Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

DPRK improving short wave radio broadcast qualtiy

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

According to the Northeast Asian Broadcasting Institute (NABI), the authorities made their first move in March this year, replacing the shortwave transmission equipment at Kanggye Transmission Station in Jagang Province with modern equipment made by Beijing BBEF Electronics Group Co. Kanggye Transmission Station is one of three high output shortwave transmission facilities in North Korea, with the other two being at Pyongyang and in Gujang County, North Pyongan Province.

The measures come pursuant to a June 2011 agreement signed between the North Korean Ministry of Communications and BBEF, under which the latter is required to provide North Korea with modern radio and television transmission equipment and training in its use.

North Korea has two shortwave broadcasters; Chosun Central 1st Broadcast and Pyongyang Broadcast. The first is for the domestic and international audience while the latter serves the international audience only, leading to the assumption that North Korea is replacing its existing transmitters in order to improve its broadcasts targeting South Korea. With the sort of modern equipment arriving from BBEF, North Korean broadcasts will be receivable anywhere in South Korea, no matter where in the North they are broadcast from.

According to NABI, North Korea’s shortwave broadcasting capacity was previously very weak due to worn out and broken equipment. Signal strength was particularly weak, meaning that listeners tended to receive a different channel even when tuned directly to the intended broadcast frequency. According to one defector from Pyongyang who arrived in South Korea in June 2011, the signal strength of Chosun Central 1st Broadcast was so weak at times that it was even unlistenable in most regions of North Korea.

However, the quality has recently improved dramatically, as Park Sung Moon of NABI explained to Daily NK, saying, “Recent analysis of North Korea’s shortwave Chosun Central 1st Broadcast and Pyongyang Broadcast reveal that they are being broadcast clearly and consistently, without interference or signal shifting.”

“In particular, Pyongyang Broadcast is much better than it used to be, but the overall broadcast situation has gotten a lot better,” Park added, going on, “It looks like they have imported the Chinese transmission equipment to improve their South Korea broadcasting.”

Professor Choi Hyung Jin of Sungkyungwan University Information and Communications Department agreed, adding, “If a transmitter is old and worn out then it either takes excessive power to function or the signal strength weakens. Either way, the effect of the broadcast system itself is detrimentally affected. Notably, listeners often cannot hear the broadcast. If you want people to listen, you have to improve your transmitters.”

The other side of the coin is that improved shortwave transmission strength stops incoming signals from reaching listeners.

According to one defector who used to be a part of the Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, “They know that when the Chosun Central 1st Broadcast signal strength is weak, it regularly arrives with outside broadcasts mixed in. I think they want to stop this happening.”

Though I have located many communications towers on satellite imagery of the DPRK, I have yet to definitively identify any of the DPRK’s short wave radio broadcast towers (Pyongyang, Kujang, Kanggye). If you have any information on them, please let me know.

I have located this massive broadcast center in Myohyangsan, but its purpose is unknown to me.

Read the full story here:
North Korean Shortwave Getting Stronger
Daily NK
Mok Yong Jae


North Korea on the Cusp of Digital Transformation

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

The Nautilus Institute has published a new paper by Alexandre Mansurov on the DPRK’s communication and technology sectors.  The press release and a link to the paper are below:


The DPRK mobile communications industry has crossed the Rubicon, and the North Korean government can no longer roll it back without paying a severe political price. The most the authorities can do now is probably to manage its rapid expansion in such a way that will ensure that the interests of the political regime and state security are taken care of first.

While traditionally, the State Security Department monitored most communications on a daily basis, the implication of this explosion of mobile phone use is that communication in North Korea has transitioned from a panopticon of total control to a voluntary compliance system where the government makes an example of a select group to try and force the rest of the country to stay in line.

