THE THOUSANDS of Slovaks and foreigners who listen to the BBC's world radio service received a rude awakening on January 23, Rather than their beloved beeb, they found a local commercial station called Rádio Lumen at 93.8 MHz on their FM dials.
Many called The Slovak Spectator to find out what had happened; the answer, as we discovered on January 25, was that the BBC had been canned for broadcasting in English.
"The Slovak Licensing Council stated that their decision to stop the FM relay service was due to the fact that BBC World Service broadcasts in English, which contravenes Slovak broadcasting law," said BBC World Service spokesman Peter Connors. "Despite representations from the BBC, the licence was not renewed."
Miroslav Lukáč, the legal representative of the Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission, confirmed this is what happened. "According to the State Language Act, broadcasts may only occur in languages which [Slovak] citizens understand, which means either the Slovak state language or Czech, which Slovaks understand," he said.
"But it cannot be in English, because we would have to translate 24 hours a day what was being said," Lukáč told The Slovak Spectator.
"So it was decided that the license would go to Rádio Lumen."
The decision comes as a surprise in Slovakia, where the government has stressed the need for improved language education, and where leading politicians hold up the BBC as an example of public broadcasting excellence.
During a debate on the future of the Slovak Radio public broadcaster, Pavol Minárik, an MP with the opposition Christian Democrats and the chairman of the parliamentary Media and Culture Committee, said that "The BBC has been functioning here since 1947, and it is truly the ideal that we would like to pursue."
The BBC's Connors said the station is not giving up, and that it "would like to continue a dialogue with the authorities with a view to gaining an FM licence for its English language service in Slovakia at a later stage".
However, that it little help to BBC addicts.
"Life feels sort of naked without the BBC," said John Barron, general manager of the Interdean international moving company. "Without it, it's no longer possible to get a reliable English language news source that is also a source of culture and high-quality language education for young people."
BBC World Service English programmes continue to be available in Slovakia via bbc.co.uk/worldservice online and via the Hotbird 2 direct to home satellite service. BBC World television also broadcasts in Slovakia and is available in over half of multi-channel homes.
Even before the BBC was taken off the air, its perch on the radio dial seemed threatened.
Following the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the English-language service and its Slovak team began broadcasting on frequencies in Bratislava, Banská Bystrica and Košice.
However, last year, BBC management in London decided to end their cooperation with the Slovak service and another 10 local services around Europe, and ceased Slovak-language broadcasts on December 20, 2005. It also restricted its signal to the Bratislava frequency, and began 24-hour English content.
On November 6-7 2006, during fall tenders for the issue of frequencies, the Broadcast Council told the BBC it had to request the license through a company set up in Slovakia, which it did, through the firm BBC Radiocom Slovakia.
However, apart from the BBC, another 10 firms entered the tender for the 93.8 MHz slot, which went to Lumen.
"The BBC World Service would like to thank all the listeners across Slovakia that have supported the service since 1939 and encourage them to continue listening online or by satellite," Connors said.
29. Jan 2007 at 0:00 | Ľuba Lesná and Tom Nicholson