DROWNING IN ÆTHER

Entry

Today we are on a field-trip, me and a group of radio enthusiast friends. We are visiting an old shortwave radio transmitter. In the 20th century Radio Kootwijk was an important wireless connection point between the Netherlands and its colony the Dutch East Indies. Due to the development of new technologies like satellite communication, Radio Kootwijk lost its relevance as an overseas radio communication facility and was closed in 1966 and is now designated as a heritage monument located in a national park. The road from the highway leads through conifer trees and it somehow feels like entering a Radio Quiet Zone.2 The building is located in a wide open moorland complete with drift sand outcrops and surrounded by forest. In the middle stands Radio Kootwijk’s imposing transmitting station. We park, take all our antennas and radio equipment with us and walk towards the building. The path to the station goes in a perfectly straight line terminating at the building entrance. It makes it feel like I am approaching a temple. The courtyard is walled off, we enter between the two story houses. After taking two steps down we stand in front of the reflecting pool, we have to walk around it to reach the entrance of the building. The ornament on top of the doorway of the concrete tower , a big face paired with two figures holding their ears on top of the lettering “RADIO STATION”, almost looks like the totem of a sacred radio god, a lord ruling during the golden age of radio. Sadly the building is completely empty and all the equipment is gone, the only relics left are some old light bulbs I can see lying on the window sill. After exploring the area around the building, we decide to find a quiet spot along to set up our antennas and attempt to hunt some signals. We follow a hiking path that leads us to a forest glade with clear vision to the radio station. I tune into the UHF frequencies that the Satellite radio pirates use and start recording. At first there is no signal at all. I find that very surprising since we are quite far away from any interference. But within a minute the satellite transponders start to appear in the spectrum analyzer and the pirates appear, active as always. It feels like the antenna needs some time to warm up to be receptive for radio signals. We spent the whole afternoon at this spot, among the trees, lying in the sun, listening to various signals. Jad, a fellow radio researcher, has brought his shortwave radio and scans through the stations, that occasionally erupt into bursts of morse code and voices of radio amateurs. As our signals blend into each other, the noises of a distant military field exercise and the sounds of the natural environment also begin to merge with the radiophonic ambiance. This shapes a vast soundscape at this historically-charged location. It feels uncanny and at the same time poetic, mixing shortwave signals with the SATCOM transmissions that have brought this building to obsolescence.