BBG’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request

BBG-Budget-Request

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares a link to the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s Fiscal Year 2016 Congressional Budget Request.

Click here to download as a PDF.

I’ve read key portions of the request.

Regarding shortwave, the BBG are asking for budget reductions in almost all of the BBG shortwave broadcasting arms, with a few exceptions.   They acknowledge, in each case, that shortwave broadcasting is not as cost-effective as other means of distribution (including FM, Internet and satellite). The do acknowledge that shortwave broadcasting is still needed in some strategic markets. Here is, perhaps, the most telling quote I found:

“To serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, BBG must continue to broadcast via traditional technologies such as shortwave and maintain capability on these platforms by replacing antiquated equipment. But to stay relevant in competitive news markets and serve current and future audiences, BBG must invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the Agency has evolved away from broadcasting in shortwave.”

A few specific highlights from the request:

Page 19

4) ENHANCE HIGH FREQUENCY TRANSMISSION CAPABILITY ($2.8M)
BBG will continue the shortwave realignment project that began in FY 2014, which increases shortwave transmission capability at its Kuwait Transmitting Station. This enhancement provides improved coverage to underserved areas of the world and
reduces operating costs by decreasing reliance on external leases. All aspects of
this proposal focus on improving transmission capability, while continuing
to reach audiences in Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Tibet and
Western China. The added capacity will support broadcasts for RFE/RL, RFA and
VOA.

At $2.00 per broadcast hour, Kuwait provides the highest return on investment in the BBG transmitting station portfolio. Thus, BBG began expansion of the facility in FY 2014 with
the construction of a new high frequency antenna and design of the transmitter building expansion. The proposed investment, extending through FY 2018, will bring the Kuwait
Transmitting Station up to the maximum capability allowed by the country agreement and will enable the Agency to decrease overall operating costs for the foreseeable future. When the realignment project is completed, the Kuwait station will have ten shortwave transmitters with associated antennas.[…]

Page 22:

Reduce Shortwave Costs [-$2.90M] The Office of Technology, Services, and Innovation (TSI) will eliminate less effective transmission frequencies and realign transmissions to end high cost leases. TSI will realize additional reductions to antiquated technologies by reducing transmissions to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, and Kurdish-speaking regions and eliminating shortwave to Russia, the Caucasus, Belarus, Laos, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Burundi. Audiences in these countries access news and information on more efficient,[…]

Page 69

STRATEGY BASED ON AUDIENCE
MEDIA HABITS
Using research on audience media habits, TSI will continue to move away from less effective legacy shortwave and medium wave transmissions toward other technologies, where appropriate, to reach larger and younger audiences. Where shortwave remains important, TSI is building a more cost-effective transmission infrastructure to support broadcast requirements. Of particular note are efforts at the Kuwait Transmitting Station. Because of the station’s strategic importance and low operating costs, TSI is installing a new shortwave antenna that is expected to be operational in FY 2015 and will expand the station’s transmitter building in FY 2016 to accommodate future transmitter build-outs.[…]

Page 109

To serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, BBG must continue to broadcast via traditional technologies such as shortwave and maintain capability on these platforms by replacing antiquated equipment. But to stay relevant in competitive news markets and serve current and future audiences, BBG must invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the Agency has evolved away from broadcasting in shortwave.
BBG has closed transmission stations, repurposed equipment and invested these savings in platforms that the audience has shifted to, primarily in digital media technology and other high-priority programming.

Click here to download the full request as a PDF.

Could radio be a catalyst for revolution in North Korea?

north_korean_propaganda

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley for sharing this article from The Guardian. The following is an excerpt:

Kim Cheol-su, who was born in Pyongsong City and defected from North Korea last year, says that up to 30-40% of DPRK citizens now listen to pirate radio, and that listening to the broadcasts made him realise the true nature of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion on the implications of the broadcasts in Seoul – and of the North’s thundering reaction – he said: “Children know that Kim Jong-un weighs more than 100kg. It’s because they are repeating what they hear from their parents, who listen to these foreign programmes.”

