Eppure Doreen Caravajal si è documentata benissimo, prendendo lo spunto dalla distruzione delle antenne di RFE/RL in Catalunya (siamo un po’ fuori dalla cronaca, ma dev’essere perché nel frattempo il filmato dell’implosione delle antenne di Playa de Pals ha ha conquistato ampia notorietà su You Tube dove trovate un mucchio di filmati bellissimi su questa intestallazione). Ho trovato condivisibile, nell’articolo dell’International Herald Tribune, la dichiarazione di un funzionario dell’EBU, secondo il quale oggi è diventato difficile dire esattamente “che cosa” sia la radio: tra podcast, stream, multipli digitali terrestri e satellitari, da molte parti la radio arriva senza neanche passare per un apparecchio radio convenzionale. Dove Internet e satelliti sono una merce troppo preziosa, arrivano gli accordi stipulati tra i broadcaster internazionali e le locali in FM. Non il modello del grande broadcaster, a essere entrato in crisi (50 anni è la vita media dell’ascoltatore delle onde corte), ma il mezzo, che costa troppo ed è diventato molto meno capillare. L’autrice sembra quasi implicare che un eventuale passaggio al digitale non servirà a una beata fava. Su questo punto potrei essere d’accordo, ma sarà tutto così grigio l’orizzonte delle onde corte? Guardandomi un po’ in giro ho trovato alcuni articoli interessanti su Unesco Courier del 1997, fortunatamente indicizzato e salvato in formato testo su Findarticles di Looksmart.com. Oltre a una timeline concisa ma molto completa sulla storia della radio e delle onde corte, è possibile trovarvi diverse considerazioni. Alcune po’ ingenue a dieci anni di distanza, altre più lungimiranti. Io continuo a essere convinto che le onde corte sono un mezzo efficiente per raggiungere fasce di popolazione lontane dai grandi addensamenti di modernità e ricchezza, ma è evidente che altri strumenti stanno facendo continui passi avanti. Per i broadcaster di grandi dimensioni e ambizioni, è già arrivato il tempo di prendere le giuste decisioni sui rispettivi budget. Emittenti più regionali, non governative, religiose e private possono pensarla diversamente e andare avanti. Ma per quanto? Pensare che le onde corte si possano salvare con una progressiva digitalizzazione mi sembra azzardato, proprio alla luce delle considerazioni su una radio capace di travestirsi così bene. Fare concorrenza ad altri mezzi sul piano qualitativo è velleitario e al momento contraddice la funzione delle onde corte come strumento semplificato e “povero”, almeno per gli ascoltatori. Forse bisogna cercare di rilanciare proprio su questa loro unicità, analogica o digitale che possa essere. Ma è una peculiarità comunque a rischio. Godiamocele finché possiamo.
Shortwave-radio era looks short-lived
By Doreen Carvajal International Herald Tribune
Published: September 24, 2006
PARIS Perhaps it is fitting that a 50-second video clip of an ear-shattering explosion of 13 shortwave radio antenna towers on the Spanish Costa Brava is getting viewers on the Web site YouTube. It took 32 pounds, or 14.5 kilograms, of dynamite to fell the massive antennas, which long relayed news from the United States to the former Soviet Union. But the most powerful force behind the demolition was the rapidly shifting landscape of radio, where listeners are migrating toward MP3 players, Internet radio and podcasting. The felling of the towers was the latest noisy outburst of a cost-cutting trend that is silencing the familiar and crackly shortwave voices that leap across the globe through the clear night sky in times of crisis and Cold War, tsunami and Thai coup.
In January, the Finnish public broadcaster YLE will end all of its shortwave broadcasts with the goal of saving money and diverting resources to online news services. Next month, Germany’s public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, will end its German-language shortwave broadcasts aimed at Canada and the United States. The Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, and the Korean Broadcasting System are also reducing shortwave services. The leading international broadcaster, the BBC World Service, is pursuing a diversification strategy that regards the future in stark terms. “Audience needs are changing and technology is moving rapidly,” reads the news service’s explanation of its strategy through 2010. “Shortwave is also declining at a fast pace and if we don’t change, we will die.”
