AM radio - a vital tool for information

Far from being consigned to history, AM radio is an important tool for uncensored information

By Rimantas Pleikys
Posted 22 August 2016, 2.30pm bst

Last week, James Cridland wrote an article on AM radio's future, painting a bleak picture of the future of the medium. However, Rimantas Pleikys, the Manager of Radio Baltic Waves International, writes:

There are some cases where AM is still very important. Our private Lithuania-based company, Radio Baltic Waves International, is broadcasting the programs of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to Belarus and Russia.

Currently we broadcast 12.5 hours a day, including 9.5 hours of the RFE/RL programmes. In June 26 RFE/RL discontinued their short wave (HF) broadcasting to Russia and Belarus. The remaining communications platforms are IP (to stationary PCs and mobile devices) and satellite (to stationary tuners).

Satellite broadcasting can be easily censored: we experienced this when the Belarusian language program of RFE/RL was disrupted because it was transmitted in the same digital downlink stream as the Farsi service of RFE/RL, uplink-jammed from Iran.

Access to the main broadcasting platform of RFE/RL - the Internet - is liable to be disrupted in the event of a crisis in Russia. Even if the Internet continues to work, the government of Russia can block RFE/RL websites. Internet filtering and satellite jamming will mean catastrophic failure of the US broadcasting to Russia and Belarus.

What is the solution? Preserving and enhancing of cross-border AM radio.

The number of AM/FM radios in the coverage area of the Lithuanian AM transmitter (Sitkūnai, 1386 kHz, 75 kW), Russian Federation statistics: 26% of the population own AM/FM car radios, 39% own other types of AM/FM/SW radios. In total, 65% of the population of Russia own AM/FM receivers. Over 100 million of the combined population of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine own portable, table-top and car radios with the AM/FM band.

Editor's note: at the end of March, the US government has funded an upgrade to this 75kW broadcast facility, transforming it to a 200kW transmitter.

More information

Rimantas Pleikys — Rimantas is the Manager of Radio Baltic Waves International, an international broadcaster that carries programming from Radio Liberty, NHK World and Radio Poland.


5 years, 3 months ago

Based on my listening experience, stretching from the 1960s onwards, AM services can be jammed effectively as well! One example is the old Soviet Union and its satellite countries jamming Radio Tirana, Albania because the Soviets declared it 'as the most dangerous radio station in the world'!

If you take a straw poll of potential shortwave listeners in the UK, for example, you may be disappointed to learn that short wave listening and even shortwave receiver ownership is now very thin on the ground!
A lot of modern tuners now exclude medium and long wave which is not a major consumer issue.

Sorry, but I have got to agree with the original AM feature, indicating AM radio has no long term future in Europe!

5 years, 3 months ago

It depends on the future.
AM devices, I think, are more easily assembled and may not require any advanced technology, only scrap and hands, some minimum tools.
I mean if the civilisation falls back, which is possible, it'll be the future.
If it's not, this technology won't die altogether anyway - even as a fall-back/back-up technology, to use in, say, extraordinary situations, or not ordinary circumstances.
You say it can be jammed? Well, let's compare the ease of jamming this and other means of broadcasting, which were mentioned in the OP. You can even cut the whole Internet in an area. With an axe or something. Satellite does require more expensive and advanced equipment to receive the signal, which can be most easily located by any authorities gone hectic. Right?
AM receiving device, on the other hand, is easily disassembled - even in case of, say, brutal total search of some area. It doesn't cost much, it doesn't require advanced technology to maintain, it doesn't consume much power.
Certain waves tend to even "follow" the terrain, or other local "features", the signal is wide, and it, as I reckon, can only be "overpowered", by some "yelling" transmitter. Right? So, high possibility there'll remain places to receive.

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