AIR mulls shutting down soft power short wave units

AIR mulls shutting down soft power short wave units

By AREEBA FALAK | NEW DELHI | 17 April, 2016

The Prasar Bharati Board is contemplating shutting down the short-wave service of the External Services Division (ESD) of All India Radio (AIR) even as a proposal to switch to an affordable internet-based radio service is still under consideration. A section of the board is keen on closing down the short wave service as an exorbitant amount is being spent to maintain the current infrastructure.

“The total budget allocated to ESD is Rs 100 crore annually. Out of this, approximately Rs 95 crore is spent on the maintenance of short wave transmitters, which includes the high cost of spare parts that are not easily available. The remaining Rs 5 crore is spent on the production of programmes in 27 languages, and to pay the salaries of the staff who are hired on a contract basis,” said a senior official in the ESD.

“One would expect to gain a large fan base after spending so much money, but this has not been the case with ESD. Since no survey has ever been done to determine the number of listeners, we cannot give an exact or even an approximate number of people who listen to AIR’s ESD channels across the world. But we know that we have a good following based on the feedback that we receive from people in countries where ESD is being listened to. Our listeners send us postcards or emails from Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, etc. But the following is not in proportion to the money being spent on this service,” said the senior officer.

“The proposal suggests the shutting down of short wave and the service being made web-based. Since internet is far reaching, listening radio live on the web should not hurt our existing fan base. But of course there is the argument that short wave can reach even the remotest corners of the world, which is not the case with internet signals. The shutting down of short wave, without a doubt, will affect the propaganda value of India among its listeners abroad. This is why there are chances that the short wave service might continue in neighboring countries like China, Nepal, etc. Also, India’s edge in a continent like Africa will suffer a blow if the short-wave is to be shut down,” said sources in AIR.

To understand the importance of short wave radio services overseas one can take a look at the efforts that neighbouring China puts in for its own propaganda among audiences abroad. “The communication strategies of China are impressive. For example, they have respective radio documentaries about neighbouring countries that educate the listeners about China’s take on the issues in that particular country. Their transmitters are used to their full capacity which helps the listener get a perfect signal. In India, none of our transmitters are being used to their full capacity. So a listener would automatically prefer to listen to a frequency that is clear and easy to hold on to. They also invest a lot in the content of their programmes. There are Tamil radio programmes made by the Chinese who speak Tamil. We have a programme in Swahili, which is produced with the help of some African students who study in India. The reason why India has failed to match the strategic communication design implemented by our neighbour is that India is still a developing country. We have more important issues that need to be addressed immediately. The decision to save money and put it in improving our internet services and the quality of our programmes is not a bad idea either,” said a senior official in ESD.

The e-mail sent by this correspondent to Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati, did not get any response until the time of going to press.

All India Radio had started external broadcasting shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, with a service in Pushtu for listeners across the country’s then North West Frontier. The service was designated to counter radio propaganda from Germany, directed at Afghanistan, Iran and Arab countries. After the war ended, the equipment was presented to AIR, which took over active control and continued external broadcasting.

At present, ESD broadcasts 57 transmissions daily, with almost 72 hours covering over 108 countries in 27 languages, out of which 15 are foreign and 12 are Indian. The Indian languages are Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Nepali, Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. The foreign languages are Arabic, Balochi, Burmese, Chinese, Dari, French, Indonesian, Persian, Pushtu, Russian, Sinhala, Swahili, Thai, Tibetan and English (General Overseas Service).

There are 15 Comments

Since decades here in Germany I listen to your General Oversea Service. It's important getting impressions and an overview about your country. So please keep transmitting via shortwave. Even on my vacation Island Usedom at the Baltic Coast I listen to you via shortwave. Internetconnection there is too slow. You may reduce a few parallel transmitters, please consider the practice in New Zealand: with two transmitters they reach each corner of the world, daily. And please consider too: internetconnections are not free everywhere, shortwave is free. kind regards Rolf Tannenhauer

Please don't kill off your shortwave transmissions! You will loose millions of listeners! And join the ranks of hundreds of past broadcasting companies! Keep Shortwave Alive! AIR is one of the very best out there! We love you! Howard P. Kingston Upon Hull,England.

This would be a sad day indeed. I spend a few hours each day listening to AIR via shortwave, and would not do so if it went to Internet alone.

Keep your shortwave up. Look for inventive way to save money. Don't just pull the plug!

I listen to All India Radio almost everyday on shortwave. This is the only news, culture and music I hear about India. I do not listen to any international broadcasters via internet.

