WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

The end of an era in International Shortwave Broadcasting: Voice of Russia (former Radio Moscow) to leave shortwave by year's end

For those of us who grew up in the 1960's and 1970's - listening to international shortwave stations (and there were several of us in my neighborhood!) - it didn't take much effort to listen to Radio Moscow's English-language broadcasts. Indeed, Radio Moscow was omnipresent on the various international shortwave bands, broadcasting from an array of high-powered transmitters across the wide expanse of the Soviet Union.

I didn't listen to Radio Moscow nearly as much as I did to stations from some of the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact allies, particularly Radio Prague and Radio Budapest. (And my favorite stations were inevitably Radio Nederland Wereldomroep, Swiss Radio International, Radio Sweden, Radio Portugal, Radio Canada International, and Radio Australia.)

But, during the Cold War, there was a certain allure to listening to Radio Moscow, coming from the capital of the Soviet Union. It almost seemed forbidden. But listening to Radio Moscow's broadcasts in those days - between the lines - you did get some interesting information unavailable in U.S. media.

A favorite show: "Moscow Mailbag", hosted by Joe Adamov, a mainstay at Radio Moscow and then the Voice of Russia for more than 60 years. Adamov spoke English with a neutral American accent. (Indeed, he was the official Soviet translator at the trial of Gary Powers, the American shot down in that famous U-2 spy plane incident in 1960.)

The mantra at "Moscow Mailbag": "You can't do better than send us a letter, and in it, tell Joe what you think of his show..."

Soviet watchers closely monitored "Moscow Mailbag" and other Radio Moscow offerings for subtle changes in approach and emphasis.

By the second half of the 1980's - with Mikhail Gorbachev, and his Glasnost & Perestroika - Radio Moscow got VERY interesting. What would Joe finally concede on "Moscow Mailbag"? Other catchy discussion programs were introduced. I found myself listening to Radio Moscow for one or two hours each Sunday night.

With the fall of the U.S.S.R., Radio Moscow morphed into the Voice of Russia, still broadcasting around the world from many transmitters, both from within Russia, and beyond.

With so many other commitments, I don't listen the way I used to. But I still enjoy "Moscow Mailbag", plus such shows as "Red Line" and "From Moscow with Love".

But, as with so many other international broadcasters, the Voice of Russia has been systematically cutting back its shortwave broadcasts. It ended English-language transmissions specifically directed at North America at the start of 2013, although we can still pick up broadcasts from a transmitter in Moldova targeting South America.

Then this month came the bombshell:

According to the Digit.ru online journal (and relayed by RIA Novosti), The Voice of Russia will end international shortwave broadcasting from January 1st, 2014 "due to funding cuts".

(The Audience Relations department at the Voice of Russia acknowledges receiving many e-mails from listeners expressing concern, but insists the Voice of Russia has received no official information to this effect.)

Radio Moscow signed on the air in 1929. The end of an era.

Of course, the Voice of Russia will continue to be available at its website, with many, many podcasts. VoR also broadcasts from regular A.M. radio stations in the Washington and New York City areas.

The conventional wisdom holds shortwave radio is antiquated. New media platforms have transcended it.

True, to a certain extent. (Although I note some international broadcasters which migrated to the Internet later disappeared entirely.)

But as the repeated hackings of The NEW YORK TIMES' website underscore, websites are vulnerable. Plus, with all the NSA surveillance stuff, doubtless some folks might think twice before accessing a website from a country or group thought to be even mildly hostile to the United States.

Whether the Voice of Russia and China Radio International from the East, or the Voice of America, the BBC World Service, Radio France International, and Radio Deutsche Welle from the West, ALL the major international broadcasters have rushed to pick-up in-country A.M./F.M. transmitters for their broadcast output. But governments can get embroiled in a tit-for-tat dispute over reciprocity. And during times of crisis, dictators can pull the plug on such in-country broadcasts, precisely when they're presumably the most needed.

Primitive shortwave remains more impervious to such disruption. Even jammers often miss their mark.

(Although I know a guy at the Voice of Russia who grew up listening to the BBC World Service in English, because the BBC's Russian-language service was heavily jammed!)

No one could possibly have predicted this: With the Voice of Russia's departure from shortwave, the remaining stations from Europe/Asia Minor targeting English-language broadcasts to North America: Radio Romania International (super-powered transmitters), Radio Exterior de Espana, and the Voice of Turkey!

Meanwhile from the East, the Chinese don't seem to be pulling the plug on shortwave broadcasting, even to North America, despite the development of other platforms. The Chinese realize tens of millions of people around the world don't have computers and/or cannot conveniently access the Internet.

Posted at 7:33am on August 29, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Mike from Delaware
Sat, Aug 31, 2013 5:25pm
Sounds like that would have lots of fun. I never had a shortwave. I. Should look into getting one. Where would be a good place to find shortwave radio's & how much do they generally cost?

Sat, Aug 31, 2013 10:14pm
Sorry, Dude, the party's over. Most international broadcasting has moved to the Internet. No static. No fade. Better sound.

Allan Loudell
Mon, Sep 2, 2013 7:13am
Mike from Delaware.

Bill Smith is correct. A lot of international broadcasting has migrated to the internet, satellite, and some AM/FM rebroadcast in certain places. (Although in some cases, international broadcasters have just disappeared on ALL platforms: Radio Canada International, Radio Nederland Wereldomroep)

But, one can still hear some international broadcasters beaming to other places on shortwave, such as the BBC, Radio France International, Deutsche Welle, and the Voice of America, to Africa.

Still broadcasting in English specifically for North America: The aforementioned Radio Romania International, Voice of Turkey, Radio Exterior de Espana, China Radio International, plus Radio Cairo (Unbelievably! But the audio has been muddy for four decades!) and Radio Havana Cuba.

Radio Australia doesn't beam specifically to North America, but beams to the Pacific, which is nearly just as good. Radio Australia has been on 9580 kiloHertz since I first started listening to shortwave in 1966.

The Mighty KBC offers an old-fashioned rock show on Saturday nights (Studios in The Netherlands, from transmitters in Germany).

Radio Shack still carries some portable shortwave radios. I haven't priced them lately, but I would say in the range of $80 to $200.

You might want to check out the ham radio store along Route 13 north of the airport.

The key internet site is: www.universal-radio.com.

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