BBG Strategy makes its case for less shortwave in US international broadcasting.

Posted: 14 Apr 2012

Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG Strategy website, 11 Apr 2012: "Shortwave. It’s among the most hotly debated topics inside and outside the BBG. Once the single go-to method of distribution, the medium is now just one of many tools employed by BBG broadcasters. The debate on the funding and promise of shortwave merits careful research and analysis as well as accurate data. ... The Argument: Shortwave Cannot Be Jammed, But Satellite Can Be Jammed and the Internet Can Be Blocked. The Facts: This is fiction. The overwhelming majority of our shortwave transmissions to China are indeed routinely jammed. While it is possible, and even likely, that some individuals in remote rural locations might be able to listen to our broadcasts, the reality is that in most cases, the signals, as far as the vast majority of the Chinese population are concerned, are either inaudible or replaced by Chinese government broadcasts. BBG monitoring of these broadcasts confirm this, and samples are available here. ... The Argument: At Any Given Moment, There Are One Billion Shortwave Receivers Turned On Worldwide. The Facts: This statistic, attributed to the International Broadcasting Bureau, was posted on the website of World Christian Broadcasting in a post called 'Why Shortwave?' The post was used to criticize BBG strategy. After all, why would the BBG recommend sun-setting of some shortwave when its own data pointed to wide use? The IBB was very surprised by the attribution and could not find any study that supported the data point. When contacted by the BBG, World Christian Broadcasting president Charles H. Caudill said that the post had been on the site 'for some time,' and the organization could not verify where the ‘one billion’ data had come from. World Christian Broadcasting has since removed the data point and its attribution to the IBB, as well as another data point that claimed 60 million shortwave radios in the Western Hemisphere, from its website."

BBG Watch, 26 Mar 2012: "What active measures have the IBB taken to overcome jamming? Have they shifted frequencies or bands on a random or radical basis? Have they transmitted from various transmitter sites to change the incoming angle (i.e., North – South, East – West, over the Eural mountains, etc) in order to make jamming more difficult? By not attempting to overcome jamming, isn’t this a form of 'surrender' in the War of Ideas? ... Have they experimented with 'twilight' transmission (within an hour before and an hour after sunrise and sunset) when propagation patterns change and make jamming more difficult?"

As a shortwave listener for nearly a half-century, I am saddened to see the reduction of shortwave broadcasting, especially by US international broadcasters. As an international broadcasting audience research analyst, however, I see much data showing a decline in the number of of people owning and and listening to shortwave radios. Even in rural areas, audiences are moving to FM radio, television, and mobile phones.

US international broadcasting should employ, if possible, the media preferred by its target audiences. If access to those media are denied in the target country, then the use of more robust but less popular media is necessary. Shortwave can be jammed, but it still offers the most physical resistance to interdiction of any medium available to international broadcasting. New digital modes allow text to be transmitted very efficiently via shortwave, requiring much less power than needed for voice. Shortwave could therefore be an alternative means of delivery when the internet is blocked. (On the subject of internet blocking, see previous posts re Iran and China.)

For future emergencies, when the internet, mobile networks, cable television, and other popular forms of communication will be disrupted, the United States should maintain an interagency global network of shortwave transmitters. These can be used by US international broadcasting to reach key target countries, by the State Department to reach Americans abroad and for public diplomacy tasks, and by the military for information operations and other purposes. The output of each agency would remain separate. Their functions would not be intermingled. The shortwave transmitter network would operate as a common carrier.

Copyright 2006–2019 Kim Andrew Elliott.