Haiti, VOA, and the role of shortwave during crises.

Posted: 27 Jan 2010   Print   Send a link
Mike Barraclough spotted the colloquy below about the role of shortwave in broadcasting to Haiti. I cited this item previously, but did not mention the shortwave parts...
     "While television and new technologies like Internet and cell phones are the focus of strategy at the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees the U.S. government’s international broadcasting assets, shortwave radio remains by far the most effective means of reaching audiences around the world, particularly in the developing countries. It is far from an outdated technology, as is sometimes alleged. A highly relevant case in point is earthquake-stricken Haiti, the poorest and most underdeveloped country in the Americas." Helle Dale, The Foundry Blog, Heritage Foundation, 20 January 2010.
     "Very few Haitians, less than 1%, use shortwave, and only 8% use AM, per the BBG’s June 2009 national survey in Haiti. Haiti’s an FM market." Bruce Sherman, Broadcasting Board of Governors staff, comment to ibid.
     VOA Creole has always used shortwave for its broadcasts to Haiti. Rebroadcasts on FM and AM stations in Haiti are a more recent addition to the media mix. When the local affiliates were disrupted by the earthquake, VOA stepped up its shortwave broadcasting into Haiti, using the limited number of IBB and borrowed shortwave transmitters still available in the Western Hemisphere. Keeping up with the expanded shortwave schedule has not been easy: see previous post.
     A June 2009 audience survey in Haiti found that, among the VOA Creole audiences, 81% listened via FM affiliates, 8% via affiliates on the AM band, and almost no one listening via shortwave. This shows, not surprisingly, that audiences, if they have the choice of FM, AM, and shortwave, prefer to listen via FM.
     But what happens when, due to an emergency, local rebroadcasting outlets become unavailable? What, specifically, happened in Haiti? The June 2009 survey indicates that only about one percent of Haitians have access to a radio with a shortwave band, versus 96% with FM bands, and 63% with AM bands. (The cheapest radios nowadays have only an FM band. Also, many mobile phones have an FM band.)
     Throughout the world, how many people will keep on hand a shortwave radio for possible crises when local broadcasting, internet access, and mobile networks go down? How many international broadcasters will keep shortwave transmitters in operation for such emergencies.
     It is possible as these calamitous events happen in the future, HF communications transmitters will have to be pressed into service for ad hoc shortwave broadcasting efforts. The receivers will be in the hands of government agencies, emergency service organizations, radio amateurs, and hobbyist shortwave listeners. This is hardly a mass audience, so the information will have to be passed on to the general public through word of mouth, any functioning local networks, and other means.
     In the twenty-first century, with the dominance of local broadcasting and the internet, people are better informed that ever -- during normal times. But, during crises, with the corresponding decline in shortwave, people may be less well informed than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.