Radio Exterior de Espana (REE/RTVE) plans to close down its shortwave radio transmission site near Noblejas. This means that Spanish foreign radio would no longer be on shortwave at all. There had been guesses that REE shortwave would close down on September 30. Now, it is suggested that broadcasting may continue until mid-October, according to Glenn Hauser‘s audio magazine World of Radio, October 2 edition (downloads here).
One may wonder how many means of communications are abandoned because they aren’t considered cool anymore. And one may also wonder how many things may be kept in use without a great deal of debate because their virtues seem go without saying.
The World doesn’t revolve around Europe
It depends on where you are. When it comes to shortwave broadcasting, it depends on whether you are in Europe, or whether you are in Asia. Try the cheapest shortwave receiver you can lay your hands on, wherever in this world you may currently be, and you will get tons of signals from China – some from the domestic service for the need to reach remote areas within the country, some for the external service China Radio International (CRI), and some simply to jam “hostile” stations like Falun-Gong operated shortwave transmissions from Taiwan.
Either way, Beijing demonstrates that shortwave matters in China.
India, too, depends on shortwave for reaching remote territories within the country (and in some areas, Naxalite activities, too, may make it advisable to bridge certain distances by AM signals, be it medium- or shortwave). According to Adventist World Radio‘s (AWR) Wavescan program on August 10, quoting statistics from four years earlier, All India Radio (AIR), the country’s main radio network, operated 54 shortwave transmitters, 149 medium-wave transmitters and 172 FM transmitters in about 2010.
Time will show how serious DRM – digital radio mondiale – will get as a technology in India – four years ago, there were discussions to convert some ten percent of the existing shortwave transmitters to DRM capability.
On the 2014 National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters (NASB), an American organization, George Ross, frequency manager at the shortwave broadcasting station KTWR in Guam, told an audience that besides India, the largest group of listeners to the station’s DRM shortwave signals were Japanese. On August 31, AWR broadcasted excerpts of the talk earlier this year in Greenville, N.C., where Ross enthused about India going DRM – and how Japanese shortwave listeners responded to tests actually targeted at India. It was also Japanese listeners, according to Ross, who conducted a survey that eventually justified KTWR DRM broadcasts in Japanese.
If there is an industrialized country where shortwave still matters, it’s Japan. The survey provided from KTWR’s Japanese listeners suggested that there would be 11,000 listeners to Japanese DRM broadcasts from Guam right away, with a lot of growth potential once such broadcasts began. The two most likely locations in Asia where shortwave would be listened to, in Ross’ view, were India and Japan.
The story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that both Jeff White, the producer of Wavescan, and George Ross, are dedicated to shortwave. Jeff White owns WRMI, a shortwave station in Florida, and both he and George Ross take a great interest in DRM as a measure to make signals both more reliable and much more energy-efficient. If Indians will start to use DRM receivers to a large scale any time soon, if a critical number of Indian listeners can afford DRM receivers or if the Indian state would subsidize DRM-ization of the audience side remains to be seen – these are a lot of “ifs”.
But to me, the most thought-provoking issue here isn’t if the future of shortwave will be analog or digital. It is that there seems to be a future for shortwave at all. And what is even more food for thought to me is that India, Japan and China are places where shortwave broadcasting matters and where it continues to matter. Places where – according to conventional wisdom – the future is.
Where’s the Strategy?
When Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, discontinued shortwave both to Europe and to the Far East, at least they had a strategy. It wasn’t a smart one – or, at any rate, to tell the world that old listeners didn’t matter anymore – unless they were opinion formers or opinion leaders in the target areas (guys considered to have regular access to the internet) doesn’t look terribly smart to me. You can be pretty sure that many of those people who are going to make big decisions in China tomorrow do not have access to the internet today.
But REE doesn’t even seem to have a strategy at all. They just want to save – reportedly – 1.2 million euros per year. That’s why they want to close down their shortwave transmission site.
That’s no intelligent decision. And at home, it isn’t helpful either.
After all, shortwave is technology that is easy to grasp, even for absolute beginners. If engineering is an interest Spain wants to encourage among the kids, to throw shortwave away looks like no great idea. To retain existing listeners is much more effective than gaining new ones – although the latter business shouldn’t be neglected either.
In terms of tech, it’s hardly a coincidence that Japan is one of the most avidly shortwave-listening countries. Nor does it look like a coincidence that Germans, people from a comparatively successful economy, on a private basis, keep their country on the shortwave map with a number of small shortwave transmissions (rule of thumb: 1 kW-transmitters).
In the words of Ralph E. Gomory, a mathematician from the U.S.,
[w]e need successful industries and we need to innovate within them to keep them thriving.
Gomory didn’t mean to make a case for shortwave. But if you want to keep an interest in technology awake, among the public in general, and among the young in particular, make sure that there’s applied, easily comprehensible communications technology around.In that light, even during times of economic and political troubles, a transmitting site like Noblejas should be considered an opportunity, not a liability.