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Postscript: Who is the audience for Shortwave Radio?

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Postscript: Who is the audience for Shortwave Radio?

This is a postscript to our article:  Terrestrial Broadcast Radio: The end of an era?
The quote below is from a Monitoring Times article cited in the original posting:
A Tuning Point for International Broadcasting: what does the future hold for shortwave.


Separating medium from message or specifically, separating the method of distribution from the content (station programming) begs the question of the identification of the audience segment(s) of shortwave listeners.

By observation, there are individuals that love dragging out the old Zenith Trans-Oceanic receiver or similar classic receiver, checking the schedule of shortwave broadcasters (time and frequency), tuning in and listening.

In contrast, there are individuals that will go to a web site like Reciva or directly to an International broadcasters web site and listen to via the Internet.

Is it about the technology of distribution or the stations programming/content?

The question is, what are these two representative individuals after?  Assuming one has internet access why would one choose to listen via a traditional RF/radio rather than the internet?  Certainly, there is a hurdle listening via the RF/radio – one has to deal with fading, finding the frequency at the chosen listening time, and if the gods of propagation are not on your side, no amount of RF power is going to get the signal to your radio.

As Dieter Weirich of Deutsche Welle observes, there may be a segment of Shortwave listeners who listen to Shortwave simply because of the technology of distribution with the content being, more or less, irrelevant.  Certainly, choosing this segment as some sort of focus group to recommend or suggest programming will send an International broadcaster down the wrong path.

It makes far less difference to the station how the listener accessed the content, whether via shortwave, satellite, the Internet or CBC Overnight.  If the listener’s focus is content the station is interested in hearing from him or her.  But if the focus is confined to running up verification numbers, that relationship is not likely to be very welcome.

The article cited above and the quote was written 10 years ago.  Does anyone really ask for QSL cards from International broadcast stations in 2009?  I don’t think so.  That is a legacy of the past motivated by the lack of ubiquitous global communication.

One wonders, in 2009, how important is all this (expensive) RF infrastructure to International broadcasters when we consider these aspects:

  1. the audience that listens via traditional RF/radio may not be the target audience that the station is seeking.  ( These folks listen more because of the method of distribution (technology) rather than the content of the programming).  Why retain a distribution to an audience that you, as the International broadcaster, is not interested in pursuing?
  2. RF distribution of content is far more capital intensive and difficult than Internet distribution
  3. Internet distribution is in ascent; RF distribution is in decline.

The “true” shortwave listener by self-identification

With all this in mind, perhaps the only legitimate audience for International broadcasters are the folks that listen via the Internet.

Folks listening via the Internet have self-identified themselves as focusing on the stations content/programming as most important when other technology options are available.  Folks listening via RF/Radio have self-identified themselves as more interested in the distribution technology than the content since they have chosen a sub optional distribution method when superior methods were available ( i.e. the Internet).

So it comes down to this.  The “real” shortwave listeners are listening via the Internet.  The people with the RF/Radios – what are they after – really?  If the real “shortwave listeners” (the audience that the broadcaster is interested in) are listening via the Internet then we have redefined the traditional language.  Shortwave listeners (as traditionally defined using a RF/Radio) are NOT the audience International Broadcasters are seeking – the “Internet Listeners” are the true audience of the International broadcasters.

It’s clear that disruptive technologies and disruptive innovation also disrupts and redefines traditional language as well as business models, markets, market segments, and the identity of traditional organizations and corporations.

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Written by frrl

May 15, 2009 at 4:54 am

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