Fall 2009 – Jan. 2010
“P fyra Radio Stockholm, hundra tre komma tre,” sang the Swedish voices in perfect harmony. “Stockholms största radiokanal” (Stockholm’s biggest radio station), proclaimed a female voice. With that, the P4 station representing the Stockholm area concluded its self-identification. The announcer came on the air to inform listeners that the time was 6:30 in the evening. My Tucson clock, by way of contrast, read 9:30 a.m. At that very moment, the morning sun was streaming in through my bedroom window.
Daylight Saving Time, not due to end in Sweden until October 25, meant that Sweden was nine hours ahead of Tucson. With the end of DST in countries around the world and in U.S. states (excluding Arizona), Stockholm and the rest of Sweden would be a mere eight hours different from Tucson.
Meanwhile, there were news stories to follow. As the weeks passed and 2009 gave way to 2010, weekday programs like “Stockholm idag” (Stockholm Today) and “Klartext” (Clear Text) vied for attention, covering current events not only in Sweden but around the world. Early on in the new year, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti took center stage. Scores died, while damaged and destroyed buildings left countless people displaced. Aid was desperately needed, ranging from medical services to the transport of food and supplies. The news stories followed the progress of this and other developments.
Meanwhile, Sweden, if not exactly beset by earthquakes, had to wage struggles of its own against the forces of nature. In true Scandinavian fashion, the winter of 2009/2010 was proving bitter cold. In the coldest areas of all, largely in the northern part of Sweden, it was not uncommon for roofs to collapse beneath the weight of the snow.
As I labored to decipher the content of the news stories, oral comprehension proved every bit as difficult as I had expected. Why take on a task so fraught with stumbling blocks? As a translator offering professional services since 2007, I had long since grown accustomed to working with documents printed in the languages I worked with — i.e., Swedish and Spanish. However, I wasn’t content merely to read my languages; I wanted to hear them. I reasoned that, in addition to the opportunity to practice — and hopefully improve — my listening skills, I would also gain the valuable opportunity to pick up some vocabulary.
As a southern Arizona-based translator living not far from the U.S.-Mexico border, I had no shortage of Spanish-language stations to choose from using my radio dial, but I knew I couldn’t count on accessing Swedish radio stations the same way. The Internet was my only hope.
At some point — I no longer remember how — I learned of a website that provided links to European live streaming radio stations grouped by country. In the alphabetically arranged country list, finding the Swedish link was not difficult. A click on that link took me to a page boasting several dozen radio stations. (These numbered 90 as of Jan. 23, 2014.) Alongside each clickable station name appeared the city in which the station was located, a brief description of station content, and options for listening live. (Note: Workable listening options are likely to vary, depending on factors such as the speed of one’s Internet connection and the type of live streaming media software available on one’s computer.) Having sampled several different radio stations, I ultimately settled on P4 Stockholm.
My radio listening experience, however challenging, definitely did not disappoint. As hoped, new vocabulary words slowly began to emerge from the comprehension fog. Among other things, I found that, when hearing about earthquakes, terms like “jordbävning” and “jordskalv” were definitely useful to know. Moreover, for those occasions when what I heard proved especially difficult to decipher, P4’s home page, though all in Swedish of course, served as a handy “cheat sheet” by providing postings of the top stories being aired.
News reports were not the only means for increasing vocabulary. One could also listen to the music. I found that the American music scene had definitely made its mark. Over time, I heard a number of U.S. rock tunes that had been popular from the 1960s to the 1980s. Doubtless the American influence stemmed, at least in part, from the fact that since the end of World War II Swedish schoolchildren have received English instruction and have thereby also acquired a taste for songs in their acquired language. However, plenty of songs with Swedish lyrics came onto the air to reward the patient Swedish-language listener. One song in particular, entitled “En annan du” (Another You) by a male-female duo calling themselves Bara Vänner (Just Friends) proved irresistible. I ended up purchasing the tune to play on my computer.
Then there were the children’s programs. The regularly aired quiz show known as “Vi i femman” (We in the Fifth Grade) featured contestants between the ages of nine and twelve years from schools around the country. Show hosts tested the students’ knowledge not only on academic subjects but also on matters related to popular culture.
Those eager to hear stories could tune in to “Barnradio” (Children’s Radio). One series of tales featured an intrepid police chief who happened to be a dog. Known as “Kommissarie Tax” (whose name I would eventually learn meant “Commissioner Dachshund”) he kept busy solving mysteries. For the really tough cases, he received aid from a motorcycle-riding assistant known as “Petra Pudel” (Petra the Poodle).
