Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shortwave Radio Needs to be Better Marketed

I have been a shortwave radio listener since the fall of 1981, and like many of us out there, we've been appalled with the reduction in shortwave broadcasting by the major broadcasters, especially to the Americas. It got me to thinking about what the weakness is with shortwave broadcasting; the problem is that shortwave radio is being poorly marketed.

One of the things that shortwave broadcasters are not doing right is promoting the advantages of shortwave radio over local medium wave (AM), FM and digital broadcasters, Internet radio and even satellite radio. Here are the major advantages shortwave radio has over local MW (AM), FM and digital broadcasters, Internet and satellite radio:

1) A much larger signal footprint, or coverage area. In the United States, your most powerful AM stations (the maximum limit is 50,000 watts) are limited to a 750-mile radius at night. AM signals are dependent on ground conductivity; daytime coverages range from 125 miles (for WSB 750 Atlanta, GA) to 400 miles (such as KNBR 680 San Francisco) or more. The most powerful FM stations in the United States (the maximum power is 50,000 watts in much of the Northeast and parts of California, 100,000 watts elsewhere) cover, at most, a 100-mile radius around the transmitter site. Digital broadcasters are generally confined to covering their own local area (DRM and "HD" radio stations don't really count; that's not REAL digital radio). Satellite radio services (such as Sirius-XM), only cover part of a hemisphere. Sirius-XM, for example, only covers the United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico to Mexico City. U.S. shortwave broadcasters, which have a minimum power of 50,000 watts and can broadcast up to 500,000 watts of power, are generally free to cover the earth, provided that their signals are beamed to another area of the world, such as Europe, South America or Asia. The signal is heard like a local station in most of the United States and other parts of North America. For example, when the Voice of America used 15580 kHz to Africa via Greenville, NC, the signal came in like a local AM radio station while driving through the St. Louis metropolitan area. Shortwave broadcasters do not publicly promote the advantages of a shortwave signal over local MW (AM), FM, digital (Eureka 147) or even a satellite radio service; they really need to promote this signal advantage to the general public.

2) The signals have characteristics of both AM and FM. In mobile applications, while the transmission of shortwave radio is in AM mode (some transmissions are in single sideband, or SSB), some characteristics of FM radio are also present in shortwave radio signals. For example, shortwave radio signals don't fade under overpasses, like FM signals. Shortwave broadcasters have also not been promoting this advantage over local radio signals, and really need to market this more effectively to the general public.

3) The major economic advantage: shortwave radio programming is free, like your local AM and FM radio stations. Access to the Internet for Web-based radio stations and programming is NOT free. One has to pay a monthly access fee for Internet service; it's not cheap these days. And with proposals running about to end freedom on the Internet (Net Neutrality) in the United States, such connections could become much slower. Satellite radio is also a pay service; a subscriber to satellite radio has to pay a quarterly fee for access to programming not available for free on local AM and FM radio. With a powerful signal and virtual worldwide coverage, the higher quality programs of shortwave broadcasters are available to the listener WITHOUT having to pay a monthly, quarterly or even annual fee to an Internet or satellite radio provider. Shortwave broadcasters need to better market the economic advantages of shortwave radio (which is free) over Internet and satellite radio (which are pay services) to the general public. Internet radio is also NOT real radio; the only real radio uses a transmitter, tower and/or satellite.

