Cable TV is a relatively new innovation, but Russia has had cable radio for decades. Radio-points in Soviet kitchens were a cheap and efficient way of ensuring that every citizen had access to the news. This week, I'll take a look at that issue, as well as the Russian auto industry and Soviet phone-tapping.
Q: Long before we had cable TV in the United States your country had cable radio practically everywhere. Could you give me some details? Richard Robin, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
A: Cable radio was popular in Soviet times because it was so much cheaper than buying a radio set. All you needed was a primitive cardboard loudspeaker.
The first regular radio broadcasts began in our country in 1924. The first regular cable-radio carrying one station started a year later, in 1925. All through the war and after, they carried one station. In the early '60s we began equipping most apartments with three-station cable radio. My home, built in 1965, has a three-station cable radio, which stands on my refrigerator, though I seldom use it. I listen to TV news and such stations as Radio Liberty, V.O.A. and the B.B.C.
There is a small fee for cable radio, which is included in your rent. They are built into homes like electricity or hot water, and people do use them. One-station cable radios still predominate. As for the number of regular radio sets in use, there are as many sets as there are people. The most popular station is Radio Rossii, or Russia's Radio, with an audience of 40 million. It is on button one of my cable radio. Button two is Radio Mayak, and button three a lesser-known station.
Q: Tell me a bit about motoring in Russia, and do your automobile manufacturers work with foreign companies? Dean Lipe, Rogersville, U.S.A.
A: Our average gallon of gas costs about $1. There are more expensive and cheaper fuels too. We measure gas in liters, not gallons. Of the Russian cars I would say the Volga is the most dependable. As for our manufacturers working with foreign companies, the biggest project will be the Opel-Astra scheme at Tolliati on the Volga. We will also be producing the Chevy-Niva, 75,000 of them a year. We produce BMWs at Kaliningrad; the Daewoo-Espero in Rostov and Taganrog; also, the Opel-Vectra, a GM car. But that is not all we also produce the Renault-Megane and Renault-19, the Ford Focus and Fiat.
Q: We used to hear how under communism people's phones were tapped and homes searched without a warrant, while "inconvenient" people were sent to mental hospitals. How bad was this situation? John Devon, Pasadena, California, U.S.A.
A: What you describe was characteristic of the post-Stalin period. Yes, some people were sent into internal exile like Sakharov, and some had to go abroad, like Solzhenitsyn. Some did land in mental hospitals. But mass arrests and executions stopped after Stalin. You mention tapping phones as well, but these are, shall we say, minor post-Stalin violations. You forget the 40 million who suffered from Stalin's repressions in one way or another: The Gulag camps, the executions of millions of innocent people, the complete lack of human rights, and the deportation of whole nations, and you talk about the tapping of phones!
(E-mail Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.)