Gary Koster, Broadcast Radio Technician and transmitter expert, Gerhard Straub, Director USAGM Broadcast Technologies Division and Macon Dail, Chief Engineer, setting up a digital radio from Gospell test at the Greenville, NC, Transmitting Station.
A few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world, broadcast engineers in Greenville, North Carolina, launched a test of digital radio signals. The U.S. Agency for Global Media began aiming a digital broadcast at Cuba and Latin America, which included Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America content.
By the end of the 1990s, VOA innovation focused more on television, the platform that promised larger audiences, even in some places in the world where shortwave dominated. By the early 2010s, the rallying cry became “Digital First,” as VOA strived to attract readers for its language service websites and began tapping into the growing audiences on new social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
By 2020, however, DRM had come full circle.
“You’re no longer limited to just reading the news or playing music,” says Gerhard Straub, supervisory director of the USAGM Broadcast Technologies Division.
Straub, along with Gary Koster, Broadcast Radio Technician and transmitter expert and Macon Dail, Chief Engineer at the Greenville Transmitting Station, set up the test broadcast in February of this year, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic grounded global travel. The trio put up a DRM signal with Radio Marti and VOA audio along with scrolling text messages and rotating images.
Engineers have received reports of a clear signal as far south as Brazil.
“You have to stop thinking of it as radio, because it’s not,” says USAGM’s Straub. “We are now broadcasting digital data. Just like we broadcast digital data on the internet, we can broadcast digital data over shortwave without being hampered by an internet firewall that maybe limits what we can send to a particular country.”
Reason enough, Straub believes, for VOA to continue leading innovation in a new-again technology.