Friday, December 30, 2005

December 2005 "Easy Listening" column

15 years ago…

I began my tenure as Easy Listening editor in December of 1990, with a one-page column on a couple Radio Australia programs, if I recall. I haven’t had 15 years of continuous service, as I took a leave of absence in the mid-90s, with John Figliozzi pinch hitting for a stretch.

International Broadcasting – and the hobby it supports – has certainly changed in those 15 years – back in 1990, the Internet was the domain of academic and government organizations, and the World Wide Web had not yet been adopted as an Internet communications protocol. We were communicating electronically about the hobby even before the Internet, as bulletin board services (remember Tom Sundstrom’s Pinelands BBS? Fidonet?) and commercial services (CompuServe, GENIE, Prodigy) provided e-mail and bulletin board-like messaging and collaboration services allowing us to share logs, schedules, news and opinions. DX Listening Digest and Review of International Broadcasting existed in printed form.

Nowadays, our electronic communications are near-instantaneous, with Internet Relay Chat and instant messaging enabling us to exchange information in real-time. Get-togethers like the Winter SWL Fest could continue in a virtual mode before and after the gathering. Glenn Hauser still publishes DXLD, but does so electronically.

Broadcasters themselves face an increasing number of choices in how they deliver their programming to audiences. The BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, the Voice of America and Radio France International have eliminated most or all English language programming targeting North America; Radio Vlaanderen International, Radio Norway, Radio Bras, YLE Radio Finland and others have eliminated English language broadcasting entirely.

Domestic shortwave broadcasting – which provides most of the DX targets for North American listeners – has also declined, as FM broadcasting has become more feasible and more affordable for domestic services.

Despite these setbacks, shortwave listening remains an interesting and enjoyable activity, as it contains elements of “treasure hunting”, along with knowledge of propagation theory and serendipity when the airwaves yield surprising openings and unexpected listening targets. Listening to webcasts, in and of themselves, are “utilitarian”, to steal a phrase from John Figliozzi, but I find it interesting to keep track of how stations are growing the scope of their websites and their use of online archives to dramatically increase the programming available for online listening. Gradually the concept of schedule-based listening is falling by the wayside for many – they choose what they want to listen to, and when they want to listen to it.

It’s my intention to continue Easy Listening each month, focusing on programming suggestions and new developments in how international broadcasters are adapting to take advantage of new technologies and new trends in how listeners find out about their world.

Hearing the BBCWS on shortwave in North America: Daytime is the best time

As you’ll probably see in the Musings column, I recently joined Bob Montgomery, Ed Mauger, John Figliozzi, and Rich D’Angelo for a French Creek DXPedition. My greatest enjoyment at a DXPedition is to be able to listen uninterrupted to shortwave broadcasters at many different times of the day – times of the day when, during most weeks, life seems to get in the way of good listening.

One of my primary listening goals was to find usable frequencies for the BBC World Service for those times when there are no services targeting the Caribbean region and Central America – since this region is now only targeted directly for a few hours per day. While I try not to use the Easy Listening column to list frequencies, I felt this was a useful approach to help you find more useful air times for favorite programs. The table below shows those frequencies that worked best for us in southeastern Pennsylvania in a quiet listening environment.

0000-0100 UTC: 5975 kHz remains the best, targeting the Americas

0100-0200 UTC: Nothing audible to other regions, and nothing to the Americas.

0200-0300 UTC: 5975 again the best.

0300-0400 UTC: 5975, also 6190 (SAf), 7160 (WAf), 12095 (SAm).

0400-0500 UTC: 7160 and 11765 (WAf).

0500-0600 UTC: 7160 (WAf). 11765 subject to QRM from Cuba.

1000-1100 UTC: 6195 targeting the Americas remains the best.

1100-1200 UTC: 11855 targeting CAm / Car.

1200-1300 UTC: 11855 targeting CAm / Car; 15190 (CAm / Car and SAm)

1300-1400 UTC: 15190 best; 21470 (SAf / EAf) usable; 15485, 17640, and 17830, targeting Africa, faint but improving.

1400-1500 UTC: 21470 good, also 17640.

1500-1600 UTC: 17640 and 21470 (Af); also 12095 (Eu)

1600-1700 UTC: 12095 (Eu) best; also, 15400, 17640, 17830 and 21470 (all Af)

1700-1900 UTC: 9410 and 12095 (Eu 1700-1800, Af 1800-1900); 15400, 15420 and 21470 (Af) for both hours.

