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Shortwave broadcasting continues decline amid newer technology, report finds

Official VOA logo
Official VOA logo
courtesy of VOA

There's something warm and comforting about the crackle of static and the hunt for signals on shortwave radio, even as our lives are immersed in digital technology.

For those of us still tuning through the white noise, there are fewer international broadcasters to hear, as migration continues to the Internet, FM radio and satellite TV.

That's the not-so-surprising finding of a report by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), overseers of the taxpayer-funded Voice of America and its affiliates, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

The report, titled "To Be Where the Audience Is" suggests further cuts in traditional high-powered VOA radio transmissions aimed overseas, and a change to more Internet feeds, FM radio broadcasts and TV programming.

It finds that listening habits have changed drastically in only a decade.

Among the findings:

People living in Asia and much of the Middle East have very little, if any reliance on shortwave radio and most get information from FM radio, and domestic and satellite television.

Younger people in particular have abandoned shortwave radio for devices of the digital age - especially computers and smartphones, wherever they are available.

Satellite TV is a growing trend, especially in the Middle East where it's officially banned in some countries.

"Populations continue to gravitate to them (satellite dishes) because of both the richness of content available and the opportunity for interactions that so many repressed populations desperately want," the report states.

It also notes that the repressive regimes of Syria and Iran have not been able to confiscate all of the satellite receivers in use, and now acknowledge that large segments of the population watch "prohibited" content.

Shortwave isn't completely dead, though.

The report found a large listener base in Nigeria and Burma, with more than six million listeners each, followed by Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran and Zimbabwe, with about four million each.

In those regions, VOA will continue to reach targeted shortwave audiences.

Glenn Hauser, editor of "DX Listening Digest" and host of "World of Radio" has been monitoring and writing about shortwave for more than 30 years.

He tells that it's a tough time to be a shortwave hobbyist:

"I can only lament the general demise of international shortwave broadcasting. However, there is also an apparent trend downward in solar activity, which means poorer propagation conditions, so even if a lot of stations weren`t closing, it might have become harder and harder to get reliable reception."

"What will become of all that vacated spectrum? Nothing beats hearing a station direct from the source, even if reception is imperfect, but not everyone gets it," he said.

Voice of America was founded during World War II on a 640-acre transmitter site in Bethany, Ohio. That site is now decommissioned and has become a museum, but other VOA sites are active in Greenville, North Carolina and the island nation of Sao Tome.

Today VOA provides international news and entertainment programming in over 60 languages with an annual budget of more than $200 million.

An interesting multimedia history of VOA can be found here:

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