An Interview with "Passport to World Band Radio"

By Danny Wu

Passport to World Band Radio Danny Wu: How do you define "Passport to World Band Radio"? Is there any difference between WRTH and PWBR? Could you make a brief introduction about the content of "Passport to World Band Radio"?

Jane Brinker/IBS: You will see the content of a typical Passport shortly, so you will be able to answer this question firsthand. BTW, Edition 2003 will include four articles on the Horn of Africa -- Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia.

Danny Wu: How many issues has it sold at the present time? In which country has it sold best? How many editions does it have in different languages? What is its distribution in China?

Jane Brinker/IBS: Passport, which comes out each year in mid-October, sells best from late October until early the following year, mainly in North America and the United Kingdom, but also in continental Europe, Australasia, Japan and beyond. Additionally, we sell direct worldwide by credit card via our Website (www.passband.com), fax, email (our public email address is mktg@passband.com) and postbox. Worldwide, Passport far outsells any other international broadcasting publication. Indeed, it outsells all other international broadcasting books combined, including imitators. The latest example is the WRTH's recent publication, "The Shortwave Guide," marketed as being like Passport. Yet, even though Passport costs more, it outsells the "Guide" by an estimated 25 to one.

Danny Wu: How can "Passport to World Band Radio" receive its contributions? What is the standard of judging the receiver? Who does the judgement?

Jane Brinker/IBS: For station schedules, Passport operates on the same principle as the American Marines or British Special Forces, which is to use a few top-notch people, including monitors. Thus, Passport has a small and wonderful regular team of experienced monitors who work with our schedules editor, Tony Jones, headquartered in Paraguay where shortwave reception is uncommonly robust from many points in the world (before he came on board with us, Tony monitored for a major Western government agency). First-rate monitors are among the scarcest people on earth, and we are proud to have the best of them as team colleagues. As to receiver testing, Lawrence Magne, our Editor in Chief, inaugurated the concept of systematic and unbiased testing when he was with the World Radio TV Handbook, starting with their 1978 edition, and continued doing this until the WRTH's 1986 edition. He also did regular receiver reviews over the air for Radio Canada International, Swiss Radio International and Radio Japan from 1980-1997. Robert Sherwood's laboratory specializes in shortwave, and performs the quantitative analysis, while a small team of seasoned DXers does hands-on testing. It is very much a team effort, as is everything else at Passport. We are very proud of our record not only of accurate reviewing, but also freedom from outside influence of any sort. As Outside Magazine says about Passport's receiver reviews, "advertisers be damned." The names of team members and contributors are given in the masthead of each edition, and also at the end of each section of Passport Reports.

Danny Wu: Besides "Passport to World Band Radio", do you publish other books or publications on BCL?

Jane Brinker/IBS: We publish analytical monographs of specific items of shortwave equipment in the series, "Radio Database International." We formerly also published the book Passport to Web Radio, which is now online.

Danny Wu: What does IBS think of the future of DX/BCL activities in world? Is the number of BCL increasing or decreasing in recent years?

Jane Brinker/IBS: The most reliable statistics on listenership worldwide were formerly drawn up by the IBAR section of the BBC World Service, along with some cooperation from the VOA. However, both organizations are now managed by those who prefer to stress advanced technologies, so in the past couple of years we have not been seeing these statistics being made public except for occasional self-serving excerpts. Nevertheless, the former head of IBAR, considered to be the world's foremost expert on this subject, indicated last year that shortwave listening continues to grow worldwide. Grundig/Lextronix also claims that the market they serve is growing year after year; you may be able to obtain more details on Grundig's sales through your contacts at Tecsun, which manufactures many of the radios now sold under the Grundig label.

Danny Wu: Do you have any suggestion about popularizing BCL activities in China?

Jane Brinker/IBS: The main way to popularize serious shortwave listening in China is if Tecsun or another major manufacturer were to learn from Grundig's marketing success. About 24 years ago, Grundig entered the North American market with a full line of consumer electronics products. At that time, the head of their new North American operation (Lextronix) called Larry Magne to ask whether there was any market for shortwave radios, as among the many products Grundig had in its consumer electronics line were some shortwave portables and Lextronix didn't know what to do with them. Larry explained how this was a growing market, so Lextronix did some test marketing of the Satellit 650, which is the predecessor to the Satellit 800 (HAM 2000). It did surprisingly well, so he did some more testing, which also did well, and so on, and until recently Lextronix's head was in regular contact with Larry. After awhile, around 1980, Grundig discontinued selling anything in the North American market except shortwave radios, as this had the most long-term growth potential and profit margin. The rest is history. Grundig has gone from selling no shortwave radios in North America to, they claim, selling over a million units a year. But all this happened because Lextronix was willing to spend millions of dollars on advertising, as well as in building up a vast dealer network and providing strong customer support. During this same period, Sangean also made quality shortwave radios, but to this day remains relatively unknown to the public. Even though, like Grundig, it has long had a sales office in the United States, Sangean has never invested significantly in marketing, concentrating instead on lower-margin OEM production for other companies (as you may know, they recently lost their major account, Radio Shack). The secret to popularizing serious shortwave listening thus is simple, and straight out of Capitalism 101. A manufacturer with good products, superior management and first-rate marketing will wind up popularizing serious shortwave listening simply because it is unusually profitable.