He added that the majority of North Korean citizens, desperate for news of the outside world, listen to the propaganda broadcasts which fan the flames of their doubt about the regime. The majority of those who flee to the South do so after hearing the broadcasts, he claimed.

“Before listening to the broadcasts, the citizens have no idea. But after they hear them, they realise the fact that the regime is deceiving people. They share what they have heard with their neighbours and friends.”

Kim also highlighted the fact that he heard about the Arab Spring movement through the broadcasts, and learned of the death of Libya’s former president, Muammar Gaddafi. “If the UN were to guarantee for us, as they did for Libya, help in opposing the regime, I believe that we would revolt as well,” he said.

Kim said lot of people listen to Radio Free Asia, as it comes in the clearest. “Personally, there were some programmes I liked on Open Radio for North Korea, so I used to tune in to those as well. However, short, one-hour programs were easy to miss. They were often finished by the time I found the frequency they were on.”

As for the contents of the broadcasts, Kim said having defectors talk freely about their lives was the best approach, and that programmes should include information on how to defect, offering examples of the kind of support and policies that exist for defectors in the South.

Read the full article at The Guardian online.

2015 Annual Meeting of the NASB in Washington DC

Washington_Capitol

If you can make the trek to Washington DC on May 21st and 22nd, you might consider attending the 2015 NASB (National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters) Annual Meeting. Attendance is free of charge, but you must register in advance (click here for the registration form).

The meeting is being held at the Radio Free Asia headquarters at 2025 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036.

I attended and even presented at an NASB meeting some years ago and really enjoyed the experience. Indeed, if this meeting wasn’t on the heels of the Dayton Hamvention, I would most likely attend this year as well. Perhaps if the stars align, I might just make it anyway.

I’ve pasted the full itinerary below, but if you’re interested in attending, you should read all of the meeting details at the NASB website.

Thursday, May 21
12:00-12:30 pm – Tour of Radio Free Asia (group one)
12:30-1:00 pm – Tour of Radio Free Asia (group two)
1:00 pm – Official Opening of 25th annual meeting of the NASB by Libby Liu, President, Radio Free Asia
1:05 pm – Opening remarks by Brady Murray, President, NASB; and A.J. Janitschek, RFA
1:15 pm – “The Peoples’ Radio: Media Expansion in Hitler’s Germany” – presentation by Dr. Jerry Plummer, WWCR
1:45 pm – FCC Update – Tom Lucey, FCC International Bureau
2:00 pm – 25 Years of the NASB – Doug Garlinger, former NASB President
2:30 pm – Coffee Break
3:00 pm – TWR Presentation, including KTWR DRM Trials – Lauren Libby, President, TWR
3:30 pm – HFCC Oman Conference – slide show by Jeff & Thais White, WRMI
4:00 pm – HFCC Brisbane Conference – slide show from Ken Lingwood, Reach Beyond Australia
4:15 pm – Finally, Some Good News from Madagascar! – Charles Caudill, President, World Christian Broadcasting
4:30 pm – Coffee Break
5:00 pm – End of Thursday afternoon presentations – break before dinner
7:00 pm – Meet at St. Gregory Hotel lobby – walk together to Irish restaurant for dinner
7:30 pm – Dinner at Irish Whiskey Public House, 1207 19th Street, NW
Friday, May 22
9:00 am – DRM Update from Calvin Carter, Continental Electronics (DRM Consortium Steering Board member)
9:30 am – IBB Engineering Update – Gerhard Straub, US International Broadcasting Bureau
10:00 am – “Ubuntu – Radio Ready” by A.J. Janitschek, Radio Free Asia
10:30 am – Coffee Break
11:00 am – Shortwave Audience Research and VOA Radiogram – Update from Dr. Kim Andrew EIllott, IBB
11:30 am – Update on KVOH, Voice of Hope – Africa and Voice of Hope – Israel – presentation by John Tayloe and Ray Robinson
12:00 pm – Lunch at Meiwah Chinese restaurant, 1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW (a short walk from Radio Free Asia)
2:00 pm – NASB Business Meeting – topics to be discussed include plans for the 2016 annual meeting, updating the NASB website, a 25th anniversary NASB QSL/contest for shortwave listeners, a possible NASB shortwave listeners meeting in Brisbane, Australia in conjunction with the HFCC Conference in August, financial reports, election of officers
4:00 pm – Brief board meeting for NASB Board members
4:30 pm – Adjournment. Dinner on your own.

