How Do You Measure Shortwave Radio?
I continue to ponder this question as I believe Shortwave Radio is an area which defies traditional measurement. I have included some thoughts I wrote last year for an article published in antenneX magazine:
I was very disappointed . . . in the U.S. for cutting back VOA service to a number of countries. Australia is another country who has made drastic cuts to its shortwave schedule, as well as the BBC, much to the consternation of the SWL community. The economic debate surrounding shortwave radio will continue for a long time, and I am anything but an economist, but I do not believe shortwave radio can be evaluated only by the monetary return on investment.
Cable subscribers may be tracked, as can IP addresses, hard lines, and satellite broadcasts. How do you track radio or OTA television? Signals are sent into the ether with no measure of return other than the convoluted dance between advertisers and station ad execs, or random surveys for market share which have no way of truly quantifying how many people are listening at any one time.
When we talk about shortwave radio, the measured return on an investment is even harder to determine. Do we come up with numbers based on QSL cards? Surveys into countries where they may fear for their lives to admit they own a shortwave radio?
And how many people even in a country such as America actually speak up to let people know their listening habits, likes/dislikes? I have been in America all my life and have never been asked what radio stations I frequent or what local TV I find of interest. In a recent report issued by the BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors) there were several interesting comments on the BBG website: “Research-based evidence of media trends suggests that the increased availability and affordability of television, mobile devices and Internet access has led to the declining use of shortwave around the world.”
The report also states “there is no evidence that shortwave usage increases during crises. At such times, audiences continue to use their preferred platforms or seek out anti-censorship tools to help them navigate to the news online, including firewall circumvention tools or offline media including thumb drives and DVDs.”
Perhaps I am stuck living in the past or just naïve, but I find it hard to believe a good portion of the world has moved to “mobile devices and Internet access”, or have resources such as thumb drives and DVDs. This belies a western-centric view of the world. Should we also assume everyone else in the world is as worried about skin-care creams and anti-aging products as we are?!
Commitment to funding it must be based on a belief that some principles are involved which transcend the almighty spreadsheet. Call it propaganda, call it adding our voice, call it spreading hope and ideals of freedom—shortwave radio in this country used to be seen as a means of letting the world know there was a country on earth where people mattered more than governments, and freedom was an unalienable human right. We were a voice of hope. And we were a voice which could be depended upon to be there, somewhere, on the radio dial almost anytime day or night . . . .
A Range of Perspectives
One of the biggest benefits of shortwave radio in my experience is the broad range of perspectives offered from wide-ranging sources. For example, with regard to the recent troubles in the Ukraine, American 24-hr news stations repeated similar stories almost endlessly, but their perspective was mostly the same.
Listening to Radio Australia and China Radio International, I got different takes on these important world events. One was not better than the other, but the differences in perspective was educational. I could only wish the Voice of Russia had not already ceased broadcasting at that point, because it would have been informative to hear their perspective as well.
Journalistic integrity (and no, that is not necessarily an oxymoron!) is not limited to any one group or country. I have found interesting and reliable information from many sources in addition to those stations which taint their broadcasts with political propaganda. A discerning listener will recognize the difference, and he or she will form their own opinions about on whom they can rely.
Maybe it is time for folks like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg to get involved from a charity/funding perspective, but not as another company whose goal it to raise scads of revenue. Or maybe some celebrities like Bono or Angelina Jolie could fight for the cause of freedom by making sure shortwave radio broadcasts are available for the same third-world countries for which we want to send medical aid. I mean, after all, it must get really boring listening to the same “beloved leader” day ofter day, regardless of what their election polls say (I am remembering Hugo Chavez’s daily radio talks to his people).
Not to mention that one of the best ways to gain an appreciation for another country and their culture/traditions is to hear their music and their culture being played and discussed. Radio Romania International anyone?
Let Them Know You Are There
One of the best things we can do as SW listeners is to let radio stations, foreign and domestic, know we are listening. Ironically one of the best ways to do this is through the Internet as most radios stations have a web presence of some sort. I always make sure to let them know I have been listening to them on shortwave rather than on a streaming service. I have received both email and postal confirmations of my reception reports, and these as both valuable to me and to the station receiving your report. It lets them know there are real people listening to them.