Montreal Radio Blog

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Axe falls on Radio Canada International shortwave

The axe has fallen on what was once a vital Canadian international communications service. Radio Canada International will soon cease broadcasting on shortwave and be reduced to a web-only format of streaming and podcasts. I’ve written about RCI a few times over the past couple of years and it always appeared as if the service was living on borrowed time. All over the world, shortwave services have been slashed left and right in attempts to save money. Many governments see shortwave as being an obsolete technology now replaced by the seemingly-omnipresent Internet.

As for Montreal-based RCI, I think the CBC has been looking for an excuse to pull the plug on it for years and now have found the perfect opportunity. Is shortwave as relevant as it used to be? Obviously not. At the same time, to assume even in 2012 that people all over the world have equal access to the Internet is absurd. Let’s not forget that the Internet is also being censored in many countries right now. Radio signals can also be interfered with, but traditionally, it was always a good way to get information across to people without having their dictator gatekeepers filter it. It is unlikely that too many governments are concerned with that anymore. It’s all about saving money now and shortwave is seen as expendable because the audience is located abroad.

I listened to RCI during a stay overseas over two decades ago. At the time, there was literally no other way to get news from Canada. Imagine an Internet-free world - well that was the way it was back in the late 1980s… The signal came and went, but it just seemed remarkable that you were listening to something that was originating in Canada.

RCI just turned 67 in February. It had been launched towards the end of the Second World War primarily to keep Canadian military personnel informed of what was going on at home. It then focused on Cold War broadcasting and then as an outlet to promote Canada throughout the world.

RCI’s transmitter in Sackville New Brunswick will be shut down. Several other shortwave services use it to re-transmit their programming. What will become of their usage remains to be seen. Does RCI have a future on the web, or will it simply quietly disappear sooner rather than later?