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: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_7799bbd8010120ah.html

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”.

中国干扰国际短波广播的历史由来已久。记得我上小学时听收音机就经常纳闷,为什么在短波的一些频率上会有一些奇怪的杂音呢?它不同于一般的杂音,是有固定频率的。每天到了那个时候必定会出现,保证风雨无阻且节假日绝对不休息,我问奶奶那是怎么回事,奶奶严肃地说:“那是为了干扰‘敌台’。”那时的我还不太明白什么才是所谓的“敌台”。奶奶只是告诉我,那是绝对不能听的电台,是坏的,听了以后会被警察叔叔抓走的。幼小的我虽说不明白这其中的道理,但是除了对“被抓走”的恐惧之外又多了几分对“敌台”神秘感的兴趣。

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.

后来长大了才知道,所谓的“敌台”就是指VOA、BBC、NHK等等别的国家的国际广播电台。由于这些国家在意识形态和社会制度上与中国有着根本的区别,他们的广播又带有本国的政治色彩,所以被中国称之为“敌台”。这是当年冷战思维的一种延续。随着改革开放和社会的不断进步,“敌台”已经揭去了他们神秘的面纱,中国大部分听过收音机的人或多或少的也都听过这些电台。当然,听过后才发现,其实他们并没有传说中的那么可怕。而只是一个普通的广播电台而已。从收听国际广播中我学到了不少书本上学不到的知识,也了解了不少别国的风土人情,最重要的是:我学会了换一个角度去看问题,独立的去思考,而不是被媒体牵着鼻子走,从不同的信息渠道获取信息,最后通过思考得出自己的结论。所以,我觉得短波国际广播对一个人还是很有帮助和益处的。

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.

但是,由于种种原因。中国目前还没有解除对“敌台”的干扰。不过值得一提的是干扰的方式越来越“人性化”。从当年只是单纯的放大功率的杂音,而改变为中央人民广播电台的同频干扰,后来又进化到现在的“民乐”干扰。可见,随着我国现代化事业的逐步推进,我国干扰国际广播的技术也在一步步提高。据说,现在所用的“民乐”干扰系统,是从法国高价购进的军用电台干扰设备,从这一点也可以看出,中国有关部门在干扰“敌台”这一问题上肯下血本、不屈不挠的精神和干劲。

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

可能不熟悉短波国际广播的朋友还不明白干扰是如何实现的,下面我就简单的介绍一下。

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.)

所有国家的短波电台都是从本国发射信号到所需要覆盖的地区,当然如果距离较远,比如从美国传输信号到中国肯定由于距离远而会衰减,所以这些距离较远的国家会在广播目的国周围设立一些中转站。也就是说,通过他们加大信号的强度,以便使广播目的国的听众能够清晰的收到信号。当然,每个广播电台都有自己的频率,短波频率由于天气的原因一般夏天和冬天不同,所以并不是永远固定的。那么中国是如何进行干扰的呢?其实很简单,只要在需要被干扰的电台的相同频率放杂音或现在所用的“民乐”就可以了。因为国内干扰广播的发射站肯定都在国内,而国际短波广播电台的发射站一般都设在国外,所以,由于国内的干扰信号强,将“国外的声音”挡在国门外也就不是一件很难的事情了。(除了干扰国外的“敌台”,目前连我们祖国不可分割的一部分——“宝岛台湾”的电台都难逃此厄运。)

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).

按照国际广播委员会的协议,每个签署的国家都不得干扰或者破坏别国的广播。中国当时也签署了这个协议,但是并没有停止对国外短波广播的干扰。因此,每年都会遭到一些国家的抗议,但似乎这些抗议无济于事。这些年中国反而花大价钱购进法国先进设备更新干扰系统,这不得不让人费解。不过,由于是从法国购进的干扰设备,自然就跟法国签署了只对法国国际广播电台不进行干扰的协议。所以,现在我们在国内能够清晰的收听到完全没有干扰的法国国际广播电台。

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.

需要说明的是,中国并不是在干扰所有的短波广播。比如一些政治色彩不浓厚的电台是不进行干扰的。比如澳大利亚的CVC中文广播电台等。

[…]

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Footnotes

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.

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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.

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Update/Related

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

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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!

    Like

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