Explaining Anton Kats: The Narrowcast as radio format

Anton Kats at Sonic Acts Academy, photo by Pieter Kers
By Katia Truijen “Thank you for tuning in to the first Radio Narrowcast at the Sonic Acts Academy”, Anton Kats proclaims. He switches on the radio transmitter to modulate the waves, and starts playing an opening tune on a bass guitar. Anton Kats uses the radio format of the ‘narrowcast' as a flipped broadcast; a method that questions the one-to-many transmission. The potential power and impact of the radio broadcast has been discussed since Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio drama in 1938. Kats grew up in Ukraine, where radio broadcasts were always very present. News reports about conflict and war in Chechnya, Georgia, Bosnia were transmitted to his home by means of the radio. His grandfather told him stories about World War II, during which he had transmitted data via a radio station, between friendly and hostile territories. Because of the omnipresence of radio, Anton Kats became interested in the medium as a way to deal with difficulties of transmission and 'in-betweenness’. Radio waves are always in-between a transmitter and a receiver. To be in-between territories is often a vulnerable position: while Kats' grandfather was transmitting radio between hostile and friendly ground, he could be attacked from both sides. Kats mentions a project he worked on in Westminster, London, where he noticed people constantly claiming that their voice ‘was not being heard’. This prompted him to make a space within a public space. Stories of students, market owners and neighbors were shared on the spot. This ‘narrowcast’ radio format provided the means to deal with site-specific problems through accessing and distributing useful knowledge and everyday experiences. Last year, Kats created a similar ‘listening space’ in Bloxburgh in Jamaica by setting up a narrowcast radio station. The collaborative station, Bloxburgh FM, is led and directed by the coffee farming community, actively working together with diverse practitioners. This allowed for the development of a self-directed and useful form of representation. By documenting processes and organising a series of radio shows, Bloxburgh FM can tap into the relationships between the absence of a water supply, roads, and education. It remains a self-sustained radio station, currently working on a series of radio shows which are aired on 93.7FM. The self-sustaining aspect of a project like this is crucial for Kats. It resonates with his practice of artistic research, in which he combines pedagogy and art practice as a form of investigation. In order to facilitate the maintenance of existing projects without him being involved as an artist, Kats published Sound Space Downtown: a workbook and user manual. The book opens up the method of listening around suggestions for how to organise sound spaces in different contexts. According to Kats, the Narrowcast has become more about documenting processes and opening up a method for developing learning platforms with radio. It operates in the same in-between space as his grandfather’s broadcasts, transmitting between territories. But instead of that vulnerable position, he has made it a space for empowerment. In a Narrowcast, the transmitter and the receiver are of equal importance to make voices heard.

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