Alexandre Y. Mansourov, a Nautilus Institute Senior Associate, comprehensively examines information technology in North Korea. As of 2008 the regime launched a world-class 3G mobile communications service, which gained almost 700,000 users in less than three years of operation, revealing an insatiable demand for more robust and extensive telecommunications services among the North Korean general population.

Download the report here

About the Nautilus Institute: Since its founding in 1992, the Nautilus Institute ( has evolved into a thriving public policy think-tank and community resource. The Institute addresses a myriad of critical security and sustainability issues including the United States nuclear policy in Korea and energy, resource and environmental insecurity in Northeast Asia. Over the years, Nautilus has built a reputation for innovative research and analysis of critical global problems and translating ideas into practical solutions, often with high impact.

For more information, contact the Nautilus Institute at [email protected] or at 415 422 5523.

Here is Yonahp coverage of the report.


On DPRK information sources…

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

UPDATE: On a related note…

North Korea’s Digital Underground“, The Atlantic, April 2011

ORIGINAL POST: The following blurb appeared in a recent article on 38 North:

Feeding this confusion are serious problems with information collection about the domestic situation in North Korea. Policymakers in Seoul and Washington rely heavily (whether they know it or not) on testimony or information provided by North Korean defectors. Defectors and networks of informants who move across the China-North Korea border, are key sources for a new constellation of media organizations like Daily NK, Open North Korea Radio, Free North Korea Radio, Good Neighbors, Radio Free Asia (U.S.), Asia Press (Japan), and other internet media. To be sure, people coming out of the DPRK can be important sources of information—for example, these networks brought out information about the 2009 currency reform. However, the new “media” organizations are not staffed by independent, professional journalists. To the contrary, they are propaganda organs and advocacy organizations designed to undermine regime stability in the North. Their reports frequently lack verification, yet regularly appear in Yonhap News, the leading South Korean government news agency, without any filtering. Major conservative newspapers, such as Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, and Donga Ilbo, quote them as is. International news media, including the wire services and leading American newspapers, in turn, reprint them as world news. Unverified reports and politically motivated characterizations of North Korean instability are transmuted into truth. There are even cases of defectors reportedly being pressured to tow the official line. For example, Yonhap News was pressured to remove a senior reporter, herself a defector, from its North Korea desk when she discounted exaggerated reports by defector organizations of instability around the Kim family succession and currency reform failures.

Aidan Foster-Cater responds in this Asia Times article:

How do we know anything about North Korea? Where can you find reliable information? If sources conflict, how does one judge between them? Bottom line: Who ya gonna trust?

These are key questions. And they’re as old as the hills – which North Korea has more of than facts. My own interest in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is now, dare I confess, in its fifth decade. Even when I started, back in the 1960s, data of any kind were a problem. There were almost none to speak of.

No point asking Pyongyang. I was a fan in those days, but even so I winced at the regime’s clunky propaganda, and its emptiness: the absence of even the most basic facts and figures.

In the 1950s, North Korea did publish some statistics, but in the 1960s they stopped. Why? As growth slowed, paranoia and secretiveness ballooned. Nicholas Eberstadt has noted it was the same in the USSR and China, when Stalin’s and Mao’s excesses were at their height [1]. In Moscow and Beijing the mad blackouts eventually ended. In Pyongyang, darkness still rules.

Normal countries need numbers. A national budget with no figures: What a crazy idea! Not in North Korea, where this bizarre charade is enacted every year, most recently on April 7.

What passes for a parliament in Pyongyang usually meets for just one day a year, in spring. The main business is to pass the budget, which they duly do. (There’s no debate, obviously.)

And no numbers, either. Take a look at the official Korea Central News Agency [2]. Finance minister Pak Su-gil uttered a few percentages, but not a single actual solid figure. Weird.

Until 1994, they at least gave the budget totals, so we could work out some of the rest. South Korea’s Unification Ministry (MOU) reckons it heard a real number on the radio, once, and on that basis offers its own guesses here and there. Yet this is meagre stuff. A joke, really.

