Tag Archives: Jonathan Groubert

“The era of short-wave radio is behind us” and other inaccuracies from the new RNW

RNWRNW announced “A new Radio Netherlands Worldwide” just yesterday on their website; here is their announcement in its entirety (my comments follow).


“This coming year is an important one for RNW. A year in which, at the age of 65, we will be reinventing ourselves. Our new Editor-in-Chief William Valkenburg officially begins today; he looks to what lies ahead of us in 2013.

“The era of short-wave radio is behind us; satellite and Internet are the communication channels of the future. The worldwide dissemination of information is no longer the exclusive domain of specialised broadcasters. Via internet, anyone anywhere can reach out to the world with a good story.

“That doesn’t mean journalists and broadcasters are redundant; quite the contrary in fact. Huge amounts of information are available more and more quickly and via all sorts of different channels. The need to filter, analyse and investigate all this information remains the same while the goalposts of journalism have moved completely.

Active link
“Our public is no longer a passive audience that very occasionally might write us a letter, but an active link in the process of newsgathering and distribution. Our public engages actively in discussion and has stories that are worth telling. They help us filter by letting us know what is or isn’t relevant to them. And via social media, our public spreads our best stories further abroad.

“RNW will have to forge a strong and unique identity if we are to win a place as a visible force in the new media landscape. Focus and specialisation are key. Free access to information, freedom of expression, good governance, and civil and sexual rights are the pillars of the new RNW: universal themes we’ll be tackling with an individualistic Dutch approach. We’ll be focusing our work in areas where freedoms are limited and aiming to appeal to a younger generation that is increasingly tuned in to new media.

New stories
“2013 is Year Zero for the new-look RNW. A year in which we’ll be looking more than ever to strengthen cooperation with our partners and audiences in China, Latin America, Africa and the Arab world. A year in which we’ll be actively looking for new ways to find and tell the stories that are important to our audience, and in which our audiences will be encouraged to play an ever more active part. A year in which we’ll be pushing ourselves to cement the ties with our audience and our themes. A year, in short, of dialogue and renewal.”


And, unfortunately, of short-sighted misstatements and errors. No doubt, SWLing Post readers know how we feel about this–it’s a recurrent theme in many of our posts.

Shortwave is not behind us, but RNW’s ability to listen may be.

As a shortwave radio broadcaster, RNW arguably had a dedicated listener pool in the millions. Of course, it’s hard to know, because those living in poverty and those living under repressive regimes–millions of listeners–who lack free internet access and whose free speech is regularly quelled, don’t have the ability to cry out, “We’re listening–!”

Millions of ears are still tuned to the static you recently vacated. Outreach in all forms–even via shortwave–is vital, and communication with those still without Internet or freedom (or the voices to tell you so) is a form of diplomacy more valuable than any money spent to achieve it.

RNWin2013Perhaps host of the previous RNW’s acclaimed program The State We’re In, Jonathan Grubert, had a point when Jonathan Marks interviewed him on the night of RNW’s final shortwave broadcast. Marks asked if RNW had stayed on shortwave too long, to which Grubert responded by saying, “Yeah, I think Radio Netherlands stayed on shortwave too long.” I think Grubert believed that RNW had remained faithful to shortwave at the expense of resources required for other contemporary and future media. And at the expense of their future.

As much as we hate to admit it, he was probably correct…in part. The fact is, the previous incarnation of RNW should have focused on making their shortwave broadcasting arm more lean and efficient, in order to continue to target parts of the world that need it most, while diversifying their media delivery systems to include the Internet, satellite and wireless in all forms. Instead, the organization failed to adapt, and funds were cut completely, leaving RNW gutted. But the lesson is apparently not learned:  the new but-not-proved RNW seems to be putting all its eggs in one (Internet) basket, as well.

Indeed, this is the problem with shortwave broadcasting in general.  Many broadcasters developed their transmission infrastructure either during WWII or in the Cold War, when countries were willing to invest vast sums of money in order to have their national voice heard. Broadcasting sites were never intended to be efficient: resources were either cheaper when the services were initiated or efficiency simply was not a concern in the days before fiscal cliffs.

