Monday, 30 November -0001

Radio Review: 29 May

Mobile phones drive you mad? Go to Green Bank

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-colour-176Oddly, a radio documentary is probably the perfect medium in which to explain the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile area in the United States completely devoid of radio waves. The lockdown, which has been in place since 1958, is there to avoid interfering with the radio telescope at Green Bank, West  Virginia, and the Sugar Grove military intelligence facility.

At Green Bank, they can pick up faint sounds from milliseconds after the Big Bang. This is only possible because there are no numpties having dull conversations with each other on their mobile phones. In the NRQZ, visitors need to find a public phone box.

In this five-part series of short, floaty, ethereal, impressionistic programmes, photographer Emile Holba met some of the people who live and work in the NR QZ. A local innkeeper said he’d had to install fans in the bedrooms to give guests the option of noise. At first, many find it unnerving, but a full appreciation of the extreme tranquillity soon takes over.

The worry is that this glorious silence, borne out of the space race and the Cold War, might not last. The US Government is considering closing the Green Bank telescope as part of a financial review, and if it goes, the NR QZ is likely to follow. The consensus was that this would be a terrible shame. Even on the basis of these diverting miniature programmes, I have to agree.

The only thing wrong with this programme is the scheduling. It went out just before You & Yours, but would have been far more effective late at night, preferably to be heard under the bedclothes on long wave.

Welcome To The Quiet Zone, BBC Radio 4, available on iPlayer
Louis on Twitter: @LFBarfe or email:

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