But I’ve banged on about this before in these pages [3], so what’s new pussycat? Two things.

First, I personally have taken this matter up, at the highest level. Only the other day I had words on the subject with the Speaker of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) himself. No really, I did. Choe Thae-bok, an urbane gent of 82 and a very senior figure, spent a week in London just before the SPA session. Tea at the House of Lords, that sort of thing. All a bit surreal, and it’s easy to scoff. But at times like these, it’s important to keep the doors open.

Over a convivial dinner at Asia House, I asked Choe about those budget blanks. He said he’d look into it, but I admit I wasn’t holding my breath. Ah well. He must be a busy chap.

Fortunately in 2011 we can supplement Pyongyang’s crummy crumbs with more solid fare. It’s a new world: the information age! NK may resist, but two things have changed – a lot.

First, and obviously, the Internet has been a boon. We who follow North Korea are no longer sad lonely nutters. Online we can find each other – we are legion! – and pool our knowledge. Kind folks like Curtis Melvin at NKeconwatch and Tad Farrell at NKNews, among others, have put a lot of work into creating crucial online resources on North Korea. (For their pains, they have survived more than one cyber-attack [4]. Who on earth would do a thing like that?) So now we can collate and compare notes.

Read the rest below the fold….



DPRK IT product management borrows from the past

Monday, April 4th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has begun to demand that every personal and electronic storage device in the country be registered in an apparent effort to crack down on outside information that may contain sensitive news about Middle East uprisings, a government source said Friday.

The measure took effect early this year and has led to the confiscation of a considerable number of electronic devices, the South Korean source said, declining to be identified.

The communist country is also allowing its notoriously harsh policing organ to have the right to approve the use of a mobile phone by an individual, the source said.

More than 300,000 mobile phones are believed to be in use in North Korea, which strictly controls the flow of information in and out of its territory in an effort to keep its 24 million people brainwashed and make them conform to the regime.

And according to the Straits Times (Singapore):

Pyongyang has ordered institutions and households to report on how many computers and even portable data storage devices such as USBs and MP3 players they own, early in 2011, according to a Seoul government source.

The North Korean police agency is in charge of keeping track of the IT gadgets possessed by everyone, presses criminal charges against those who failed to report and even confiscates many of the gadgets, the source said.

The reclusive communist state has been running a unit of authorities for years to crack down on North Koreans watching South Korean soap operas or foreign movies, which they call ‘non-socialist video’.

Pyongyang is also reinforcing a crackdown on use of cellphones and the Internet. It is estimated that more than 400,000 mobile phones are being used in North Korea. North Koreans are required to get government permission to use cell phones. They are also banned from bringing them into the country or using cell phones bought overseas.

Foreign members of international non-governmental organisations working in North Korea were also told to follow domestic regulations on cell phones.

It appears that the DPRK is attempting to treat these products the same way it has treated radios for decades.  Lankov writes in his book, North of the DMZ:

Certainly, a person with some technical knowledge can easily make the necessary adjustments and transform such a receiver into a real radio. To prevent this from happening, the police undertake periodic random inspections of all registered receivers. Controlling the correct use of radio receivers is also an important duty of the heads of the so-called people’s groups or inminban. The head of an inminban can break into any house at any time (even in the dead of night) to check for the possible use of a non-registered receiver.

If a North Korean has access to foreign currency, he or she can buy a foreign-made radio set in one of the numerous hard-currency shops. However, after purchase the radio set was subjected to minor surgery in a police workshop — its tuning had to be fixed, so it could only receive official Pyongyang broadcasts (it appears this practice is declining in recent years).

The control was never perfect…

Of course it is questionable as to whether the inminban play a reliable role in “law enforcement” these days.  Instead, individuals in these positions seem to play an increasing role in shielding their residents from Pyongyang’s dictates rather than assuming a pure-exploitation position.  In the past we have seen how inminban effectiveness can affect local real estate prices.  Also, when the government needed to apologize for the disastrous “recent” currency reform, they did so in person to the inminban representatives.

