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The Cost of Coal

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 22 January 2011

The media's fascination with mining disasters is nothing new. In 1936 in Moose River, Canada, a mine entrance collapsed when a tree fell over the shaft. It was assumed the men were dead. Five days later a faint tapping was heard. Canadian radio sent a journalist, J. Frank Willis, to start a live hourly broadcast from the head of the mineshaft, which was carried on 650 radio stations across North America. This was three quarters of a century ago and a turning point in radio history.

In 2010, there were times when it was hard to remember that the situation at the San Jose copper mine in Chile, where 33 men were awaiting rescue, was reality, rather than reality TV. The media circus that descended on the Atacama Desert - setting up camp at the top of the mine - created an atmosphere, at times, almost of a game show. Yet the mine disaster in New Zealand that followed shortly afterwards, with its tragic outcome, disappeared swiftly from the front pages and TV headlines of the world. The thought of such confinement underground is almost unthinkable, unless a splinter of light can pierce its darkness - bringing home to the audience the possibility of salvation.

The fear and exploitation of fear of being trapped underground - from real life to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe - is reflected here, using sounds, media archive, the words of the mining poet and blogger Mark Nowak
(http://coalmountain.wordpress.com), coal miner Willie McGranaghan, and Newfoundland sound man Chris Brookes. The very natural fear nascent in all of us of being buried alive, and the contradictions in the low-status dangerous work of the miner, and the treasure it produces, are powerful themes which create the most compelling horror fiction and news stories alike.

Producer Sara Jane Hall.

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