MEYERTON, South Africa — South Africa-based public broadcast signal distributor, Sentech, shutdown its shortwave station in Meyerton at the end of March. The closure was planned and follows years of financial losses.
The state built Meyerton decades ago and in the post-apartheid era and operated it as a brokered station for both international and South African customers.
As a result of the termination, Channel Africa, the country’s international service to Africa, is no longer on shortwave. “Our joint efforts with BCC World Service to discourage Sentech from switching off fell on deaf ears,” explains Solly Phetoe, the station’s general manager. The Sentech-sponsored weekly transmissions of the South African Radio League have also come to end.
Radio Sonder Grense is a domestic service broadcasting in the Afrikaans language. It relied on shortwave to reach the remote areas of the country’s Northern Cape province. “From our estimates and from the amount of complaints I’ve received it [the audience] was very little,” said Johann Pieterse, station producer. But the Mybroadband online South African publication reported that Radio Sonder Grense’s closure means “many South Africans living in the Northern Cape” now have to rely upon the “BBC and other international broadcasters for reliable news.”
Sentech’s shortwave facility had annual revenues of around US$2 million. The amount of annual broadcast hours had slowly dwindled to less than half of what it was a decade ago.
In April 2013, Sentech launched a three-year plan to gain shortwave profitability. The company’s goal was to carry profitable services only and restructure staffing to reflect the reduction in total services. The effort failed.
Sentech attributed the decline in its shortwave business to the internet and satellite broadcasting. Facing what it described as high maintenance costs and viewing analog shortwave as an obsolete technology, Sentech changed course in 2017. It approved a plan to shutdown the site as well as a transition to Digital Radio Mondiale. A conference was held in May 2018 to examine its impact and to discuss alternative funding methods.
Phetoe suggested radio advertising at the event, but traditionally large shortwave stations have not succeeded in advertising products and services.
Any DRM conversion will require substantial capital investment given Sentech’s aging transmitters and have to take into account the lack of DRM receivers.
Will Channel Africa find a new site? “We are negotiating with Sentech to provide an alternative shortwave platform,” said Phetoe.
Hans Johnson has worked as a shortwave broadcast consultant and frequency manager for over 20 years.