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China Radio International Recommits to Africa

Mali relay site back on air boosting China Radio’s shortwave signal

China Radio International, the country’s external service, resumed shortwave broadcasts from a relay site near Bamako, Mali, in early March. The facility had been off for about a year.

The skyline of Bamako.

The site includes two 100 kW transmitters from Beijing-based BBEF Electronics Group, Ltd. They are now on for more than 20 frequency hours a day broadcasting to Africa in various languages, including English. The reactivation of the facility is in contrast to the shuttering of other sites on the continent, such as the Sentech Meyerton facility in South Africa.

The reactivation has also benefited Mali’s own shortwave transmissions. After years of weak signals and poor modulation, the service now boasts a stronger signal. Radio Mali is today on the air over a dozen hours a day and includes a weekly transmission in English.

The cooperation between China and Mali goes back almost 50 years. In 1970, they established what became known as the “Bamako 1” site. The facility had a total of four shortwave transmitters, two for CRI and two for Radio Mali.

The nations continued to sign protocol agreements in this field. A more recent one was in effect from 2007 to 2017. China leased two transmitters for just over US$15 million (then just over €11 million) for broadcasting CRI. In turn, China agreed to install a 50 kW shortwave transmitter for Radio Mali and provide engineering support and spare parts for the site.

[Read: Australia Still Has Shortwave Voices]

The CRI transmissions ended in April 2018 and they had been on a limited schedule prior to this. China and Mali then reportedly renewed their arrangement and the CRI transmissions resumed in March on an extensive schedule.

The gold standard for an international broadcaster wanting strong global coverage to ensure the strongest shortwave signals in various regions of the world is to use various external relay sites. In addition to Mali, CRI also has shortwave relay facilities in Albania and Cuba.

The reactivation of the Mali site vastly improves CRI’s shortwave coverage in Africa. It also demonstrates China’s ongoing commitment to shortwave.

Hans Johnson has worked in the shortwave broadcast industry for over 20 years as an airtime broker and frequency manager.

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