Always with You on Shortwave: the “Firedrake”

There are good reasons to believe that in China, international broadcasters are less listened to – and especially less listened to on shortwave – than two decades ago. However, the habit is still very popular, and many posts and websites run by shortwave listening enthusiasts would also suggest that people don’t simply throw (or store) their radio receivers away, only because of the internet being available in their place. The following is a translation of a Chinese blog post, of March 14, 2012.

Sony ICF 2001 D - enemy broadcasters at your fingertips

Sony ICF 2001 D – enemy broadcasters at your fingertips

I’ve added four footnotes, and some further explanations (“further notes”) underneath the footnotes. You will also find a recording there, with a classical case of jamming.

Main Link:

China has a long history of jamming international shortwave broadcasts. I remember how I was frequently puzzled when listening to the radio – why were there those strange noises on some shortwave frequencies? It was different from others. It came through on a given frequency. Come rain or shine, this sound was there. It knew no holiday. I asked my grandmother about this, and she gravely replied: “this is to interfere with enemy broadcasters”. At the time, I didn’t understand what a so-called “enemy broadcaster” is. My grandmother told me that these were stations one must never listen to, that it was bad, and that it was something Uncle Policeman might take you away for1). Although I was too young to understand what this meant, apart from the frightening chance of being “taken away”, it certainly raised my interest in the mystery of “enemy broadcasters”.


Only later I understood that those “enemy broadcasters” were VoA, BBC, NHK, and other countries’ international broadcasting stations. As these countries were fundamentally different from China, in terms of ideology and social systems, their broadcasts carried their own countries’ political colors, and were therefore called “enemy broadcasters” by China. It was sort of an extension from the cold-war years. With the reform and opening, and continuous progress of society, the “enemy broadcasters” weren’t mysteries any more, and an unknown share of Chinese people who listened to the radio would also listen to these [international] stations. Of course, after listening, they weren’t found to be as terrible as legend would have it. They were just ordinary radio stations. From listening to international broadcasters, I learned a lot of things that weren’t to be found in the books, and about other countries’ customs and manners, and most importantly, I learned to look at problems from different perspectives, to think independently, rather than to let the media lead my by the nose. I learned from different surces, and drew my own conclusions. Therefore, I believe that international shortwave broadcasting is very helpful and beneficial.


For various reasons however, China has still not lifted the jamming of the “enemy broadcasters”. It deserves attention that the methods of jamming have become more and more “humanized”. Rather than just producing a big noise, Central People’s Radio interfere with the international stations on the same frequency, and this later evolved into the current “folk music” interference. Obviously, as the cause our country’s modernization moves on, our jamming technology has also improved step by step. It is said that the “folk music” system used is military equipment bought at high costs, from a France. From that you can see that the Chinese authorities in charge of jamming “enemy broadcasters” are willing to make great sacrifices, with unyielding vigor.


If you aren’t familiar with how this works, let me give you a short introduction.


All shortwave radio programs are broadcast from their own countries to the target area. Of course, if the distance is rather long, like from America to China, the signal will certainly lose some strength, and therefore, more distant countries will build relay stations closer to the target area. That’s to say, through their stronger signals, listgeners in the target area country can get a clearer signal.Of course, every broadcasting station has its own frequencies, and depending on atmospheric conditions in summer or winter, these frequencies aren’t always the same. So how does China jam them? That’s quite simple. It only needs to interfere on the same frequency, by noise, or by the current “folk music”. As the interfering stations are definitely domestic, and the international shortwave stations are broadcasting from abroad, the interfering signal is stronger, and this makes it easy to brush the foreign signals out of the door2). (Apart from those, even the signals from Taiwan – the inseparable part of our motherland – can’t escape this calamity.)


According to the International Broadcasting Commission’s3) agreement, no signatory country must interfere with or interfere with other countries’ broadcasts. China also signed this agreement, but has not stopped jamming foreign shortwave frequencies. Therefore, every years, it is met with protests from some countries, but those are of no avail. These years, China spends a lot of money to buy advanced and updated equipment to update its jamming system, which is incomprehensible. However, as this is equipment bought from France, it signed an agreement not to jam Radio France Internationale. Therefore, we can listen to a clear Radio France Internationale signal here in China, without any jamming4).


It should be said that China doesn’t jam all shortwave broadcasts. Stations without strong political messages, for example, aren’t jammed. Australia’s CVC Chinese programs etc. aren’t jammed.





1) Uncle Policeman may not care anymore, but he probably did until 1976. According to a thesis presented to the Faculty of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, by Erping Zhang in 2003, listening to foreign radio stations was considered a capital crime of treason in those days.

2) The challenge isn’t necessarily that small. As Kim Andrew Elliot pointed out in May last year,

Shortwave arguably remains the medium most resistant to interdiction. It is the only medium with a physical resistance to jamming, because radio waves at shortwave frequencies often propagate better over long than short distances.

3) This may refer to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which would more frequently be translated as 国际电讯联盟, though. One of the three ITU divisions is in charge of allocating frequencies – both terrestial and satellite frequencies.

4) I can’t verify if there is such an agreement.


Further Notes

The French company accused of having sold jamming equipment to China, Thales,  stated that “standard short-wave radio broadcasting equipment” sold to China by a former subsidiary in 2002 had been designed for civil purposes.

I’ve uploaded a jamming sample to Soundcloud. The broadcaster is Sound of Hope (希望之声), recorded in Northern Germany on June 17, 2011, between 13:20 and 13:32 GMT. The topic covered is the Zengcheng incident, and you can hear how the station’s signal is  beginning to drown in the jamming station’s carrier signal, before the “folk music” chimes in.

Soundcloud logo

Click here for recording

Again, this may not be exactly what listeners in China got to hear on that afternoon or evening – the “Voice of Hope” signal may have still been better there, despite the jamming, or worse, because of the jamming, depending on propagation conditions – see footnote 1 2) above.

A Shortwave America blog post contains some interesting links about Chinese jamming, including a CD quality sample of “Firedrake”, i. e. a jamming tune. The jamming station is supposed to be based on Hainan island.



北京业余无线电爱好者的故事 – Ham Radio, Beijing hobbyists’ documentary with English subtitles (June 2008)



11 Responses to “Always with You on Shortwave: the “Firedrake””

  1. Glad to know that the old stuff is still being read, one year on!



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