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BBC World Service cancelling shortwave broadcasts

By Mertamet in Media
Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:22:18 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

The BBC World Service is cancelling its shortwave broadcasts to North America and Australiasia as of July 1. There is a grassroots effort to get the BBC to reconsider this decision. Instead of widespread availability currently in place, the BBC believes that a patchwork of local FM/AM stations broadcasting a portion of the World Service's content is sufficient for its North American and Australiasian listeners.

Unfortunately, for anyone wanting to listen to anything other than one or two selected shows, normally broadcast at terribly inconvenient times, there is no longer an option to hear the BBC World Service on radio.

The BBC also points to the Internet as an alternative to hear all the World Service content. However, there are a number of problems with this solution.

  • NOT all content is broadcast on the web.
  • Mobility of listening is completely lost.
  • Price of being able to listen online can be much higher than currently available shortwave radios, especially in remote areas.

As an example of how shortwave radio is the best and often only way to listen to the World Service, lets look at the metropolitan NYC area. The station that the BBC cites as my alternative (WNYC-AM) broadcasts 2-3 hours of BBC content daily. Unfortunately, because of clear channel laws for AM broadcasting, WNYC-AM has to cut its power by a factor of 10 after sunset, and the station becomes nearly impossible to listen to by anyone outside of city limits. WNYE-FM broadcasts BBC World Service from 1 am-6:30 am. This is not a terribly convenient time for most people. Really, this is filler for the station. Plus, the station is not very easy to listen to in New Jersey, where I live.

I personally went out and bought a Grundig Yacht Boy 400 specifically to listen to the BBC World Service because the other options were insufficient for me. What are the options in more remote locales? I personally like to bring my shortwave radio with me on travels and when camping to keep up on world news, this option is severely hampered by removing shortwave service.

If you, like myself, believe that the BBC is being premature and shortsighted in cancelling its service to North America and Australiasia, there are a number of addresses at which you can make your voice heard.

It would truly be a shame if we lost access to the BBC on shortwave.


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BBC World Service cancelling shortwave broadcasts | 37 comments (31 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
wtf is australiasia? (2.25 / 8) (#1)
by starbreeze on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:09:35 PM EST

wtf is australiasia?

"There's something strangely musical about noise." ~Trent Reznor

australasia (5.00 / 1) (#2)
by ucblockhead on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:14:43 PM EST

There's an extra 'i' there. It is a geographical term. It refers to Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, etc.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Term? (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by fluffy grue on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:39:39 PM EST

I thought the proper term for that was "Oceana" or something.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Oceania (none / 0) (#10)
by Aztech on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:49:46 PM EST

There's an extra 'i' there, Oceania. It's a term largely used to describe the hundreds of little islands in the pacific though.

[ Parent ]
Wasn't sure (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by fluffy grue on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:49:21 PM EST

And of course, "Oceania" is also the name of one of those pie-in-the-sky constructed country projects. I thought that due to the nature of shortwave, though, the broadcast to Australasia(?) would reach all of Oceania... or is Oceania much bigger than I think it is?
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Oceania and Australasia are interchangable (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by larsdahl on Sun Jun 17, 2001 at 10:23:43 PM EST

I live in the area (Australia) and up to now, I didn't even know the difference. (And yes, I even got A's in Geography in high school :-) I always thought that Oceania was bigger than the `Australasian' region, but Dictionary.com corrected that misapprehension when I did a search for `Australasia':

Aus·tral·a·sia ([non-ASCII pronunciation symbols here])

  1. The islands of the southern Pacific Ocean, including Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea.
  2. Broadly, all of Oceania

Which to me implies they're interchangable. And yes, you may call me a mojo whore now :-)

A .sig? Now what would I want with one of those?
[ Parent ]
Australasia (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by starbreeze on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 02:03:49 PM EST

Thank you. That wasn't worth giving me a 1 for freaks... anywayz, is that a relatively new term? I did pay attention in geography in middle school (the last time geography was taught in my public school) but i have never ever heard that term. And in the article he spelled it with that extra 'i'.

"There's something strangely musical about noise." ~Trent Reznor
[ Parent ]

Australasia (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by Aztech on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 02:44:52 PM EST

Actually I think it's a really old term, old maps probably have 'Australasia', I've always called it the 'Asia Pacific', who knows.

