Shortwave offers “the most physical resistance to interdiction of any medium available to international broadcasting”

VOA transmitter site in Greenville, NC

Edward R. Murrow transmitting station site in Greenville, NC

I recently read the following comments by Kim Andrew Elliott regarding the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ strategic move away from shortwave radio. I think Kim is spot-on:

As a shortwave listener for nearly a half-century, I am saddened to see the reduction of shortwave broadcasting, especially by US international broadcasters. As an international broadcasting audience research analyst, however, I see much data showing a decline in the number of of people owning and and listening to shortwave radios. Even in rural areas, audiences are moving to FM radio, television, and mobile phones.

US international broadcasting should employ, if possible, the media preferred by its target audiences. If access to those media are denied in the target country, then the use of more robust but less popular media is necessary. Shortwave can be jammed, but it still offers the most physical resistance to interdiction of any medium available to international broadcasting. New digital modes allow text to be transmitted very efficiently via shortwave, requiring much less power than needed for voice. Shortwave could therefore be an alternative means of delivery when the internet is blocked. (On the subject of internet blocking, see previous posts re Iran and China.)

For future emergencies, when the internet, mobile networks, cable television, and other popular forms of communication will be disrupted, the United States should maintain an interagency global network of shortwave transmitters. These can be used by US international broadcasting to reach key target countries, by the State Department to reach Americans abroad and for public diplomacy tasks, and by the military for information operations and other purposes. The output of each agency would remain separate. Their functions would not be intermingled. The shortwave transmitter network would operate as a common carrier.

No doubt that shortwave radio listenership is on the decline. Still, as we point out so often, many around the world still rely on the medium. Indeed, should those of us who regularly use the internet ever experience a regional/national internet blackout or other potential communications disaster, shortwave radio would be a reliable communications medium of last resort.

Broadcasters (like RCI) should not dispose of their broadcasting infrastructure during cuts.  Kim’s suggestion of an “inter-agency global network of shortwave transmitters” is a worthy option.

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