Wherever You Go: Broadcasting is a State Secret in North Korea

To express your feelings in a diary was dangerous during the cultural revolution, writes a blogger in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province. But if you didn’t write too close to the truth, you could still try the excuse that you were just keeping learning notes.

Hovever, to have a shortwave radio back then was like having a villa today: you became the talk of the town. You would listen to Central People’s Broadcasting Station at daytime, with no modest volume, and to “enemy stations” at night, with your earphones on.

All those stations came with characteristics of their own, writes the blogger, and one of them wasn’t actually an enemy station: the Voice of Korea, from Pyongyang. He happened on it, and found out about their characteristics, too:

The announcers’ tone was fervent and enthusiastic, sublime and heroic, pretty much like our radio announcers.

Chinese was in fact the Voice of Korea’s first language, according to Wikipedia Chinese. The programs started in March 1947. Japanese and English broadcasts followed in July 1950. Korean-language broadcasts followed only in 1955, and in 1986, three years after the latest foreign service (in German) had started, VoK launched a service for Koreans overseas.

The Wikipedia article states twelve VoK transmitters. It may have lost its count by now, though, depending on who in North Korea operates one (or several) of the more recent transmitters bought by North Korea, from a Chinese manufacturer, BBEF Science & Technology Co., Ltd.. The company’s technicians had to train the Korean customer’s technicians in China, as its intended location of use in North Korea was a state secret, North Korea Tech quotes from BBEF’s English webpages.

Dude, where’s our state secret?
(Wikimedia, click picture for source)

They don’t seem to mention the secretive aspect in English, but their Chinese pages do. The training courses for eight technicians from North Korea ran from June 1 to 27, 2011, and their task was (or is being) complicated at the undisclosed location itself, which is said to be “in a tunnel”.*)

With revolutionary enthusiasm, everything should be possible, of course, but the antennas are still more likely to be on the surface. And there lies a likely problem with the state secret, writes North Korea Tech, apparently somewhat maliciously:

While the location of the transmitters might be a secret inside North Korea, that’s not quite the same outside of the country. Thanks to the satellite images on Google Maps and other mapping services, the location of most transmitters has already been found.

How many of VoK’s twelve-odd (?) transmitters were bought from China in general, or from BBEF in particular, doesn’t seem to be known. But given the close ties between the two countries, one may guess that most of them are made in China. At least one, however, came from Switzerland, according to Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (Radio Eins).

According to BBEF’s own company introduction, they are pioneers in China’s television industry, having established the country’s television development’s three milestones – the first black-and-white transmitter in 1958, China’s first intermediate-frequency color tv transmitter in 1975, and its first high-definition television transmitter in 1998. That, plus the country’s first 1,000-kilowatt high-power mediumwave transmitter, its first high-power shortwave transmitter, its first FM transmitter, and its first high-power multi-pattern rotating antenna (probably for shortwave). Also according to their introduction, their products have gone to 16 countries or areas, one of them as far as to an observatory in Antarctica.

One of the VoK frequencies has been a DRM signal for some time. The digital technology seems to hail from the Communication University of China’s Radio and Television Engineering Research Center (ECDAV), and this video recording posted by a Japanese listener seems to suggest that there is still room for technical perfection.

That said, the tone adopted by the announcers is as sublime and heroic as ever.



*) There’s probably only one transmitter to be insalled underground, but I can’t tell for sure, from the BBEF release. The release on the training completion ceremony in full:

On June 24, 2011, the “North Korean Shortwave Project Technical Training completion ceremony” was held in our company’s meeting room no. 5. In attendance were company chairman of the board Zhao Baoshan, party secretary Zu Wei, vice director Ye Jin, those members of the foreign projects department and the broadcasting department who took part in this training project, and the North Korean technicians who attended the training courses. Foreign-projects department head Wang Jianwei presided over the ceremony.


