The Economist: taking a look at shortwave radio

Though concise, this is one of the best summaries of shortwave radio that I’ve seen in major press. The full article, remarkably, addresses the recent RCI cuts, DRM, the expansion of China Radio International and other innovations that could happen via the shortwaves:

(Source: The Economist)

TWIDDLE the dial of a short-wave radio and you never know what you will get. Through the hiss of static you may hear Cuban propaganda, football from Brazil or Chinese opera. Unlike other radio broadcasts, short-wave transmissions, bouncing off the ionosphere, can connect any two points on earth. One hazard is physics: signals wane and wax during the day. Another is governments. In the cold war communist regimes jammed Western stations. Now the threat is budget cuts.

…[S]hort-wave remains a good way of reaching remote areas and poor people (a basic receiver costs as little as $10). Graham Mytton, who used to run the BBC’s audience research, says it is cheap, easy to use and the only medium that gets through everywhere. A natural disaster, he notes, can take local transmitters off air and bring down the internet, but a battery-powered radio will still work.

China is expanding its short-wave broadcasts—both to reach listeners abroad and (some say) to disrupt transmissions from unwelcome foreigners, such as the Voice of America (VOA). The largest remaining short-wave broadcaster, VOA says it has no plans to junk its transmitters: its short-wave audience has actually grown over the past decade in countries like Myanmar (where it claims a quarter of the adult population listens, and three-quarters in rural areas).

Digital short-wave broadcasts would be clearer and could carry bits of text too.[…]

[…]Globe Wireless, an American firm, has long used short-wave for maritime e-mail service to thousands of ships. Although the data speeds (at only 2,400 bps) are not as zippy as a satellite link, the service is cheaper—and keeps going if solar flares or space debris hit satellites, says the firm’s boss, David Kagan. The short-wave voice may be old and hoarse. But it still dependably carries a message.

Thanks to Alokesh Gupta for the tip.

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