Tuesday 19 April 2011

Broadcast Matters: Long, Medium and Short

April 2011, first published in RadioUser (written in Feb 2011) www.radiouser.co.uk

QSL card of the Radio Australia transmitter site at Shepparton

Chrissy Brand brings you a round up of the broadcast bands. This month the need for shortwave is emphasised again as crises hit Egypt and Australia, and she looks at the wide variety of the international and national signals being heard by readers.

Tuning to Tunisia
There was turmoil in Tunisia as the jasmine revolution took place in January and February. If you understand Arabic you would have been able to hear what the state broadcaster said via Radio Tunisienne. Sadly they only broadcast in Arabic, although they do accept reception reports in French as well. They broadcast to Europe daily from 0400 to 0625 on 7275kHz from a transmitter at Sfax. Broadcasts to North Africa can be heard from 0200 UTC on 9725 and 12005kHz; 0600 to 0810 UTC on 7335kHz; 1600 to 2000 UTC on 9725 and 12005kHz; 1700 to 2100 UTC on 7225; and 1900 to 2100 UTC on 7345kHz. Reception reports are accepted in Arabic and French, according to the 2011 World Radio and TV Handbook, and the station address is Radio Tunisienne, 71 Ave de la Liberte, TN 1012, Tunis, Tunisia. Email ittisal@ertt.nat.tn  

Whilst not able to hear the news directly from Tunisia’s broadcasters, other English language stations covered the events in Tunisia. There was a interesting discussion on the BBC World Service (0730 UTC on 12095kHz) a month after the revolution took place, with a Tunisian activist and a politician. It was agreed that the hard part of consolidating the revolution is yet to come, that of instigating change and democracy. A democratic mechanism already in place which outstrips the western world is the employees of the state television service voting for who should sit on the state television’s editorial board. Other innovations include a union for school children.

Floods and cyclones on shortwave
Australia, especially the state of Queensland, suffered terribly with floods swiftly followed by Cyclone Yasi in February. Shortwave was mobilised via the Shepparton transmitter site in Victoria and became an invaluable supplement to failing FM and medium wave networks as an emergency channel for Australians in peril. “Tune to 9701 or 6080kHz if your local ABC transmitter goes off air. Shortwave radio might be crackly but it works"‏ became an ABC mantra during the crises, as 5995, 6080, 7240, 9475, 9710 and 11660 kHz carried updates and warnings.

ABC Brisbane on 612kHz medium wave relayed programming onto shortwave 6080kHz, and with the transmitter in Cairns expected to be damaged by the cyclone, again shortwave was lined up as a safer transmission method, relaying the ABC’s northern Queensland regional radio service. These shortwave broadcasts were also picked up by the DX community, who tuned in with concern. The lesson to be learned and adhered to is one which DXers already know, but seems to have been forgotten by many international broadcasters, is the power of shortwave, in times of crisis, and the need to maintain it in times of stability.

Actual programme content covered the flood areas, the calls to evacuate Brisbane, how to prepare livestock and how they react to floods, and phone callers from Barrier Reef islands with updates on conditions as the cyclone weaved its way westwards. All in all it was harrowing enough listen from the other side of the world, let alone being caught in the heart of it.

Radio Australia later covered the history of floods in the country in their Rear Vision programme (9500kHz). There was an emphasis on the need to pay more attention to history as previous lessons in floods have not been learned. Melbourne based writer Richard Evans is an expert on Australian natural disasters and was interviewed, in a programme which contained 1950s and 1970s archive material from previous major floods. The programme mentioned that there were major floods in Brisbane and Ipswich throughout the 19th Century but the building of the Somerset dam in the 1950s improved the situation in the area.

Egalitarian Egyptians
The Egyptian revolution brought up some interesting observations on broadcasting. With the revolution evolving through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the Mubarak regime found a simple solution. Deny the citizens their main communication tool by shutting off internet, mobile phone and satellite television access. There were ten days when the internet was blocked, but by then the anti-Mubarak momentum was unstoppable. The cities of Alexandra and Cairo were packed with people demanding chance, and broadcasters from all over covering these events.

The state broadcaster Radio Cairo is part of ERTU (Egyptian Radio and Television Union). It usually produces a good signal in English to western Europe on 6270kHz from 2115 to 2245 UTC, but was noticeably silent for a couple of weeks, even when its other services were back on air. It will be worth monitoring over the coming months. Daily broadcasts were still going out as I checked and heard them online via the World Radio Network. Arabic can be heard with a strong signal on 9305kHz in the evenings and 17510kHz by day. During the turbulent times the station often resorted to an emergency broadcast playing Arabic music, with the occasional news bulletin. Radio Cairo’s address is Egyptian Radio & TV Union, ERTU Building, Masspiro, Korniche El Nil St, Cairo, Egypt.