Today, it’s true that shortwave radio is on the decline in many parts of the world, particularly first-world countries. In the great pie chart that represents all of the content delivery systems an international broadcaster has at their disposal, the shortwave slice should be thinner, while Internet and wireless-based systems must also be included. Diversification is key.  Indeed, I would also argue that a small, separate slice of the budget should be reserved for future HF content delivery systems–such as innovations that are based upon the shortwave radio medium and existing infrastructures. We’d like to think that many are doing this now. After all, shortwave is still the only international communications medium that is resilient to jamming and thus to censorship.

What’s obvious is that shortwave is still highly relevant to those who rely on it, just as the Internet is crucial to the future of international broadcasting. There’s a false dichotomy in the “shortwave vs Internet” argument, and broadcasters and the governments that support them are fooling themselves if they think cutting shortwave will lead to their fiscal salvation and a promised future in new media technologies. One might as well argue the relative merits of wealthy versus poor, or of first world nations versus third because that’s where the divide takes place…Does the former have more “right” to information than the latter?  “Free access to information, freedom of expression, good governance, and civil and sexual rights are the pillars of the new RNW.” Already, the first “pillar” of RNW is crumbling under its complete dismissal of shortwave–a tested and effective international content delivery system that requires no subscription and streams at the speed of light.

We found at least this statement from their announcement to be accurate:

“RNW will have to forge a strong and unique identity if we are to win a place as a visible force in the new media landscape…”

In order to achieve this goal–namely, to actively engage a global audience on the “new” world wide web–RNW will need spectacular content created by exceptional talent–much like they had only last year, that is, before they incomprehensibly severed it. As much as we want to believe that Radio Netherlands will continue to have something to contribute to the media landscape after shutting down their shortwave service and gutting their resource pool of talented and dedicated journalists, we’re deeply, profoundly skeptical.  To say the least.

Why? They’re nearly two decades late to this game. Obviously, the Internet is no longer a “new” media landscape; it’s absolutely saturated with content and communications innovations. RNW has dispensed with the one thing they might have brought to the Internet–their programming. Once we learned that RNW was going to cut The State We’re In–an award-winning program, arguably RNW’s most popular–we knew RNW wasn’t making logical goal-based decisions to mark their place in future media.  RNW’s claim that it will “forge a strong and unique identity” in the face of cutting all that made it respectable, listener-worthy and unique, shows a decided lack of judgement…a lack of direction.

RNW, no one is going to listen if you’ve nothing worth hearing. We hope you can find what you’ve lost–your talent, on the one hand, and millions of listeners, on the other.  Connected via radio.

“The State We’re In” cancelled in the wake of RNW cuts

Sad news, indeed: I had hoped that The State We’re In (also known as TSWI) would weather the RNW cuts, perhaps by gaining independent funding. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have been the case, and we’re pained by the loss of yet another stellar international radio program.

[UPDATE – 23 Oct 2013: TSWI will be produced as a podcast via WBEZ, starting November 2013]

In my opinion, The State We’re In represents some of the best radio documentary out there: TSWI has won international honors, including three New York World Medals in 2010, as well as a Gabriel. Ira Glass, the talented host of Chicago Public Media’s This American Life, has praised TSWI for its “amazing editorial judgment,” and Glass rightly called TSWI host Jonathan Groubert “one of the best news interviewers on public radio today.”

Don’t believe me? Listen to some of their archived shows, like Two Enemies, One Heart.  Powerful stuff.

I hold out hope that, somehow, TSWI will find the funding to revive. We simply cannot (and should not!) allow a show if this caliber to dissolve for twelve million listeners across our planet…

(Source: TSWI on Facebook)

We have some bad news:

The State We’re In is being terminated. As many of you may know, Radio Netherlands Worldwide was hit with a drastic 70% cutback last year by the Dutch government. We were assured at that time by Radio Netherlands’ outgoing management that the show was still going to be an integral part of Radio Netherlands, but those assurances didn’t hold.

