Shortwave Broadcasting and the free press

WWCR wire rhombic antennas
WWCR wire rhombic antennas

Shortwave broadcasting is often overlooked as a domestic news outlet.  This is by design and is a throwback to the Cold War era when shortwave broadcasting was seen as an international propagation outlet, mainly used by the VOA.  In fact, according to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, the Voice of America is forbidden to broadcast directly to American citizens. The intent of the legislation is to protect the American public from propaganda actions by its own government.  Nice, huh?

WRMI corner reflector
WRMI corner reflector

The way the FCC rules governing shortwave (AKA HF) broadcasting are written, the station needs to be designed and configured to transmit signals to areas outside of the US.  Any coverage within the US is considered incidental.  See also CFR 47 73 part F.

WRMI signal 50 KW 9350 KHz
WRMI signal 50 KW 9950 KHz

That being said, many of the non-VOA HF broadcasters are well-received in the US.  There is nothing that is preventing a shortwave station on the west coast from beaming its signal across the North American continent to Europe, or over the poles, etc.  These stations’ call signs start with a K or W much the same as FM and AM broadcasting stations.  Most of them are religious broadcasters, however, there are a few that offer non-religious programming or a mixture of both.

As Clear Channel lays off more staff and becomes a computer-automated shell, I am beginning to think that traditional AM and FM broadcasting is on the way out.  Television news and the 24-hour news cycle have blurred the line between journalism and opinion.  Newspapers have filled the role of government watchdogs and general information sources since this country was founded.  Newspapers have fallen on hard times with many cutting investigative reporters, general reporters and or going out of business.  The internet has become the de facto information source for many people, which is fine so long as users understand its limits.

The big problem with all of this is the internet is a fragile thing, controlled by a few very large companies.  A few keystrokes and a router table are re-written to exclude a site that might have detrimental information.  Distributed Denial of Service attacks have taken down Wikileaks for days.  Collateral Wikileaks-related damage occurred to, Visa, Mastercard and Paypal.  A few “persuasive” calls from an important government agency or official to an ISP or server company can easily take a site or multiple sites offline.   Search results can be skewed by search engines, or by large companies like BP did during the Gulf oil spill.

The FCC debates on so-called “net neutrality” have yet to produce any meaningful framework to avoid corporate and search engine censorship.  This also assumes that the government can justly regulate the internet, which, in this day and age is a stretch of the imagination.

All of this is leaving an information void.  As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.

Enter Shortwave Radio.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there are a lot of strange things that can be heard in the shortwave broadcast band.  However, it one can separate the wheat from the chaff, some rewarding entertainment can be had.   Most of the non-government shortwave stations in the US are religious broadcasters.  There are at least three stations that offer time-brokered programs, some religious and some not.  WBCQ is always a good bet.  WRMI is offering more and more non-religious programming.  WWCR also has some general programming.  While government broadcasters like the BBC, CBC, and others have greatly curtailed their broadcasts to North America, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as other smaller broadcasters can be heard where the giants once roamed.

As solar cycle 24 heats up, the programming selections on any given day can vary widely. Radio Australia (ABC) has been booming in on 6020 KHz in the mornings around here.  They have an excellent country music program and I have been introduced to several songs and musicians that I would not have otherwise heard.  Today I heard a great show on Radio Australia Today about New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and lots of things that aren’t normally heard here in the US.

The key to shortwave listening is the receive antenna.  One particular MF/HF receive antenna is the K9AY loop.  I have had very good luck with that antenna on both standard and international broadcasts.  I have to say, I am finding fewer and fewer things to listen to on the AM band.  I have taken the opportunity to make a few circuit boards with a 10-12 dB preamp for controlling the pair of loops used in a K9AY array.  The preamp is based on a common base Norton design, which has low noise and moderate gain.  I use the preamp sparingly, the main reason for it is the 4 way hybrid splitter, which adds 6.2 dB of loss to the antenna output.  Still, I have noticed, especially on narrow bandwidth digital signals, that the preamp can mean the difference between decoding a signal or not.

I am making extras, K9AY antenna systems, preamps, receiver splitters, and other general shortwave receive systems, which I plan to offer for sale at a later date.  As they say, stay tuned.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

11 thoughts on “Shortwave Broadcasting and the free press”

  1. If I recall, a target country or Zone must be supplied in the FCC application for an International High-frequency broadcast station. Complying with an FCC application is one thing, but on the other hand, who can stop an American citizen from listening? The whole idea was to discourage private International shortwave broadcasting. A party from New Orleans forced the issue back in the late 1980’s and got the FCC to start accepting applications for this service. WRNO was the pioneer that got the application process jump-started! As far as “propaganda” is concerned, I feel that the private “Lamestream Media” in this day and age would make Joseph Goebbels proud!

  2. It is a myth that WRNO pioneered private SW broadcasting in the U.S. Several such stations, licensed by the FCC, had operated for years when WRNO applied for its license. Some that come to mind include KGEI, WINB, WNYW …

    The existence of these stations, and the FCC rules that permitted them, were unknown to top officials at that time. This is likely the case today. Private SW broadcasting is an obscure backwater at the FCC, which has made no known attempts to update the Cold War-era SW regulatory scheme, or even to enforce the operational rules in this service.

    Various Part 73F rules that control private SW have long outlived their usefulness and are simply barriers to entry and innovation. There is no need for the FCC to micromanage the program policies of private SW stations, or insist they be designed, built and operated for foreign audiences, or require them to transmit with high minimum power levels (50 kW AM, 10 kW DRM/SSB) that would be excessive for local or regional domestic service.