1900-2000 UTC: 9410 (Eu), 12095 (Af), 15400 and 17830 (Af) less usable.

2000-2100 UTC: 9410 (Eu) but with some interference; 12095 (Af) the best. Also try 6195, 15400, and 17830, all targeting Africa.

2100-2200 UTC: 9410 (Eu) but with interference; 11765 (Am) the best; also 12095 (Af).

2200-2400 UTC: 5975 targeting the Americas remains the best.

Region codes: Af – Africa; Am – Americas; CAm – Central America; Car – Caribbean; EAf – East Africa; Eu – Europe; SAf – South Africa; SAm – South America;

Perhaps someone on the West Coast, or someone who is up in the wee hours of the morning in the East, can check the times from 0600 to 0900 that I didn’t monitor at French Creek; 9740 from Singapore signs on at 0800 and may be usable out west; it did not propagate well to French Creek.

So, the BBCWS is generally audible from 1000 UTC straight through to 0600 UTC in Eastern Pennsylvania, except for the prime evening listening hour of 0100-0200 UTC.

RCI Programming Changes

I mentioned some of the new programming coming to RCI in last month’s column, but we didn’t have many details. Turns out the two new midday CBC Radio One programs, The National Playlist and Freestyle, emphasize music more heavily than their predecessor shows. The National Playlist is a daily half-hour discussion program focusing on popular music from the 1960s through the present; each week there are additions and deletions from this “top ten” list, with the list changing as a result of user votes. The new list is revealed every Friday, and the entire list is played on Saturday evenings on CBC Radio One; local airtimes appear to be 9 PM to all time zones except the Atlantic and Newfoundland time zones, where 6 PM (Atlantic) and 6:30 PM (Newfoundland) are shown. The weekday version airs on shortwave to North America at 1630 UT on 9515, 13655 and 17820 khz. Since most of the weekend programming on CBC’s Northern Quebec shortwave service is from Radio One, you may find the Saturday evening edition on 9625 kHz at 0200 UTC Sundays. Worth a shot, anyway.

Meanwhile, Freestyle is also a music-oriented program, though the emphasis includes popular culture in Canada and globally. Canadian musicians (surprise!) are also featured. Freestyle airs on CBC Radio One domestically at 2 PM local time; Freestyle also airs on RCI’s shortwave service targeting the southeastern USA on weekdays 1600-1800 UT on 15180 kHz.

Both of these programs target a younger, domestic Canadian audience listening frequently at work and wanting something lighter in tone than the heavier spoken-word fare typically aired by Radio One. It will be interesting to see how well the programs are received.

Speaking of the CBC, the Sirius Canada launch is expected for “early December”, although a specific launch date has not been given. This should also be the date when CBC Radio One – in some form – is added to Sirius’ USA offerings.

Multiple streams forthcoming from Radio Australia

The differing needs of Radio Australia’s two target audiences – in Asia and the Pacific – have prompted Radio Australia to alter its programming targeting the two regions to better fit local time zones. Up till now, the separate Asia stream has not been distributed via shortwave; it has been available as a webcast and is sent via satellite to local rebroadcasters in the region. It is these local rebroadcasters that have been behind the push for a more narrowly-focused Asia service.

Soon Radio Australia’s shortwave services will also be split part of the time, with the shortwave releases beamed towards Asia will having the same programming as is provided via satellite and the web. Most of the shortwave frequencies that propagate well to North America are frequencies beamed towards the Pacific, so it won’t be easy for us to hear the two services simultaneously.

This dual streaming does have a benefit for web listening – at those times when shortwave is given over to sports coverage – for which webcast rights aren’t available – Radio Australia can keep the web feed going with the alternate service and not resort to silence as the BBC has done.

Some might look at multiple streams apprehensively, because many have felt the BBC World Service lost focus when it began multiple streams. The folks at Radio Australia believe their implementation is consistent with their strategic objectives to focus on Asian and Pacific listeners, and to not be a “global” service. They feel this change enhances the value they provide their listeners, and does not detract from this value. While Radio Australia appreciates that North Americans show interest in Radio Australia programming via the World Radio Network, Internet access, and via those shortwave frequencies that happen to propagate to North America, we North Americans aren’t their target audience. As a result, Radio Australia doesn’t see the BBC World Service experience as a parallel to their own.