US schools teach geography? Wow :)

[ Parent ]
Geography (none / 0) (#18)
by starbreeze on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:21:00 PM EST

Yup, even my college taught geography, but you weren't allowed to take it unless you were an elementary education major.

"There's something strangely musical about noise." ~Trent Reznor
[ Parent ]

It's not all the BBCs fault (4.40 / 5) (#3)
by Vulch on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:14:52 PM EST

Before everyone starts blaming the BBC for this it's worth noting that, unlike the domestic TV and radio services which are funded from the TV licence fee, the World Service gets its money directly from the UK government, specifically the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

If the FCO reduces the funding available, something has to go. I don't know how much of the budget is earmarked for particular destinations, extra money was made available to split the Serbo-Croat broadcasts into Serbian and Croatian services when Yugoslavia dissolved for instance, but this case could be either the FCO saying "Cut North American and Australian broadcasts" or saying "Here's less money, cut something", in which case it makes some sort of sense to reduce services to areas where news is reasonable free, rather than say cutting Chinese and Iraqi broadcasts to pick two at random.

This is crazy (4.00 / 5) (#11)
by jd on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 12:50:19 PM EST

The BBC is funded by:

  • Grants (and VERY sizable ones, at that)
  • Licence Fees (compulsary to all TV owners)
  • Sales to Normal Humans (BBC Enterprises is no cottage industry)
  • Sales to other Broadcasting Houses (Almost all BBC programs are offered for sale to other broadcasters, and the price isn't peanuts, either)
  • Repeat fees from overseas broadcasters
  • Auctions of old BBC items (eg: costumes, props, etc)

There are probably other methods with which the BBC makes money, but these are the ones that spring to mind. The BBC is NOT a poor company, no matter WHAT the BBC Director General may say. It's probably one of the bigger television stations in Europe.

To argue that they need to drop international shortwave broadcasts is to argue that they don't need recognition. However, most of their income is FROM recognition! Look at the list, for a moment. Most of their income is derived from the importance and relevence of the BBC to listeners.

(You don't get many repeat fees paid for programs never requested, because nobody knew they ever existed in the first place.)

Thus, sure, I can see that s/w broadcasts cost money. So does building a computer. Gateway wouldn't get very far, if they tried arguing to their customers that building computers is expensive. The BBC shouldn't be allowed to do the same thing, either.

(And, no, the BBC has no automatic right to do anything it likes. It's not an autonomous company. The Government may claim that the BBC is a free agent, but if the Government says "jump", you can be damn sure that the BBC's only response will be "how high?")

However, this IS consistant with the BBC's attitude, over the past decade. The BBC Radiophonics Workshop was closed. Then went the BBC Costume Department. They're hell-bent on out-sourcing the whole damn thing.

In the end, the BBC - and its reputation for making some very high-quality broadcasts that will be remembered for generations - will simply cease to exist. It'll all be cheap imports for the TV and junk pop for the radio. (It's getting that way, now.)

funding (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by dcorriga on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:16:43 PM EST


The world service is funded independently of the rest of the bbc - by the foreign office, so the relative wealth of the rest of the institution doesn't really affect them.

Also, last time i checked you could get the World Service on MW 648 in good old Blighty. I listento it now and then - it has a refreshingly international perspective (somewhat unsurprsingly ;)


[ Parent ]

Not here (none / 0) (#20)
by Aztech on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 03:59:12 PM EST

Hrm... MW 648 is nothing but static here (Midlands), I can get Radio5 on 693 along with a load of French and Russian stations though.

[ Parent ]
Maybe that's it!! (none / 0) (#21)
by jd on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 04:20:00 PM EST

Maybe you've solved the mystery! Here, have a scooby-snack. :) It's those French radio stations, complaining that they can't be heard clearly, with all that clutter from the BBC.

Next thing you know, they'll set fire to the channel tunnel again, in protest.

[ Parent ]

Sure (none / 0) (#22)
by aphrael on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 05:11:39 PM EST

but the BBC isn't making any money broadcasting to north america, and there's no reasonable british government objective that's met by doing so. i *like* bbc world news. but i don't see any reasons why they would want to provide it to me in shortwave form except charity and nostalgia.

