After 65 years, Radio Netherlands Worldwide has ended its broadcasts aimed at Dutch people abroad. From messages for sailors to special programmes for expats - what has Radio Netherlands meant for the Dutch overseas?
In the Netherlands, RNW is generally thought of as a ‘campsite’ radio station for holidaymakers who want to keep abreast of what’s going on at home. This ignores RNW’s other nine language services supplying information via internet, radio and partner stations abroad. These services are continuing beyond today.
Despite its image at home, the Dutch-language service was much more than just programmes for people on holiday. RNW’s outgoing Editor-in-Chief Rik Rensen thinks it’s a huge loss that distant parts of the world will from today be deprived of radio broadcasts in Dutch:
Dutch domestic tv reported the closing of the Dutch language service:
“Other countries are carrying on with broadcasters such as the BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle and The Voice of America. The Netherlands earns a major part of its gross national product abroad. That’s why you need an international profile and a recognisable voice in the rest of the world.”
Nearly three million Dutch people have emigrated abroad since the Second World War, many of them to North America and Australia. RNW’s Dutch-language broadcasts started in 1947. Early on, when long-distance telephoning was still a luxury, there were RNW programmes allowing relatives to ‘send love from home to our friends overseas’.
Later, RNW increasingly became a news station, providing the latest about the Netherlands - in Dutch. The disastrous flooding of 1953, the Beatles Dutch tour, football successes in the early 1970s, the assassination in 2002 of maverick Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn - Dutch people abroad were able to keep right up to date on it all thanks to RNW’s short-wave broadcasts.
Former Dutch news desk chief Albert Bek still remembers the 1992 plane crash in the Bijlmer suburb of Amsterdam when an El Al Boeing came down on a block of flats, killing 43 people.
“A member of staff called the news desk, reporting that a small spray plane had made an emergency landing on the local IKEA store. The news of course grew and grew and we were flooded with calls from the international media. Radio was the only source of news for Dutch people abroad at that time. No internet or Twitter, just a transistor radio.”
Link with the Netherlands
As well as news, there was also the link with the home country. RNW made programmes on Dutch culture, music, and the Dutch language, and also produced shows aimed at emigrants and expats, and for seamen and long-distance lorry drivers. Since the announcement that the Dutch service was to go off the air, hundreds of listeners have sent in e-mails and letters, saying what RNW has meant to them.
The Meijboom family emigrated to South Africa in 1974:
“The only possibilities for contact back then were air letters and now and again an – expensive – telephone call. Radio Netherlands was a welcome guest every day. We listened to the news, the football results, the family contact programme.”
Natascha van Hattum has been listening since the 1980s and will especially miss her morning ritual in Portugal:
“The whole family wakes to Radio Netherlands and at 7:30 we give extra attention to what the weather will be like.”
Dutch people far from home often seek each other out to share their fervour for the Dutch team during sports events, to celebrate the Dutch version of Father Christmas (Saint Nicholas on 5 December) and to commiserate each other on the lack of Dutch speciality foods. Albert Bek, who still has a little time to run before he leaves RNW:
“It’s always been important for second-generation Dutch abroad not only to hear the language but also to learn about traditions. They get to know about these from their parents, but also from RNW programmes. That will now cease.”
The internet, laptops and smartphones, but more especially the drastic cutbacks implemented by the – now caretaker – government, have all led to the end of Dutch-language broadcasts. RNW’s Dutch department has pulled out all the stops, marking the occasion with a marathon 24-hour broadcast. The day-long programming takes in all the great memories and major news events from 65 years of radio history. “We’re taking our leave with pride,” explains Editor-in-Chief Rik Rensen.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide will carry on – although cut by 70 percent. The new RNW will concentrate on free speech, providing independent information to countries without press freedom in the Middle East, Africa, China and Latin America. Broadcasts in Dutch, though, will be a thing of the past.