When the world got its news from shortwave radio

What did SWI sound like for the first seven decades of its existence? The short answer: a radio station. 

This content was published on November 3, 2019 - 10:00
Daniel Rihs (video) and Dale Bechtel (text)

From the mid-1930s to 2004, Switzerland’s international service was Swiss Radio International (SRI). The first few decades of SRI’s existence were the heyday of shortwave – it was often the only way of getting news directly from other countries. 

A brief history of SRI, the predecessor of, helps explain why you hear what you do in the video above. 

What began as the Swiss Short Wave Service in 1935, would grow from broadcasting programmes in German, French, Italian and English to include other European languages and Arabic, and eventually change its name to Swiss Radio International.

The international service was considered a voice of neutrality during times of war, first during World War II, followed by the decades of the Cold War and up to and including the first war in the Gulf in the early 1990s. 

This decade would mark the beginning of the end for Switzerland’s shortwave broadcasts. Shortwave transmitters gave way to relaying programmes via satellite, and this, in turn, would give way to the internet when the service went online in 1999 as SRI’s website. 

+ The day Switzerland found its online voice

In 2004, the plug was pulled for good on SRI as part of budget cuts, but not Now producing exclusively online, the international service extended its linguistic reach by adding Russian, Japanese and Chinese, and publishing more video and audio reports. 

Journalists working in’s current ten languages collaborate closely to set the editorial agenda, providing the necessary context in their stories so they are understood wherever they are read, seen, or heard in the world.

Project ‘The Sounds of...’

This article is part of the project "The Sounds of..." produced with our partner media organisations Polskie RadioExternal linkRadio Canada InternationalExternal linkRadio Romania InternationalExternal link and Radio Prague InternationalExternal link. Further videos have been produced by journalists at these outlets, to give an insight into their work in these countries. 

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Other historical radio recordings can be found here:

Czechoslovak Radio played an important role in key events in the country’s history. For example, in 1968, although Soviet soldiers occupied the building, radio employees continued to broadcast. Today Radio Prague InternationalExternal link is a public broadcaster, with four national stations as well as regional broadcasts, digital radio stations and an online news site.

For over 90 years, the sounds of Polskie RadioExternal link have accompanied Poles at home and abroad. Broadcasting was interrupted on September 1, 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. However, before Polskie Radio fell silent for six years, it broadcast significant messages warning Poles about German attacks. The battlefield recordings are a valuable archive of those times.

Radio Romania InternationalExternal link boasts a 91-year-long history. The station kept Romanians company in the interwar period, throughout WWII and during communism, constrained by the limitations and censorship specific to both fascist and communist totalitarian regimes. After 1989, Radio Romania International regained its role as a public media service.

Since February 25, 1945, Radio Canada InternationalExternal link has been Canada’s voice in the world, first on shortwave radio, then online. Today, listeners and website visitors on five continents interact with them in five of the most-spoken languages in the world: English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic.

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