[ Parent ]
Money? (none / 0) (#23)
by wfaulk on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 05:30:26 PM EST

This is a good point, but, given that the BBC WS is funded by British government (according to multiple comments posted here), it might be better to say that they aren't providing British subjects with any benefit by broadcasting in North America, as it's a government's job not to make money, but to provide for its citizenry.

[ Parent ]
Cash (4.50 / 2) (#24)
by Aztech on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 06:01:20 PM EST

"...as it's a government's job not to make money, but to provide for its citizenry."
Maybe... but you can't get the WS in the UK anyway, apart from Digital Radio (they have room to fit it in) and obviously the net. So it's not really set up for British people.

Most of its listeners are in the Commonwealth and across the world.

I guess they target developing nations (especially those with tyrannical governments) rather than cosy first world democracies, it's a matter of priorities, hence they're cutting off the SW signal, after reading a few articles it will only save them £500k ($700k) which is a drop in the ocean, I think their annual budget is around £230m ($322m) including this new $100m top up.

There doesn't seem to be much financial gain by these moves, but there's certainly a lot to loose by cutting these people off, they are disenfranchising numerous loyal listeners and generating bad publicity for the WS.

It's a bit of a disgrace really, the British government's coffers have been well endowed in recent years, they can well afford to keep these services active, they should be above penny pinching.

[ Parent ]
FYI (none / 0) (#31)
by leviathan on Thu Jun 21, 2001 at 02:44:28 PM EST

You should be able to pick up the shortwave transmissions for western europe. I did believe that most of the country was covered by MW transmissions too, but you don't seem to be able to get them. Plus, of course, between 01:00 and 05:30 (I think), it's broadcast on FM on Radio 4's frequency.

I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert
[ Parent ]
Citizens, not subjects (none / 0) (#25)
by amanset on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 07:05:22 PM EST

Please stop using the outdated "Subjects" term. The way it is often spat out at this place (and the other one) means it is slowly entering the area of the derogatory term.

The concept of the British Subject exists, but these are the people on the few islands we still own. Everyone else is a British Citizen. I even have that line on my passport:

Nationality: British Citizen

... and it then explains how I differ to a British Subject (for example, rights of abode).

[ Parent ]

Re: Citizens, not subjects (OT) (none / 0) (#26)
by wfaulk on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 07:22:27 PM EST

First, I certainly didn't intend it to be derogatory in any way. I apologize if any offense was taken. I thought that that was the appropriate term.

At the same time, I don't understand what you're saying. The folks that live in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are subjects but the folks that live elsewhere are not? Or are subjects also the folks that live on the Falkland Islands and the British Virgin Islands etc. as well? If so, who's left to be simply a citizen? Canadians and Australians?

[ Parent ]

Citizenship (none / 0) (#27)
by amanset on Sat Jun 16, 2001 at 05:30:53 AM EST

By islands I meant places like Bermuda, not the British Isles! This site explains the differences.

"British Subject: This generally applies to people who were born before 1 January 1949 and who had a connection with either British India or the Republic of Ireland (Southern Ireland)."

[ Parent ]

Kind of inevitable (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by weirdling on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 01:29:21 PM EST

The number of US citizens who actually have a shortwave is not very large compared to the rest of the world. I have one somewhere, but since coming back to the States, it has mostly gathered dust except for periods where I get a bug to see what's on, and then the offerings are dismal. VOA (Voice of America) doesn't even come in that well here. Family Radio still runs a shortwave station out of California, and AWR (Adventist World Radio) can sometimes be heard, as well. That's about it. When I was in Texas, BBC World Radio didn't even come in all that well and was given to channel hopping.
Now, when I was a kid in India, there was BBC WR, several BBC entertainment channels, local news run by the Indian government, AWR, Family Radio, VOA, and the ISO radio shows, such as baseball games and so on.
The point of all this nostalgia? I really think that the shortwave is going out just like the Marconi before it. It's a pity, too, because we've finally got transistorized shortwaves that are actually better than my college roommate's old tube radio.
Why? Very few countries are so poor that they cannot afford TV stations and those that are that poor are often in inaccessible areas, such as Rwanda, whose mountains make receiving shortwave difficult.
Also, the major funding for large, high-power shortwave was government propaganda, which is why the BBC WR answers to the foreign office and VOA answers to the state department. Since the end of the cold war, there isn't much call for informing citizens how evil their governments are except for the likes of Milosovic, and, oddly enough, most countries that have such dictators now have never had significant access to shortwave.
Even ISO no longer does much, as most of their stuff can be handled by high-speed datalinks direct to base, so the troops can see the superbowl in real time, or, as in the case of last superbowl, the broadcasters can visit the ship and broadcast from there.
Just another one of those technologies with decreasing importance...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
Dead? (4.25 / 4) (#15)
by Aztech on Fri Jun 15, 2001 at 02:37:16 PM EST