While it's kind of sad that AIR is calling it quits, it's no surprise as most other services, including the Russians, Germans, and French, are cutting down or eliminating their service. The few people posting here that they listen represent probably the majority of people who listen in total--that is, hardly anyone listens to AM broadcasting anymore. The audio quality is probably the biggest reason, but interesting programming (or lack thereof) and (for distant reception over ionospheric paths as you would with SW and MW at night) propagation (or lack thereof) are other big reasons. Almost all SW broadcasters have stopped targeting us here in North America and I know no one other than fellow amateur radio operators that have SW receivers--and most of them, like myself, just listen to see if the band is open. Speaking for myself only, I have listened to SW programs on occasion from NHK World (Japan), Radio Australia, and Radio New Zealand, but the interest wore off quickly: they are BORING. Part of this is their international nature, and another part is they are produced by governments. Canada tore down their only SW broadcast station in New Brunswick, which was a beautiful piece of engineering built in one of the best locations to be had (a salt marsh) for antenna efficiency; they even gave tours! But alas, no longer, as shortly after shutting down they tore the whole thing down: apparently even the foundations are gone! It's very sad, but understandable: the audience simply isn't there except in some 3rd world countries. Now that China has slowed down I imagine even they might shut some transmissions down, although they also have a powerful jamming infrastructure in place. As for AIR, I imagine they'll keep some MW service going, maybe some tropical bands, but much of the world has moved on, even though the internet isn't available (at least at affordable prices) everywhere.

I listen daily to the English GOS of AIR. Reception here in Ireland is always loud and clear. I have been a loyal listener for decades and I always enjoyed the well presented interesting programmes. I hope the service will not close down- I rely on it for infos about India and Asia. Internet connection here is very bad and not for free. It would be a mistake to give up your service. An AIR internet only programme would be useless for me.

I'm another listener from Germany, and my impression is that there are many shortwave listeners especially in Germany, Japan, and Great Britain. Don't know about other listeners' habits, but my interest in India is mainly kept alive by the news and impressions I'm getting from the airwaves, just along the way. I don't think I'd bother to seek the AIR website on the internet. And it seems to me that I'm no rare exception. On the airwaves, AIR is a well-known radio station. On the internet, it would just be one website - even if a high-quality one - among many.

I am in Eastern Canada where we happen to have excellent reception of AIR's broadcasts in our afternoon and early evening (until about 8 pm my local time). This was true of the DRM signals until they were cut a month or so ago (in February or March month) and it is still true of the AM-mode shortwave signals (on the 41 and 31 metre bands). Shortwave radio is very convenient for me as I do not need an Internet connection, nor a computer or wi-fi system. I simply turn on the radio. Indeed much of my listening is done where I cannot hope to have Internet service. If AIR shuts down its shortwave service, I will no longer hear AIR, or so rarely that it does not merit thinking about. I do not think my situation is very different from other Canadians who listen to AIR. The DRM broadcasts were especially good because they allowed me to switch easily between two different services, for instance, the GOS in English and the music service (Vividh Bharati for example). I would hate to lose AIR altogether. It makes a lot of sense for AIR to develop both diasporic audiences (of Indians abroad) and other interested listeners through their excellent high-power and DRM transmitters. Today the only manufacturer of consumer-grade DRM receivers is in India and AIR could work with them to make daily reception of AIR broadcasts simpler for listeners in, say, Europe and North America, and especially in contexts where the Internet is impracticable.

I run the 1 Radio News app - - which gathers on-demand and live world news in English from 65+ countries into one simple mobile app. One of the ways to increase your shortwave audience is to improve your online offerings too. This does not need to be either or. Suggestions: 1. Have a 24 hour online stream. Simply replay the day's programming in a loop. ESD is the only station I know to webcast a loud tone when not on air. 2. Move to by language streams like Poland and others. Or at least like Vietnam, have an all English stream ... adding archived material with the new or perhaps mixing in the best of domestic radio like Australia does. 3. Get on iTunes - Make your fresh shows - by show - available as on-demand podcasts. iTunes feeds the entire ecology of websites promoting audio on-demand. I hope this is helpful.

AIR es muy importante para la comunidad latinoamericana, aunque sus transmisiones sean en Inglés y otras lenguas locales . El punto de vista Indio respecto a la realidad internacional es de interés para nosotros. Su música y cultura a a través de las ondas de radio enriquecen a nuestros pueblos. No eliminen sus transmisiones por onda corta.

