05-12-2004

In today's edition: Radio Prague foreign language transmissions, the winner of November's competition. Listeners quoted: Wilson Cavalcanti, Brazil; Gina Cenkl, United States; Helmut Matt, Germany; Jonathan Murphy, Ireland; Qiu Lei, China; D. M. Cook, Scotland; Kendra Anspaugh, United States.

Welcome to the first December Mailbox. Today we'll announce the winner of our November listeners' competition and you'll also hear the new question for the month of December. That's coming up later but first of all let's read from the email sent to us by Wilson Cavalcanti from São José dos Campos, in Brazil.

"When I was a boy, in the late 1950s, Czechoslovakia was a communist country, I used to listen to transmissions in Portuguese and to receive extensive mail from Radio Prague. Most of the transmissions were filled with politics, propaganda of the regime. But what I cared most was to about Czechoslovakia, its people and its culture! Time went by and eventually your political regime is similar to ours in Brazil, both countries living a democracy. Czechs and Slovaks are separated, but for us you still are together... I was driven to your homepage while looking for information about facts about your old regime, brought to my attention by the excellent movie by Jan Sverak, "Dark Blue World". I wonder whether Radio Prague still has a Brazilian department like in the past. I did not see any mentioning of a transmission in Portuguese on your homepage. Can you send me information about your international transmissions or all you have is already on your homepage?"

Radio Prague currently broadcasts in six languages: Czech, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish. In the past many more languages, including Esperanto, were spoken on Radio Prague's airwaves. Portuguese, along with Arabic, was added in the 1950s. In those decades Radio Prague served as a propaganda tool of the Communist Party and that's why after the fall of communism, from April 1 to May 7 1990, Radio Prague fell silent. The Arabic, Italian and Portuguese for Latin American broadcasts had already been cut. Eight languages had been reduced to five: Czech/Slovak, English, German, French and Spanish. Programmes were cut back sharply and many staff were laid off.

In 1992 a new law made Czechoslovak Radio a public body, and a Czechoslovak Radio Supervisory Board was created to guarantee the station's independence. In 1993, following the division of Czechoslovakia and Czechoslovak Radio, the international service became an independent broadcasting body within Czech Radio. In 1997 there were further cuts planned. All shortwave broadcasts were originally to be closed down with the exception of the Czech and English services; other language services were to be available only via the Internet. Luckily this plan was never realised. In 2000 the budget was raised and Radio Prague was able to launch a Russian service.

More information on the history of Radio Prague can be found at www.radio.cz/en/html/65.html.

But now it's time to get back to Radio Prague's November listeners' competition. We asked you to tell us the name of a famous Czech polka, in fact one of the most famous polkas ever, which was a big hit during the Second World War and is to this day played and sung in many countries of the world under different names. We also asked you to tell us the name of its composer.

Thank you for the multitude of answers you've sent us and as usual most of them were correct. Some of you even think that our competition questions are too easy, for example Gina Cenkl from the United States.

"I think the questions are becoming easier and easier, not requiring too much knowledge or research ability. It's still fun but how about adding 'an extra bonus' question on a little higher level."

Radio Prague's competition questions may seem easy to someone who comes from a neighbouring country or who is a second or third generation Czech but our listeners live all around the world and for someone who doesn't have a Czech background they may be quite challenging. And indeed, we have received some incorrect answers. The mystery composer is not The Polka King" Frankie Yankovich who was an American composer of Slovenian descent, nor the Czech brass music composer and conductor Frantisek Kmoch. The polka in question was not the notorious Chicken dance by the Swiss accordion player Werner Thomas, nor the Trish trash polka, which was written by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss.

Helmut Matt and his wife LindaHelmut Matt and his wife Linda So let's get to the correct answers. Helmut Matt from Germany, who recently visited us here at Radio Prague, wrote.

"I think, you asked for Jaromír Vejvoda. His famous polka is the "Beer Barrel Polka". In Germany it's called "Rosamunde".

Jonathan Murphy from Ireland sent us this answer:

"It's the Beer Barrel Polka of course. The second part of the question was more difficult, but I found the answer: it was composed by Jaromír Vejvoda, originally as Skoda Lásky in 1934."

That's already three different names of the polka but let's hear other answers from more remote parts of the world. Mr. Qiu Lei from China writes:

"The famous polka is Rosamunde or "Beer Barrel Polka". In fact it's got a Chinese name "Pi Jiu Tong Bo Er Ka", which means beer barrel polka."

There's a fourth name, but keep counting with me. Mr D. M. Cook from Scotland sent us this email a few weeks ago:

"The composer of Roll out the Barrel, or Beer Barrel Polka is Jaromir Vejvoda. Out of interest, I was advised at one time by General Alois Siska of 311 Squadron Czech RAF that the song was also known as Modrany Polka and wartime Czechs in Great Britain would remind folk here that the song came from Prague before the war. This being Remembrance Day weekend here I am sure many will recall their wartime Czech friends."

That's already six different names. Modrany, by the way, is a district of Prague. The piece is sometimes called Zbraslavska polka after Zbraslav, nowadays a Prague district where Jaromir Vejvoda was born.

But now let's announce the lucky winner of Radio Prague's November quiz. The winning letter we drew from our mailbag came from Kendra Anspaugh from the state of Michigan in the US.

"The answer to your November quiz question is "Skoda Lasky" by Jaromir Vejvoda. Here in the United States we call it the "Beer Barrel Polka" or "Roll Out the Barrels". When I was a little girl, a friend of mine had a pet bird that would whistle the song when you said so!"

Congratulations, Kendra, and the prize is in the post. This time it is a CD of Czech polkas, including of course the Beer Barrel Polka or Rosamunde or Skoda lasky or whatever you prefer to call it.

We're five days into December now and the Christmas fever can be felt all over the place so why not have themed question this month?

"A famous English-language Christmas carol sings about a kind monarch who was in fact a historic figure, a Czech prince and a saint. Who was he?"

Please send us your answers by the end of December to the usual address, Radio Prague, English Section, 12099 Prague or english@radio.cz.

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