A moral imperative.
On two previous occasions (here and here) this blog published editorials calling for a shortwave radio broadcast “revival” to oppressed foreign countries with censored internet and no free speech protections. Since then, shortwave broadcasts have declined even more. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia and other world events makes the reversal of this trend not just a good idea, but a moral imperative. Off Grid Ham is calling for nothing less than the full reinstatement of freedom-based international shortwave multilingual broadcasts. The programming should run 24×7 and be produced in and originate from the United States or an allied Western democracy.
The internet is only for free people.
Ever since the rise of the internet, shortwave outlets in free democracies have, in the mind of many, become outdated and irrelevant. What naturally followed was transmitters going dark. Shortwave broadcasts will never be irrelevant as long as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, and others like them exist. As we have seen ad nauseam, the internet and news media only works when the government does not mess with it. Therefore, it’s not truly “free”.
The most important benefit of shortwave broadcasting is that it cannot be readily censored by tyrannical governments. Furthermore, there is no way to track who is listening. In countries that tightly control internet access and spy on everyone, passing information via an unconnected device that cannot be pinged, traced, or geo-located is the only realistic work around.
The sad decline. shortwave
Voice of America used to have transmitter sites all over the world, including three in the USA alone. Today, they have only eleven worldwide. Of those, VOA does not specify how many are shortwave. Most sites are located in or near the listening audience they serve. That means they are vulnerable to being shut down if an unfriendly government so chooses. There is only one VOA shortwave transmitter site left in the USA. I looked all over the VOA website and could not even find a complete broadcast & frequency schedule. Eventually, I circuitously found a partial schedule via a search engine. It seems VOA has become barely more than an on line news website and collection of podcasts.
Radio Free Europe,/Radio Liberty also deeply cut their programming hours and signal coverage. Finding their broadcast schedule & frequencies is even harder than it is for VOA. The United States left shortwave to rot; there is no meaningful un-censorable rebuttal to propaganda. RFE/RL is supported by the same Federal agency that funds VOA.
The answer is not that hard. shortwave
Analog shortwave radio is not new technology, nor is it particularly expensive. If the willingness were there, the United States could have new transmitters on the air in a matter of months. In the near term, there are privately owned shortwave stations in the USA that could be contracted to broadcast programming.
The main roadblock is a lack of appreciation of the value of shortwave radio. Few people even know what shortwave radio is. Of those who do know, many have this image of grandpa putzing around a tube radio for news from the Old Country. It’s not flashy, modern, or well known, but shortwave radio is the only medium that can evade efforts to control information. Malevolent governments have not given up on shortwave, and neither should the free world. In fact, oppressive regimes have stepped up their presence on the HF band as democracies abandon it.
Where radio amateurs may step in. shortwave
As of this writing, the Ukraine government has temporarily suspended domestic amateur radio licenses. Eventually, Ukraine will either reinstate them or rogue operators will go on the air anyway. I can see a scenario where radio amateurs may step in and fill the hole left by the decline of shortwave broadcasts. Radio hobbyists should not play the role of news agencies, but might end up doing exactly that. Off Grid Ham will be happy to assist in this effort, should it come to fruition.
Ukraine is not the end, it’s just the latest recurring sad story.
Putin has stated very clearly he wants to “put the band back together” and reconstitute the Soviet Union. Speculating on the consequences of that are beyond the mission of this blog, but it does say quite a lot about the long term need for expanded shortwave broadcasting from free, democratic nations.
The war in Ukraine has proven, again, that shortwave radio is not an outdated, unnecessary medium. We can turn our TVs to any American news channel and see for ourselves why shortwave radio is more relevant than ever. That is, until the TV news is censored.
Off Grid Ham supports and prays for Ukrainians and repressed people everywhere. For 246 years the United States has been the Gold Standard of freedom, One Nation Under God, and a beacon of liberty to the world. It’s long past time to use a medium that respects no borders to reach out to those who aspire to live as Americans do.
The United States is morally obligated to bring back shortwave broadcasting, immediately.
I agree and will send an email to encourage this is activity . de wb5eat
3 thumbs up BUT ain’t gonna happen!! The water is boiling and the frog is cooking!!
