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.

Sweeping cuts to VOA, RFE and RFA shortwave services

Voice_of_America_Headquarters

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.

Dan writes:

This news emerging from VOA late Friday:

VOA to end shortwave broadcasts in English and several language services Monday.

Received this late Friday afternoon:

voa logoFAREWELL 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.”

Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station: re-dedication videos

Last week, we noted the upcoming re-dedication of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station and the significance of this particular broadcasting location.

Videos of the event have now been posted on the BBG Watch website, including this one, which features the original dedication of the site in 1963:

Local CBS affiliate, Channel 9, provided raw video feeds from the event, which are also posted.  Of particular note is the footage of Governor Victor Ashe’s speech and the tour of the station.

Victor Ashe:

Station tour:

As I previously mentioned, in December 2012, I had the honor of receiving a five-hour tour of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station. Following that marvelous tour, I  wrote a piece for the March 2012 issue of the Monitoring Times in which I describe the day’s experiences; the article has already received many kind comments (thanks!) and continues to draw interest to the station. I think this may be one of the best articles I’ve ever written, and the clear reason for this was my sheer delight in the tour, a dream come true for me.  Moreover, I had early information about the re-dedication of the site, and was immensely pleased that  those who work there should receive such well-deserved accolades.

BTW:  While I have a busy travel schedule this summer, I intend to publish some items of interest in my absence that I’ve been saving for the purpose. This will include the article I wrote for the MT–the full, un-cut version–along with dozens of hi-res photos from the site. It’s quite long, thus will be posted in manageable sections; each post will be tagged: VOA Greenville. Keep an eye open for those!

But if you just can’t wait, you can always download an electronic version of the March issue on the MT’s website.  Hope you enjoy it…!

And to our good friends at VOA Greenville:  thanks again, and congratulations!

The Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station: VOA “Site B” re-dedication means a new name plus a future

My feature article on touring the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station in the March 2012 issue of Monitoring Times

Last December, I had the honor of receiving a personal five hour tour of the VOA transmitter site near Greenville, NC, USA. It was literally a dream come true for me, and providing a more in-depth understanding of the history, the equipment, the antennas and, most importantly, the people who keep this remarkable site on the air 24/7. You can read all about my experience in a feature article I wrote for the  March 2012 issue of Monitoring Times Magazine.

Just before my article was sent to print, I received word from my new friends at the transmitter site that it had been renamed the “Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station.” Fortunately, timing was on my side and my article carried the new name throughout.

This was much more than a re-naming of the site, however. I knew that to some degree, it was a reassurance by the BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors) that the site, which had been slated for closure as recently as 2010, was to have a future that would reflect its honored past in international broadcasting. Clearly, the site is very important; it’s the last remaining international broadcating station that is not only wholly owned by the US government, but is nonetheless on US territory, where no restrictions can be imposed upon either what is broadcast, nor for whom the broadcast is targeted.

On a side note, perhaps what disappoints me most about the Radio Canada International cuts, and why I’ve been so vocal about it, is the fact that they plan to close their Sackville, New Brunswick transmitting site. In a sense, it’s the Canadian cousin to the VOA’s Murrow site, which is to say, the only international broadcasting site in Canada, that’s fully owned by Canada and grounded firmly on Candian soil.

Tuning controls on one of the 500 kW Continental Electronics transmitters I admired at the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Site. Click to enlarge.

I’m very pleased the US government and the Broadcasting Board of Governers made what I strongly believe to be the right decision, namely, keeping Edward R. Murrow Transmitting station open and active. Once that transmission infrastructure is gone, it’s gone. Fortunately, this re-dedicationconfirms that it will live on.

I was personally invited to the dedication, but sadly will be unable to attend, the distance (twelve hours by car) being fairly prohibitive.

Yet I wish you well, broadcast heroes:  long live the Edward R. Murrow transmitting site!

The Greenville Reflector published an article about the May 2nd dedication of the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station:

(Source: The Reflector)

VOA site to be rededicated

A Voice of America site once scheduled for closure has not only been saved but will be rededicated Wednesday in a ceremony featuring the son of broadcasting pioneer Edward R. Murrow.

Voice of America Site B, located 15 miles east of Greenville outside of Grimesland, was named for the legendary broadcaster when it opened in 1963.

Murrow’s name was removed from the building as part of security measures taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Murrow’s name will be returned during a 10 a.m. ceremony being held at the site, 3919 VOA Site B Road.

[…]The Broadcasting Board of Governors announced in February 2010 it wanted to close VOA Site B so it could save about $3.1 million annually and focus on upgrading its satellite, digital and other broadcasting technologies.

The site B location broadcasts via short-wave radio to Cuba, the Caribbean and South America. In the past it also has broadcast to West Africa.

Jones and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., worked to stop the closure, aided by another member of the North Carolina delegation, Democrat David Price.

The closure never came because Congress had difficulties finalizing its 2010-11 budget and funding was included in continuation budgets.

The broadcasting board notified Jones in January 2011 that the administration wouldn’t pursue the site’s closure.

By that time Victor Ashe, former mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., and former ambassador to Poland, joined the broadcasting board and toured the VOA Site B facility.

Ashe said he was impressed by the facility’s staff members and their dedication to the organization’s mission.

