Radio News: BBC World Service celebrates 90 years
James Careless reports for Radio World that the British Broadcasting Corporation's World Service has turned 90 years old. It began as the “BBC Empire Service” in 1932, sending shortwave signals around the globe. “Created 10 years after the BBC itself was founded, the BBC World Service was there to send ‘voices out of the air,’ which sounds like a poem by Keats but are actually the words of King George V,” said Stephen Titherington, senior head of content for BBC World Service English. “Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall it has had a different relevancy to people in terms of sharing what is happening within the world, with also a chance for people to add their voice to what needs to be heard.” The BBC World Service provided alternative information to people in fascist countries in the 1930s and 1940s, then pivoted as a Cold War broadcaster, and now beams in signals to conflict zones in Ukraine, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Lately it has focused on local broadcasts and streaming media while cutting back on shortwave, and ending shortwave service to North America. “One thing that has been consistent over the years is the BBC’s commitment to independent news,” said Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott, retired Voice of America audience research analyst/radio host and now producer/presenter of “Shortwave Radiogram,” heard on shortwave stations WINB and WRMI. The Voice of America, a similar radio service from the United States, always seemed more like a propagandists than the BBC. “To be sure, the BBC European services had partisan commentaries during World War II, but the news remained factual, mostly. Since World II, BBC World Service has been the de facto standard for comprehensive and objective news,” Elliot says. As of late 2021 the BBC broadcasts in 40 languages including Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Serbian, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba. In March, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the BBC World Service announced it is broadcasting, "four hours of English news daily on two shortwave frequencies, both of which “can be received clearly in Kyiv and parts of Russia,” said a BBC media release. The shortwave frequencies are 15735 kHz operating from 1400 to 1600 UTC and on 5875 kHz from 2000 to 2200 UTC. “The audience for the BBC’s Russian language news website more than tripled its year-to-date weekly average, with a record reach of 10.7 million people in the last week (compared to 3.1 million). In English, bbc.com visitors in Russia were up 252% to 423,000 last week," a BBC press release said when the war was two weeks old. Elliot agrees that the service is often most needed where it is least wanted by the local government. “We have seen, in more and more countries, censorship and blocking of the internet. Shortwave can deliver information across national boundaries independent of the internet. Satellite television also sidesteps the internet, but satellite dishes are conspicuous. Shortwave reception is simpler, cheaper … and more discreet. (And) My ‘Shortwave Radiogram’ project shows that text and images can be transmitted by old analog shortwave transmitters, and received on any shortwave radio, with decoding by an app on a PC or mobile device,” Elliot says. Read more about this story at Radio World.