4) Shortwave broadcasters are free of corporate ownership and control. Today's MW (AM) and FM stations, especially here in the United States, are corporate owned. The agenda of your local MW (AM) or FM station (especially if you live in the United States) is not set in your hometown; it is generally set in cities like San Antonio, TX, New York, NY, Indianapolis, IN and Minneapolis, MN; these agendas are usually arch-conservative in scope. The on-air policies of local radio (especially in the U.S.) emphasizes a "one size fits all" approach; they're dumping grounds for extreme right wing talk show hosts, sex-driven and bloodthirsty "shock jocks" and homogenized playlists. While many shortwave broadcasters are public broadcasters, they usually have more fair news coverage and much better programming than your corporate-owned local radio station. A number of shortwave broadcasters also air Christian programming; they operate as a ministry outreach instead of as a for-profit entity or a public broadcaster. A few are owned by enterprising broadcasters, like Allan Weiner, who provide a place for voices that aren't commonly heard on your local radio station. There are a few U.S.-based broadcasters (most notably WWRB in Tennessee) who provide air time to program hosts even further to the right on the socio-political spectrum than extreme right wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Shortwave broadcasters need to promote the fact that they have ZERO corporate control as a major advantage over your local MW (AM), FM or even DAB station, not to mention the higher quality programs of shortwave over those heard on your local MW (AM), FM or DAB station. 

5) Shortwave receivers are more widely available than you think. It is an often-held myth that "there aren't that many shortwave receivers available." That is not the truth. Shortwave receivers are widely available; one just has to look for them. In the United States, Radio Shack has a selection of Grundig/Eton shortwave receivers available; the same can be found at outdoor stores like Cabela's. Many shortwave receivers are affordable now; some can be found for as low as U$30. By contrast, the cheapest Internet receivers are over U$100; receivers that receive the failed "HD" digital system will set you back at least U$150. A converter for your car (such as the MFJ-306) are built for digital readouts; that will cost you less than $120. The availability of shortwave receivers should also be pointed out as a tool to market shortwave radio as an alternative to your local MW (AM), FM or DAB station.

These five important points must be made to the general public in order for shortwave radio to become an alternative to your local MW (AM), FM or DAB station, and a free alternative to Internet or satellite radio. There needs to be some sort of advertising campaign to market shortwave radio as an alternative to local, Internet and satellite radio; maybe the shortwave stations (such as members of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters, or NASB) could ask potential audiences: "Why You Should Listen to Shortwave Radio", and tell potential audience members about the advantages of shortwave radio over your local radio station. These five points can't be emphasized enough. In order to make shortwave radio more widely available to the public, there should be a more concerted effort by receiver manufacturers to make shortwave receiving capability more readily available to the listening public.

One of the biggest things that need to be done is to require all MW (AM) and FM receivers with a digital readout in the United States to have the capability to receive the International Shortwave Broadcast bands (120, 90, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 22, 19, 16, 15 and 13 meter bands, or the 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18 and 21 MHz bands). Such receivers should have digital signal processing and C-QUAM AM Stereo capability, and be free of failed terrestrial digital systems like DRM and "HD" Radio. U.S. radio audiences need to realize that the Cold War is over, and we are not as subjected to Communist propaganda as we were 30 years ago, when we had Radio Moscow, Radio Beijing and East European countries to fill us with their view of the world. We have the right to listen to stations like the BBC, DW Radio, NHK World, KBS World and Radio Australia on our home or car receivers via shortwave; U.S. listeners have been denied that right for over 60 years now. Another change that's needed is to lower the minimum power of U.S. shortwave broadcasters to 5,000 watts from 50,000 watts, and make it a national, as well as an international, broadcasting service. We don't have very many listening alternatives that are NOT controlled by corporations left in the United States; therefore, we should have no corporate ownership of shortwave radio stations in the United States. Shortwave is just fine with independent owners like Jeff White, Allan Weiner and George McClintock, as well as public and Christian broadcasters, and should not be ruined by the likes of Clear Channel Radio, Cumulus Media, CBS Radio, Emmis Communications and Hubbard Broadcasting. Corporate radio has already ruined local MW (AM) and FM radio in the United States. We also should have more tourist-oriented shortwave stations focusing on a region of the country, such as the Midwest, and more full-service stations on shortwave; full service radio is not on our MW (AM) and FM dials so much anymore. 

Ladies and gentlemen, shortwave radio needs to be better marketed to the listening public.

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