CRI, RFA, Sputnik, and the BBC: an “information battle?”

Radio-Dial-Blurred-Dark

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Cuff, for sharing this article from The National:

Radio wars: information battle heats up as Russia and China muscle in

For about 70 years it was the base of the BBC World Service. Bush House, with its grand marble entrance in central London, stood as a powerful symbol of the BBC, home to the short-wave radio services that delivered news to dozens of countries in more than 40 languages. But the lights went out in 2012 when the World Service moved to the more prosaic Broadcasting House; two years later it lost its annual £245 million (Dh1.341 billion) grant from the UK’s government.

Both changes are symptomatic of the BBC’s less certain place in the broadcasting world as other countries significantly ramp up recruitment and funding for their own equivalent services.

Last December, Peter Horrocks, the BBC World Service’s former director, warned that the West was losing the “information war” with Moscow as the old Cold War foe pumped out wave after wave of pro-Kremlin propaganda on its rapidly expanding radio, TV and online platforms.

Horrocks had called for a rethink on financial assistance from the UK government as, even before the grant was ended, cutbacks in 2011 forced the closure of five language services and some short-wave broadcasts.

“We are being financially outgunned by Russia and the Chinese. Medium to long term there has to be an anxiety about the spending of others compared to what the BBC are putting into it,” he said.

It is now all too clear that established broadcasters that are based in the West, such as Radio Free Asia, Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe (RFE) – funded mainly through an agency of the US government – and the BBC are facing increased competition. Last November, Moscow rebranded its international English-language radio service: Radio Sputnik replaced the Voice of Russia and funding was increased for a new state-owned global news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s China Radio International (CRI) is an important part of the Communist Party’s foreign policy. CRI uses internet, short wave and satellite to broadcast around the world in dozens of languages, while Radio Sputnik has ambitions to broadcast in 30 languages across more than 130 countries by the end of the year.[…]

Continue reading on The National website…

VOA and RFA via homemade radios in North Korea

FlagNorthKoreaMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Anil, for sharing this article regarding the importance and inspiration radio provides to many North Koreans. This comes from our favorite North Korea independent news site, NK News.

Here’s a quote from the article from a North Korean defector known as “Park”:

“I have been listening to the North Korea Reform Radio and other outside radios since 13 years ago,” he said.

Using this homemade radio, Park could access VOA, RFA, NKRR, VOP, RFC and ONK over the past five years.

“Frankly, the ideological education in North Korea is so strong that many people including myself could not believe the content of the outside world radio,” he said of his first experience listening with the device. “I was once certain that this radio signal was sent by someone who was trying to deceive us.

“But this radio played strong role in motivating me to escape North Korea. My friends and I used to regularly listened to NKRR and other radio programs inside the underground hideout.

“Many told me to quit listening to those radio signals and start making money for myself, but with the help of this radio, I finally decided to escape the North.”

Read the full article, including a description and photos of Park’s homemade radio at NK News.

In addition, note that North Korea is the theme of this year’s San Fransisco Hackathon.

To follow other posts about North Korea, please note the tag: North Korea

Details of shortwave reductions to VOA, RFE, RFA

Voice_of_America_HeadquartersEarlier today, I contacted Letitia King, Spokesperson for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). I asked her for details regarding the cuts to shortwave services that were recently announced.

