BBC Radio 4 visits the national radio quiet zone in Green Bank

In you live in or around Green Bank, you may have run into a couple of folks with distinctive british accents talking to a variety of folks in the area.  They are Sara-Jane Hall and Emile Holba from the British Broadcasting service Radio 4, in the area to do a story on the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the quiet zone; nothing particularly new about that, as there have been a number of groups who’ve done stories about the quiet zone established by the federal government.

But unlike many of the tv and radio crews that have reported on the quiet zone, primarily focusing on the NRAO and those who’ve moved to the area because of electronic hypersensitivity, Sara-Jane and Emile have gone a step further. They talked to people at the observatory and to the electro-sensitive folks.  But they’ve also talked to many others in the area to get a better sense of the community that lives and thrives here despite what some might perceive as hardship – living without cell phone connectivity.   Sara-Jane explains what they’ve been up to, aside from hoping to see a black bear.

“We’ve been making a program about the telescope and the quiet zone and we’ve been discovering that everyone who lives here, who’ve moved away, and have all come back to live again!” she said. “It’s the best place in the world.”

“Everyone’s so happy!” said Emile. “We feel quite privileged being here in fall, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

Their first day was spent at the observatory, speaking with business manager Mike Holstine and designated “RFI Cop” Chuck Niday, and going on the Green Bank Telescope.

“Going around onto the telescope and meeting all the amazing people and climbing onto the telescope as well which is incredible,” said Sara-Jane.

“Isn’t that an amazing view?”

“It’s an amazing view and today I was very privileged to walk out in the middle of the telescope,” said Emile, “onto the middle of the dish.  And at that point, you realize how massive it is.  I was slightly nervous and it’s slightly flexible as well, it’s really not solid.”

Sara-Jane talked about what brought them to our area.

“The station I work for in the UK, Radio 4, which Emile is coming in as a presenter, we basically make lots of documentary features,” she said. “I know that radio features aren’t so common over here, but we literally go to different places, record material and make stories out of them [and] play them back to people in England and they go on the airwaves on the net as well.”

They’ve also heard from people in the area about their feelings on the lack of cell phone coverage.

“I understand you were at Green Bank elementary this morning…”

“That’s right,” said Sara-Jane, “I spoke to two of the pupils who tell how much they dislike the telescope because it means they can’t have mobile phones.   Just before we left England there was a story in the papers that in China now they’re introducing 2 lanes on the pavement; one for people on phones, one for people not on phones.”

“That’s a lot of status’ to check,” said Emile.

“Yeah, most people we’ve met here sort of talk about going to a restaurant out of the area and hating the fact that no one’s even looking at each other anymore,” said Sara-Jane.

Sara-Jane is an award-winning producer for the BBC. Emile is a photographer by trade and explains how they got together.

“I’m kind of always looking around for a different story,” he said. “And about 18 months ago, I don’t actually remember the source material but heard about the quiet zone and I thought oh that would be interesting.  So I kinda had it round in the back of my head and I had it in my head to be here in the fall, just visually. But I thought well something’s missing just doing a pictoral sort of photo essay and I thought, actually, radio would work.”

“Sara-Jane and I had met a couple of years ago on a joint project in Norway, in winter, with a good five foot of snow.  I dropped her a line in the summer and said look I’ve got this idea, do you think it will run?”

You could say radio is in Sara-Jane’s DNA.

“My dad used to be a reel to reel tape recorder when I was young so I really remember lots of tapes around the house,” she said. “And I think he came downstairs and found me chopping bits of tape into little pieces with scissors to make dolls hair ribbons at some point.  But I always liked radio, and I’ve been doing it for 25 years.”

Sara-Jane and Emile said they will be sure to let us know when the finished product is available for air.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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