August brought the incredible announcement that the Russian state radio station “Voice of Russia” will cease all international shortwave broadcasting as of January 1, 2014. Incredible news, indeed. Absolutely unthinkable even 10-years ago.
I began my shortwave listening hobby as a teenager in the middle of the 1970’s when stations programming to English language audiences were plentiful, and most of the World’s nations programmed international shortwave to foreign listeners for political reasons, cultural outreach, and often simply as a matter of national pride. The Voice of Russia is the direct descendant of Radio Moscow which began broadcasting in the 1920’s. As recently as the 1990’s it was virtually impossible to tune a radio dial a fraction without coming across multiple Radio Moscow and VOR signals, always exceptionally strong. The VOR is blaming the closure on budget cuts, and says it will reduce it’s broadcasts to only 26-hours aimed at domestic listeners. Shortwave is still important in Russia to cover the vast interior of that country.
The Internet has not been kind to International shortwave broadcasting with dozens of stations having left the air forever since the 1990’s. Gone are the North American services of Radio Canada International, the venerable BBC, Radio Luxemburg, Radio Netherlands, Radio Sweden, and many others. Many of these services still exist, but only as Internet broadcasts. Even the Voice of America is drastically scaling back shortwave in favor of Internet and paid access to foreign FM and TV stations. As a diehard shortwave listener, I can say that there is absolutely no romance in Internet radio. Give me all the static, the selective fading, the interference, the Eastern-bloc jamming, and of course the famous Radio Moscow 50-cycle hum. All those things remind me that I am listening to a real radio station. I like the knowledge that the signal I am listening to is bouncing off the Earth’s ionosphere from thousands of miles away leaving me wondering if it has bounced around the world more than once. Maybe it came over the pole? I always think about what the facility looks like, and what the country looks like. Then there is or was the ability to send signal reports and hopefully receive a “QSL” postcard in return. Shortwave today is still a fascinating hobby, but it is a bit more challenging for English language listeners who have to hunt for fewer offerings. I both love it and miss it all at once.