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Transcript, Newshour Interviews

Coalition Webmaster Ralph Brandi and Director of the World Service Mark Byford

June 15, 2001, 2000 UTC broadcast, 2050 UTC

Listen to these interviews; MP3 format, 56 kb/s, 7 minutes, 3 MBytes

Lyse Doucet: "You're listening to Newshour. I'm Lyse Doucet. In a moment, all the sports news. But first, a story about some very unhappy World Service listeners.

"For years, indeed for decades, they've faithfully tuned into the BBC on shortwave. But as of July the First, the BBC will stop broadcasting to North America and Australasia on shortwave. Some 1.2 million listeners will be cut off.

"They can, of course, turn to the Internet or one of many American stations rebroadcasting shorter segments of the BBC on FM radio. But for loyal fans like Ralph Brandi, it's just not good enough. He's so wedded to his shortwave listening, he's even set up a web site to campaign for it to stay. I asked him to describe how he felt:"

Ralph Brandi: "I was appalled, frankly. Shortwave, as a way of covering the entire continent is really unmatched, and I thought it was a serious mistake."

LD: "And I understand you've set up a web site to lobby for the service to be maintained."

RB: "Yes, I have. It's at Double-U Double-U Double-U dot save B B C dot oh are gee. We have a lot of material explaining why we think this is a terrible move, and giving contact information for people to contact, to let the BBC and the British government know that you think this is really a terrible move."

LD: "Well of course the BBC does think the American market is important and they've made great efforts to get into the FM market in the United States which most people seem to be listening to now. You're not going to turn to FM to listen to the BBC?"

RB: "Well, in the New York area where I live, it's actually not available on FM. It's available on AM, for a couple of hours a day, and the signal that I get from my local AM station is much worse than the shortwave signal that I get."

LD: "What about listening to it on the Internet? Because BBC has been putting a lot of effort into developing its Internet services now."

RB: "It's not portable. If I want to listen to it on shortwave, I have this radio that's about the size of a deck of cards. I can carry it anywhere in the house. I can go outside. I can go to the beach. I can take it with me on vacation. I can take it with me on business trips. This is something I just can't do with the Internet."

LD: "And what is it you listen to? The news? Do you like music programs?"

RB: "I listen to a lot of things. But it's not just the news. You offer so many cultural programs, and arts programs, and music programs. I'm a big fan of John Peel, for example. I've listened to him for 20 years, and I'm really going to miss listening to John Peel when the shortwave goes off to North America."

LD: "And you're not encouraged by the fact that the money which is saved by that will go to develop markets in the developing world?"

RB: "The money that's being saved is a half million pounds out of a 180 million pound budget. I'm not convinced that this move is about money at all.

"I think the BBC wants to be seen as 'high tech', you know, they want to be the first broadcasters to broadcast on the Internet. But the fact is, technically speaking, there's real problems."

"With a shortwave transmitter, you turn on the transmitter and it doesn't matter how many people are listening, you don't have to, like, add any more transmitters. But when you're listening on the Internet, every listener requires a new connection, and the more listeners you get, the more servers you need; the more bandwidth you need. So every listener costs the BBC a little more money."

LD: "Oh dear. A loyal listener who's very upset. That was Ralph Brandi speaking from New York. (sic)

"So why is the BBC doing this? Mark Byford is Director of the BBC World Service."

Mark Byford: "It's about recognizing changes in listening patterns in different areas of the world. In the United States, one of if not the most mature broadcasting marketplaces in the world, more people are listening to us today through those FM rebroadcasting partnerships than on shortwave. And on the Internet, 168 million today are connected in the US to the net, and you can listen to the World Service on that net site in higher quality sound than even shortwave."

LD: "Is this primarily about new technology, or is it about saving money as well?"

MB: "It's about recognizing that we have different delivery methods for different markets and different audience groups. If the World Service said 'we'll just be a shortwave broadcaster across the world', it would decline. If it said today, 'the Internet is everything and shortwave is finished', it would lose audiences. It's recognizing that there are different marketplaces, and it's different to get different audience groups.

"The majority listen on FM today in the United States. More than half our traffic on the net comes from the United States. They are the best ways of accessing it. It doesn't mean the World Service is not available. It just means that there's change."

LD: "But when loyal listeners like Ralph Brandi do as they've done, even setting up a web site to save the BBC, does it make you think again about whether or not a so-called 'service for the world' should not actually be abandoning some of its listeners?"

MB: "Well, it makes you realize that listeners are incredibly passionate about the World Service and loyal. And it's my challenge, in those markets such as the United States, to make sure that Ralph and others know that we're available in other methods and that they take it up.

"But what I also have to consider is not just the United States itself, but the whole world. Markets are de-regulating very very fast. There's an explosion in competition. And in those other market areas, whether it be Africa or Asia, I say, 'let's just stay on shortwave', then I can't afford to retain if not build the audiences. I need to be able to expand, on FM, and utilize the savings from the United States etc. to move into those markets."

LD: "And how much is that? 500,000 pounds?"

MB: "Well, Ralph said it doesn't sound a lot of money, but it's a significant amount of money as part of our overall transmission budget."

"Listeners everywhere are precious. They're loyal. They're very passionate about the World Service. But in my position, what you're trying to do is a balance of investment in key areas in one methodology of delivery as against another."

LD: "Mark Byford, Director of the BBC World Service, who's also passionate about it."