Ms. King has just sent me the following list, with notes, which includes all shortwave reductions under the BBG:



Facts and Figures on Shortwave Broadcast Reductions

June 30, 2014

 U.S. international media must optimize program delivery by market. We are ending some shortwave transmissions. We continue shortwave to those countries where these transmissions are still reaching significant audiences or where there are no reasonable alternative platforms at a lower cost to the BBG.

The shortwave reductions will save U.S. taxpayers almost $1.6 million annually.

There are no reductions in staff or programming – these are transmission platform reductions only. Programming continues to be available through other media.

Shortwave transmissions continue in many languages including to key shortwave markets like North Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Horn of Africa, and elsewhere. (List enclosed below). Transmissions also continue on other platforms including AM, FM, TV and online.

VOA Azerbaijani

  • Cuts: 30 minutes SW
  • Continuing Distribution: Satellite TV (HotBird)and satellite audio (TurkSat); Multimedia web and mobile sites & social media
  • SW is used by just 2% of adults weekly in Azerbaijan, and does not yield significant audiences for the service (0.4% weekly reach on radio in BBG’s most recent survey). By contrast, satellite dish ownership is widespread, at 56%, and 18% use the Internet weekly. The service has both satellite and online products, which are far more likely to reach audiences in Azerbaijan.

VOA Bangla

  • Cuts: 1 hour SW
  • Continuing Distribution: 1 hour MW(AM); FM and TV affiliates; Multimedia web and mobile sites; Social media
  • SW is not widely used in Bangladesh (just 2% weekly), and the majority of the service’s audience comes to its programming via FM and TV affiliate networks in the country.

VOA English (in Asia)

  • Cuts: 6.5 hours SW (2 hours of programming that was repeated)
  • Continuing Distribution: Some MW; Multimedia web and mobile sites & social media
  • Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, English speakers are rarely users of shortwave radio. They are more likely to be educated and affluent, and to have access to a broad range of media. Years of BBG research questions on consumption of VOA English on shortwave have failed to find any significant audiences outside Africa, in large part because usage of shortwave radio in other regions is mostly very low.

VOA Lao

  • Cuts: 30 minutes SW
  • Continuing Distribution: 30 minutes MW; 7 affiliates in Thailand on Lao border, with reach into Laos; Multimedia web and mobile sites; Social media
  • SW is very little-used in Laos – less than 1% of adults report listening to SW radio weekly. In BBG’s most recent research in Laos, no surveyed listeners reported using the SW band to access VOA content. A strong majority (66%) hear VOA on FM, through affiliate stations on the Thai border that carry VOA content (Laos is so small that border FM stations have decent penetration into the country).

VOA Special/Learning English

  • Cuts: 5.5 hours SW
  • Continuing Distribution: Learning English programs continue on SW on English to Africa. 30 minutes MW; Multimedia web and mobile sites, including special interactive teaching products; Social media, including social English lessons
  • BBG audience research indicates strong interest in learning English, but very limited shortwave listenership to VOA Learning English, outside a few select markets. The service is working more closely with other VOA language services to create English learning products for distribution on more popular channels. And Learning English offers a variety of digital products that are increasingly popular, including a Skype call-in show, videos on YouTube, and a website featuring both audio and transcripts for online audiences to follow as they listen.

VOA Uzbek

  • Cuts: 30 minutes SW
  • Continuing Distribution: Satellite audio and TV (HotBird); FM and TV affiliates in neighboring countries; Multimedia web and mobile sites (with circumvention tools deployed); Social media
  • SW is not widely used in Uzbekistan (just 2% weekly), and does not yield significant audiences for the service (0.3% weekly). Adults in Uzbekistan are much more likely to own a satellite dish (13%) or use the internet (12% weekly) than to use SW, so the service provides content on those platforms. Uzbekistan is an especially difficult market to penetrate with USIM content, but SW is not an effective platform for the country.