First off you're making it sound like the WS is half dead, which isn't true apparently, their reach is constantly increasing and continues to set new records. This surprised me.

I'm also told they've modernised, ironically they don't broadcast in the UK (unless you have digital) so I only have knowledge from some of their FM rebroadcasts at night. I had a bait of insomnia last year and found the WS whilst messing with the radio, I thought these stations had died out with the empire, but their programming was engaging, it's an interesting station, and this isn't an old fart speaking.

They've been given an extra $100m a year increase in their budget in recent months, so it seems general budget cuts isn't the motive behind this. Today, I guess they're targeting specific areas such as the Asia pacific and Africa, and since the US and Australia have highly diversified free news I guess they were first areas they could kill SW and direct some money into other areas. I doubt it costs much to keep a transmitter running though, just an electricity bill and a maintenance crew?

The BBC also have stuff like News24 and BBC World which is carried on satellite to loads of places (including the US), they also carry the WS radio station. So if you're a real media junkie, I guess you have a big-dish, granted, they're not very portable.

I know the UK Govt funds them, but I wouldn't really call it propaganda, I guess they have a pro-western bent, I'm probably not the best one to judge, but I do know Churchill commented that the BBC was anti-British during WW2, and I think Thatcher made similar remarks, so they must be doing something right.

The journalists 'fiercely defend their independence,' apparently, I know they're infamously underpaid so I doubt the money creates any bias, they get a whopping £47 ($65) for a nights work according to that article.

In time, everyone will move onto new stuff like XM Radio and Sirius Radio (both carry the BBC according to their sites). I would expect it to be carried on terrestrial digital radio, which has a load of capacity compared to FM.

Digital Radio in the UK carries World Service along with around 40 other stations. I'd like to pickup a DAB radio soon, but they're still about £300 ($415), the datacasting functionality looks interesting, especially if they somehow integrated a receiver into mobile phones... it would make the 3G transfer speeds like insignificant. Granted radio is only one way, but you could build a pseudo-interactive like Teletext and carry News, Sport, Market News etc.

[ Parent ]
shortwave is dead (2.00 / 2) (#33)
by mattc on Sun Jun 24, 2001 at 12:49:53 PM EST

Well, shortwave radio is basically worthless, at least in the US. All I can pick up is a bunch of religious shows, which, being an atheist, I couldn't care less about.

[ Parent ]
If I was a British tax payer (2.50 / 2) (#29)
by eean on Wed Jun 20, 2001 at 12:45:40 PM EST

If NPR started having free shortwave broadcasts in Europe it would make me mad. How does the BBC broadcasting in the US make them any money? It is British Broadcasting; they have no responibility ot broadcast in the US. Does it have ads? I don't think it does and I hope it doesn't.

I don't see how providing such a free service could make them more popular and led to sells in other areas. Or at least, there would be easier ways.

I really like BBC news. I often watch BBC World Report (or something like that) on PBS.

Taxes (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by Mertamet on Wed Jun 20, 2001 at 01:32:17 PM EST

NPR and the BBC World Service are very different entities. You might better make an analogy with the Voice of America, which makes no money. Although, it is really mostly propaganda, and the BBC WS is quite a bit less so. The BBC WS may possibly be considered wasteful altruism by the most picayune of tax payers, but its charge has been to inform expatriates of the most important world news and keep them in touch with their homeland. As a consequence, it has become valuable to many people inside and outside of the Commonwealth.

