Thursday, January 12, 2006

World Radio TV Handbook Review

World Radio TV Handbook by Richard Dixon
Radio Netherlands Media Network

The World Radio TV Handbook (WRTH), subtitled the Directory of Global Broadcasting, published its 60th anniversary edition in December 2005. This publishing milestone is celebrated in a special 24-page part of the full-colour section. Three pages are devoted to a brief history of the WRTH itself, but the rest of the anniversary section contains special articles from the perspective of both the broadcaster and listener. Indeed, WRTH has always served as a reference book for both markets, which over the years proved to be both a strength and a weakness. Ten years ago, the WRTH seemed to be losing its way, but a new publishing and editorial team have revived it, and it's now better than ever.

The anniversary section
"50 Years of DXing" by veteran shortwave listener Jerry Berg looks at the changes on the dial from a listener's point of view. Two articles deal with changes in equipment used for reception and transmission over the past 60 years. These are well written but essentially factual pieces. But our favourite special feature is "the Future of Radio" which is actually a series of interviews with important figures from the world of broadcasting: Ray Canovale, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of CBC; Dr Chris Westcott, Director of BBC Monitoring; three senior staff from VT Communications; and Dr Peter Senger, Chief Operating Officer at Deutsche Welle and Chairman of the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) Consortium. DRM is also discussed in a separate three-page overview of digital broadcasting developments in the past 12 months. The jury is still out on whether DRM is going to establish itself as a major new technology, as it is currently in a state of limbo awaiting the arrival of affordable consumer receivers.

Speaking of receivers, the shortwave receiver reviews section in this edition is only 13 pages long due to the special 60th anniversary coverage, and while its content written by John Nelson is authoritative, it certainly isn't comprehensive. Only eight receivers, including three high-end portables, are reviewed in detail. In this respect, the casual shortwave listener needs to turn to other sources, such as Passport to World Band Radio, for an overview of what's available. For older receivers, the Media Network Receiver Shopping List remains online, though due to budget cuts it's no longer able to review new models.

The reference sections
The listings of radio and TV stations around the world have always been the raison d'ĂȘtre of WRTH, and these are becoming increasingly complex as the years go by. The page count is now over seven times larger than it was 60 years ago, and due to the use of a much smaller print size the book probably contains at least ten times as much information.

Essentially, the structure of the book has not changed in all that time: stations are listed by country and frequency. There are now separate country listings for domestic and international broadcasting services. Also, added in the past few years is a section listing clandestine and other target broadcasts. The frequency lists are divided into five separate mediumwave tables covering different geographical regions, and a single shortwave list in frequency order. There are also handy lists of international broadcasts in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish in time order. All times in the WRTH are, of course, in UTC.

The radio listings in the WRTH are generally of a very high standard, and the list of contributors reads like a who's who of international radio listening. The shortwave frequency information is as up-to-date as it could possibly be, bearing in mind the very short time between the start of the winter schedules and the print deadline of the book. For example, the frequency of Voice of the People to Zimbabwe via the Radio Netherlands' Madagascar relay station was changed to 11705 kHz just a few days before the start of the winter season at the end of October, and this is correctly shown in the section clandestine and other target broadcasts and in the shortwave frequency table. That's impressive. Of course, a 704-page reference book cannot be perfect, and we were disappointed to see that the name of the Radio Netherlands Director-General has not been updated. Lodewijk Bouwens is still listed, although he retired and was succeeded by Jan Hoek in January 2005.

The one weak link
As far as content is concerned, the radio listings are excellent, but the TV section of the WRTH is its one weak link. The amount of space devoted to TV has actually decreased to the extent that it's of doubtful use to anyone with a serious interest in television as opposed to radio. For example, in the listing for the Netherlands, only brief details of the public broadcasting organisations are given, and those are incomplete. According to the WRTH there are just seven broadcasting organisations producing programmes on the public channels - in fact, there are now more than twenty! And none of the Dutch commercial channels, which have a combined market share of about 75 percent, are even mentioned. The UK listing has no reference to British Sky Broadcasting, but public TV in Andorra is listed. There doesn't seem to be a clear rationale for what to include and what to leave out.

We have one observation about the layout of the book: in an effort to cram as much as possible onto every page, the white space between individual lines has been reduced to an absolute minimum, and this makes some sections rather tiring to read for any length of time. However, we accept that people don't read WRTH like a novel, and many users would probably accept the tradeoff. But it does highlight the fact that WRTH is bursting at the seams with information - not literally, we're pleased to say, as the quality of the binding is good.

A labour of love
There's no doubt that the UK publisher of WRTH has made substantial improvements to the content and quality of the book since taking it over, and the 2006 edition is definitely the best and most comprehensive ever. With a growing list of specialist contributors, we predict continuing success. WRTH may be 60, but it's certainly not ready for early retirement. It's true that much of the information can be found elsewhere, but the value of WRTH is that somebody else has done all the research and organised it. Some of the specialist contributors have been involved with the book for decades, and regard it as a labour of love. We congratulate them and the whole WRTH team on a job well done.

Publisher: Nicholas Hardyman
No of pages: 704
WRTH Publications Limited,
PO Box 290, Oxford,
OX2 7FT,
United Kingdom
Order Fax: +44 (0)1865 514405.
Web (secure online ordering):
Cover price: £22.00 including airmail postage worldwide.
ISBN: 0-9535864-8-0
Published in the USA by Watson-Guptill Publications,
770 Broadway,
New York,
NY 10003-9595,

Distributed in Germany by Gert Wohlfarth GmbH.

This review was done independently of the editors and publisher. Radio Netherlands has no financial connection with either and provides the information above in good faith.