Kim’s Column, September 2008
Radio Netherlands’ rapidly-fading shortwave signal
Of particular importance to us in the the North American Shortwave Association is Radio Netherlands’ decision to quit English-language shortwave broadcasts to North America.
This is a big one, following the BBC and Deutsche Welle abandonments of shortwave English to North America, as well as similar moves by Kol Israel, HCJB, Radio Vlaanderen International, RAI, Swiss Radio International, etc. German shortwave expert Kai Ludwig wrote: “This marks the end of shortwave as a relevant broadcast medium in the USA and Canada. The programming still transmitted on shortwave in and into North America should be of interest to very small niche audiences only. In some cases it may even damage the reputation of the medium further.”
The RN announcement on September 15 conveniently buried the lead, mentioning first the availability of the station’s programs via public radio stations, Sirius satellite radio, and the internet, then, finally, down in the middle, mentioning that “we have decided to end our shortwave broadcasts to the region” as of October 26.
As for those newer media, RN via public radio stations is very overrated. RN may have several “affiliates,” but chances are the program you want to hear is not on a station in your community, at least at an hour you would like to listen. The Sirius option is only for Sirius subscribers. The best bet is internet access. And even though internet radio is now receivable on internet radios, these nifty new devices are still not as portable as battery-powered shortwave radios.
As an exercise, I have been listening to Radio Netherlands on my Tangent Quatrro wifi internet radio. It is based on the Reciva list of internet stations. Via shortwave, Radio Netherlands was the only station from the Netherlands (with the exception of the occasional pirate). Via Reciva-based internet radio, there are 439 radio stations available from the Netherlands.
The Reciva database is a mess, with stations added on request even though they might already be available. For Radio Netherlands, the following are available on the menu: 1) radio Nederland en espanol, 2) Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, 3) Radio Netherlands, 4) Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 5) RNW 1 NL, 6) RNW 2 English, 7) RNW 24, 8) RNW 3, 9) RNW 3 Espanol, 10) RNW and Radio Netherlands. Some are separate streams, some are redundant. But it is a reasonably reliable way of hearing Radio Netherlands in English.
The only improvement I would ask for is on-demand RN programs on Reciva- based internet radios, as is the case with BBC World Service and BBC domestic radio networks. Of course, RN programs are available on-demand for online listening or downloading from www.rnw.nl.
So far, there are about 75 responses to the RN announcement about dropping English shortwave to North America. Not surprisingly, most oppose the decision, and many of these mention the portability of shortwave radios compared to other media. Some of the responses are resigned to the decline of shortwave, and a few even support the decision.
But there will probably be no major Save Radio Netherlands Shortwave campaign. After the vigorous effort to convince BBC World Service to keep its shortwave to North America, spearheaded by Ralph Brandi’s www.savebbc.org (still available and worth reading), ultimately did not succeed, U.S. shortwave listeners, I think, concluded that further resistance would be futile. Indeed, other stations have been leaving shortwave with distressing regularity.
Flanders Calling in the post-shortwave era
Radio Vlaanderen International, international service of the Ditch speaking community of Begium, gave up on shortwave in 2005. At the time, they promised to maintain content in English, French, and German via www.rvi.be. I can’t find any English there now. (And whatever happened to the great international broadcaster Frans Vossen?)
But I knew, by previous web explorations, that English content is available from Belgium. First I visited the website of RVI’s domestic parent VRT: www.vrt.be. After further exploring, and dumb luck (I would never be able to find it again), I did happen upon http://www.deredactie.be. There, as well as the original Dutch, English, French, and German can also be clicked. The English site, which also has the easy-to-remember URL flandersnews.be, has several news stories about Belgium available as text. Some are also presented as video reports, and some just have background video. It’s an impressive service and a good example of post-shortwave international broadcasting.
Another example of post-shortwave international broadcasting: you can still hear the news in English from RAI Italy. Go to www.rai.it, then click on Radio, then click on RAI International Radio, then click on Notturno Italiano. This is an all-night RAI program heard in Europe on medium wave. It’s available from 2220 to 0400 UTC (2320-0500 UTC after October 26), or, hour by hour, on demand.
News in Italian is transmitted at the top of the hour, followed by news in English at about 5 minutes past, followed, sometimes, by news in French. The rest of Nottorno Italiano is in Italian, but most of that is an eclectic mix of music, nice to listen to while you’re doing something around the house.
Four VOA services end radio broadcasts
September 30 was the last day of radio broadcasts for the VOA Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, and Hindi services. They continue as internet services, and VOA Hindi has a weekly feed on India’s Aaj Tak television. VOA Hindi and Serbian were on shortwave to the end, while Bosnian and Macedonian were only via affiliates in their target countries.
VOA Russian ended July 26, inconveniently just before Russia’s incursion into Georgia. VOA Georgian was supposed to be shut down altogether, in all media, on September 30, but the South Ossetian events have put that off for the time being. VOA Ukrainian radio also has a stay until later in the year.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors reversed its earlier decision to drop VOA Croatian, Turkish, and Greek radio broadcasts. The Greek service is supported by a strong Greek-American lobby and Congressional caucus, and will probably stay on the air forever.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty retains its radio broadcasts in Russian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bosnian, and Macedonian.
Views expressed are my own. More at www.kimandrewelliott.com.