Critics of the retreat warn, however, that shortwave is the most reliable communications medium of last resort. They point out that it can allow determined broadcasters to reach across borders even when repressive national regimes halt FM broadcasts, block Internet sites and jam television programming. “Shortwave does not respect boundaries and reaches the rich and poor,” said Graham Mytton, former head of the BBC’s audience research unit and now a media consultant. “Most international broadcasters think things are driven by technology, but not entirely. They’re driven by politics and local media circumstances. Their mistake is they downplay shortwave because they’re living in developed societies. But they don’t go to rural areas like Nigeria, where everyone has a shortwave radio. “Smaller international broadcasters with more limited resources are phasing out shortwave entirely. Slovak Radio silenced its shortwave programming in July, and Swiss Radio International ended shortwave broadcasts two years ago to transform into an online news service, www.swissinfo.org.
In the meantime, all of the world’s largest international broadcasters, from the United States, France, Germany, England and the Netherlands, are cutting back or reviewing precious resources devoted to shortwave radio. “The future of shortwave radio is quite clear,” said Guido Baumhauer, director of strategy and distribution for Deutsche Welle, or DW, in Germany. “It’s all going down when it comes to the consumers.” With the average age of its shortwave listeners hovering at about 50, DW expects to save more than €10 million, or $12.78 million, a year by reducing shortwave services, according to Baumhauer, who said the money would be invested in other services like Internet radio and podcasting. The state-subsidized broadcaster is phasing out shortwave programs for North America and the Balkans and reducing daily transmissions of shortwave programs to 160 hours from 200. “In the U.S., if people are really into German they have so many other ways to get consumer information,” Baumhauer said. “Considering the costs related to the transmission, there’s no point in continuing.”
The history of shortwave radio dates to 1927, when Philips Laboratories of the Netherlands transmitted shortwave broadcasts from Eindhoven to the Dutch East Indies. The BBC trailed behind with the founding of the BBC Empire Service in 1932. Shortwave radio provided a vital alternative voice in wartime Europe. Radio Oranje, for example, was set up in London after the German occupation of the Netherlands to broadcast uncensored news. Through the Cold War years, international broadcasters used shortwave to shout over the Iron Curtain. While held in his luxury villa during an attempted coup d’état, the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev listened to shortwave transmissions of the BBC and Voice of America. But after the Berlin Wall fell and new media forms flourished, there was less need for shortwave transmissions in developed countries. International broadcasters like RFI of France and the BBC started striking hundreds of partnership agreements with local FM stations to rebroadcast their programs with clearer sound.
With the advance of technology, it has also become increasingly difficult to say what a radio is, since it can be distributed through digital television, mobile phones, computers or satellite radio, according to Michael Mullane of the European Broadcasting Union for public broadcasters in Geneva. The BBC eliminated its North American shortwave transmissions in 2001, when there were still an average of more than two million listeners. But with FM rebroadcast agreements with local stations, the BBC now has five million listeners in Canada and the United States, according to Michael Gardner, a spokesman for the BBC. The BBC is constantly reviewing its expenses in connection with shortwave radio, he said, but in the meantime, the news service still reaches two-thirds of its weekly 163 million radio listeners through shortwave. This year, the BBC actually posted an increase of about five million shortwave listeners in rural areas of Africa and Asia, but Gardner says the increase amounted to existing listeners who were surveyed for the first time in Myanmar.
David Hollyer, former managing director in Spain for the U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, is wistful about the long-term consequences of mothballing and destroying shortwave transmitters. The transmitters in Spain, he argued, could have been deployed to broadcast to Central Asia to reach a Muslim population. Instead, with the changing political climate, U.S. authorities closed the station in 2003, ended its lease, and turned over the towers to Spain. When Hollyer watches the amateur YouTube video of the familiar towers crumbling in clouds of smoke, it reminds him of an Edwin Markham poem. “To paraphrase,” he said, “the towers went down with a great shout upon the hills and left a lonesome place against the sky.”