Given the proliferation of electronic devices, particularly in Pyongyang, in combination with the capacity of local police to carry out this mission, I believe the actual result of this policy will be the registration of “some” electronic devices along with the hiding and bribing required to keep others off the books.  So inspection police just got a raise!


US reduces support for Free North Korea Radio

Monday, January 24th, 2011

According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

Free North Korea Radio, a South Korea-based shortwave station targeting North Koreans, saw its annual financial support of 400,000 to 500,000 US dollars from the US government more than halved last year, a first since the station`s foundation in 2004, due to accounting errors. Mainly led by North Korean defectors, the station lets North Koreans know what is happening in both South Korea and the world by renting foreign shortwave frequencies with US funds. The broadcaster also breaks news about the isolated communist country to South Koreans. If financial support decreases, such activities cannot continue.

Read the full story here:
US government reduces support for Free North Korea Radio
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Andy Sennitt


Crack in Orwellian paradise

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Lankov writes in the Korea Times:

One of the most important peculiarities of North Korean life is the degree of isolation of North Koreans from entire world. The government does not want them to be aware of some facts which contradict the officially approved picture of the world and their own country. To make sure that propaganda has no competition, the North Korean authorities eliminate all possible sources of alternative information.

Few if any Communist countries were as efficient as North Korea in cutting their population off from the unwanted and unauthorized knowledge about the world beyond the nation’s boundaries.

Few North Koreans are ever allowed to leave their country. The only statistically large but non-privileged group of people with overseas experience was the Siberian loggers who were sent to the wilderness of Southern Siberia from the late 1960s onwards. However, that part of the world is not famous for a high density population, so their contact with the locals was kept at a bare minimum (and North Korean authorities saw to this).

All other groups of North Koreans who were allowed to travel overseas formed the upper crust of society and by definition were carefully chosen for their supposed political reliability. These privileged few were diplomats, crews of the North Korean ships and planes as well as a handful of the people who were allowed to participate in international exchanges, largely of academic nature. These people had a lot to lose, and they also knew that their families would pay a high price for any wrongdoing they committed, thus they seldom caused trouble. They are least likely to talk much about overseas life.

There were students, of course, but their numbers were very small ― perhaps, less than 10,000 North Koreans ever graduated from foreign universities (just for comparison: some 240,000 South Koreans are studying overseas right now).

The North Koreans cannot buy or read books published overseas ― no exception is made even for books from other Communist countries. All non-technical foreign publications are kept in special departments of libraries and one needs a security clearance to access them. In these departments the subversive material could be read only by the trustworthy people who obtained special permission from security police.

Of course, radio was the major source of worries for the Pyongyang leaders. So, North Korea is the only country which outlaws the use of the radio sets with free tuning. All radio sets are permanently fixed on the wavelength of the official Pyongyang broadcast, and police conduct random house checks to ensure that technically savvy owners have not re-modeled their sets.

In a clearly Orwellian twist, the government does its best to keep the populace cut off from the past as well. All periodicals and most books more than ten years old are to be sent to the same special departments with access being limited to the people with proper security clearance. Even speeches of the Great Leader are edited (rewritten) from time to time to meet the demands of the ever changing political situation.

Why did they do it? The answer seems to be obvious: the governments know that they have to hide the huge difference in economic performance between North Korean and its neighbors, and above all ― between North and South Korea. Currently, the ratio of per capita income between two Korean states is estimated to be at 1:15 at best and 1:50 at worst. This is the largest gap which exists worldwide between two countries which share a land border, and this gap is powerful proof of North Korea’s economic inefficiency. The government understands that once the populace learns about the gap, the situation might get out of control. To prevent it, they work hard to keep people ignorant about the outside world.

