most of ourselves as well.
O.Z.: So you think BFBS fosters some kind of "community feeling" among the Forces?
9: Yes, it does. You know, you got those little units popped around, but they kind
of connect you all during the day.
7: That's what they say: BFBS is the largest radio station in the world because
they provide service from way down in the Netherlands up to Bremen, to Berlin, with the
same radio. People could hear the same person talking in Hanover and you-know-the-place.
It's a lot smaller nowadays, with Berlin gone and the rest may follow. But still a good
O.Z.: What would you think if SSVC Television [now BFBS Television] was gone for good?
8: [Laughing:] That's when I buy a satellite dish.
7: I hope they'll be through with Coronation Street [a popular UK soap opera]
by then! [laughs]
O.Z.: Why not? I mean - SSVC-TV is some kind of Forces Broadcasting as well,
just like BFBS. So why is it less important than BFBS?
5: Television is not quite important. It's not as important as radio during the
7: Correct. It's perhaps changing slightly, but television - you put a film in,
it's a film. Whereas with radio, someone is actually physically talking to you. It's
like, you know, I'm talking to you, talking to him. Whereas a film is just ... not
that personal stuff or what you call it.
9: That's it!
Note: You may use the above passages for non-commercial academic or research purposes.
© 1995, 1997 Oliver Zöllner