The Australian Broadcasting Corporation will end its shortwave transmission service in the Northern Territory and to international audiences from 31 January 2017.
The move is in line with what the national broadcaster says is its commitment to dispense with outdated technology and to expand its digital content offerings including DAB+ digital radio, online and mobile services, together with FM services for international audiences.
The majority of ABC audiences in the Northern Territory currently access ABC services via AM and FM and all ABC radio and digital radio services are available on the VAST satellite service.
ABC International’s shortwave services currently broadcast to PNG and the Pacific. Savings realised through decommissioning this service will be reinvested in a more robust FM transmitter network and an expanded content offering for the region that will include English and in-language audio content.
Michael Mason, ABC’s Director of Radio said, “While shortwave technology has served audiences well for many decades, it is now nearly a century old and serves a very limited audience. The ABC is seeking efficiencies and will instead service this audience through modern technology”.
The ABC, working alongside SBS, is planning to extend its digital radio services in Darwin and Hobart, and to make permanent its current digital radio trial in Canberra. Extending DAB+ into the nation’s eight capital cities will ensure ABC digital radio services can reach an additional 700,000 people, increasing the overall reach of ABC digital radio to 60% of the Australian population.
ABC Radio is also investigating transmission improvements to address reception gaps in the existing five DAB+ markets. It aims to ensure a resilient DAB+ service in every capital city, with enhanced bitrates and infill where necessary.
“Extending our DAB+ offer will allow audiences in every capital city in Australia equal access to our digital radio offering, as well as representing an ongoing broadcast cost saving owing to lower transmission costs,” added Michael Mason.
ABC International’s outgoing Chief Executive Officer, Lynley Marshall, said the reinvestment from closing international shortwave services would maximise the ABC’s broadcast capabilities in the region.
“In considering how best to serve our Pacific regional audiences into the future we will move away from the legacy of shortwave radio distribution,” Ms Marshall said. “An ever-growing number of people in the region now have access to mobile phones with FM receivers and the ABC will redirect funds towards an extended content offering and a robust FM distribution network to better serve audiences into the future.”
Once international shortwave ceases transmission, international listeners can continue to access ABC International services via:
- a web stream at: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/listen
- in-country FM transmitters, see Radio Australia’s ‘Ways to Listen’ at: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/radio/waystolisten/fiji
- the Australia Plus expats app (available in both iOS and Android)
- partner websites and apps such as www.tunein.com and www.vtuner.com
The move has drawn criticism suggesting that many Territorians will have no radio services whatsoever following the ABC’s decision to end short-wave broadcasting in the NT.
In a statement, the ABC said such criticism “… ignores the impact of VAST (Viewer Access Satellite Television), a significant and effective tool in free-to-air radio and television broadcasting in remote areas. All ABC national networks, digital radio stations, and NT Local Radio are broadcast on VAST. Audiences can also listen via AM and FM, and part of the savings made by ending shortwave will be invested into bringing digital radio to Darwin.
“The ABC has not broadcast domestic shortwave outside the NT for many decades, including areas with parallel challenges of isolation and distance. Shortwave technology is expensive to maintain and complex for audiences to use – involving a change in frequency depending on the time of day. It now serves a very small audience, which we estimate to be in the hundreds rather than thousands of people.”