Any requests? Heading to the Edward R. Murrow transmitting station…

VOA-Greenville-Curtain-Antennas

I’m planning to visit the Edward R. Murrow transmitter station for a few hours on Friday (tomorrow). This will be my third trip to the station and I’ll be hanging out with the chief engineer, Macon Dail. I plan to take more photos–especially of some recent transmitter upgrades.

Any questions/requests?

If you like, I would be happy to ask Macon any technical/engineering questions you may have about the site and post his replies here on the SWLing Post next week.

Additionally, if you have something specific you’d like me to photograph, please ask and I’ll attempt to do so. The only areas I’m not allowed to photograph are those dealing with site security.

Please comment with your questions and requests no later than tomorrow morning!

In case you’re not familiar, the Edward R. Murrow transmitter site is the last BBG shortwave broadcasting site on US soil. Click here for a photo tour I posted a few ago.

Radio Martí: an uncertain future with the “thaw” in US/Cuba relations

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Wikimedia)

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Wikimedia)

(Source: PRI)

RadioMartiOn first impression, Radio and TV Martí looks and feels pretty much like any other newsroom. Emilio Vazquez shows me around, and we stop and watch two radio broadcasters behind a thick pane of glass.

“We have a morning show known as ‘El Revoltillo,’ which is like an on-air swap market type of show, where people call in and offer different products and services for sale on island,” says Vazquez.

But here’s what’s different about this call-in show: It’s illegal for its listeners to call in, or even to listen. That is, if they even can — the Cuban government tries to jam broadcast signals coming from Florida. Vazquez said they’re always trying to stay one step ahead.

“We have various methods of transmission. We have medium-wave transmission on AM frequency, we have our short-wave transmissions as well.”

Those change frequencies throughout the course of the day.

Radio and TV Martí has been delivering news and information to Cuba since 1985, an intense period of the Cold War. The Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful lobbying group of Cuban exiles in Miami, helped persuade the Reagan Administration to create the stations, which fall under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a US government agency.

[…]Still, critics of the Martís question if Cubans are getting the best information from the government news agency. They call the programming one-dimensional, conservative and a mouthpiece of American policy. Gamarra says he’s staunchly disagreed with many editorials broadcast by the Martís over the years.

“But I think the criticism of them, that because they’re conservative, they’re not good journalists, doesn’t follow. They still have some value,” says Gamarra. “I think [the Martís] has an expiration date though.”

As part of the US government, Radio and TV Martí works out of large compound in Miami fortified by barbed wire, guards, and airport-type screening. As part of the US government, Radio and TV Martí works out of large compound in Miami fortified by barbed wire, guards, and airport-type screening. Credit: Jason Margolis
When that expiration date should be is the big question. With a thaw in US-Cuba relations, some say the time is now. Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota introduced a bill to end the Martís. It’s called the: “Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act.” The Martís cost US taxpayers $27 million a year.

President Barck Obama wants to turn the Martís into an independent non-profit, but still funded by the government. It would be called a “grantee.”

Many conservatives say that would weaken the government’s commitment, and that the Martís still provide an invaluable service exposing human rights abuses in Cuba.

Malule González says her operation is more important than ever, even with President Obama on the island today.

“Don’t be confused by people shaking hands, that doesn’t mean that the Cuban people have any freedom,” says González.

Read the full article on PRI’s website…

Castro wants an end to US broadcasts directed at Cuba

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Wikimedia)

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Wikimedia)

(Source: VOA News)

Cuban President Raul Castro is urging the U.S. government to stop radio and television broadcasts that Cuba considers harmful, while also saying that his government is willing to keep improving relations with the United States.

In a speech broadcast on state television Friday, Castro said that his government will “continue insisting that to reach normalized relations, it is imperative that the United States government eliminate all of these policies from the past.”

He noted that the U.S. government continues to broadcast to Cuba, including transmissions of Radio Marti and TV Marti, despite Cuba’s objections. Radio Marti and TV Marti are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is also the parent organization of the Voice of America.

Castro also criticized U.S. immigration policy that allows Cuban migrants to live in the United States if they reach U.S. territory.

