BBC to North America and Australia: Drop Dead.
May 8, 2001 1:42 PM   Subscribe

BBC to North America and Australia: Drop Dead. The BBC World Service is dumping all shortwave broadcasts to the US, Canada and Australia as of July. If you want to listen you'll have to get it off the net, or hope your local public radio station uses at least a few WS programs as cheap filler material. A couple hundred US stations do this, but did we mention they tend to do it at 3 in the morning? (Scroll down past the Angola stuff in the above link.)
posted by aaron (18 comments total)
Doesn't this just mean the signal will be a bit weaker? You can't really direct radio waves to certain places with precision.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:56 PM on May 8, 2001

Sure you can. Not with pinpoint accuracy or anything, but quite well enough to make a huge difference. I can receive a lot of the BBC's transmissions aimed at Europe, but the signal is quite weak, often weak enough to be unlistenable.
posted by aaron at 2:06 PM on May 8, 2001


I've seen the "Drop Dead" meme a lot lately. Anyone else?
posted by solistrato at 2:06 PM on May 8, 2001

Unfortunate (the BBC being MUCH more thorough than US news media), but I'm surprised it took this long. Shortwave is, after all, rarely mentioned in conversation or print in the U.S. How many of your friends own receivers with shortwave capabilities?

They have to spend their wattage as they see fit. While they'll no longer beam English-language broadcasts at North America, I doubt that you'll have to learn Urdu... you'll just have to put up with more ionospherics. Or take up dual-diversity receiving. Or -- there's always DW!

posted by Twang at 2:23 PM on May 8, 2001

The "Drop Dead" meme is one of the rare ones that can be traced directly to its originating source: October 30, 1974.
posted by aaron at 2:26 PM on May 8, 2001

1975 I meant, sorry.
posted by aaron at 2:27 PM on May 8, 2001

I listen to the World Service almost every night on my local NPR station from 11 p.m.- whenever I drop off. The sounds of the "Every Woman" theme song are so comforting. I haven't been staying up late enough to catch Talking Point lately. I'd say something more substantive, but, upon reflection, I realize that the BBC has become a kind of aural security blanket for me. How frightening...
posted by rschram at 2:55 PM on May 8, 2001

Hey, nice find, aaron. I remember that front page being reproduced on other front pages. Of course, Ford had a hard time living down words which were never his. But that's one of the classic headlines of all time, perhaps second only to the Post's HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR (4/15/83), which I can only term ... uh ... timeless.

Kinda disappointing to see this happen -- BBC shortwave is such an icon of the 20th century. But that's exactly it; shortwave just doesn't have the essential presence it once did. I'm sure this is going to be a huge hit to people in isolated areas of Canada or even the US West, but today they have access to satellite dishes and other means, and landline penetration is significant even in places like Yellowknife. There's a loss of a voice, here, though: one that eschewed the commercialism of other media filters.
posted by dhartung at 3:02 PM on May 8, 2001

I am really upset about this, as are a lot of other people. I have probably a dozen shortwave radios and run a web site devoted to the subject, and I work from home a good part of the week, so I keep the radio on in the background when I work from home. One of the mainstays of my daytime listening is the BBC World Service. BBC thinks I can listen on my computer, but I'm usually using the computer to do my work, switching between the Internet and our corporate intranet; I'm not going to be able to listen to them via the net.

The original news on this came on the swprograms mailing list from my friend Kim Andrew Elliott, who produces a show about media for the Voice of America. If you've got a shortwave radio, Kim's show promises to be very interesting this weekend; he's going to try to get an interview with someone from the BBC to explain. (And actually, if you don't have a shortwave radio, you can listen to his program online starting this Saturday.) Kim also posted the BBC's original announcement about this to the list. Kim is a longtime shortwave hobbyist in addition to being a professional, so I'm sure he'll grill the BBC's representative about this.
posted by geneablogy at 3:40 PM on May 8, 2001

Don't worry, it's not just you. The BBC in general has been in the midst of a cost cutting and re-organising drive for a number of years, trying to get away from the flabby excesses of the early nineties. Most BBC productions are now co-funded with US sources, or made more cheaply by independent production companies. This seems to be another consequence.