Subsequent changes in the organization’s mandate towards a tighter focus on nations in the developing world, and a much slower-than-expected transition to new management have made it impossible for us to continue. The State We’re In exits with its head held high: it was the most broadcasted, downloaded and decorated program in the long history of Radio Netherlands, and won praise from radio industry leaders from around the world.

It was heard in top public radio markets the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and in select markets in India and Africa. Our overall audience reach was 12 million people. We will miss you and all the engaged, thoughtful responses you had to what we put on the air. It was a privilege bringing these stories — which sometimes included stories you told us — to light.

FYI: Our last original program will be produced at the end of October. There will be some repeat shows after that.

Greg Kelly, Editor, TSWI

Radio Netherlands says farewell in style

Thursday night, by the light of an oil lamp, I tuned my trusty Sony portable shortwave to 6,165 kHz. At 2:00 UTC, I was rewarded with a rich, full signal from Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s transmission site in Bonaire. Here in this off-grid cabin, on sixty rural acres, I bask in the freedom from electrical noise that might otherwise interfere with my shortwave radio listening—at least in this respect, this is the perfect DXpedition cabin.

The signal coming out of Bonaire, however, would have overcome any interference: Radio Netherlands, my dear friend of some 32 years, had opened a special frequency for those of us in eastern North America…in order to say their good-byes to the airwaves.

I can only describe the experience of listening as radio bliss…pure radio bliss…marred only by the bittersweet realization that these were RNW’s final days on the air. The experience harkened back to the day when the big broadcasters had booming signals directed toward us.

But, alas. All too brief.

The broadcast was simply entitled Farewell and Thank You. You can hear it just as I heard it—through my recording–here (actual broadcast starts at 1:15):

Then, all day Friday, for nearly 24 hours straight, RNW bid good-bye and farewell to various parts of the world via shortwave, satellite and the internet. I was lucky enough to catch two more broadcasts.

This time of day (19:00 UTC), however, I needed bigger ears than the Sony could provide. I was listening to broadcasts targeting west and east Africa, not North America. Having already charged my laptop battery, I plugged in the Bonito Radiojet (an SDR that I’m currently reviewing) and, just before 1900 UTC, directed her towards 17,605 kHz. Though my Sony found the signal barely audible, the RadioJet produced beautiful fidelity.

This RNW broadcast, entitled The First 50 Years, took listeners through the highlights and history of the Dutch radio service. Here’s the recording I made with the RadioJet:

A final sign-off

RNW headquarters in Hilversum, Netherlands (photo coutesty: RNW)

At 20:00 UTC, RNW broadcast their very final show—a repeat of Farewell and Thank You (above) appropriately targeting Africa once more. I tuned the dial to 11615 kHz and listened again to the full broadcast. This time, however, as the program drew to its close, the broadcast crew added a personal message.

Jonathan Groubert, the talented host of The State We’re In, broadcasted live from Hilversum’s Studio 4 for a deeply touching adieu. Tears were shed, and I’m not ashamed to confess that I, too, listened through a haze of them as these capable and dedicated journalists, whom I’ve grown to trust, signed off the RNW airwaves for the last time.

But listen for yourself:

Jonathan Marks, RNW’s host of MediaNetwork, also featured in the farewell broadcast, recorded the final sign-off from within Studio 4. You can listen to this and read the description on his excellent website.

Dank je wel, Radio Nederland

RNW–my dear radio friends—I’m going to miss you. Your personalities–and the collective personality of RNW itself–your award-winning content, news, reporting, and your integrity stood out amongst all those Cold War broadcasters I listened to growing up—who, as you so well put it, were merely mouthpieces for their respective governments.

Radio Nederland, I loved your broadcasting because you were fearless: you marched to the beat of your own drummer, were not afraid to turn a critical eye even upon yourself, and as a result–in a world of sham journalism, of compromise and hypocrisy—you earned my trust. You had nothing to hide, and you had so many stories to tell.

RNW: I listened.

I wish you (and your intrepid creators) the very best in all that you do. I trust your new incarnation(s), whatever form they take, will do much good in this world which so sorely needs it, and sincerely believe that your integrity will live on.