Voice of America Makes More Cuts to International Shortwave Broadcast Schedule
With no public announcement or fanfare, the Voice of America has phased out some 14 hours per day of international shortwave broadcast transmissions and will cease broadcasting on some of its customary frequencies, effective July 1. Another 10 hours of daily cuts have been made to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) oversees the VOA, RFE/RL and RFA. Tom Witherspoon, K4SWL, who maintains The SWLing Post Internet site, said he contacted BBG spokesperson Letitia King for details on the cuts, which he learned about from a leaked memorandum, “Farewell to Shortwave,” from recently retired VOA staff member Dan Robinson. Information King provided to Witherspoon said the cuts, okayed by Congress, will save taxpayers some $1.6 million annually.
“US international media must optimize program delivery by market,” said the statement King provided. “We are ending some shortwave transmissions. We continue shortwave to those countries where these transmissions are still reaching significant audiences or where there are no reasonable alternative platforms at a lower cost to the BBG.”
King’s statement, “Facts and Figures on Shortwave Broadcast Reductions,” said the cuts were to “transmission platforms only,” and that there would be no staff reductions. “Programming continues to be available through other media,” her statement pointed out. “Shortwave transmissions continue in many languages including, to key shortwave markets like North Korea, Nigeria, Somalia, Horn of Africa, and elsewhere. Transmissions also continue on other platforms including AM, FM, TV and online.”
The cuts include essentially all shortwave broadcasts in English to Asia — some 6.5 hours a day in all. “Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, English speakers are rarely users of shortwave radio,” the BBG explanation said. “They are more likely to be educated and affluent, and to have access to a broad range of media. Years of BBG research questions on consumption of VOA English on shortwave have failed to find any significant audiences outside Africa, in large part because usage of shortwave radio in other regions is mostly very low.”
The VOA also will end 5.5 hours per day of “Special/Learning English” transmissions on shortwave, although learning English programs will continue on shortwave to Africa. Shortwave transmissions for the Azerbaijani, Bangla, Learning English, Khmer, Kurdish, Lao, and Uzbek are being dropped as well.
“It’s sad that they’re giving their listeners so little notice,” Witherspoon commented.
Robinson’s memo noted that international shortwave broadcasting is expensive, and listenership has been declining for years. “At the BBG,” he wrote, “the cost vs. impact equation no longer favors broadcasts via this medium to most of the world.”