  3. The majority of the American HF Shortwave stations prior to WRNO were under U.S. Government contracts dating back to Crosley building and operating the VOA Mason, Ohio station. GE, RCA, and Westinghouse also ran some HF stations for a time. Since the 1950’s, it is my understanding that the FCC was reluctant on granting new PRIVATELY RUN (non governmental) International High Frequency broadcast stations even though the Rules provided for them. Costello pushed the FCC Rules issue and got the WRNO grant around 1980. I probably should have said that he (Costello) re-pioneered modern private non-religious HF broadcasting after a long lull of licensing. However, I would agree that the FCC is still in the dark ages with respect to this service. Jumping through a minimum 50 kW hoop was designed to have potential broadcasters put their money where their mouth is whereas many countries have no minimum power requirements. The FCC application fees for this service also appear to be on the high side in my opinion. If Obama really wanted to “stimulate” the economy, he could tell Genakowski to knock down all the legal hoops and hurdles and expand the broadcasting band plans rather than squeezing existing spectrum allocations into a sardine can. Reagan, with Fowler, started the FCC deregulation in 1981 and it worked, but it stopped after his term. I guess the only thing on the FCC’s mind now is “Net-Neutrality” which may ultimately be another nail in radio broadcasting’s coffin.

  4. Net Neutrality will neither hasten or slow down radio broadcasting’s demise. The short sighted group owners are the driving force to that regard. The so called “Net Neutrality” as recently adopted by the FCC is nothing but a nod to the major ISP’s to charge more money.

  5. The broadcast media is championing “Net Neutrality” now. But what does the fine print say? Has anyone actually read the proposed rulemaking? Is it about making more work for the lawyers litigating the “New Rules”? Is it about government controls attacking free market forces and competition? I say, keep the government’s goozy fingers OUT of the Internet. Once the government’s foot is in the door, the door then is incrementally busted down with more and more rules and regulations, eventually robbing freedoms that the Constitution once held dearly.

  6. Thanks for the nice report on 6020 kHz. That’s our Melanesian service with Pacific English & Tok Pisin directed to the Coral Sea (Solomon Islands & Vanuatu). 100 kW into a broad-azimuth dipole array (6-12 MHz HR2/3/0.4) from our station at Shepparton, Victoria.

    Had to have a chuckle over the footprint with “coincidental” coverage of USA.

    While RA is expanding a network of full-time FM relays in our markets we always mindful of the capacity of hf broadcasting to cover huge areas economically and resiliently. Our FM relays in Nadi & Suva (Fiji) were terminated at gun point last year. Fortunately we had ubiquitous hf to sustain carriage of news & current affairs into a deprived market.

  7. Nigel, thanks for the info. It is mostly a night time path, signal strength here is about 50-70 uv one hour after sunrise, very listenable, I enjoy hearing the news with my morning cup of joe. Fades out around 13:45-14:00 UT (9 am LT).

    When I was on Guam, we had a saying; Find the right frequency and HF will work when everything else is down. Nice to know these “legacy” systems still find good utility.

  8. I have heard only religious shortwave radio broadcast stations in the U.S except the remnants of VOA in Greenville. How many people in the U.S. own and listen to shortwave broadcast? Not many; that’s why the religious stations apparently program for foreign listeners.

  9. The unique thing about shortwave radio these days. Is that the broadcasters involved in news as well as national and International trends and events. Do the job of documenting various sources of information. And so, cut to the chase of finding relative need to know kinds of information. Both through the various medias and the Internet. With regards to the Internet. The shortwave broadcasters tend to focus in upon important issues. And hence as mentioned above. Cut to the chase of finding that information for the listener. And hence can help all of us find the needle in the hay stack of massive amounts of information that is pumped into the world daily.

    With regards to the above. The listener, regardless of whether they have Internet access at home. Finds that shortwave is useful in terms of helping them. Locate and find top stories on the Internet. As well as allows them to obtain a sense of the collective grass roots views and opinions of people at large. With regards to political, religious as well as views about technology. In terms of views and technology. Shortwave broadcasters tend to provide insight years in advance. Of the trends. Whether the trends are political, religious or related to technology.

    Because of the above. It is most likely that the shortwave broadcasting industry, with regards to market projections. Has a bright future ahead of it. Capable of growing. Especially when broadcasters realize that they can obtain International air time rates, at low prices. Which is something they can not obtain through national network radio (Mediumwave AM and FM) and television.

  10. Four years later, here I am talking about the events of days gone by. But wait, these issues are still in front of us. (its Oct. 3, 2014) Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand put in a great signal here in South – Central Idaho in the morning, on 49 meters no less. I’ve owned a shortwave receiver for years; and more than one, too. Listening to a different point of view is always refreshing.
    I find it concerning when those in control decide that shortwave broadcasting is pas se and dismiss it as a waste. I’ll be the first to admit that the internet is a marvelous tool, and I certainly use it daily; however, it is a chore to weed out the nonsense to find the real news; that is still news.
    No matter whether it is AM(mw), FM, Satellite, TV, or shortwave; if you don’t offer a reason for someone to tune in, they won’t. Too many in control discount content as a bean counter’s job. (survey says….) They also say the average listener/viewer has the attention span of a Gypsy Moth.
    And, people over 40 are not their target.
    I suspect that 2015 or 2016 will be when we all know for sure just how our notions played out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *