Tag Archives: VOA cuts

Sweeping cuts to VOA, RFE and RFA shortwave services


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:


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.”

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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:


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.”

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VOA reducing shortwave radio broadcasts

VOAFollowing the BBC World Service’s lead, the VOA will reduce broadcasts to Iran, Albania, Georgia and Latin America, along with English language broadcasts to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Full details below:

(Source: Inside VOA)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Voice of America is reducing some of its radio transmissions this weekend and ending shortwave broadcasts to regions where audiences have alternative ways of receiving VOA news and information programs.

The transmission reductions allow VOA to comply with budget cuts required by sequestration and to avoid furloughs of staff members.

When the new broadcast schedule goes into effect on March 31st, cross-border shortwave and medium wave broadcasts to Albania, Georgia, Iran and Latin America will be curtailed, along with English language broadcasts to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

VOA will continue to provide audiences in these regions with up-to-date news and information through a host of other platforms, including radio and TV affiliate stations, direct-to-home satellite, web streaming, mobile sites and social media.

The new broadcast schedule calls for reductions in some  shortwave and medium wave radio broadcasts in Cantonese, Dari/Pashto, English to Africa, Khmer, Kurdish, Mandarin, Portuguese, Urdu and Vietnamese. Direct radio broadcasts to all of these regions will continue.

The transmission reductions are expected to have minimal impact on audience numbers since primary modes of delivery will remain.  Shortwave and medium wave broadcasts will continue to regions where they draw substantial audiences, and to countries where other signal delivery is difficult or impossible.

For more information contact Kyle King at the VOA Public Relations office in Washington at (202) 203-4959, or write [email protected].  For more information about VOA visit our Public Relations website atwww.insidevoa.com, or the main VOA news site at www.voanews.com.

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NPR: Voice Of America’s Role In Internet Age

(Source: NPR)

Host Scott Simon speaks with David Ensor, who took over directorship of Voice of America last month. A longtime journalist for NPR, CNN and ABC News, his most recent post was in Afghanistan, where he was director for communications and public diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Click here to listen to full story on NPR’s website.

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Scrambling to keep VOA China on the air

(Source: Fox News)

Congressional lawmakers are scrambling to prevent America’s international media arm from going off-air in China, arguing that a plan to shift much of its reporting to the Internet won’t do much good in a country notorious for its web censors.

[…]The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, argues that it only makes sense to go digital in a country with the largest Internet-using population in the world. Board officials claim the existing shortwave radio broadcasts don’t have the audience they used to and that the Chinese government is jamming them anyway. In changing platforms, the board projects it will save $8 million and eliminate about 45 positions.

But critics of the move, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., say the United States is setting itself up to cede vital territory in the battle of information abroad.

The article goes on to mention that the BBG would like to fuel internet services, citing, “one-tenth of 1 percent of Chinese listen to VOA in Mandarin, with radio ownership on the decline…[a]nother survey showed computer and Internet usage on a steep upswing.”

Internet usage is up everywhere, but even if VOA succeeds in creating proxy servers that would allow Chinese guests to punch through internet censorship in China, there will still be a risk that Chinese authorities could monitor this circumvention and take action against the listener/web guest.  With shortwave radio, this is a non-issue. Shortwave radio listeners cannot be traced. In fact, ironically, this strength makes it difficult for the BBG and other international broadcasters to justify shortwave service. They can’t identify who is listening!

VOA China services could receive up to 14 million dollars if lawmakers are successful in their push. The hope would be that the BBG would then allow continued services into China.

One can hope.

Read the full article here.

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VOA plans to “sunset” shortwave broadcasts?

(Source: boingboing)

A strategic technology plan prepared by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency responsible for Voice of America, Alhurra, Radio Free Asia and other international stations, concludes that it should end many shortwave broadcasts in favor of “more effective” media such as internet radio.

I found the quote above, and most of the beginning of this article, very disturbing. The same themes keep coming up in this type of announcement: that shortwave broadcasts are expensive while internet services are cheap, that no one listens to shortwave because most people are connected to the internet.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, these statements simply aren’t true. Rather, they’re short-sighted and “western” centric.

I did find one telling paragraph in the above article:

The “sun-setting strategy” proposed will reduce the number of stations owned by the BBG in favor of lease or sharing arrangements with—or outsourcing to—independent broadcasters. A “long-term analysis” of each country and language, and in-house research on shortwave’s effectiveness in each, would determine which areas retain service.

Though I’d love to see the engineers and workers of the VOA broadcasts sites keep their jobs, I do believe outsourcing the actual shortwave transmissions to independent broadcasters makes a lot of financial sense, and could be the way forward to retain vital shortwave in areas which rely almost solely upon it. If you talk to WRMI or WBCQ, you’ll find that they can operate a SW broadcast operation at a fraction of the cost of the VOA; in fact, broadcasts with these independent stations can cost as little as $120 per hour of air time–a small price to pay to retain listeners and keep information flowing.

I don’t necessarily have faith in the ability of the BBG to effectively do “in-house” research to determine which countries/regions get chopped. After all, have any of these decision makers ever lived in a third world country ruled by a dictator? Have any of them ever lived without reliable access to the internet, or even without electric power, as many of these listeners do? Highly doubtful.

I urge readers of the SWLing Post to speak up! Contact the Broadcast Board of Governers and let them know how important shortwave broadcasts are to those living in poverty and in countries with unstable regimes–people who, informationally-speaking, live in the dark.

Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20237
Tel: (202) 203-4400
Fax: (202) 203-4585
E-mail: [email protected]


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VOA criticized for dropping Mandarin service to China

I just noticed this article from the VOA website regarding criticism it recently received from the Heritage Foundation for shutting down VOA’s Mandarin language shortwave radio service to China.

It’s may be once in a blue moon when I agree with a Washington think tank, but in this case, the argument is certainly valid.

VOA, following the lead of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and possibly other broadcasters, decided that it’s much more cost-effective to cut shortwave service and increase its web-based presence in China. Unfortunately, there are still many in China who rely on shortwave radio service for their uncensored view of the rest of the world. Indeed, China’s ruling party is concerned enough about this that they routinely jam VOA transmissions as a form of censorship. Of course, when it comes to shortwave radio, jamming is not often effective. But if broadcasters in the western world (meaning VOA, BBC, DW) decide not to bother broadcasting into China, limitation of service is 100% effective. Indeed, we’re “jamming” the service before it ever has a chance to leave our respective countries.

Access to the internet, on the other hand, is completely controlled by the Chinese ruling party. Should they decide to, they can simply pull the plug and leave their citizens in the dark, informationally speaking. If you question this, simply ask people in Fiji, Egypt and Burma–and, oh, yes– Iran is now tinkering with the idea.

China is an amazing country, not to mention a technological leader in communications; its government simply has a track record of filtering information in a manner which many view as a violation of a basic human right. And censorship is a thriving business:  just ask Google. Or try to view VOA’s Manadarin website while traveling in China: you, too, may find yourself a victim of Chinese censorship.

Let us leave some information access available to those in China by keeping shortwave service alive there. There must be other cost-effective means of information sharing that doesn’t require throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Read the original VOA article here.

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