View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

The extreme optimism of Balinese radio

By Antonia Quirke

The peaks north of Beratan lake in Bali have different names depending on which village you approach from. There’s no simple answer to the question: “What’s that mountain called?” It could be “Galungan”, or “Lemukih”, the one road winding through thick, high forests of clove and misshapen durian fruit, resembling nail-studded tumours that you split open with a knife to reveal an immaculate whiteness and the smell of old French cheese. I don’t hear a single radio playing in any of the villages. No signal this side of the mountains. Only the afternoon sun casting fantastic shadows on scratching dogs and thin thatch.

Every time I ask my friend Bawa to stick the car radio on he says “not… yet” and taps it, peeved. He knows precisely the crest in the road towards Ubud where it will kick in – just beyond a stall selling eel fritters and sachets of shampoo. Suddenly: a concussion of 40 stations yelling dangdut music and selling herbal drinks for blood pressure.

Nothing can prepare you for the energy of the Balinese daytime radio host; the air of tyrannical melodrama. Egging on callers to greater confessions, mostly concerning unattainable lovers, sometimes conducting part of the conversation on WhatsApp and reading it out as though it was breaking news at the scene of some catastrophe. (“Report yourself to the police!” hoots a host. “You’re stealing that man’s soul!”) Most stations include something “for the lovelorn”, even Heartline 92.2 FM, which has evangelical Christian backing, and especially likes to remind listeners to be better drivers. Nobody mentions politics.

Radio in Bali is purely a pick-me-up. Occasionally an ad for an Australian gardening firm hints (somewhat ominously) at sponsors over the water, although there’s currently no predominantly English-speaking AM/FM station reliably broadcasting on the island. Nothing to cater to the now surely unstoppable cataclysm of young, white, hard-nosed Instagrammers and post-Airbnb hot-deskers cluttering the cafés. For now they seem happy to tune into stations such as Oz Radio Bali, where the hosts talk in Indonesian about skateboarding and innocently play George Harrison. And yet… everybody is waiting.

Content from our partners
Can Britain quit smoking for good? - with Philip Morris International
What is the UK’s vision for its tech sector?
Inside the UK's enduring love for chocolate

This article appears in the 03 Apr 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit wreckers

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.