Brian Buckley in London was quick off the mark to follow Egyptian events live from the source. He writes: “I have a motorised satellite system in addition to Sky, and because the interference on the radio where I live is just so high, I like to go through all the satellites trawling for radio stations - amazing what's available and so clear too - I'm watching events in Cairo on the tv at the moment, with Radio Cairo's European Service playing in the background as clear as a bell! I remember many years ago when I used to listen to Cairo regularly on SW, it had a sort of exotic feeling to its sound, an atmosphere, like you could almost feel the heat of the Cairo evening coming across the airwaves. It sounded faint and sort of muffled which added to its mystery and charm - Radio Cairo on satellite is not like that.”

The Cairo crisis proves how shortwave is still necessary to reach some audiences, and runs another huge hole through the repercussions of BBC World Service proposed cuts in shortwave to places such as Egypt and China in favour of internet-only streaming. Chinese authorities already block the internet, so BBC internet broadcasts are unlikely to reach their audience. There is also the argument that internet access in some parts of the world is non-existent, unreliable, slow or expensive, and it is only the western world which has a profligate number of computer users.

In Egypt there are an estimated 400,000 listeners to BBC Arabic on shortwave, part of a 3.4 million BBC audience in the country (out of a population of 82 million). Admittedly BBC Arabic is set to continue on local medium wave and FM outlets in Egypt. The Guardian reports that with short wave broadcasts of the BBC Arabic service also due to cease in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, Libya, Iraq and the Maghreb region of North Africa, it is expected to lead to the loss of around 5.7 million listeners across the region. "The Egyptian government's attempt to close down the internet and mobile phone network demonstrates how short sighted the current World Service transmission policy is," said an NUJ BBC World Service official."In a volatile world the World Service needs to maintain its own network of transmitters beyond the reach of dictators so it can continue to reach its audience."

It would also be far better if the BBC continued shortwave in Mandarin to China, as even the Chinese jamming of shortwave signals is far from 100% successful. I am hardly the first person to express these views and I have said them before, but it is timely to reiterate them.

SW Round up
I have been enjoying a good signal from Tibet of late. The Tibet People's Broadcasting Station broadcast from Lhasa on 4905, 4920 and 5240kHz from 2230 UTC. Although this is aimed at Asia it is picked up easily enough in Europe. One of the more interesting programmes included an item on Tibetan festivals, mentioning “the happy moment when people are celebrating”, such as a festival in Lhasa each August and International Women’s Day in March. This Chinese led station started in 1959 and the address I have written to them at is Tibet People's Broadcasting Station, Lhasa, Beijing Middle Road No.41,Tibet Autonomous Region, Postal Code 850000, China. The two email addresses I found bounced back, so I will keep you informed if I receive a reply via snail mail.

Fred Wilmshurst in Northampton comments that he has monitored Radio Thailand “during both English schedules, 1900 to 2000 UTC on 7570kHz and 2030 to 2045 on 9535kHz. On each occasion a strength 5 unmodulated carrier was evident for some time prior to the scheduled opening. After a five minute late start ethnic music only was played and continued long after the scheduled English transmission was due to close. No announcements of any kind were made during the period monitored. The music was ok though. So much for automation!”

Simon Rudd picked up a Swedish speaking station on 630kHz mw at a little after midnight, using his Eton 750. It was playing some classic Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry and Phil Manzanera. “Great stuff!” Simons says, but he was unable to identify the station itself. The best guess I can come up with is that it was one of thw Norwegian NRK stations, perhaps with a late night Swedish broadcast.

Keeping up with the developments in Egypt, Simon shrewdly tuned into Libya and the Voice of Africa, on 17725kHz at 1455 UTC with a 343 SIO. There was a discussion on the legend of Nelson Mandela and coverage of the Egyptian popular unrest. With the unrest spreading around the North African region, it will be worth keeping an ear on the Voice of Africa over coming months, for its unique perspective. Will Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi be one of the next leaders to topple?

Simon also writes that he has been “having a lot of fun with the Eton Satellit 750, especially when tuning into German medium wave broadcasting. I can’t speak German, though I’m thinking of learning. I do have a German dictionary and can of course identify the times when referred to in newscasts. I have also discovered the Eton 750 to be more than adequate when tuning into the HF Maritime Band. The clarifier makes fine tuning an easy option. Just now I tuned into RN Plymouth data channel on 2834kHz and it is adjacent to Radio Benghazi in far away Libya.”

Bradley Allen in Whitstable heard Radio Gloria International on 6005kHz. This is one of the Sunday free radio stations and it operates via the facilities of Radio 700 in Germany. At 1030 UTC it was playing various music and also a commercial for the Offshore Echoes magazine. Bradley has also been listening to Free Speech Radio News on Friday evenings on 6090kHz via the IRRS (Italian Radio Relay Service). He tells us that their programmes commence at 1900 UTC, whilst on Saturday evenings at the same time you can hear Glenn Hauser’s World of Radio. On Sundays he has been listening to a feature programme called 39 Dover Street from 1917 UTC. He would also like to know the title of the piece of classical music used by IRRS when it signs on, something which I hope to find out for next time. You can write to the station at IRRS, PO Box 10980, 20110, Milano, Italy.

