NASWA Journal Columns · Easy Listening, July 2001

Richard Cuff • 42 North 37th Street • Allentown, PA 18104 richard◊thecuffs.us

Easy Listening, July 2001

Save the BBC World Service! Radio Netherlands to the Rescue!

NOTE: Information was changing hourly, it seemed, as I was finishing this on June 28th. Check the websites referenced below for updated information.

Current Status of the BBC World Service to North America and Australasia

Since the BBC has not indicated it will change its plans to end its transmissions targeting North America and Australasia on July 1st, Merlin Communications, the operator of BBC’s transmitters, has sold the use of those transmitters and times targeting North America to Radio Netherlands for English-language programming beginning that day. From a Radio Netherlands press release, “The publicity campaign is designed to recognize and support the millions of short-wave radio owners in North America who still believe in direct contact with Europe from across the Atlantic.” Here are the times and frequencies that will have Radio Netherlands programming by the time you read this; thanks to Kim Elliott for formatting the list.

0000-0200 6175 9590
0200-0400 6135 6175
0400-0500 5975 6175
0500-0700 6175
1000-1100 5965 6195
1100-1200 5965
1200-1300 9515
1300-1400 9515 11865
1400-1600 9515 11865 15220
1600-1630 9515
1700-1800 17840
2200-2400 6175 9590

Details of the programming to be scheduled for this special service were not available as of Journal deadlines, so you’ll have to listen for yourself to see what will be on! Radio Netherlands should be commended for their continuing commitment to shortwave in its delivery mix to North America, as backed up by their financial commitment to these special broadcasts. Make sure you send them a note (letters@rnw.nl) telling them so!

As of this writing, the QSL policy for these special frequencies and times has not been established; keep in mind the purpose for these transmissions is programming to North America, not any sort of DX test. If you’re interested in more specifics regarding any sort of QSL arrangement for these special transmissions, I suggest you visit the Radio Netherlands website (http://www.rnw.nl) or NASWeb (http://www.naswa.net) for an update.

Meanwhile, back at the BBC, the Bush House spinmeisters claim (and I agree) that the following frequencies, targeting Central and South America, should still provide reasonably good reception on a mid-grade portable receiver, or better, in the Eastern USA and Canada:

5975 kHz: 2300 to 0400 UTC
9915 kHz: 0000 to 0300 UTC
12095 kHz: 2100 to 0300 UTC
15220 kHz: 1100 to 1400 UTC
17840 kHz: 1400 to 1700 UTC

Frequencies suggested for the West Coast of USA and Canada include the following:

9740 kHz: 1100 to 1500 UTC
9815 kHz: 1200 to 1500 UTC
11955 kHz or 15280 kHz: 1100 to 1300 UTC

If you inspect these lists, while most NASWAns will likely be able to find the BBC at least part of the time, the loss will be more acute for the more casual listener that might not have as sensitive a receiver, with such frequencies as 9515 and 9590 disappearing.

Finally, late unconfirmed word is that Latin America will see the following new frequencies for the BBC World Service in English as of July 2nd:

0000-0100 on 11810
0100-0500 on 11835

Coalition to Save the BBC World Service: http://www.savebbc.org  

Just after putting the June column to bed, a group of shortwave enthusiasts joined together to form the Coalition, in order to create a focused, unified voice to protest the BBC’s decision via press releases, media contacts, and a website: http://www.savebbc.org. Many of the Coalition’s members are no strangers to NASWA members: John Figliozzi, Sheldon Harvey (of fellow ANARC club CIDX), Ralph Brandi, Tom Sundstrom, and yours truly. Other members of the coalition include ANARC Chariman Mark Meece, David Norrie of New Zealand, and Andy Reid of the Ontario DX Association.

In my opinion, Sheldon gets most of the credit for the basic idea, given his experience in marshalling support for Radio Canada International in the early ’90s. Ralph has done most of the behind-the-scenes work with his webmastering skills, and John has contributed significant portions of the talking points on the site. I brought my “red pen” to help edit some of the items. John, Ralph, Sheldon, and I have all taken turns “in the barrel” with interviews for newspapers and radio, and serving as media contacts for follow-up.

If you have Web access and care about the BBC-even though it’s after July 1st-please stop by the website for the latest updates and for a list of recommended actions and contacts.

The Coalition has been successful in helping to spread the word about the BBC’s decision to the following news organizations, among others:

Among the comments posted at the saveBBC website were the following from Graham Mytton, the former director of Audience Research at the World Service:

If I had still been at the BBC I would have opposed this move vehemently. I believe it is misguided and wrong.

You are invited to add your own comments at the website as well.

In addition, an “Early Day Motion” was created by a member of the British Parliament to allow mps an opportunity to add their voices in opposition and pressure the BBC and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. At last count, 24 members of Parliament had added their names to the motion.

By emphasizing the saveBBC website here I don’t mean to toot my own horn-far from it. The website has been a very effective tool in providing a reference base for interested media to put together their basic story, and to facilitate individual listener contact to the BBC and other organizations. The website has helped publicize shortwave radio and give it a visibility in North America that I have not seen before in my 16 years of active listening.

