Shortwave Report for Central Asia, Part 4
Posted by Susan Stark (Parts 1, 2, and 3 are in the Archives)

CLANDESTINE AND PIRATE RADIO

Radio itself was invented by Guglielmo Marconi, or at least he gets the credit for it (in my opinion, Nicola Tesla, the Yugoslav inventor, is the one who invents the radio).

In the very early days of radio, radio functioned very much as the internet does today in communication. There wasn’t much regulation for this newfangled hobby. Anybody who had a functioning transmitter/receiver could and did use it. Two or more people could use the same frequency (let’s say, at 1290AM, for example), and hold a long distance conversation. Two violinists on two sides of the Atlantic could have a duet over the radio, and others tuning into the same frequency could listen in. The very first DJs appeared, playing recorded music, with no one dictating what music to play.

In the United States, all that changed with the formation of the FCC, or Federal Communications Commission. Similar “regulatory” bodies appeared in other countries. The excuse for these regulations were complaints that broadcasters were interfering with one another, but the best explanation is control. It is harder to propagandize against another country, for example, if people in both countries are in regular communication with each other. Also, during World War 1, the government brought up the excuse of “security” (you know, spies communicate).

Nevertheless, despite all the current regulation, unregulated, or “pirate radio”, still operates. It’s very difficult for AM and FM pirate stations to stay on the air, even when they eventually try to play by the rules and ask for a license. Sometimes pirate radio operates out of a house or apartment, or even out of an automobile (although that can be difficult without a power source). In a lot of cases pirate radio broadcasts from a boat or ship. This type of broadcasting is more common than people think: There are several pirate broadcasters operating in New York City, at any given time. The success of these transmissions vary according to the quality of the transmitter and the ability to keep the transmitter outside vs. inside. But a pirate can reach a good number of people here due to the population density of NYC neighborhoods. Shortwave is a better way to reach a good audience through unregulated radio, across huge distances.

Clandestine Broadcasting:

Clandestine radio is similar, yet different than pirate radio. A clandestine transmission usually transmits from one country to another, for the purpose of circumventing the ideology and political control of the target country. It can either be transmitted by another government (usually), or by dissidents from the target country living abroad (sometimes). Examples of this are Radio Marti, broadcast by the US government to Cuba, as well as a few private stations run out of Miami by Cuban exiles. North Korea is also a frequent target for clandestine broadcasts. When a country is experiencing civil war or internal conflict, there can be clandestine transmissions targeted *within* the country. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kashmir are examples regions where internal clandestine radio operations are used.

In my opinion, virtually all shortwave transmissions are clandestine in nature, because they are able to bypass the imaginary lines that humans have created to separate one country and region from another. And if a country is repressive enough, then virtually *any* shortwave broadcast passing through that country is clandestine. During Taliban rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001), it is safe to say that all shortwave into the country was clandestine because it presented music and female voices on the air, both banned by the Taliban. The broadcaster “All India Radio” certainly doesn’t consider itself clandestine when it belts out Bollywood film tunes, but it was to a Taliban-era listener in Kabul at night, wearing headphones. And while the United States is not nearly as repressive as the Taliban, I and many others where fortunate to have a different point of view in early 2003 when most of the media in the US were pimping the Iraq Invasion. “Deutsche Welle” of Germany and “Radio Havana Cuba” of Cuba were among those presenting a refreshingly different viewpoint, but they aren’t listed or considered clandestine in nature.

Of course, Central Asia has been a recipient of clandestine broadcasts, most notably Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (as mentioned in Shortwave Report Part 3) from the United States. But what is weird about this is that Radio Liberty also appears to have *AM* and *FM* broadcasts in these countries as well. Are they broadcasting from satellite or within the country? I guess when you grease enough local palms, you get your access.

But other countries broadcast clandestinely in Central Asia. In 2002, the Voice of Tibet, a transmission from dissident Tibetans, was broadcast from Kazakhstan into Chinese-occupied Tibet.

JAMMING

Of course, as you can well imagine, the intended recipient countries of clandestine radio, or at least their governments, don’t appreciate these broadcasts. That’s where jamming comes in.

The recipient country of a clandestine broadcast, in order to keep their subjects in the dark, will jam the transmission. This mainly involves transmitting another broadcast on the exact same frequency, using different noises such as beeps or car engines. Of course you can’t hear the original through this mess.

The original broadcasters, however, can circumvent jamming by changing their frequency on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this forces those attempting to receive the broadcast into moving their radio tuner up and down the dial to find whatever heresy their government disapproves of.

That’s it for now.

One Response to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thank You. Very Informative.

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