There have been several recent stories highlighting a new shortwave radio station seeking to cover South Sudan called Eye Radio. Eye Radio already has an FM presence in the area, but has found it inadequate to reach the whole region. I first saw a report about this on the Cumbre-DX mailing list, and then some additional outlets have added more information, including this report from the BBC:
A radio station in South Sudan is using older, but tried and tested technology to reach new audiences.
Radio is a crucial medium in South Sudan, where illiteracy is high and many areas lack an electricity supply. But many people living in remote villages are out of range of existing FM and mediumwave (AM) broadcasts.
To reach these potential listeners, Eye Radio, which is based in the capital Juba and can be heard in regional capitals, has just started broadcasting on shortwave. The new service covers “the whole of South Sudan, including remote areas in which communities are not able to access FM radio”, says Eye Media head Stephen Omiri. Shortwave signals are reflected back to earth from the upper atmosphere and are capable of traveling huge distances. Given sufficient power, as well as other considerations, they can reach any point on earth. Eye Radio on shortwave is being heard clearly in Europe.
Shortwave was a staple of international radio broadcasting for most of the 20th century, but its popularity has tailed off with the advent of satellite and online platforms. The station is thought to be renting airtime on a transmitter based outside South Sudan. Funding for the shortwave service comes from USAID, the international development arm of the US government.
Eye Radio is run in partnership with Internews, an American NGO, and says it aims to provide objective news, as well as music, sport and entertainment. Media freedom in South Sudan has worsened amid a civil war between the government of President Salva Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar. Eye Radio itself has not been immune from political pressure. In 2014, its director had to leave South Sudan after one of her journalists broadcast an interview with a pro-Machar former minister calling on President Kiir to stand down.
Eye Radio broadcasts in English, standard Arabic, and local languages Dinka, Nuer, Juba Arabic, Bari, Shilluk, Zande and Moro. The shortwave broadcasts are on the air from 7-8 a.m. local time on 11730 kHz, and 7-8 p.m. on 17730 kHz. Another station using shortwave to reach South Sudan is Radio Tamazuj, which is based in the Netherlands.
Notice two things in this report from the BBC which are common to a discussion of shortwave radio: great distances needing coverage which exceed AM or FM broadcasting, and a lack of media freedom from political pressure. The freedoms we take for granted in Western Democracies are lacking in many other countries. In our current presidential political campaigning mode with mud being slung from every side, it seems hard to believe covering a speech requesting for a leader to step down could lead to a journalist’s expulsion from a country, but there it is.
I must give credit where credit is due, and I applaud the U.S. for providing aid to help Eye Radio’s voice to be heard, as well as the partnership with Internews. I only wish we would take this real-world example and apply it to the need to keep VOA on the air in more places rather than cutting back services.
The situation in South Sudan is not an isolated one–there are many places around the world where oppressive governments restrict media and/or where logistics make it almost impossible to have the sources of information to which we have become accustomed. Shortwave radio remains the best and brightest hope for reaching these areas.
I hope to be able to report more instances of new shortwave services being found on the air and, even better, report on older established services being revived. It is certainly nice to be able to chalk one up in the “WIN” category this time around! — 73, Robert