Bradley poses a couple of questions. Firstly he would like to know how long TRT the Voice of Turkey’s DX Corner has been on the air. Looking through my reference books and station literature I find a mention of it back in 1984 on Saturday nights, but imagine it goes back much further than that. I have vague recollections of hearing it when I started DXing in the 1970s. These days you can hear it on alternate Saturdays at 1345 UTC on 11735 and 12035kHz; 1945 UTC on 6050kHz; 2315 UTC on 5960kHz, and a final repeat, for the Americas, on Sundays at 0415 UTC on 7240 and 9655kHz. If you know the origins of DX Corner, can help out with the IRRS theme or have any other broadcast band news, please do contact me. By email chrissylb@hotmail.co.uk

Richard Cooke was a worried man during the February gales. He was up at 0415UTC to check the antennas but “all were erect and 100% A ok which was a blessing.” The early start was made more bearable by the postal service delivery a few hours later, which brought a pile of QSL cards. “These included a nice letter from Radio Pula Croatia which was very informative. They sent CDs and stacks of stickers and info on Radio Pula - a very kind gesture .” He heard Pula which is part of the Voice of Croatia, on 6165kHz with a five minute English news bulletin at 0700 UTC. Richard writes that The Voice of Croatia broadcasts from three national channels and eight regional stations-Dubrovnik, Knin, Osijek, Paula, Rijeka, Split, Zandar and Sljeme. In 1966 Radio Pula became a part of Radio Zagreb,Radio Pula is a unit inside of Croatian radio television (HRT).

Richard also mentions that Radio Taiwan International are issuing a new QSL card mentioned on Tuesdays “Hear in Taiwan”. I think is a postcard from the 2010-2011 Taipei Flora Expo. As you will probably know by now. 1800 to 1900 UTC on 3965kHz is the place to tune. Other hugely enjoyable programmes to listen to are “Soundwaves” on Mondays, “Time traveller” on Wednesday and “Instant Noodles” on Thursday. The standard and variety of programme, as well as the signal strength via the French transmitter at Issoudon, is always high. There is also an RTI Plus audio channel that gives an extra 30 minutes each day via their website http://english.rti.org.tw/  If you write to the station there is an abundance of pens, pennant and other memorabilia that you might be sent. Email rti@rti.org.tw  and the postal address is Radio Taiwan International, 55 Pei- An Rd. Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China.

Radio Prague’s Czech Radio’s shortwave broadcasting expert for the past 40 years has been Oldřich Číp, who also chairs the international High Frequency Co-ordination Committee. He reflected on Radio Prague’s changes, via the station website as well as on the air. “I think that all shortwave stations have some importance still, although the era of shortwave broadcasting has of course changed. It still has value for specific segments of the audience. The delivery methods of international radio have diversified, with the internet and satellites, but shortwave has some specific properties, and it is my very strong belief that there will always be a specific segment of the audience that prefers shortwave broadcasting from terrestrial transmitters to other delivery methods. I am afraid that some of the decision makers in some of the big organisations may cause a domino effect, whereby when they start reducing then the smaller ones follow suit. So I am afraid that the reduction of shortwave broadcasting around the world was made quite hastily and is not a good development...Because shortwave broadcasting bands exist and I believe they will always be used. I think this particular group of listeners will stay tuned to shortwave, and it’s a pity that Radio Prague will not be there.”

Regarding the cuts at Radio Prague and the BBC World Service I feel it is important not to always be over critical of the broadcaster in question. Instead we must remember that the broadcasters’ hands are usually forced by their government’s slashing of the budgets.

Radio Prague does still maintain a presence on shortwave in English, albeit a small one. This is via WRMI Radio Miami International on 9955kHz, daily at 0700 UTC, weekdays at 1000 UTC, and weekends at 1930 UTC. Jeff White, WRMI General Manager, said that "Radio Miami is happy to be able to help Radio Prague stay on the air, just as we did with Radio Slovakia International when its shortwave transmissions were scheduled to end last December 31. We have had close cooperation with Radio Prague for many years now, and we hope this cooperation will continue for many more years.” WRMI is difficult to hear in Europe though. WRMI Radio Miami International, 175 Fontainebleau Blvd., Suite 1N4, Miami, Florida 33172, USA. Email radiomiami9@cs.com  

1 comment:

Jim Davies said...

Brian Buckley's comment rang a bell with me

"I used to listen to Cairo regularly on SW, it had a sort of exotic feeling to its sound, an atmosphere, like you could almost feel the heat of the Cairo evening coming across the airwaves."

This reminded me of a middle-eastern station that I used to listen to on MW in the summer of 1994. I had broken up with a girlfriend and western pop stations had too many songs dealing with loss, sorrow and heartache. The AM modulations of this station got me through many a summer-evening that would have been otherwise silent, and it was the actual tonality of the transmitter as much as the music and speech that helped me focus on somewhere "other".

As we aim in broadcasting for ever clearer digital sounds, we lose some of the "osmotic" character of analogue sources - experiences you get just by listening to the sound of the medium. It'll never justify keeping an expensive transmitter on air, but it truly is something sad to lose.

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