I agree that my suggestion is not likely to gain any altitude. But it’s always worthwhile to speak out in defense of those who can’t speak for themselves.
Thanks for your participation, Bob. There’s only so far one little blog can reach on its own!
Got my attention.
That’s what we’re here for, JR. Thanks for your support.
Two thumbs up !
I appreciate your vote of confidence, Jed!
Outstanding article! Once again Off Grid Ham has his finger on the ham radio pulse. Thanks for a great read!
Thanks for the gracious comment, RM. If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably also like the two related editorials linked at the beginning of this article. My secret to having my “finger on the ham radio pulse” is I’m always on the lookout for interesting topics to write about.
Although I came up with this subject on my own, about 75% of what you see on this website is the result of reader comments, questions, or feedback. If you have any suggestions please pass them along; this blog is not about me.
I agree with everything you said, Chris. The internet may be a great way to spread information, but the technology it uses is easily shut down by a government leaving people with very limited ways of getting information, and those limited ways, broadcast television, AM/FM radio, etc. are often controlled by the government as well. Radio can be jammed but that’s difficult to do, requires expensive equipment and doesn’t work all that well.
Shortwave receivers are relatively easy to build out of cheap parts, can run off normal batteries, and can be made small enough to hide easily. it seems to me that shortwave would be an excellent way to get information to a large population at a relatively low expense. Especially today when so many governments are censoring
internet traffic, monitoring what the people are reading/listening/viewing on the net.
Randall, you nicely laid it out in one single paragraph. Not only is shortwave easy & cheap on the transmission side, the receive side is equally attainable. No media from an oppressive country can be trusted so the only option is to “import” information from outside that country. Shortwave is a prefect medium, and it’s disappointing that it’s been cast aside.
I fully support Ukraine and admire your commentary here. I have thus tweeted to share this on my feed @RandyPowellRKB
Thanks for your support, Randy. This issue is bigger than my obscure blog. Anything that gets the word out is helpful.
Good read, thanks FYI
On shortwave, the BBC is adding 2 shortwave broadcasts to Ukraine on 5875 kHz from 8/10 UTC and on 15735 kHz from 2/4 UTC, On medium wave, NEXUS- of Milan in Italy on 1323 kHz and proposes broadcasting for Eastern countries from 7/11 p.m. CET
Keep up the good
They can serve that from a few places. For one thing, I don’t think their Cyprus transmitter was dismantled, just mothballed. They regularly operate out of the Persian Gulf, and could also transmit from the UK itself as well as from rented capacity.
Radio Free Europe has some medium wave frequencies that reach into Ukraine and Russia. The fastest way to fill in the holes is with rented airtime. More long term though, there will need to be more shortwave transmission facilities. Ukraine is not to only issue, just the most present one. There are oppressive governments in Asia, Africa, and South America too.
Radio Free Europe has stepped up too. It’s an encouraging change, but they are baby steps and there is much more to be done.
I agree. I see two separate internets eventually emerging from all of this.
And building a protmanteau to bring a core source of reliable information to the world will require coordination between some of the parties that did it in the 20th century. I would say that this is a revived RCI, Radio Australia, and a refocussed RFI, BBC WS, and VOA.
What they need to do is coordinate their frequencies and schedules to provide 24 hour information in 8 of the most commonly spoken languages on earth. It has to cover the “second languages” of the greatest number of people on earth. On top of that, the narrow focus on other languages can continue, but the main focus has to be universal – universal in character and temprament too.
But all of that depends on us actually having the moral standing to say that we represent a free, fair, and decent society. Right now, I do0n’t think we do, and we all need to work on that.
Let’s not forget that the only reason to have a cold war is to avert a hot war.
In a sense we already have separate internets. In the meantime, upping shortwave broadcasts is very do-able. The BBC has already increased programming, and Radio Free Europe has too.
Progress can be slow,
Grassroots effort uses shortwave radio to broadcast VOA in Ukraine, Russia
Be well, Be ready
That’s very encouraging, but it should not take volunteers and private donations to do what is a legitimate duty of the Federal government.
Thanks for passing this along.