In the shortwave radio community, there are many listeners that detest the idea of internet radio. Some will say that it’s not real radio; others say it’s just not the same as shortwave. There’s certainly some truth to these claims, but it is a matter of one’s opinion. Of course, everyone’s experience with radio is going to be different in terms of what technology is being used. However, what surprises me is so many SWLs (shortwave listeners) are so adamant about internet radio.
The reality of radio these days is constantly changing. Part of this comes from newer technologies while some of it is economic pressures. Some broadcasters are wondering if their medium is a viable source of information and entertainment given listeners are listening elsewhere or if they are making enough money to stay on-the-air. While this applies to all radio, shortwave has received the “short-end of the stick,” so to speak.
Over the past 10-15 years, many international broadcasters on shortwave have either scaled back programming or have been forced off-the-air…especially in places like North America and Europe. Stations such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Netherlands, and Deutsche Welle have reduced shortwave services in many areas and are in the process of completely abandoning the medium. Some of these broadcasters have sought survival through local AM/FM radio stations, satellite radio thru XM/Sirius and others, and the internet through podcasts and streaming audio. Few have completely ending their radio stations (regardless of medium) completely.
Here’s where the true battle between shortwave and internet radio begins! In regions like North America and Europe, many broadcasters have stopped their shortwave services. For some of them, they can only be heard on internet radio. Of course, it is possible to hear these stations on shortwave via broadcasts aimed to other regions but it doesn’t guarantee optimum reception. Unless one has the most state-of-the-art receiver and antenna and favorable conditions, it is going to be hard to catch these distant stations.
For some SWLs, that’s enough for them. They would rather listen to a barely audible frequency mixed with loud static and hear the same station on internet radio. To each their own, but there are some listeners that would rather hear a weak station on shortwave versus a clear, audible station on internet radio because web streaming is “not radio.” Now, let’s say this same station came in with strong signal strength on a radio set. I would I listen to it on an actual radio since it will sound better (and not electronic) and I won’t have to deal with buffering issues or lack of internet connection. Traditional radio can work anywhere, however wi-fi and 3G/4G web services have made internet radio a portable experience as well. I will tend to listen to stations I can clearly receive on a radio set. Otherwise, I will tune in using my iPod Touch or smartphone.
Basically, it all stems down to how you view radio. Your personal preference will shape your listening habits, of course, but why limit yourself. There is a wealth of stations on both shortwave and internet radio. Each have amazing content found nowhere else. Personally, I view “radio” not as a physical medium but as content as well. The radio experience can be heard on some many devices: radio sets, iPods, computers, car radios, podcasts, smartphones. Honestly, what’s the difference aside from what device you are listening it on.
While I am not keen on many shortwave radio stations abandoning shortwave and just solely relying on internet radio. Some broadcasters have noted that shortwave is no longer viable and will have a larger audience on the web. I beg to differ. Even though shortwave listenership is the lowest it has ever been, internet radio is much lower. Since it is a new medium, web radio does not have a large audience because many people are not aware of it, web services are limited, it can be blocked in some regions, some cannot afford it, and some servers can only support a certain limit of listeners for the bandwidth. Web radio is still in its infancy. Until it matures enough to support a large audience, internet radio is not a worthy replacement to traditional radio.
Likewise, I think internet and shortwave radio can compliment each other. If a signal cannot be heard on a receiver, then you can still tune in online. If you are still not convinced, then you’ll miss out on a lot of content.