Editorial on RCI and international broadcasting by Keith Perron

In an interview with Ian Johnson for The New York Review of Books, blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who now lives in the United States, said that those who advocate for the ending of shortwave news radio broadcasts in Chinese by stations such as the Voice of America (VOA) do not understand the situation in the countryside in China. “I think a lot of these foreign broadcasters are wrong to stop broadcasting in shortwave to China,” Chen Guangcheng told The New York Review of Books. In the Chinese countryside, Internet access is relatively low and many ordinary Chinese can’t get online, Chen Guangcheng said.

After Radio Canada International and Radio Netherlands have stopped shortwave broadcasting, will the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) be next in ending the Voice of America shortwave radio broadcasts?

As unfortunate as RCI’s and Radio Netherlands’s departure from the radio broadcasting is for media freedom and media options, BBG Watch believes this sad development represents a competitive opportunity for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in the United States and the Voice of America to fill the gap and continue to serve millions of radio listeners around the world with high-quality news and information programs. The other option, is to allow communist China, Iran, and Russia to target these listeners with their expanding radio programs.

Quite often, these radio listeners are the most oppressed and the poorest groups and communities in their countries who look for outside sources of uncensored news and information.

Today we post a guest commentary by Keith Perron, a Taiwan-based Canadian broadcaster and director of PCJ Radio International. PCJ’s programs are heard on over 20 stations worldwide in more than 20 countries on FM/LPFM/MV/Satellite/Cable/shortwave.

Keith Perron argues for robust international radio broadcasting, utilizing shortwave and other delivery options to provide news, information and entertainment. He believes that international radio can be successful with the right type of programming.

Editorial on RCI and international broadcasting

by Keith Perron, Director of PCJ Radio International

Keith Perron, Director of PCJ Radio International

Keith Perron, Director of PCJ Radio International

Link to the editorial; link to PDF

Over the last few months a few people have criticized me for my view on Radio Canada International. I never at any point said I was against RCI. In fact I always felt and still do feel it is vital that Canada maintain an international shortwave service. I stress again vitally important

One thing I have been preaching for the past 10 plus years is that if international broadcasters like RCI are to survive, radical, bold and groundbreaking changes need to take place. There was a time international broadcasting stations like RCI or Radio Netherlands had programming and on air personalities that stood out. In the 1990s we saw this change to get away from that and just have presenters that sound like everyone else on every other station. Or as I like to say the McDonald’s syndrome where every hamburger looks and tastes the same. It made most radio sound like assembly line programming. Sure there is an element of kitsch to have Radio Netherlands talk about barrel organs, windmills, dykes or Radio Canada International talking about things that are stereotypically Canadian. But is it not this that would make you stand out from the rest?

Something that I have learned with starting up PCJ in 2009. You need to be different, unique and maybe a little offbeat. If you offer programming that is different and fun to listen to the audience will come. Back in 2009 many many people thought the idea of bringing back Happy Station Show as an independent production was crazy, stupid, dumb and mad. I knew for a long time and had a gut feeling the show would be successful. If the program was not I would have stopped doing it in the first 6 months. But what happened? The show went from once every 2 weeks, to weekly, to 3 different versions a week, including specials like the one we are doing June 29th.

The same goes with Media Network Plus, which started off as a monthly 55 minute program and the we added a weekly 30 minute program. Jazz For The Asking, Nash Holos, Focus Asia Pacific, Switzerland In Sound, Classic Media Network, The Stuph File, The Kelly Alexander Show and the special programs we do.

At the moment there are over 32 local stations in 21 countries that relay our programming. I knew that if we had a program schedule with content that maybe some would consider a little off hinged it would take off. Was it a lot of work? That is an understatement. But I am such a strong believer in international programming that if it meant sleeping a few hours a day and not taking a day off so be it.

We are now in the process of building our own 20kw relay to reach listeners in South East Asia and the Pacific. We are doing this because there is a huge potential for an audience. What will our programming be? What will our style be? Very simple. Go back to the basics of international broadcasting and offer something that people will enjoy listening to, have a good time and be a little kitsch. There is nothing wrong with kitsch.

Changes that took place in the 1990s have had nothing but a negative impact. Recently Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was asked about what she thought of the BBC World Service. She said she was a strong supporter BBC, but felt the changes left the station with less variety and music programs. And said the only thing she heard was news and commentaries.

To conclude. Yes and I say it again Canada needs an international broadcasting service and I would do anything I can to support RCI being restored. At the same time we live in a democracy and I have the right to also speak my mind and give my own personal view. This is not RCI bashing. This is only having an open debate on the situation.

Keith Perron June 26, 2012 (Director of PCJ Radio International) Please forward your views by contacting him directly by email keith.perron@pcjmedia.com

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    A telling quote from the piece above: “Recently Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was asked about what she thought of the BBC World Service. She said she was a strong supporter BBC, but felt the changes left the station with less variety and music programs. And said the only thing she heard was news and commentaries.”

    That’s true about VOA as well, with only hard (spot) news and CNN retreads in charge. None of these managers understands the value of cultural, music and arts programming, or of stories longer than three minutes.

    So now VOA offers audiences a monotonous diet: empty, flavorless nuggets of repetitive, quickly outdated daily news, along with features too truncated to either inform or captivate. It’s the journalism equivalent of freeze-dried astronaut food, even though the agency has the ability to offer banquets instead: intellect- and soul-sustaining music, arts, science, “ideas” and cultural programs — like those it did ten and 15 years ago.

  2. Keith says:

    If any international broadcaster wants to have a large audience go for more entertainment music and culture programs with presenters that have flair. But it seems today in many stations entertainment is a dirty world. Maybe this is because many news people can do it. For news there is nothing wrong with running long interviews and news reports. 10 second sound bites just do one thing they bite.

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