As cuts in international broadcasting continue, we note that it’s exactly 10 years ago today (1 July 2001) that the BBC World Service dropped its shortwave broadcasts to North America and the Pacific Rim. At that time, Radio Netherlands still had a sizeable shortwave audience in North America, and we took the opportunity to exploit the fact that many listeners were probably unaware of the BBC’s decision, and for a couple of weeks our English service broadcast additional transmissions on frequencies that had just been vacated by BBCWS.
A listeners’ coalition was formed to urge the BBC to reconsider its decision to end shortwave broadcasts of the World Service to North America and the South Pacific. To my surprise, the website they created, www.savebbc.org, is still online. Some of the UK press were supportive of the coalition’s aims - for example, here’s an article from The Independent entitled Why the BBC’s short-wave switch-off does a disservice to the English-speaking world.
By the time RNW made the decision a few years ago to drop shortwave to North America, a number of other international broadcasters had already done so. We received some complaints, mainly from hobbyists who were not regular listeners but routinely wrote to any radio station that stopped or reduced its shortwave transmissions. Looking back, I remember saying at the time that the BBC’s decision in 2001 was not necessarily going to start a domino effect, but I guess I was being over-optimistic.
I still maintain, as I did at the time, that the BBC switched off shortwave to North America too soon. It’s impossible to know what would have happened if the decision had not been made. There’s strong evidence to suggest that our own shortwave audience started to decline significantly once the BBC stopped using 6175 kHz to North America, as anyone tuning in to RNW on 6165 kHz is likely to have discovered us while looking for the BBC transmission.
Soon, a lot of people in other parts of the world will have to manage without our shortwave transmissions - and this time it won’t be due to a strategic decision, but a financial one. Exactly what will be left of RNW following the 70 percent budget cut will become clearer over the next few months.