Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who writes:
This just came to my attention. It seems that William McClellan (Mac) Thornberry, the Republican representative of Texas’s 13th congressional district and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed an amendment to H.R.4909 — National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that would revamp how the Voice of America, RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, etc. are managed: https://www.congress.gov/amendment/114th-congress/house-amendment/1018/actions
What a “coincidence”. Hopefully, before the summer holidays officially end, I will be off to another shortwave transmitter site. Well, to the remains of it. I will be visiting the former RFE/RL (and VOA in the last years of operation) site in Playa de Pals, near the Catalan city of Girona and also very close to my main QTH in Barcelona. The Pals RFE/RL site was from where a 1MW signal was transmitted by feeding the same audio signal to 4 Continental transmitters.
Their output signals where put in phase, then the big Group D dipole curtain was divided into two “halves” by switching the feed lines in the appropriate way. Each half of the curtain received 500KW from two transmitters. So the total was 1000KW, or 1MW. If we add the antenna gain, the ERP was in the order of several megawatts. This was a signal directed to Eastern Europe, and more specifically to Moscow, via single-hop propagation. I suppose receivers in Moscow released plenty of smoke and had to be replaced every time they were tuned to a RFE/RL signal from Pals. Hahaha!
The curtains were demolished in 2006 and because the place is abandoned now and has been repeatedly sacked, the station buildings are in a very poor situation, specially in the inside. Almost no radio hardware survives, but what is still there is quite interesting. […]
There is an excellent website (www.radioliberty.org) which is a virtual museum of all things related to the Pals station. It was created and is maintained by a former worker of the station. The language in the English version of the website is a bit “macaronic” in some parts of the site, but I think this is a minor issue given the excellent amount of information kept there.
Finally, although not part of the Pals station virtual museum website, there was even a documentary made, after the demolition of the antennas, as a tribute to the station. It can be watched in the following link although parts of it have not been translated to English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJnxsSL3bbY
Many thanks, David!
After you visit the Playa de Pals site, later this year, please share your experience with us!
WASHINGTON (August 1, 2014) — The Broadcasting Board of Governors today released “To Be Where the Audience Is,” a report that found shortwave radio to be essential to listeners in target countries, but of marginal impact in most markets. The report’s recommendations came after a comprehensive review, grounded in audience-based research, of the efficacy of shortwave as a distribution platform for U.S. international media.
“Shortwave radio continues to be an important means for large numbers of people in some countries to receive news and information,” said Matt Armstrong, who chaired the BBG’s Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting, which issued the report. “However, many of our networks’ target audiences have moved to newer platforms including TV, FM and digital media. This report maps a way forward for U.S. international media to remain accessible for all our audiences.”
Research-based evidence of media trends suggests that the increased availability and affordability of television, mobile devices and Internet access has led to the declining use of shortwave around the world. Still, the report finds that substantial audiences embrace shortwave in Nigeria, Burma, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Cuba and other target markets for the BBG.
At the same time, the committee’s recommendations make clear that the BBG will need to continue to reduce or eliminate shortwave broadcasts where there is either minimal audience or that audience is not a U.S. foreign policy priority. It also ratifies reductions that were made in redundant signals in 2013 and further cuts in transmissions that were made in 2014.
Even with these recent reductions, the BBG makes programs in 35 of its 61 broadcast languages available on shortwave where there is a strategic reason to do so.
The report notes there is no evidence that shortwave usage increases during crises. At such times, audiences continue to use their preferred platforms or seek out anti-censorship tools to help them navigate to the news online, including firewall circumvention tools or offline media including thumb drives and DVDs.
The Shortwave Committee report will be discussed at the August 13 public meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The report can be found here.
Earlier 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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
Afan Oromo/Amharic/Tigrigna to Ethiopia and Eritrea
“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.”
Unfortunate news from the Voice of America: Congress has approved major cuts to US international broadcasting over shortwave. Thanks to Dan Robinson for sharing this significant news.
This news emerging from VOA late Friday:
VOA to end shortwave broadcasts in English and several language services Monday.
Received this late Friday afternoon:
“FAREWELL TO SHORTWAVE
We were informed late Friday that BBG’s proposed shortwave cuts for FY2014 have been approved by Congress.
As of the end of the day on Monday, June 30th, all shortwave frequencies for English News programs to Asia will be eliminated. We will no longer be heard via shortwave in the morning (12-16 utc), and the evening (22-02utc)…mostly in Asia.
Shortwave frequencies for the following services will also be eliminated: Azerbaijani, Bangla, English (Learning), Khmer, Kurdish, Lao and Uzbek. Shortwave being used by services at RFE/RL and RFA are also being cut.
Because shortwave has been a cheap and effective way to receive communications in countries with poor infrastructure or repressive regimes, it was a good way to deliver information. But broadcasting via shortwave is expensive, and its use by listeners has been on the decline for years. At the BBG, the cost vs. impact equation no longer favors broadcasts via this medium to most of the world.
Important for us is that we will continue to be heard on shortwave frequencies during those hours we broadcast to Africa. Also, we know through our listener surveys that about half of our audience in Asia and the rest of the world listens to us via the web and podcast – so all is not lost.
Let’s break the news about this change to our audiences starting Sunday night. I doubt specific frequencies are critical to announce. The important point to make for our listeners is that we encourage their continued listening through local affiliates, and on the web at voanews.com.”