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Raina Konstantinova, radio’s champion, stepping down at the EBU

March 4, 2012

I have just received word that  Ms Raina Konstantinova is now stepping down as head of the radio section of the European Broadcasting Union.  The organization is re-organizing into a new ‘media’ section that consolidates Radio and Television.

I have had a lot of inspirational moments in my (somewhat intermittent) career as a radio scholar, but one of my fondest was getting to interview Ms Konstantinova, together with my Eindhoven colleague Suzanne Lommers a few years ago.  Two topics stand out to me from that conversation: her own fascinating career in broadcasting in Bulgaria – including being labelled an ‘enemy of the state’ at one point – and her passion for radio.  She recounted the days and weeks surrounding the collapse of communism in Bulgaria, how everyone was walking around with radios glued to their ear, trying to keep abreast of what was happening, even while they themselves were becoming what was happening.

And to her, that’s what radio is: it is the medium that can be anywhere, that can multiply your presence, weave seamlessly into your life, that can change and adapt at the speed of social life.  She insisted repeatedly: the format and the platform don’t matter.   Radio is, and needs to be, everywhere, whether online, broadcast, analogue or digital.  It needs to be involved.  She pushed the EBU to develop all possible technical platforms, and at the same time she helped leverage the EBU’s economies of scale to preserve a wide range of content as well.  Due to efforts from her department, musical forms like jazz and classical music were made viable and valuable in European radio landscapes.

In some ways, during her tenure as the head of radio, Ms Konstantinova developed the post in similar ways to her earliest predecessor, Robert Wangermée of Belgium.  Both worked very hard to explore the properties of the medium of radio, and establish its profile within the organization, and within the member organizations.  After the EBU was founded in 1950, radio faded into the shadow of television for many years.  The organization’s programme committee, ostensibly for both radio and television, concentrated mostly on television.  In the late 1950s, due in large part to the lobbying efforts of Wangermée, a radio ‘study group’ was formed to investigate the new role of radio in the face of television.  This group became an official programme committee in 1964 – nearly a decade after Eurovision was formed.  They began a number of programmes that helped public service radio stations to keep themselves on the map during periods of rapid change in the European radio landscape.

In many respects, the changes of the 1960s were nothing compared to those that occurred since Ms Konstantinova took up her post at the EBU in the early 2000s.  Again, there were lots of questions about what radio would become in an era of internet jukeboxes, podcasts, etc. – not to mention still dealing with the political changes that had occurred with the collapse of state socialism.  A journalist by training (unlike Wangermée, who is a renowned musicologist), her drive while at the EBU has been to keep radio current and up to date.  Ms Konstantinova was both a sign of, and a force for, change at the EBU as well: the first woman to head a department at the EBU, but also the first from one of the former State Socialist countries.

Not many listeners to public service radio stations will know the name Raina Konstantinova, but their experience will have been shaped by the work she has been doing.  I am curious to hear what she will do next.

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