Rachel Hopkin

Folklorist and Radio Producer

Radio Recommendation: “Titanic – In Her Own Words”

24 December, 2013

I co-teach a graduate class on “Radio Production and Folklore” at Western Kentucky University. For most of the semester, I’ve been encouraging students to listen out for telling sound and to use it wherever appropriate in their own pieces in order to create rich aural texture.

But a piece from the World Service shows how effective the simplest of language, minimal sound effects and – most of all – silence can be. I played it yesterday to the class and we were all gripped by this account of the Titanic’s sinking told through the wireless messages that were sent that night.

Here’s the lowdown from the BBC website:

“To mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the BBC’s Sean Coughlan narrates one of the most authentic versions of events in existence. Using voice synthesis to re-create the strange, twitter-like, mechanical brevity of the original Morse code, this programme brings to life the tragedy through the ears of the wireless operators in the area that night. On the night of the disaster, the network of young Marconi wireless operators on different ships and land stations frantically communicated with each other across the cold expanses of the North Atlantic in an effort to mount a rescue for the doomed vessel. All these messages were recorded at the time in copper-plate handwriting, now scattered across the world in different collections, but together forming a unique archive.”

The doc lasts 42 minutes (though it currently says on the website that it’s 18’ long) and it’s available to listen online or via podcast. Highly recommended.

One of the original telegrams from the night of the Titanic's sinking