There is no doubt that the Internet is bringing us closer to each other as it is enabling availability of programs, be it films or songs – video, sound or text, anytime anywhere. But there are some of the following issues when it comes to availability of radio programs on mobile internet networks in streaming: i) Access through internet means we pay for bandwidth every time we listen a program whereas programs through terrestrial transmitters are totally free. ii) We need good uninterrupted data rate to listen programs through the internet but at time and in lot of places it is not possible to get even an internet connection, not to mention data rate. iii) There is a limit on the number of concurrent listeners to be serviced simultaneously through the internet but there is no such limit when the radio programs are received through the broadcasts enabled by transmitters. A broadcaster can plan for more number of concurrent listeners through internet but it involves lot of money. A broadcaster may set up conditions for a number of concurrent listeners through the internet but very often the network is unable to provide uninterrupted service to all those who are logged in all the times, particularly when there is a very popular/interesting program. iv) During disasters/emergencies, internet is the first casualty as either the network is not available at all or is too congested. So during disasters/emergencies, when we need the radio most, it may not be available at all through internet. Terrestrial (off air) broadcasting, be in on MW, SW or FM, is most important and popular means of providing information, entertainment and education to radio listeners throughout the world. There is no substitute to terrestrial broadcasting, which serves any number of listeners simultaneously, and that too totally FREE. Certainly, internet and other platforms are recognised now as supplementary means and enhancements to terrestrial sound broadcasting. As per Ms Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia (, “We frequently face the assumption that streaming will eventually or even now is replacing broadcast radio as the main method of listening to radio. First of all, it isn’t. Secondly, it can’t. Using streaming over a mobile network to reach an audience of hundreds of thousands of people – all listening to the same program at the same time in good quality – is not practical, nor technically possible.” I feel that it is not a question as to whether there should be terrestrial off air broadcasting or not (be in MW, SW or FM), but of how to improve the quality of terrestrial off air broadcasts and how to utilize the allocated frequency spectrum more efficiently. Radio services through SW transmitters are an excellent means to reach listeners spread across different parts of the world. As per report dated 29th April 2016 ( ), “A radio station in South Sudan is using older, but tried and tested technology (SW) to reach new audiences.” SW services in analogue used to have problems of fading. But with digital, it is no more an issue. Terrestrial analogue broadcasting is energy hungry but in digital the energy consumption can be reduced up to 80% so one of its great drawbacks disappears while radio via the internet becomes a cost to the listener and the broadcaster as very high processing power is being used to transmit and decode a relatively simple service, like radio. We are approaching 2020 and are in Digital Era. Keeping in view the advantages of digital broadcasts, Radio broadcasts are also being digitised in all bands, including SW, all over the world. Major broadcasters like BBC, All India Radio (AIR), Radio France, Radio Romania, Radio New Zealand, Korean Broadcasting System, NHK, Vatican Radio, Radio Russia, Voice of Russia, World Radio Network, Bit Express (Germany), Belarusian Tele-radio Company (Belarus) and Overcomer Ministry have already digitised their SW services using DRM digital broadcast system (for details please visit Not to talk about digitisation of MW and SW transmissions only, some countries have already gone for digital broadcasts even in FM band and have announced cutoff dates to switch off analogue FM transmissions. Where only one audio programme could be broadcast in analogue on one frequency on SW (and in all bands, actually), DRM can provide up to 2 to 3 services or channels of excellent digital quality along with data channel or value added text services. AIR is already broadcasting 2 audio services in DRM from its SW transmitters (For details, please visit It is understood that AIR is getting excellent feedback reports on the quality of SW DRM transmissions. AIR shortwave services are very popular the world over and are an excellent means to meet the aspirations of millions of non-resident Indians who can finally get information they want in perfect quality (better or similar to FM). I, therefore, request the Government of India and AIR to consider all these aspects before taking any decision as to whether switch off SW services of AIR all together or digitize all of them and supplement them with internet broadcasting (which is popular but with relatively low listening figures all over the world).

Well, a lot of people just can't give up the past. Look at the lower level people who now populate ham radio. Governments just gave up qualify the operators. Now, its dying a slow death. Shortwave was a hobby I had as a boy early 1960s. Yes, I think I even heard one of the later Sputnik satellites and even Air Force ONE. But today programming is quite reliable and much better quality on the web. I can even see the people at the microphone. Full stereo from hundreds of stations around the World. So times change and things do get better, slowly.

The number of new ham radio licences in the US is actually very high. The hobby has very little to do with shortwave broadcast - last not least because it spans from long-wave to microwave. The internet has actually boosted the ham radio hobby. It must also be said that ham radio communication was never about the content that is transmitted - instead ham radio operators usually just exchange technical info related to their antennas and transmitters. So, the internet with Skype and consorts happily coexists with and benefits good old ham radio. Digital radio modes allow a whole variety of new and exciting possibilities without the need for large antennas. The hobby is alive and well and it helps creating technological innovation besides its very important educational aspect of course.

The shortwave medium is no longer popular in a time when the internet penetrates even into rural Africa. Furthermore, we are just at the beginning of the sunspot minimum - a time where shortwave services must switch to lower frequencies and even then the signal quality is nowhere near as good as during a period of sunspot maximum. Solar radiation creates the wave mirror for shortwaves by which they travel over long distances. Let's face it - when no one listens: why bother broadcasting ?

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