But that's beside the point. This is not a decision made by the British public because they are mad about wasting their taxes. (I think that most British citizens would be proud that their programs are so well respected that non-citizens are trying to save their access to them.) This is an internal BBC decision that just so happens to be misguided. The BBC is trying to expand their reach to North Americans with their FM partnerships because they find some value out of doing so. They don't realize how many people they will be cutting off by cutting off shortwave. They have underestimated the number of people who listen on shortwave.

There are many indirect benefits to the World Service, including promotion of the UK for travel purposes, content that leads to other profitable ventures (The Hitchikers Guide got a large influential following from its BBC radio broadcasts). But I think the most important reason to keep broadcasting on shortwave (at least for now) is that it is appreciated by its listeners and many of them will just lose access to this valuable asset.

For more detailed reasoning than I can handle right now, check out www.savebbc.org.

[ Parent ]

Penny Wise Pound Foolish (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by Aztech on Thu Jun 21, 2001 at 10:57:28 PM EST

Because some things are above money, the WS was the first and sometimes the only decent source of news to people in some countries.

It's part of the Foreign Office's commitment to the Commonwealth, I guess you can call it a marketing expense, even though the BBC could be considered wayward by the government.

Do tax payers care? well on the grand scale of things the ~$250m annually it gets in funding is inconsequential, the £500k saving from cutting off US & Aussie SW transmissions is even more inconsequential. You could look at it from the negative point of view, even if the WS were disbanded tomorrow I'd see absolutely no affect on my tax bill, the savings would almost certainly be lost in bureaucracy.

I was quite happy for them to get the $100m budget increase; I'm just disappointed it's not being spent accordingly. I have no problems with taxes going toward the WS, it does something meaningful.

Why broadcast to the US? Well being the "World Service" they have the responsibility to broadcast to the 'world', which obviously includes the US (you wouldn't know it at times :). It's a shame the WS has forgotten this sentiment of late.

The BBC doesn't carry advertising (never has).

[ Parent ]
VOA (none / 0) (#37)
by kjb on Fri Jul 06, 2001 at 07:08:56 PM EST

The USA already does give out "free shortwave broadcasts in Europe".
The stations are called Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
They are funded 100% by the American taxpayers.

Now watch this drive.
[ Parent ]

On Sailing (none / 0) (#34)
by genman on Tue Jun 26, 2001 at 12:22:24 PM EST

Yachties around the world have been enjoying the BBC World Service for many, many years. If you read book about sailing, usually there is a shortwave radio on board for entertainment. I think sailors don't like getting their radio programs taken away. Well, 10,000 yachties isn't very much to the BBC I suppose.

On the other hand, I always thought shortwave was the "voice of democracy," where we would be able to send propaganda-free news and information to the less-free people of the world. (If the natives could only understand English, however!)

half the story (none / 0) (#35)
by fantastic-cat on Thu Jun 28, 2001 at 12:10:41 PM EST

The BBC is decreasing the number of shortwave transmitters in countries like the US and Australia where the majority have either FM radios or internet access and using the savings to build more transmitters in countries like Turkey (increasing from 3 to 30 odd) and India. If you look at the figures it makes sense and there will be an increase in the number of people who can access the service globally


But an important half to consider (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by Mertamet on Fri Jun 29, 2001 at 12:36:26 AM EST

I don't think that the BBC should stop expanding its broadcasts to other areas. I just think that the money saved won't even go to this. It will have to be used to prop up internet access servers which will be able to serve many fewer listeners. The FM broadcasts that you mention only cover a patchwork of the US with a small subset of programming, while shortwave covers the whole country. They are losing ubiquity.

The figures of the number of listeners on FM are very suspect. Plus, they are not necessarily people who search out the BBC specifically, but are often much more casual listeners. Expansion to these listeners shouldn't be at the expense of dedicated fans.

Reasonable people can disagree as to whether cutting shortwave to NA and Australasia is a cost-effective thing to do. I think the figures DON'T make sense and arguments like yours (pitting stations in poorer countries vs. NA service) aren't really the issue. By removing this service they are losing access to a whole slew of poor countries in the Pacific as well as vast areas of the US, Canadian, and Australian countryside.

[ Parent ]

BBC World Service cancelling shortwave broadcasts | 37 comments (31 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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