“A preferential migration policy continues to be applied to Cuban citizens, which is evidenced by the enforcement of the wet foot/dry foot policy, the Medical Professional Parole Program and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which encourage an illegal, unsafe, disorderly and irregular migration, foment human smuggling and other related crimes, and create problems to other countries,” Castro said.

Continue reading on VOA News online…

An SWL perspective on US/Cuba relations

WFL_015Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, London Shortwave, who has posted an article on his blog regarding US/Cuba relations after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced, last Tuesday, the re-establishment of relations. London Shortwave has included recordings from the VOA, Radio Marti and Radio Havana Cuba.

Click here to read the full article on London Shortwave’s blog.

BBG publishes report on the efficacy and future of shortwave radio

VOA-Greenville-Curtain-AntennasMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bennett Kobb, who shares this downloadable Report of the Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting. If you recall, this report was produced by a Broadcasting Board of Governors committee and chaired by Matt Armstrong.

Both Bennett and I believe it’s unfortunate that the committee failed to recognize one of VOA’s most innovative shortwave products: the VOA Radiogram.

Below you can read the full press release which accompanied the report:

(Source: BBG)

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.

BBG’s 2015 budget: VOA to increase services to Asia/Africa, but cut others

The new budget would expand Leaning English (a.k.a. Special English) programming.

The new budget would expand Leaning English content, but reduce, “low-impact, long-form English language radio created for shortwave.”

The Broadcasting Board Of Governors is requesting a reduced budget from congress for FY 2015 and re-focusing efforts on services to Asia and Africa.

Of course, this will be at the expense of Azerbaijani, Georgian, Persian, and Uzbek language programming and a complete cut of programs to Serbia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Programming to Cuba will be reduced as well.

The FY 2015 Budget Request also outlines the closure of VOA’s bureaus in Jerusalem and Houston.

For a quick summary, read the VOA News article below.

After the article, I’ve clipped quotes where the BBG specifically mentions shortwave radio in the 2015 budget, so continue reading.

(Source: VOA News)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. government entity that oversees the Voice of America, has released details of a 2015 budget request that will cut Balkan language services but add spending aimed at Asia and Africa.

The BBG is asking Congress for $721 million, a reduction from a $731 million budget in the current fiscal year. Agency officials say their goal is to reach a new generation of audiences through media that global listeners and viewers increasingly use.

The 2015 budget request includes youth-oriented video and digital initiatives for Cambodia, Vietnam, and Burma – also known as Myanmar.

In China, the BBG plans to increase the use of social media and programs to fight Internet censorship.

The BBG is also planning to set up a new satellite television channel and expand FM radio in the Sahel region of north-central Africa. A new Lingala language service is planned for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

VOA’s English Learning programs would also be expanded.

But the 2015 budget would eliminate the VOA language services for Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia. The Azerbaijani, Georgian, Persian, and Uzbek services would see reductions and broadcasting to Cuba would also see a very significant cut.

The proposal also calls for the closure of VOA news bureaus in Jerusalem and Houston.

Dave Allison, acting president of the union representing many VOA employees, said with the cuts in services VOA is “retreating” from its historic mission that began in 1942. He said Balkan broadcasters had tears in their eyes when they were told their shows face elimination.

[View this article on the VOA News.]

Shortwave radio in the 2015 budget?

If you take a look inside the FY 2015 Budget Request (click here to download it as a PDF) you will see how they perceive shortwave radio in the media mix moving forward.  I particularly find the mention in their summary insightful.

Here are a few highlights:

From page 9 of the FY 2015 Budget Request:

“The FY 2015 Budget Request reflects a host of distribution changes. In the mix of technology and distribution platforms, the BBG sees clearly the global adoption of digital media. Actively underway is the migration from legacy distribution platforms such as shortwave and medium wave (AM) to the media platforms audiences are using today, including satellite TV and audio, FM radio, mobile phone technologies, and social and other digital media. In many of our markets, use of the Internet overall and as a source of news already exceeds radio, and in some cases by a wide margin. The BBG is adapting to this fundamental shift by taking, where appropriate, a digital-first approach and combining digital and traditional media into one integrated strategy.

