Echo of Moscow

Mirny, Russia | C.1990

Photo Credit: Felix Lowe

Echo of Moscow is a 24/7 commercial radio station based in Moscow that broadcasts in many Russian cities, some of the former Soviet republics, and via the internet. This particular station is located in the town of Mirny, the administrative center of the Mirninsky District in the Sakha Republic.

From the first day of its existence, the station has adhered to one rule: “All significant points of view about events should be presented.” They have lived that motto. During the 1991 Soviet coup d’etat attempt, Echo of Moscow was one of the few news outlets that spoke against the State Committee on the State of Emergency. The Committee’s decree on the suspension of Echo’s broadcast is now regarded as a prestigious state award by the station’s journalists.

Later, the special KGB Alfa group made several attempts to cut the radio’s access to their transmitter. But employees managed to connect the studio directly to the transmitter through the telephone line and continue broadcasting.

Most of Echo of Moscow’s content consists of news and talk shows focusing on social and political issues, where the station tries to represent different points of view. Approximately 900,000 people in Moscow and 1.8 million in other Russian regions listen to Echo of Moscow daily.

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The 40,000 people who choose to live in Mirny, a city located about 280 miles from the Arctic Circle, have a number of reasons to listen to the radio. Winter lasts for ten months out of the year, which means enduring an average temperature of −40°F. Turning off the radio and leaving the house for work can essentially mean you’re going to do one thing: find diamonds.

Desperate to recover from the devastation of World War II, in the 1950s the Soviet Union scoured remote Siberia for precious metals. When tests from the desolate outpost of Mirny came back positive for traces of the volcanic rock kimberlite, suggesting diamond deposits, Stalin ordered a mine to be dug there immediately.

Breaking through the surface of Mirny’s soil was no small feat due to its inhospitable temperature and dense permafrost. During construction, the extreme cold shattered the steel machinery and caused oil to freeze. Finally, under pressure from the Kremlin, workers used jet engines to thaw the permafrost and then blasted through it with dynamite.

The resulting chasm is 1,700 feet deep and more than a half-mile wide: the second biggest hole made by man.

The gamble was deemed worthwhile: the mine produced 10 million carats of diamonds per year in its first two decades, 20 percent of which were gem quality. One particularly notable find was a 342.57- carat yellow diamond given the inelegant name, “The 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”

Beginning with a few log shanties created for the original miners, Mirny grew rapidly. Today, the town has everything one needs to survive more or less constant winter. They have a daily newspaper, a library, two theaters, five cinemas, and their very own radio station, 102.4 FM.

The name of the station can be translated as radio from either the “realm of diamonds” or the “edge of the world.” Both names suit a frequency that broadcasts beside one of the largest diamond mines and most gargantuan holes on earth…and is based in Siberia.

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