The dual streaming operates from 2330 UT to 0900 UT from Sundays to Fridays. You can see examples in the online programming schedules – for example, at 0400 Thursdays, Background Briefing is shown for Asian listeners, and In The Loop is shown for Pacific listeners. The new flagship Asian program is The Breakfast Club, which provides “…a lively mix of music, interviews, entertainment, news, sport, art, finance and weather…” and airs from 2330 to 0130 from Sundays through Thursdays.

Christmas and New Year’s Programming

As usual, the Journal deadline comes before most broadcasters have finalized their plans for programming around the holidays. For many broadcasters, you can expect special pre-recorded year-end editions of programs, thus allowing program hosts to spend holiday time with families.

Broadcasters with especially extensive special programming are highlighted below.

Radio Canada International / CBC

The ODXA’s Fred Waterer along with John Figliozzi, have assembled the following notes on what to expect from the CBC:

As It Happens, especially on Christmas Eve, produces a special annual program. Each year, the program contacts members of the Canadian Armed Forces serving with the UN, NATO, NORAD and those serving in the far north. Each unit has 3 or 4 people speak for those serving with the unit. In past years, the units have served in such diverse locations as Canadian Forces Base Alert (Arctic), Colorado Springs (Norad), Germany, Cyprus, Golan Heights, Bermuda (!), the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia and Croatia, and Kosovo. It also has its moments of humor, such as the time the Canadian naval personnel stationed in Bermuda tried to claim they missed the Canadian winter real bad! (via Fred Waterer/ODXA).

This year, any special edition of As It Happens would likely be the December 23rd edition, since Christmas Day is on a Sunday in 2005.

Also, in 2003, listeners in the United States and the Caribbean heard Holly & Maple on Christmas Morning from 1300 to 1600 UTC. RCI has changed their morning schedule to 1400 to 1700 UT for all seven days of the week, so any special would be heard at that time. Later that day, in 2003, listeners in the United States and the Caribbean heard Winter Stories from 2300 to 0100 UTC; the new schedule has programming airing to North America at 2100-2300, and then 2300-2400 and 0000-0200. Holiday Soirée: A Christmas Homecoming was heard on Boxing Day in Southeast Asia and China from 0000 to 0100 UTC December 26th and once again from 1200 to 1300 UTC December 26th. Listeners in India heard Holiday Soirée: A Christmas Homecoming on Boxing Day from 1500 to 1600 UTC. (via RCI / Bill Westenhaver)

I’ll update the CBC / RCI plans in the NASWA Flashsheet once they’re available.

BBC World Service

The BBC World Service hasn’t publicized their holiday plans yet, but there are several annual traditions that are expected to continue:

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a long standing tradition. Expect the program to originate once again from King’s College in Cambridge; the Festival is a celebration of the birth of Christ in readings from the Bible and beautiful choral music. It features traditional favorites such as Once In Royal David’s City as well as new music specially composed for the occasion. Last year’s airings included Christmas Eve at 1501 and Christmas Day at 1301.

The Queen’s Christmas Message to the Commonwealth is another annual tradition, lasting just 10 minutes but a highlight from year to year. Last year’s airtimes included December 25th at 1505.

Voice of America

As far as I know, Kim Elliott will host Talk To America sometime around New Year’s day, but watch the NASWA Flashsheet or the swprograms e-mail list for updates.

Two years ago, VOA News Now featured a Special Christmas program called "The 12 Hours of Christmas". It is a syndicated program from Kris Eric Stevens Productions. The show featured Christmas classics from yesterday and today plus holiday features and vignettes. This program ran from 0000 UTC through 23 hours UTC on Christmas day, which was a weekday. As Christmas falls this year on a Sunday, any specials might air on the previous Friday, but this speculative schedule is also subject to revision once the VOA announces its plans.

Non-Shortwave Suggestions

Italy -- Informoj el Italio (Esperanto)

There aren’t too many international broadcasts remaining in Esperanto these days, and budget cuts have generally preserved other languages at Esperanto’s expense.

However, every Saturday, at 2000 UT, RAI’s multilingual satellite audio service airs a one-hour program in Esperanto. The direct link to RAI’s satellite audio is rtsp://live.media.rai.it/redundant/international.rm.

I can’t tell you much about the program itself, since I don’t speak Esperanto.

The first 20 minutes of the program airs on shortwave, but isn’t targeted to North America; listen at 2000 on 6045 and 9760.

Until next month, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!

73 DE Richard

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