Ending an era: Radio Prague signs off on shortwave

With the following special presentation, Radio Prague ends 75 years of shortwave radio service. As many of you know by now, austerity measures across Czech governmental ministries have forced budget cuts in many sectors, and public broadcasting is one of them. For most of the last century our signal has gone out to six continents, carrying news and information about Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic to listeners all over the world.

Radio Prague will continue to fulfil its mission through internet and satellite broadcasting – we hope for another 75 years - on whatever media the future allows us. But today we mark the end of a traditional means of modern communication that we have been a part of almost since its inception.

Czechoslovak Radio began its international service on shortwave through Radio Prague in 1936, in the words of the government, “to provide state propaganda and information in the world's major languages, and also provide special programmes for those Czechs and Slovaks who have settled abroad and who cannot receive our own domestic radio programmes. The mission of this new shortwave service will also be important because our culture - and especially our music - will find new audiences around the world, allowing us to show other European states to what extent we have contributed to the development of mankind in an atmosphere of friendly competition."

A wonderful example of the ethos with which Radio Prague joined the airwaves was an experiment done on Christmas day in 1937, when a live radio bridge was attempted between India, Prague and the United States to allow writer Karel Čapek and inventor František Křižík to exchange messages of goodwill for the coming year with Albert Einstein in Princeton and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in Bengal.

That experiment showed the potential for a medium that has sent our message all over the world regardless of the political climate or regime here or elsewhere. In the climate of tension leading up to the Second World War, Radio Prague was used to counter Nazi propaganda intended to build international support for its annexation of the Sudetenland. In the final months of the war, Radio Prague’s reporters called out to allies to come to the country’s aid as it rose up against the enemy. Forty-three years later, when Czechoslovakia was overrun by Soviet-led tanks, it was Radio Prague’s shortwave service that kept the world informed of what was going on, until it too became a Soviet propaganda service for the rest of the Cold War.

Just as Radio Prague’s shortwave broadcast withstood the hostile invasion of its own country, it has continued to penetrate information blockades all over the world. Radio Prague’s transmission is heard in Cuba in Spanish, in Belarus in Russian, throughout the Middle East and Africa in English and French. Over the years we have broadcast in Swahili and Portuguese, in Arabic and Italian, Esperanto and many more languages. Even today, it is easier to block the internet than to block shortwave signals.

The man in charge of the technical side of Czech Radio’s shortwave broadcasting for the last 40 years has been Oldřich Číp, also chairman of the international High Frequency Co-ordination Committee.

Oldřich Číp
“I think that all shortwave stations have some importance still, although the era of shortwave broadcasting has of course changed. It still has value for specific segments of the audience. The delivery methods of international radio have diversified, with the internet and satellites, but shortwave has some specific properties, and it is my very strong belief that there will always be a specific segment of the audience that prefers shortwave broadcasting from terrestrial transmitters to other delivery methods. I am afraid that some of the decision makers in some of the big organisations may cause a domino effect, whereby when they start reducing then the smaller ones follow suit. So I am afraid that the reduction of shortwave broadcasting around the world was made quite hastily and is not a good development.”

But when the money for expensive shortwave broadcasting is lacking, then what would you recommend?

“Well to reduce it! But to stay on the air. Because shortwave broadcasting bands exist and I believe they will always be used. I think this particular group of listeners will stay tuned to shortwave, and it’s a pity that Radio Prague will not be there.”

As the decision to abandon the airwaves loomed over us, we received a great deal of support from our listeners all over the world. It was a decision that they were greatly divided over.

“My name is Mark Coady. I’m 55 years old, and I live in Peterborough, Ontario, and I’ve been listening to Radio Prague since about 1980. In understand the reasons behind closing shortwave down I’m just going to miss it very badly. I think the problem is that governments don’t understand the economics of it, that you can reach a lot of people with it. It’s an easy thing for governments to cut, because a lot of people don’t understand shortwave anymore.”

“My name is Rajdeep Dah, I’m calling from Calcutta, India. And I’m a long time listener of the English service of Radio Prague on shortwave; I’ve listened for the last ten years. I have never been to the Czech Republic, but I came to know so much about Prague and about Europe through your news, current affairs, sports, which really fascinated me. I never expected to receive such a good signal from such a faraway station and that really made me a fan. During all these years I have had fond memories of your station. When I came to know that Radio Prague was closing down its English service on shortwave, I’m really heartbroken, really sad. Being a DX and shortwave listener, it kind of came as a blow to us.”

“My name is Brendon Monaghan, I am a graduate student from Portland Oregon in the United States, and I have been listen to Radio Prague since around the mid-90s or so, and it’s all pretty much been via either the internet or the World Radio Network. There’s more than one way you can take the end of shortwave, judging by the comments on the mailbag programme or your Facebook page. You can treat it like a funeral and talk about how terrible it is and lament the loss of the station, or you can look at it as trying to stay relevant and on top of new technologies and new information as it transitions into the 21st century.”

“To introduce myself, I am François Pellicaan, I am from the Netherlands, I live in the Czech Republic. I use Radio Prague as my primary source of information about Czech people and the Czech Republic. Actually, I have never listened to Radio Prague via shortwave, but I do use the web, I use the podcasts, I use broadcasting via the internet and I also read RP articles on my reader. My opinion about quitting shortwave broadcasting is simple: I know there is a cut in the budget and I think that because Radio Prague provides an excellent source of information via the internet, cutting the shortwave broadcasting is an understandable sacrifice for me.”

“My name is Rodney Bowers. I first listened to Radio Prague in a small town called Hartwell, Georgia, in the United States. I got my first shortwave radio when I was about 14 years old, back in the late 60s, and Radio Prague was one of those that was very available, easy to pick up, had good signal quality, so it was one of those things that when you were listening and wanted to hear some different kinds of programming you would tune in on a fairly regular basis. To some extent I am on both sides of the shortwave issue. Being in the computer business myself, I certainly understand the power of the internet and its ability to deliver a wide range of content, not just audio but video, written content, they type of thing that you didn’t get on the shortwave side. On the shortwave side, though, is untethered, you can listen to it anywhere, you can listen in obscure places where you don’t have internet connectivity. So in looking at that, some of the allure of being able to connect to the masses is diminished by the fact that you don’t have the shortwave broadcast. I will continue to do both. The broadcasts from Radio Prague will stop, and that will be disappointing, but of course I still have my shortwave radio and I still have my internet connection, so I will use both.”

Our final broadcast ends deservedly on Oldřich Číp, who has managed Radio Prague’s frequency and programmes schedules for so many, many years. Many thanks to him and to those of you who took the time to write in participate in the programme. Radio Prague will still be here, providing you with news and feature programming about and from the Czech Republic. Stay tuned, and ask your local broadcasters to rebroadcast our daily programme. To those of you who will be unable to listen online, it has been our great pleasure and privilege to offer you this service. From all of our staff, thank you very much for listening, and goodbye.