RFE/RL Persian (Farda)

  • Cuts: 1 simultaneous SW frequency for 6 broadcast hours
  • Continuing Distribution: SW on multiple frequencies for all 24 broadcast hours remains on, in addition to 24 hours daily MW; “Radio on TV” on VOA Persian stream; 24 hours daily satellite audio with slate plus 24 hour Audio on 4 other satellites including Hotbird, the most popular satellite in Iran; Multimedia website (with circumvention tools deployed); Social media; mobile app with anti-censorship proxy server capability built-in.
  • This is only a reduction to the number of simultaneous frequencies during some of the broadcast day. SW radio, with 5% weekly use in 2012, is considerably less popular than other platforms on which audiences can access Farda content, such as MW (10% weekly use), satellite television (26% own a dish, and 33% watch satellite television weekly) or the internet (39% weekly use).

RFA Lao

  • Cuts: 2 hours SW
  • Continuing Distribution: 5 FM radio affiliates in Thailand provide cross-border coverage; Multimedia web & mobile sites; Social media
  • SW is very little-used in Laos – less than 1% of adults report listening to SW radio weekly. RFA Lao’s listeners come overwhelmingly via FM stations on the Thai border – 94% of past-week listeners report hearing RFA on FM. (Laos is so small that border FM stations have decent penetration into the country).

RFA Vietnamese

  • Cuts: 2 hours SW
  • Continuing Distribution: MW coverage of all broadcast hours remains on; Multimedia web and mobile sites (with circumvention tools deployed) include webcasts and other videos; Social media
  • · SW radio is very little-used in Vietnam – less than 1% of adults report any weekly use of the waveband, and RFA reaches just 0.2% of adults weekly on radio. MW is slightly more popular, but the future for USIM in Vietnam is likely online: 26% of Vietnamese use the Internet weekly now (with much higher rates among certain populations, like the young and the well-educated), and three in four personally own a mobile phone. While Vietnam attempts to block access to sensitive sites, Vietnam is actually the most active country in our most popular Internet Anti-Censorship tools with almost 600 million hits per day.

Languages that continue on Shortwave

VOA

  • Afan Oromo/Amharic/Tigrigna to Ethiopia and Eritrea
  • Bambara
  • Burmese
  • Cantonese
  • Dari
  • English to Africa
  • English to South Sudan
  • French to Africa
  • Hausa
  • Khmer
  • Kinyarwanda/Kirundi
  • Korean
  • Kurdish
  • Mandarin
  • Pashto (to FATA and Afghanistan)
  • Portuguese to Africa
  • Somali
  • Swahili
  • Tibetan
  • · Shona/Ndebele/English to Zimbabwe

OCB

  • Spanish to Cuba

RFE/RL

  • Avar/Chechen/Circassian
  • Belarusian
  • Dari
  • Pashto (to FATA and Afghanistan)
  • Persian
  • Russian
  • Tajik
  • Turkmen
  • Uzbek

RFA

  • Burmese
  • Cantonese
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • Tibetan
  • Uyghur

MBN

  • Arabic (Afia Darfur to Sudan/Chad)

Amendment to H.R. 4490 protects “critical” shortwave services

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

View of the Capitol Building from the roof of the Voice of America on 330 Independence Ave., S.W.

In response to yesterday’s post regarding sweeping cuts to VOA’s shortwave service, an SWLing Post reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) writes:

“HR4490 contains the following amendment attached to the bill by Cong Lowenthal of CA. Cong Lowenthal has the largest Cambodian community in the US in his constituency as well as Vietnamese.

This is the amendmentto HR4490 which was approved unanimously by the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The Amendment to HR 4490 reads:

“Shortwave broadcasting has been an important method of communication that should be utilized in regions as a component of United States international broadcasting where a critical need for the platform exists.”

 

AMENDMENT-TO-HR4490

Click here to read the full text of H.R. 4490.