Company chairman Zhao Baoshan was the first to express congratulations to the successful conclusion of this time’s shortwave project training, and recognition to the North Korean technicians’ performance during the past month of training. On the technical level, vice director Ye Jin gave a brief summary of the efforts made by the Chinese and North Korean sides in the training, and praised the success the North Korean technicians had achieved in the course of the training. The North Korean side’s person in charge of technology, and delegation leader, Li Zhengshi, expressed recognition and thanks to BBEF’s training work, and expressed the hope that there would be more fields of cooperation with BBEF. Lastly, company party secretary Zu Wei and vice director Ye Jin presented the North Korean technicians with their completion certificates.

公司董事长赵宝山首先代表公司对本次短波项目的培训圆满结束表示祝贺,并对朝鲜技术人员在近一个月培训中的表现 给予肯定。公司副总裁叶进在技术层面上对这段时间中朝双方培训所做的努力和配合进行简短的总结,对朝鲜技术人员在培训过程中取得技术上的成就给予赞扬。朝 方技术负责人、本次技术培训团的团长李正式对北广科技的培训工作表示肯定和感谢,并提出希望将来在更多的领域与北广科技进行合作。最后,由公司党委书记祖 巍和副总裁叶进向朝方技术人员颁发结业证书。

From June 1 to 27, 2011, eight technicians from North Korean KPTTC carried out nearly one month of training at BBEF. The training’s main contents concerned the signed shortwave transmitter project’s technology, and technical exchanges concerning the previous medium-wave project. For political reasons in North Korea, the location where the shortwave transmitter(s) is (are) to be installed is a state secret. The 100-kilowatt-transmitter’s complete installation and adjustment need to be solved by the North Korean technicians themselves. Our company’s technicians cannot go to North Korea for inspections. In addition, the installation will be carried out in a tunnel (in tunnels), and many technical difficulties will need to be overcome. This time’s training was therefore of particular significance, and constituted a major task. The broadcasting department’s technicians in charge therefore carried out exchanges with the North Korean side with great patience, in accordance with the North Korean technicians requirements and questions, once in a while in meeting rooms, once in a while at the production line. With the technical information constantly being changed and improved, the feelings of the Chinese and North Korean technicians also continuously deepened. At the completion ceremony, North Korean delegation leader Lee also presented our company with a Kim Il-sung quotation collection and wrote a dedication, saying: we wish BBEF evermore brilliant development in technological and market development.

2011年6月1日至27日,来自朝鲜KPTTC的8名技术人员在北广科技进行了为期近一个月的培训。培训的主要内容是本期签订的短波发射机项目的相关技 术内容,并对上一期中波项目的技术问题进行技术交流。因为朝鲜方面政治原因,本次短波发射机的安装台站地点是国家机密,100kW短波发射机的整机安装和 调试都得由朝鲜方面技术人员自己解决,我公司的技术人员无法亲自去朝鲜勘察。同时发射机的安装又是在坑道里进行,要克服的技术难题非常多。因此,本次培训 的意义非凡,任务重大。广播部的相关技术人员按照朝鲜技术人员的要求和问题,有时在会议室,有时在生产线,不厌其烦地与朝方进行交流。技术资料在不断的更 改、完善,中朝技术人员的情感也在不断的加深。在结业典礼上,朝鲜技术代表团的李团长送上了金日成的语录并为公司题词:祝愿北广科技在技术上和市场上有更 辉煌的发展。

This time’s North Korean Shortwave Project Technical Training has been a complete success, and within this month, friendship and trust between the Chinese and North Korean technicians have deepened. We believe that cooperation between our company and North Korea can rise to a new level.




» More Mirrors to the Barbershop, VoK, March 4, 2012
» VoK opens Website, April 18, 2011


5 Responses to “Wherever You Go: Broadcasting is a State Secret in North Korea”

  1. English Wikipedia states that North Korea has (or had) a radio station actually called “Propaganda Radio” that poses as a South Korean station but which actually broadcasts from north of the DMZ, but the supporting link comes up dead and I couldn’t find any other sources on this. Do you know anything about this?


  2. I don’t know much about either numbers stations or clandestine radio, Foarp. The most likely source of information I can think of would be North Korea Tech – maybe Mr. Williams can tell.



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