In one case, a penguin sought the dachshund’s help. With an urgent knock on the door, she cried, “Polis, polis! Någon har stulit min is!” (Police, police, someone has stolen my ice!) She could not imagine why her ice kept disappearing. The police locked up a feline suspect, only to discover that a new hunk of ice again disappeared. How to solve such a baffling case? Hint: A bit of science knowledge comes in handy here.
Another story, Katarina Kieri’s “Det snöar, Astrakan” (It’s Snowing, Astrakan), covers the ups and downs of friendships in the life of an elementary-school-aged girl. In one particularly telling scene, a group of her fellow-students are studying English, a scenario which would definitely resonate with real-life Swedish school children today. Yes, English instruction in Sweden begins in elementary school; it doesn’t wait until high school.
Farmboy Ola, the central character in Viveca Lärn’s “Ett djur på fem bokstäver” (A Five-Letter Animal), is a lifelong animal lover. Animal expert Jack Hanna has nothing on Ola; wherever the latter goes, animal adventures are sure to follow. Such indeed proves the case when he has the chance to accompany his mother and older sister to Stockholm, where they visit Skansen, the city’s open-air museum. While there, Ola falls hopelessly in love with some caged lemurs that he encounters. What happens after that is sure to keep radio listeners (or readers, if one missed the radio broadcast) spellbound.
A nonfictional biography series also aimed at young listeners featured famous U.S. musicians, complete with their lives as children. American listeners tuning in would doubtless have recognized the names of most if not all of the musicians: Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith, Hudie Ledbetter, Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley. Listening to this series, one could easily see how young Swedes might acquire a taste for American music, though, admittedly, I would have liked to hear a series on Swedish musicians.
Epilogue: Jan. 2014 – Present
Some time has passed since my introduction to Swedish-language radio. Although some amount of change is inevitable in that length of time, much has stayed the same. “Vi i femman” and “Barnradio” are still going strong, as is the news program “Klartext.” However, the station’s program listing no longer includes “Stockholm idag”. In its place, one can now hear “Stockholmsnytt” (Stockholm News), which offers much the same coverage.
No doubt about it; the news stories keep on coming. When hard pressed to understand what I’ve just heard, I still turn to the P4 home page “cheat sheet” for aid. In the course of a home page scan one day in early January, a photo posted at the top of the page gave this Swedish American pause.
In recent years, an increasing number of immigrants, including Middle Easterners, have found their way to Sweden. Once settled there, they have often met with a mixed reception, a phenomenon that must inevitably make the news. The new year got off to a disturbing start for one Stockholm-based mosque when vandals carved swastikas in the doors to the front entrance. The photo accompanying this news story, featuring several prominent examples of the dreaded hakkors, provided stark evidence of the deed, if not the perpetrator.
As yet, the police had no suspects. The search for those responsible would likely prove difficult at best. It occurred to me to ask myself: Should they perhaps put kommissarie Tax on the case?
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, one individual at least was not about to sit still. The coming days brought evidence that anonymous acts need not take the form of vandalism and/or hate crimes. Within a couple of days, the original photo featuring the swastikas had vanished. In its place, a new photo, taken of the same mosque, showed, in all their radiant glory, the flowers that someone had placed over the swastikas, thus covering them up. Given my admittedly pro-Scandinavian bias, I would like to believe this the latter gesture represents the true spirit of Sweden.
P4 Stockholm radio station (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=103) (To hear what is currently airing, go to the upper right corner of the home page and click on the arrow appearing below the term “Lyssna direkt.”)
List of Sweden’s radio stations online (http://www.listenlive.eu/sweden.html)
Kieri, Katarina, Det snöar, Astrakan [It’s snowing, Astrakan] (http://www.rabensjogren.se/bocker/Utgiven/2009/Host/kieri_katarina-det_snoar__astrakan-kartonnage/)
Lärn, Viveka, Ett djur på fem bokstäver [A five-letter animal] (http://www.bokus.com/bok/9789129671087/ett-djur-pa-fem-bokstaver/)
Petrén, Elsie, Kommissarie Tax samlada mysterier (Commissioner Tax collected mysteries) (http://www.litteraturmagazinet.se/elsie-petren/kommissarie-tax-samlade-mysterier)