What To Do Even Though It’s After July 1st

By no means should we ease the pressure on the BBC. One area we’ve found sympathetic to our cause is Bush House itself-the rank and file of World Service employees as well as many of the program producers. Both the British press and our own private correspondence support the claim that this is an unpopular decision within the BBC itself. We know of at least one petition circulating Bush House to urge World Service management to rescind the decision.

Many of the producers, presenters, and programs have their own E-mail addresses; if you don’t know a particular E-mail address, safe guesses would be programname@bbc.co.uk (with no punctuation to the left of the @-symbol) and firstname.lastname@bbc.co.uk for individuals. If you will miss a particular program-or a particular presenter-take a few minutes and drop them a note saying so, and urge them to support our efforts.

Also, we all should ratchet up our awareness of the failures of FM and Internet audio when we experience them, and contact Audience Relations at the first sign of trouble with net congestion, rebuffering, blocked audio due to rights restrictions, or server-not-found errors. At minimum, send these E-mails to the worldservice.letters@bbc.co.uk address. Yes, you’ll receive an automated response, but it’s my experience that all comments, good and bad, are read and forwarded to the appropriate department. My logic is that I might have tolerance for Internet difficulties if the BBC considers it an “experimental medium”, but if the BBC now considers the Internet to be a mainstream alternative for hearing the World Service, then I will hold it to a high standard of reliability.

If you haven’t yet contacted the Foreign & Commonwealth Office-which funds the World Service-take the time to do so. Check my column in last month’s Journal for the details or visit the www.savebbc.org website.

If you have questions that I haven’t answered here, please don’t hesitate to contact me via snail mail or E-mail as shown above. I’ll be happy to steer you in the right direction so you can add your voice to the chorus of discontent.

RCI Action Committee

As I mentioned last month, the news isn’t good out of Radio Canada International, either. Weekend RCI-produced newscasts are no more, and all programs, including English, will be a maximum 30 minutes in length. There has been a reorganization of RCI, with Robert O’Reilly departing and Denis Doucet taking the helm. RCI is now under the direct control of the CBC, versus its prior semi-autonomous status.

One of the fears is that RCI’s protected funding from the Heritage Ministry in the Canadian Government might get absorbed in other areas, but there have been no statements to this effect at this point.

Immediate consequences of these moves include the following:

The RCI Action Committee maintains a website at URL http://www.geocities.com/rciaction, and includes an updated description of all the issues and suggested actions for interested listeners. If you don’t have web access, here are the key individuals to contact:

All communication with the Committee is considered confidential. All comments reprinted on their website have been authorized by the senders before being posted.

Given that RCI has actually operated in 2001 with a budget surplus, there is no obvious reason why such moves have to be implemented so urgently. One of the reasons that it’s important to make your opinions known is that the Canadian government, the CBC, and RCI are also re-evaluating RCI’s “mandate” for broadcasting; if you believe you should be part of RCI’s target audience, you should say so and support your assertion with your reasoning.

Why should you “justify” your being part of RCI’s audience? We found, with the BBC, that they’ve somewhat arrogantly and unilaterally developed a target North American audience of opinion formers and decision makers. This was already a fait accompli when the BBC situation came up; in the case of RCI, we have an opportunity to help them understand who should be their target audience & why. Let’s use this to our advantage.

Editorial: RCI deserves to maintain a strong presence broadcasting on shortwave to North America. US culture is one of the most overwhelming exports we have, and can easily out-shout the cultural heritage of Canada and other countries. rci is one way to help keep Canadian culture, economics, and current events from being drowned out by its neighbor to the south, and RCI helps to reduce the perception that Canada is “just like” the US but colder in winter. Canada has retained a more European flavor than the us as the years have progressed, and Canada can help serve as a cultural “bridge” between the US and Europe. Further, as the grandson of Canadians, I retain family ties and a sense of belonging to Canada which RCI helps promote by its shortwave presence. Canada’s shortwave presence should be restored without compromise of services, and its funding should be kept secure from other uses.

Radio Austria International: Surviving, but Barely

As mentioned last month, Radio Austria International (“RÖI”, its German language acronym) is barely alive. RÖI’s 2001 funding is only 50% of 1999 levels, and services have been cut.

Roland Machatschke, Director of RÖI, says that a new Broadcasting Law is to be passed by the Austrian Parliament in July. By this law the task of financing RÖI will be handed over to ORF, Austria’s state broadcaster. But according to the letter of the draft ORF will have no obligation to operate RÖI. Historically RÖI’s funding has been provided as a separate line item, and not be rolled into ORF funding.

Should the ORF management (which almost certainly will be renewed together with the Law) decide that there is not enough money for an international radio program they can shut down RÖI at their discretion.

