Beyond the News - FACT Analysis

Due to a hostile China, India can’t abandon shortwave

Harjap Singh Aujla
    In the past two decades, most of the leading nations have dispensed with expensive long-range shortwave broadcasting. Among the only handful of countries still persisting with long hop, shortwave radio services are the USA (Voice of America), the United Kingdom (BBC World Service), Radio China International (Beijing), and All India Radio (Delhi). The Voice of America stopped its broadcasting to India in Hindi after their diplomatic differences with India narrowed down during the 1990s, but its services to the Middle East, Pakistan, and Cuba kept increasing. Today Radio China International Beijing has an extensive shortwave network targeting most parts of India in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and of course English too. Their studios, refurbished during the Beijing Olympiad, are located in Beijing. But their high-powered shortwave transmitters are scattered all over mainland China and Tibet. Their programs are dictated by their ministry of external affairs. China’s topics of programs mostly include their chronic and current boundary disputes with India and to some extent with their tiny Southern neighbors. The beamed to India shortwave signal of Radio China International can be picked up loud and clear throughout India. India has also been broadcasting extensively with its 50, 100, 250, and 500-kilowatt shortwave transmitters to all its big and small neighbors and to North-East Asia, South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, Middle East, East Africa, West Africa, Europe, and the United Kingdom. Of late it appears that even India is desirous of scaling down its external shortwave services to most of the hitherto target countries. Surprisingly some of the services, India has cut drastically in the recent past were directed to our top priority neighbor and arch-rival Pakistan. One service I know for sure is the extremely popular Urdu Service of All India Radio, beamed to Pakistan. Its major listening areas were the megacities of Karachi and Lahore plus Hyderabad Sind, Nawabshah, and the other areas of the Province of Sind. India was using at least two high-powered shortwave transmitters and a couple of high-powered medium-wave transmitters for its loud and clear reception in the target areas. One of India’s medium-wave transmitters was located in Suburban Jalandhar and it was broadcasting on 702 kHz. It had developed a technical defect and had to be shut down. But in the meanwhile, an ultra-modern FM Stereo transmitter was inaugurated in September 2018 in Amritsar and it took the load of the old mal-functioning medium-wave transmitter operating from Jalandhar. With a new FM transmitter in operation, the crispness of the Urdu service improved in the Lahore region. The listenership, especially in the cars, in greater Lahore increased. The same transmitter carried the Des Punjab Service too.   When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world hard, the national capital region around Delhi became one of its hotspots in India. The external service hit hard was none other than the Urdu Service broadcast to Pakistan. From a 12 hour daily service, its duration was cut short to merely three hours and ten minutes and that too from 2:00 pm to 5:10 pm, when hardly anyone listens. The best times for optimum listening are from 6:00 am to 9:00 am, 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm, and from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm, but there is no Urdu service at these hours. How can we be so casual in our broadcasting to our most difficult neighbor?. There are reports circulating for months that all the services to Pakistan, including the Urdu Service, will be restored fully to their pre-Covid-19 timings, but the action is surprisingly taking place at a snail’s pace. At the time of writing of this report, the Urdu Service had not been restored to its pre-Covid-19 hours. Contrarily on its own part, Radio Pakistan is targeting India with its information service in Urdu and English by using five high-powered transmitters located in the major cities of Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Islamabad, and Lahore. Pakistan’s medium-wave signal at night is powerful in India’s pot-belly. Prior to India’s independence in 1947, Lahore and Amritsar were considered twin cities, and the signal of Lahore radio station was received at local station strength in Amritsar. Even now Radio Pakistan Lahore targets Amritsar and its neighborhood with three high-powered medium-wave and three FM transmitters. Amritsar enjoys the same advantage with respect to Pakistan’s second-biggest city of Lahore. Some day the idle, three hundred meters high FM radio tower in rural Amritsar is likely to be commissioned, after that the FM range of All India Radio will increase four times and will quadruple the population served in the Lahore region of Pakistan. I hope India should take China head-on. Like China, we also have at least six super-powered (500 kilowatts) shortwave transmitters mostly located quite appropriately in Bangaluru in Southern Peninsular India. These transmitters were located for beaming broadcasts to South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Arabic speaking Middle-East, East Africa, West Asia, Europe, and the United Kingdom. For all these countries, the first one or two hops do fall on the ocean and suffer the least loss of signal strength. I think now India’s priorities have changed. Due to our persistent boundary disputes with China, India’s focus should be on China. China is also a shortwave listening nation. I have seen several made in China miniaturized radios with several shortwave bands selling like hot cakes in America. These were sold in retail for between seven and ten dollars each. Most of the Chinese do own such radios and they prefer to listen to the broadcasts from their adversaries. China is very important to India. I think India should directionally re-orient its super-powered shortwave transmitters to reply back in kind to China. Most of the Bangaluru based shortwave transmitters are less than thirty years old and have quite a few years left in them. If the need arises, they can be relocated to Northern India for ensuring better clarity of reception in the huge landmass of China, which is three times bigger than India. India can’t afford to take Chinese propaganda un-answered.