This year has been a confusing one for Voice of Russia listeners. At least two separate news sources–in August and December–announced that VOR would be leaving the shortwaves effective Jan 1, 2014, but VOR couldn’t confirmed or denied the news.
Then, only two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised us all by essentially liquidating the Voice of Russia and merging it with Rossia Segodnya newswire in sweeping changes affecting all Russian state media.
I was curious if this move might have changed VOR’s outlook on the shortwaves, so I contacted VOR to see if they had any official word. I received the following response this morning:
“We are glad to let you know that the Voice of Russia will stay on the air in 2014, however, considerable changes in our frequency schedule are expected. The information on the updated frequency chart will become available on the Voice of Russia’s web site before the New Year at http://voiceofrussia.com/radio_broadcast/frequencies/ , so please stay logged in.
You may have already read about the planned merger of the VOR an RIA Novosti Press Agency in the upcoming year, for details please see the article at http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_12_09/President-Vladimir-Putin-issues-decree-to-reorgonize-Voice-of-Russia-RIA-Novosti-to-Rossia-Segodnya-news-wire-1689/
I also believe it is a stay of execution. The problem that VOR has is that audience measurement for international radio is still very vague compared to online and TV. And the items on Russia Today are given away to other media. The sharing strategy of RT is more effective than anything I have seen from VOR. Radio may make some interesting items, they are just so difficult to find. And we increasingly live in an on-demand world.
On-demand availability as the norm is certainly true, Jonathan – though it’s tough for us who grew up with Radio Moscow available every 50-100 kHz across multiple shortwave bands throughout the day to think they would consider another delivery strategy as effective as shortwave.
Media are merging and integrating. I don’t think we’ll talk about social media in a few years, just media. You define an audience, decide on the message, and then pick the form and distribution. If that’s a strategy then radio becomes a distant third for most international markets. It has become the medium of last resort. I think most of the shortwave networks were planned in an era when oil was 40 dollars a barrel and budgets were all focused on radio (there was no TV or web). It was an era of megawatts. I remember one European broadcaster serving NZ by putting a 500 kW on for the short path, and another 500 kW transmitter on another frequency for the long path. The argument was that one was surely to get through. It was all about distribution not about building audiences.
Jonathan — I can’t say I necessarily disagree with your thesis that things are becoming less ‘compartmentalized’ and there are more options now, but let me pick on one bit of your argument (and by extension the idea that this is the ONLY way things can develop).
You presuppose that oil is the only way to generate electricity and therefore powerful transmitters is not economically feasible any more. Right NOW fossil fuels seem to be ‘it’, but do you really think it will always be that way? I can easily see a day when electricity will be dirt cheap (if we can ever get the oil companies out of the pockets of the politicians!) and $40 a barrel will sound expensive again because the equivalent energy found in a barrel will be available for pennies — not dollars. That is not tomorrow I will grant you, but if you dismantle the infrastructure to use radio as a ‘backup’ and ‘teach’ people that there is nothing to listen to on the radio and distribute ‘opinions’ that there can’t be any use for radio that the Internet can’t do better or imply nobody who disagrees with this has any active brain cells, well ….
I DO however strongly agree that many (but not all) broadcasters don’t ‘get’ the truth behind the old Vatican Radio director’s (Fr John St. George) quote from the 1970s: “A radio station without an audience is just an exercise in piety.” The PROBLEM however is not solved by ditching ‘radio’ as a delivery medium. Put the same dreck on the Internet as on radio, and guess what — no audience. Put good stuff on radio OR the internet (or both) and guess what — people listen — even if the fidelity is not “like local’. And I hope you’re prepared for a world where the internet NEVER goes down or gets blocked or has a contractor break a fiber-optic cable at just the wrong moment etc.
The issue I see is that at present, “media folk” (and a lot of kids out there today!) see all the problems in the world as “nails”, and the ‘hammer’ of the Internet fixes all. It may seem silly to have screwdrivers and wrenches (radio and print) and even saws and drills (live theatre and public lectures/meetings) taking up space in your tool-box in such a world — until you realize there are still more than a few screws and nuts and things that may need more complex fixes out there. If you have thrown those tools away, you are going to have real problems when those things come up!
Don’t gleefully make the world a poorer place by eliminating “old” media because they are no longer shiny and new. Help polish up those old gems and make them better than they were before. I think I see some of this idea in your post when you talk about ‘unifying’ media, but it is certainly lost in the general tone of your message.
After all, this seems a fitting thing to do at Christmas time! 🙂 Happy Christmas all.
Like you said it’s a stay of execution. It comes down to something very simple. It’s just easier and cheaper to keep them going for now. When staff leave don’t replace them, when staff at the transmitter sites are closer to retirement then they could cut more. I would put money on a bet that within 2 or 3 years VOR will be no more. Maybe even less. They audience figures are a little strange.
Ditto with what Richard C said — I have yet to see ANY statistics that show the “Internet” or other ‘alternates’ to SW work at all let alone better than SW did. C’mon broadcasters — you can MEASURE the number of unique hits you get to a website — who’s listening to R Prague or R Sweden today now that SW is kaput? How many before you shut off SW?
I find it telling that the BBC World Service has 694k “likes” on facebook , and
Lady GaGa has 61.3 million
and Miley Cyrus has 36.9 Million
Maybe the ‘audience’ for International Broadcasters isn’t limited by SW but by intelligence? ….
Is that a bad thing? Should we just shut down anything that requires intelligence to appreciate?
MAYBE just maybe, you should turn SW back on and try to actually measure how it works? I am SURE it is more popular than the folks who just want to turn it off think it is, but I have no way to measure it either. Inquiring minds want to know!
In June 2013 Radio Australia submitted to the government figures to the government on why they should drop shortwave to Indonesia. From January 2011 to January 2013 RA’s shortwave audience dropped like a stone, but yet the RA Indonesian app was downloaded and is access by more than 1 million a day. For 1 year they put out a call to listeners in Indonesia to send an email or write of they listen to shortwave. Over 12 months they got less than 400. But comments to the RA Indonesian app can get 400 a day.
The argument about SW has been going on for years now. Every study don’e by every broadcaster and group have all found the same thing. If there was one study that showed something different, then perhaps it would be worth looking into. But studies from BBC, VOA, RA, CRI, NHK and the Association of International Broadcasting have all said the same.
Now personally I would love to see something different and to say something different, but there is nothing out there that is saying anything different.
Not sure about Radio Prague. But Radio Sweden has now shifted it’s focus to a domestic audience and is very successful with it. Events and contests on Radio Sweden are now only open to residents in Sweden.
This is the first formal acknowledgement I’ve seen regarding the shortwave usage rumors.
I believe it’s an open question regarding the impact an international broadcaster has nowadays and how that impact changes with changes in shortwave utilization. Radio Sweden and Radio Prague come to mind as two examples of broadcasters who no longer use shortwave to reach their audiences. It would be interesting to hear from them regarding the audience impact they have nowadays.
Specifically with VoR it was certainly not easy to hear them on SW – especially evenings – when I was on a recent DXPedition.
Today Radio Sweden targets a local audience in Sweden. This is who their audience is. They have also been very successful in Sweden in this regard. Radio Prague on the other hand is a different case. It’s basically a case of lets’s just wait until the staff retire. At RP no one is replaced after they leave.
Although, with the reduction in schedule it’s close to being dead.