So far, RÖI’s cuts have primarily affected its German language service. Radio Austria International was forced to let go half of its roughly 100 regular staff and freelancers within the space of six months. Programming itself had to be changed to concentrate on the core responsibilities of an international broadcaster, namely news and current affairs. Thus all music programs were discontinued, a decision not easily made by Austria’s voice to the world, considering the fact Austria is regarded as the “land of music”. All told, 26 of the 36 magazine programs were cancelled along with all RÖI produced news broadcasts and current affairs programs, with the exception of the “Oesterreich Journal”, which is broadcast Monday through Friday.

The other language services have remained by and large unchanged, because with their 13 percent share of the entire programming it would have been difficult to make further cuts without endangering their very existence. However, in order to be able to offer RÖI listeners an “Austrian program” and so as not to relinquish the traditional broadcasting frequencies, it was decided to fill the gaps which became available with cultural and news programs from ORF’s domestic station “Oe1”. Unfortunately, RÖI has had to curtail some services to more distant target areas because of the high electricity costs involved. For that reason, instead of being on the air to overseas target areas for several hours a day, RÖI can usually only be heard there for one hour daily.

Radio Austria International’s website url is http://roi.orf.at, and RÖI can be reached via fax at 011-43-1-50101-16066, and e-mail at roi.service@orf.at.

Evening Alternatives to BBC’s News Coverage

If you would just as soon “vote with your feet” with respect to the BBC World Service as of July 1st, here are three suggestions for current affairs programs from broadcasters whose efforts rival those of the BBC.

Newslink from Deutsche Welle

Newslink is a 25 minute current affairs program, broadcast four times a day live, with the last edition repeated for the night time broadcasts to North America. It comes after 5 minutes of world news in Deutsche Welle‘s English Service broadcasts.

Graeme Lucas, head of Deutsche Welle’s English Service Current Affairs, adds the following info:

On Newslink we try to analyze stories rather than focusing on breaking news itself. We leave breaking news largely to our news desk. That means that Newslink producers try to present European and German views and perspectives on major developments rather than just rehashing world stories that other stations cover anyway.

That means getting as many of the political actors onto our Newslink stage as possible. In the 1900 UTC version, [the version broadcast to North America at 01, 03, and 05 UT-ed], we have a heavy but not exclusive focus on events in Europe. The other versions of Newslink (0900, 1100 and 1600 UTC) tend to take in world events as well. We do not however only cover the hard political stories but also take in business issues, cultural events and sports. We are also always on the lookout for the strange kind of stories that listeners like, for instance we did a story recently on how the behavior of pigs towards their young improved when Mozart was played to them over loudspeakers! We also have a monthly current affairs quiz and have prepared promotional material to highlight up-coming events and the work of DW-Online.

Since budget cutbacks here forced us to completely rethink about working methods and the Newslink mission statement we have been working very hard to improve the show with less money. This may sound like trying to square a circle, but we are proud of what we have achieved in the last nine months. The growing number of positive e-mails and letters from listeners suggests we are on the right track.

Newsline from Radio Netherlands

Newsline has long been a staple of Radio Netherlands’ English language programming. The schedule revision which enlarged Newsline into a half-hour program essentially gives you three opportunities-2330 weekdays, and 0100 and 0430 Tuesdays through Saturdays-to hear this half-hour program in Radio Netherlands’ North American releases. There may well be other airings during the special services beginning on July 1st, as mentioned above.

Jane Murphy, Editor of Newsline, offers this insight:

At Newsline, we focus more on background and analysis. In other words, we may not necessarily cover the main news event of the day if we don’t think we can give any real insight. I mean, how many times can you ask aid workers at a disaster scene what the survivors need most? We try to take the opportunity to give context to stories making the news. We also work hard to give coverage to issues and to areas of the world which we think tend to be neglected. The other thing that distinguishes us is our style, which I think could be described as unaffected.

News Now from the Voice of America

By mid-July you can expect to see some significant tweaking to the News Now format to enhance its variety and depth of coverage, even on weekdays. Four different types of programming will be used in the second half-hour of each hour-long block. These will not be rotated in exact sequence.

Two of the these half-hour blocks will emphasize news and information content; two feature programs will be added to this program block, with one focusing on Americana, to include science, technology, environment, and agriculture reports, with the other emphasizing “lifestyle” developments, especially in the United States.

The third format reintroduces music to the News Now stream in four carefully selected hours, generally late-evening listener-times in the voa’s target areas. Various forms of American music will be spotlighted, laced with plenty of informational content about the genre, artist, and culture that produced it.

The fourth format is the Talk to America hour, which will air twice daily – once live, once repeated.

These sound like encouraging changes, and should help introduce a sense of “style” to voa programming currently missing in the NewsNow service.

And in conclusion…

No matter how this BBC situation settles out, I have been extremely pleased by the dialogue we’ve been able to set up within the BBC rank and file itself regarding its programming and how we value it. As I mentioned in the RCI section above, with shortwave competing with other program delivery methods for budget dollars, we listeners can no longer afford to take any broadcaster as a “given” on shortwave. If you don’t make the effort to write or send an E-mail, you don’t have a right to complain when your favorite broadcaster disappears from shortwave.

Until next month,

SAVE THE BBC WORLD SERVICE!

73 DE Richard

Read more Easy Listening columns.

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