That said, the BBG remains platform-agnostic, meaning we will use the media on which our audiences prefer to receive information, engage with media and connect with one another.

Shortwave radio will still play a role in selected countries such as Nigeria, Burma, and Afghanistan, among others.”

No money has been budgeted for shortwave radio capital improvements in 2015:

CapitalImprovementsBBG

On page 45, the BBG mentions regions where they believe shortwave radio is still an important information medium:

“Audiences accessing VOA using mobile devices and social media grew exponentially in the past year; and VOA has a global network of FM affiliate partners as well as wholly owned FMs. Meanwhile, VOA’s long-standing role as a shortwave broadcaster remains at the forefront in markets where
shortwave is still viable, including the Sahel, where Islamist extremists have carried out terrorist attacks in the past year, and in information-deprived societies such as North Korea and Tibet.”

Then on page 64:

“Capitalizing on current research on audience media habits, TSI will continue taking steps in FY 2014 to move away from less effective legacy distribution systems, such as shortwave and medium wave transmission, toward use of more modern technologies, where appropriate, to reach larger and younger audiences. Where shortwave remains important, TSI is building a more cost-effective transmission infrastructure to support continuing broadcast requirements. In addition, where available, transmitting stations will receive their broadcast content through lower cost digital services, instead of the more expensive satellite distribution. TSI also is using satellite radio in China, including in Tibet, – for just a fraction of the cost of shortwave or medium wave transmissions to that country – as a means of leveraging the widespread use of satellite receive dishes in remote locations or where local cable and Internet access is restricted.”

Burmese broadcasts mentioned on page 74:

“RFA’s Burmese Service is preparing for comprehensive radio and TV coverage of the 2015 national elections, Burma’s first opportunity for truly free and fair elections. At the same time, RFA is reporting on the numerous domestic problems which could derail the move to democratization, especially the need for constitutional reform prior to the elections. RFA
provides a platform for civil, civic dialogue where the people of Burma can express opinions on their problems and possible solutions. RFA will also address religious and ethnic divides,
and more programming will be targeted toward Burma’s rural population, providing basic education in areas such as health, agriculture and basic human rights. Shortwave radio, which still dominates in rural areas where most of the population lives, is the best medium to present such programs.”

Afia Darfur‘s programming on page 78:

“Afia Darfur is broadcast into Darfur via shortwave each evening at 9:00 p.m. local time and targets all people in Darfur and eastern Chad, and it is heard in Khartoum. The 30-minute program is rebroadcast two additional times, once in the evening (10:00 p.m. local time) and again the following morning (6:00 a.m. local time).”

Cost savings through shortwave broadcasts from Kuwait (page 82):

“BCI funds will be used to reconfigure the shortwave broadcast infrastructure at the Kuwait transmitting station to enhance coverage of Iran and achieve cost savings for shortwave
broadcasts. Because of the very low cost of electrical power in Kuwait, the IBB Kuwait Transmitting Station is the least expensive station to operation in the IBB global network. This project will allow the Agency to shift scheduled transmissions from other stations in the IBB network to Kuwait, especially those transmissions from high cost leased facilities wherever possible.”

But, perhaps this clip from the 2015 budget summary provides the best insight:

“In order to serve audiences in less developed areas of the world, the 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 both current and future audiences, the BBG must also invest in new cutting-edge technology. In areas where the BBG has ceased to broadcast, or where ownership and usage of shortwave radio has declined significantly, the BBG has closed transmission stations, repurposed equipment, and invested these savings in digital media technology and new high-priority programming.”

Deadline approaching: BBG seeks public comment on relevancy of shortwave radio

Students in South Sudan listen to their favorite shortwave radio program, VOA Special English.

Students in South Sudan listen to their favorite shortwave radio program, VOA Special English.

Reminder: The US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is asking for your comments on the relevancy of shortwave radio broadcasting.

In short, simply send the BBG an email (limited to 1,200 words or less) with your comments by Friday (March 14th, 2014). The BBG has set up the following email address: ShortwaveCommittee@bbg.gov

Click here for full details.

Thank you for defending the relevancy of shortwave radio on behalf of those living in impoverished areas, and in states with repressive regimes: listeners without a voice.