“We believe free and honest information is a prelude and a foundation of a democratic society,” Ashe said.

Like other proponents of the site, Ashe said it’s important to keep VOA Site B operating because it’s the only short-wave Voice of America facility operating under U.S. jurisdiction. Other short-wave locations can be shut down at the insistence of its host nation.

Other methods of broadcasting — radio, television, the Internet and social media — can be cut off or blocked.

And the invitation from the BBG:

Speakers will include:

Congressman Walter Jones

Casey Murrow, son of Edward R. Murrow and Executive Director, Synergy Learning

Victor Ashe, BBG Governor, former Ambassador to Poland and former mayor of Knoxville

Richard M. Lobo, award-winning media executive and journalist and Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau

Edward R. Murrow’s legacy as a journalist and his rich understanding of the importance of press freedom as part of the bedrock of democracy along with the key role of U.S. international broadcasting as a model of a free press will be highlighted in the ceremony to be held in the lead-up to World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd.

The transmitting station, a 24/7 broadcast facility, supports the mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to “inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” through about 2,200 hours of transmissions each month.

Program:

Welcome:
André Mendes, Director, Office of Technology, Services and Innovation, International Broadcasting Bureau

Invocation:
Pastor William Thompson, Burney Chapel Free Will Baptist Church

Presentation of Colors:
D. H. Conley High School  ROTC

National Anthem:
Karen Meetze, Choral Director, J. H. Rose High School

Musical Accompaniment by:
A.G. Cox Middle School Band
Barney Barker, Band Director

Remarks about Edward R. Murrow:
Casey Murrow, Executive Director, Synergy Learning

Remarks:
Ambassador Victor Ashe, BBG Governor

Introduction:
Richard M. Lobo, Director, International Broadcasting Bureau

Keynote:
Congressman Walter Jones

Following the ceremony a tour of the facility will be offered.

Register through Eventbrite by April 26, 2012.

For more information, please call 202-203-4400 or email pubaff@bbg.gov.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Martí).

VOA self-censors in Russian elections

This interesting Op Ed piece points out that VOA could be in violation of US Public Law 94-350 by adhering to Russian media law with VOA FM broadcasts in Moscow. Of course, shortwave broadcasts continue to report VOA un-censored news:

(Source: Digital Journal)

Voice of America and Radio Liberty, funded by US taxpayers to promote media freedom abroad, self-censor news on two stations in Moscow to comply with Russian media law prior to Russia’s presidential elections on March 4.

US government-funded media freedom broadcasters, Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Liberty (Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, RFE RL), have resorted to self-censorship of their news to keep broadcasting on two leased radio stations in Moscow in the days leading up to Russian presidential elections. Self-censorship affects only their radio newscasts on two AM Moscow transmitters, which are leased and paid for by the US government to rebroadcast VOA and RL programs. It does not extend to their other program delivery options, such as their websites. The newscasts on these stations were changed in response to a request from Russian operators of the transmitters who had warned that broadcasting political programming or poll results several days before the elections would violate Russian media law.

Because uncensored VOA and RL newscasts are still available online and, in the case of Radio Liberty, also through shortwave radio transmissions, a spokeswoman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which manages and funds these two broadcasters, said that the restrictions “do not interfere with the ability of the Voice of America or Radio Liberty to cover the elections or to carry on with their other duties.” In the case of the Voice of America, however, removing news even from some broadcasts may violate Public Law 94-350[…]

Continue reading at the Digital Journal online.

“VOA Looks to Future on 70th Anniversary”

(Source: Voice of America Press Release)

Washington, D.C. — February 1, 2012 — Voice of America turned 70 on Wednesday, and VOA Director David Ensor says the international broadcast agency is aggressively moving forward with new programs that ensure it remains an “information lifeline to people in closed societies like Iran.”

Addressing VOA journalists at the agency’s Washington headquarters, Ensor pointed to a television news show for Burma that began airing in January, a popular video blog that has been viewed more than 7 million times in China, expanded TV broadcasts to Iran, and new health programs on radio in Africa. He also described plans for a Russian language TV program that will harness popular social media programs to make citizen journalists and the audience a key part of the show.

Ensor said the one-time cold war broadcaster is “as relevant today as it was February 1st, 1942,” the date of the first shortwave radio broadcast to Germany.”

Created by the U.S. government in the opening days of World War Two, the Voice of America has evolved into a global multi-media organization, broadcasting balanced and comprehensive news in 43 languages to an estimated weekly audience of 141 million.

The first shortwave radio transmission, spoken in German just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, began with the words “Here speaks a voice from America.” The broadcast went on to promise, “The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth.” Ensor, the 28th Voice of America director, says the agency continues to be guided by those words.

VOA radio remains highly popular in many markets, including Somalia, parts of Pakistan and Haiti. Ensor says the agency is moving forward with new television and Internet programs that target countries like Iran, where the government restricts the free flow of information.

VOA programs are delivered on satellite, cable TV, mobile, shortwave, FM, medium wave, the Internet, and on a network of about 1,200 affiliate stations around the world. In addition to more than 1,100 employees in Washington, VOA works with contract journalists in trouble spots around the world. Last month the Taliban claimed responsibility for the murder of a reporter working for VOA in Pakistan.