I too go to sleep to the BBC, to Radio Five Live, who run an ovenight show covering news in the parts of the world which are awake when the UK is asleep. The number of times I've woken up in the middle of the night to hear what a fine mess Dubya is making, or about the twists and turns of the Australian political system.
posted by feelinglistless at 3:48 PM on May 8, 2001

Never a post without a Bush insult...

You people disappoint me.
posted by Danelope at 3:51 PM on May 8, 2001

The problem is that the World Service is funded, not from the licence fee, but by direct grant from the Foreign Office. And (from what I've heard on the WS's own viewer response programmes) the aim is to optimise short wave transmission where it's most used and therefore most useful: that is, in Africa and Asia, where short-wave radio is an absolute lifeline. (Hence Trevor Bayliss's inspiration for the wind-up radio.)

It's a pity: one of the joys of my sister's radio-cassette was its short wave band, and I remember twiddling the fine tune to try and get a signal from Moscow during the attempted coup on Gorbachev. And the World Service during the night (in place of Radio 4) is always the best place to sense the real priorities in world events.

(I'm still getting over the rejigged Lillibullero, that originally nasty anti-papist song which cheers British expats the world over. At least it's back on British broadcasts, instead of the awful "The World Today" tune.)
posted by holgate at 4:12 PM on May 8, 2001

At this point I'd settle for a version of Lilliburlero played by the Portsmouth Sinfonia, so long as I could hear it on my shortwave radio after July....
posted by geneablogy at 6:35 PM on May 8, 2001

No big loss. I've been a regular listener to shorwave for a few decades now and feel BBC's programming has deteriorated noticeably in the past decade. Others in Europe have far superior news, cultural and sports coverage. Obviously the Brits just aren't up for the gig anymore. Bye. Don't forget to turn the lights out.
posted by chillyblue at 10:30 PM on May 8, 2001

Oh well, *sigh*, the passing of a noisy, unreliable, crappy era. I'll probably miss the Soviet Union's Radio Moscow more. VOICE....OF....AMERICA...IN....SPECIAL....ENGLISH was pretty funny too.

Radio Australia has shut down nearly all of its services as well. It certainly doesn't broadcast to Britain.

Anyway we can BBC World Service at night on AM radio (not to mention German, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Greek news services in the morning on TV)
posted by lagado at 10:53 PM on May 8, 2001

Damn. Damn, damn, damn. I've been listening to the BBC World Service for at least 17 years from the US and on my travels in six countries. The BBC is the reason I own a shortwave radio.

While it is true that you can listen to the BBC on WNYC FM in New York City for a couple of hours each day (very late and very early), it was always nice to know that I could tune to 5975, 9515 or 9525 and listen to it throughout the day, as well. For hours on end, if the desire struck. No more. All good things end. Damn.

Not only that, but there are whole large swaths of the country that do not have a local FM rebroadcast for the BBC. I guess I'll be stuck listening to a 11111 SINPO signal out of Uganda.

Regarding other foreign broadcasters, no one outside of VOA and a couple of religious broadcasters have had the kind of signal spread across the world that the BBC has had. VOA never really pulled my chain in the right way: I always got the feeling that I was violating the Smith-Mundt act and being subtly and negatively influenced by my guvmint. Probably that dirge-like Yankee Doodle they play right before the official editorial from the United States of America...
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:54 PM on May 8, 2001

Never a post without a Bush insult...

You people disappoint me.

If it wasn't so trivially easy it wouldn't happen; besides, how often do people from other countries get to mock an elected leader that lost the popular vote? Get used to it, it's gonna be a long four years.
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 10:27 AM on May 9, 2001

If you want to complain about this to the BBC Half-a-World Service, I've posted a bunch of addresses to the North American Shortwave Association web site.
posted by geneablogy at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2001

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