Until 2000 or so, they have been generally successful, even though some snippets of dangerous information found their way to North Korea. Things began to change in the late 1990s when North Koreans began to move across the porous border with China. Most of the refugees did not stay in China, but eventually returned to North Korea. They brought back stories of Chinese prosperity, DVDs with South Korean TV shows and small, easy-to-hide transistor radios with free tuning.

Since then, things began to change, and the information self-isolation system began to fall apart. However, it might be premature to believe that it has been damaged beyond repair. Yes, people in the borderland area are aware that they live in a poor and underdeveloped society. Many people in Pyongyang also came to realize this. But it seems that in more remote parts of the country the isolation still works reasonably well.

Sometimes I wonder how shocked North Koreans will be when exposed to the outside world for the very first time. We can be sure that their surprise will be huge ― and perhaps, their disappointment about their country’s past will be huge, too.

Read the full story here:
Crack in Orwellian paradise
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov


ROK preparing for psyops…

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The Defense Ministry is preparing to enlarge the range of propaganda broadcasts and float radios to North Korea, which is refusing to admit responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March.

During a National Assembly audit of the Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said the ministry is preparing to switch the format of propaganda broadcasts from FM to AM and float balloons carrying AM radios to the North so that North Koreans can listen to the broadcasts.

The South has in the past sent many radios to the North, Kim said. He added the balloons will also carry propaganda leaflets.

“We’ve already put psychological pressure on the North merely by installing loudspeakers for propaganda broadcasts at 11 locations” along the military demarcation line, the minister claimed. But he added that the government will not start the broadcasts and send the leaflets, which are ready, until the North launches a fresh provocation and there is therefore an urgent need to put pressure on the North.

The New York Times offers some good supplemental information:

After six years of quiet along the border, South Korea has reinstalled 11 sets of psychological warfare loudspeakers, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said Tuesday in Seoul. He said his ministry had switched its transmitters to the easier-to-receive AM band and was ready to send thousands of AM radios and propaganda leaflets across the border using helium balloons.

A continuing balloon and leaflet campaign by South Korean civilians has angered the North Korean government, which suggests that it has been effective. The leaflets ridicule the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, and call for people in the North to rise up. North Korea insisted that the leaflet issue be put on the agenda of recent bilateral military talks.

North and South Korea agreed in 2000 to dismantle the loudspeaker systems along the border and to stop radio transmissions. There have been no loudspeaker blasts since 2004, although South Korea made a show of putting some speakers in place in May, after the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, in March. Forty-six sailors were killed. The North has denied any involvement.

Read the full story here
Gov’t in Drive to Send Radios to N.Korea
Choson Ilbo


Seoul resumes radio broadcasts to DPRK

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

According to teh Associated Press (5.25.2010):

South Korea is waging psychological warfare against North Korea today after a six year pause, and Pyongyang says its troops are bracing for war amid tensions over the sinking of a warship.

South Korea is blaring radio broadcasts into the North and placing loudspeakers at the border to blast out propaganda to punish Pyongyang.

Although the South Korean government has been out of the game for the last six years, plenty of others have been broadcasting into the DPRK: Free North Korea Radio, Open Radio for North Korea, Radio Free Chosun, Voice of America and  Radio Free Asia.   


20% of North Koreans in China report listening to foreign broadcasts

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

That is the claim in this Wall Street Journal article:

North Koreans willing to tamper with their government radios or buy a $3 radio smuggled in from China have a wide range of choices. Over a dozen radio stations from the United States, South Korea and Japan currently broadcast to North Korea. Voice of America (VOA), one of the most popular stations, has been broadcasting to the North since 1942, while the equally popular Radio Free Asia (RFA) began its Korean service soon after its establishment by Congress in 1997. VOA focuses on news of the U.S. and the world, while RFA concentrates on North Korea and life for the nearly 20,000 defectors in the South.

