If shortwave had been discovered today instead of eight decades ago it would be hailed as an amazing new technology with great potential for the world we live in today.
This is how former BBC World Service managing director John Tusa is quoted on the pages of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
February 13 was World Radio Day (yours truly wasn’t aware on Wednesday, either). One of the UNESCO articles, Shortwave Broadcasting – Challenges and Opportunities -, written by Oldrich Cip, the High Frequency Coordination Conference (HFCC) chairman, makes quite a case for shortwave radio. Excerpts:
The prospect of rising affluence in many world regions creates an increasing opportunity for this specific delivery platform. Three billion people – or 50 per cent – of world population lives below the poverty line on less than 2.50 USD a day.1 Their first choice of communication devices will be a mobile telephone, a radio or both. For most, listening to a local FM channel, a community station or an international broadcast is still more affordable than a computer, a television or other electronic devices.
Reduced interest and funding of shortwave broadcasting, including the dismantling of infrastructure, will make shortwave broadcasting during humanitarian disasters more difficult or even impossible.
Cip also advocates Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM): Given the dramatic improvement in sound quality over present analogue AM broadcasting, it is anticipated that DRM will soon become the preferred technology for shortwave radio.
Discussing Shortwave Broadcasting and Internet Applications – Competition or Synergy, Cip comes across as somewhat ambivalent (and in favor of shortwave, in case of a doubt):
The presence of broadcasters across all distribution platforms is important for effective worldwide delivery. Audiences are able to personalize their listening experience.
There is evidence that radio is best for live listening —- especially for news, current affairs and sport programmes. Authentic experience is enhanced by listening live to long-distance shortwave radio stations and their programmes.
Radio has a strong emotional appeal. People listen regularly to one or two radio stations only. This appeal of radio has been even more typical in shortwave broadcasting. Enduring bonds and contacts between listeners to shortwave stations and broadcasters have existed long before the advent of social media.
“New delivery platforms” and social media could do a lot to enrich shortwave broadcasts and help collecting user-generated content, writes Cip – but to him, a world without shortwave appears to be unthinkable.
Maybe the emotional-appeal argument is strongly tinged with nostalgia, but I doubt it. I’m much younger than Cip, and many stations have dropped from my map since they went off air.
In his capacity as Radio Prague‘s frequency manager, when asked in 2006 if he was afraid there could perhaps be a loss of political will to continue with shortwave international broadcasting, Oldrich Cip chose a rather diplomatic reply:
Yes, I think that is a preoccupation not only of myself but of other international broadcasters and of people who work in this field. But at the same time I am confident that some form of international broadcasting will survive, and will continue throughout this millennium.
Whatever “some form of international” broadcasting meant. When Radio Prague went off the air (or shortwave, but heck, where’s the difference?) in 2011, Cip was more explicit:
[…] The delivery methods of international radio have diversified, with the internet and satellites, but shortwave has some specific properties, and it is my very strong belief that there will always be a specific segment of the audience that prefers shortwave broadcasting from terrestrial transmitters to other delivery methods. I am afraid that some of the decision makers in some of the big organisations may cause a domino effect, whereby when they start reducing then the smaller ones follow suit. So I am afraid that the reduction of shortwave broadcasting around the world was made quite hastily and is not a good development.
In 2011, Cip was right. And it seems to me that Radio Prague – different from other European station who has signed off as a radio broadcaster in recent years – was quite explicit in acknowledging that they were going to lose listeners:
[…] To those of you who will be unable to listen online, it has been our great pleasure and privilege to offer you this service. From all of our staff, thank you very much for listening, and goodbye.
» Weltrauschtag, Gustlik/DFC, Febr 13, 2013
» VoR terminates shortwave for Europe, Dec 31, 2012
» BBC: Taking back their Gift, Nov 4, 2012
» DW Chinese: Sad Responsibility, Oct 27, 2012
» Radio Canada International Retired, April 9, 2012
» DW, End of the Radio Era, Jan 2, 2012
» Why limit yourself, Chris Freitas, July 27, 2011
» Radio Netherlands: anticipatory obedience, June 10, 2011