North Korean defectors themselves have also created three stations in recent years, led by Free North Korea Radio (FNK Radio). These stations employ stringers in North Korea who communicate by cell phone or smuggle out interviews through China. As a result, information is flowing in and out of the North more rapidly than ever. For example, when authorities undertook major economic reforms in 2002, it was months before the rest of the world knew. In contrast, when the regime launched a disastrous currency reform in November, FNK Radio filed a report within hours.

It’s impossible to count how many North Koreans listen to these stations, but there is anecdotal evidence the numbers are significant. For starters, on dozens of occasions, authorities in Pyongyang have used their own media to attack foreign broadcasters. The North reserves the insult “reptile” exclusively for foreign broadcasters. Last month, the regime likened defector broadcasters to “human trash.” Ironically, this diatribe also contained the first official mention that the botched currency revaluation had taken place. Foreign broadcasters not only struck a nerve, but also forced the regime to discuss developments it would prefer to ignore. If the broadcasts were not being listened to, the regime would ignore them instead of lavishing free publicity.

Meanwhile, broadcasters to North Korea frequently receive heartbreaking messages of thanks from North Koreans in China. One listener on RFA’s Web site described RFA as “our one ray of hope.” Over the past several years, South Korean researchers have quietly interviewed thousands of North Korean defectors, refugees, and visitors to China about their listening habits. One unpublished survey conducted last summer of North Koreans in China found that over 20% had regularly listened to the banned broadcasts, and almost all of them had shared the information with family members and friends. Several earlier studies confirm these findings.

I am not sure which “unpublished study” makes this claim so I can’t evaluate the findings. 

A Haggard and Noland survey of North Korean refugees claimed that a majority had listened to foreign broadcasts.

I do not believe these numbers reflect the listening habbits of North Koreans still in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Radio Waves of Resistance
Wall Street Journal
Peter Beck


Illicit mobile phone stats

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

According to Business Week:

As many as 1,000 North Koreans use handsets that connect to Chinese networks to tell people in the South about subjects ranging from food shortages to leader Kim Jong Il’s health, said Ha Tae Keung, a South Korean who runs a Seoul-based radio station that broadcasts daily to the North.

Ha’s Open Radio for North Korea is one of several groups gathering information from people on phones that only work near the 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) border with China. The risks are absolute: One caller was executed, Ha’s employees heard, leading Open Radio to curb contact with informants.

“To us, it’s about breaking news,” said Ha, who receives U.S. congressional funding through the National Endowment for Democracy. “To them, it’s a matter of life and death.”

North Korea accuses the U.S. and South Korea of financing such organizations to conduct “a black propaganda campaign,” the Korean Central News Agency said last month. Kim’s government glorifies his achievements as “the great sun of the nation,” who repels “U.S. warmongers and South Korean puppet forces.”

Defection and disclosing “national secrets” are deemed treason under North Korea’s criminal code and are punishable by death, according to a copy posted on the Web site of South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Listening to “anti-state radio” is punishable by up to five years in a labor camp.

Radios are pre-tuned to government programs and owning computers without permission is forbidden, according to the Feb. 17 UN report. Security squads raid homes looking for contraband, it said.

While mobile phones are allowed in and around the capital of Pyongyang, their use is forbidden near the border, the UN said. Legal cell phones in North Korea, many operated by Cairo- based Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, can’t be used for international calls, a U.S. State Department human-rights report released in March said.

SIM Cards
More than 10 North Korean informants for Open Radio use phones with pre-paid SIM cards bought in China that work as far as 10 kilometers across the border, Ha said. Pre-paid cards accounted for 82 percent of all users at Beijing-based China Mobile Ltd., that country’s biggest operator, in 2007.

Illegal phones started appearing as early as 2000, when defectors living in China and South Korea had them smuggled across the border to relatives, said Sohn Kwang Joo, chief editor at Seoul-based Daily NK.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Open Radio Prompts Wonder About Riches Over Border
Business Week
Bomi Lim