Wednesday 29 August 2007

Undercover, over airwaves - Dipping into Clandestine Radio

Undercover, over airwaves -Dipping into Clandestine Radio
By Chrissy Brand

First published in Radio User, PWP Ltd February 2006

Flag- Voice of Biafra International

Ever since the first radio stations took to the air providing entertainment or political agendas, there have also been those with opposing views or aims struggling to be heard. In democracies, the removal of unpopular politicians can usually be achieved through the ballot box, but on almost every continent there have been cases where opposition parties, counter-revolutionaries, intelligence agencies and others have turned to clandestine radio stations to get their views across.

From propaganda or voices of freedom over wireless waves to the Internet, clandestine broadcasters have used whatever means possible to get the message to their target audience. The first clandestine radio station was used by Russian communists to encourage German workers to support the Russian revolution. Radio was in its infancy then but the Russian Revolution’s leader Lenin was aware of its power. He reportedly stated radio was a ‘newspaper without paper and without frontiers’.

BBC Monitoring defines clandestine sources as ‘those which do not specify their location, which specify an imprecise location (e.g. ‘liberated territory) or which falsely claim to emanate from a particular location.’

Historical stations

Wartime is a prime time for governments and intelligence agencies to consider running clandestine radio stations. Britain’s earliest radio PYSOPS, or Psychological Operations, was probably in World War II. Sefton Delmer was the man behind stations such as 'Soldatensender Calais' and 'Der Chef'. These broadcast to the German troops in Europe, purporting to be German backed stations. They subtly and successfully spread disinformation and lowered morale amongst the target audience.

In the 1982 Falklands Islands conflict a station called Radio Atlantico del Sur (South Atlantic) was set up on Ascension Island by Britain. It broadcast news, music and sport to Argentine troops with the slogan ‘Bringing Truth to the Front’.

Central and South America is a more politically and economically stable region today than it was from the 1950s to 1980s. In those decades it was a hotbed of clandestine radio stations espousing many varied political causes. The CIA-backed Radio Swan (1960s) and today’s Radio Marti aimed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Other clandestines to come and go amidst the 1980s political upheaval and revolutionary turmoil in Latin America included: 1980s Radio Free Suriname, Nicaraguan stations La Voz de Sandino and Radio Monimbo, Radio Venceremos in El Salvador.

Whilst most operators behind such stations remain anonymous or unknown beyond their national arena, some have gone on to become major political figures. One example is Che Guevara who moved to Guatemala in 1954, then a sanctuary for Latin American political liberals. He witnessed how a CIA clandestine radio station, ‘La Voz de la Liberacion’, almost single-handedly overthrew Guatemala's elected leftwing government. Guevara came away with both a strong distrust of the United States and an appreciation of the radio's role in warfare.

Another example was in South Africa under the apartheid regime, where stations were operated by opposition movements including the ANC. In the early 1960s ANC activist Walter Sisulu broadcast weekly from a clandestine radio transmitter on a farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Not long afterwards in 1964 he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 28 years along with Nelson Mandela.

The 1980s and 1990s conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea caused the Horn of Africa region to become the focus of a bewildering range of clandestine radio activity. Before and after Eritrea’s 1993 independence from Ethiopia, dominant clandestine voices in Eritrea were the ‘Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea’ and ‘Voice of Democratic Eritrea’, whereas Ethiopia was inundated with the views of ‘Radio Rainbow’, ‘Radio Freedom’, ‘Voice of Oromo Liberation’, ‘Voice of Ethiopian Unity’, ‘Voice of the Democratic Path of Ethiopian Unity’, ‘Tigrean International Solidarity for Justice and Democracy’ and ‘Radio Fana’. Some of these stations are still on air today.

Across Africa, in the late 1990s and early 2000s Nigeria had three active clandestines, in the form of ‘Radio Kudirat International’, ‘Radio Nadeco’ and the ‘Voice of Biafra International’. The latter is currently still on air in English, heard recently on 7380 kHz at 2100 UTC.

Going back in time, a spate of clandestine stations sprang up in China in the wake of the 1966 Cultural Revolution. Although from different factions they shared an anti-Mao Zedong message. In 1967 several clandestine stations were thought to be based within China. Two went by the names of ‘Jiefangjun zhi Sheng’ (The Voice of the Liberation Army) and ‘Huohua‘ (Spark).

Some of them continued to broadcast even after the revolution ended 10 years later but had vanished by 1991. The identity of many of those behind the broadcasts still remains a mystery. There were a couple of notable exceptions however, with two stations identified as coming from, and being backed by, the Soviet Union.

In 1988 a Japanese DXer recognised the voice of an announcer at ‘Red Flag Broadcasting’ as the same announcer heard on the Chinese service of the U.S.S.R’s ‘Peace and Progress’ station. Independent research confirmed that ‘Radio 8.1’ originated from the Vladivostok region and that Red Flag Broadcasting Station was located near Khabarovsk.

In the wake of the 1989 Tianaman Square massacre a new station called the "Voice of Democracy Broadcasting Station" was heard daily on 8057 kHz but disappeared in 1991.

Current clandestines
There are many parts of the world in political turmoil and where oppressed voices are striving to be heard. How they are defined can depend on the individual’s viewpoint; Opposition groups, freedom fighters, guerrillas, terrorists, counter-revolutionaries…the definitions are controversial and a separate debate. However, current clandestines are predominantly heard today in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

If the definition of a clandestine station is that their operating base and transmitter sites are shrouded in secrecy then ‘SW Africa’ doesn’t quite fit the bill. Maybe it is a model of a 21st century, pro-democracy, opposition-in-exile clandestine station.

Since 2001 it has been broadcasting to Zimbabwe, as an independent voice of that country. It has been playing cat and mouse and being jammed by the authorities on shortwave and medium wave. It broadcasts news, current affairs, HIV education, phone-ins, music and helps put estranged Zimbabweans back in touch with each other. SW Africa can currently be heard in Southern Africa on 1197 KHz medium wave, and further afield on 6145 kHz. Also at:

Other stations offering a alternative agenda from that of the Zimbabwean Government have included ‘Radio Truth’ in the mid 1980s, and’ Voice of the People’ (heard on 7120 and 7215 kHz at the turn of the century).

The Democratic Voice of Burma broadcast two hours daily radio broadcast to Burma on short wave, promoting press freedom, democracy and human rights. A variety of languages is used to spread their words as far as possible: Burmese, English, Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Kayan, Mon and Shan. Times and frequencies are 1430 to 1530 on 17495 and 5905 kHz, and 2330 to 0030 UTC on 9435 kHz.

China and Falun Dafa Falun Gong (which translates as the ‘Great Law of the Dharma Wheel’) is a movement with Buddhist and Daoist origins that is banned in China. In the summer of 2000 they began Chinese-language radio broadcasts as a clandestine station called ‘World Falun Dafa Radio’. Their aims are to let ordinary Chinese know of the movement’s objectives and their persecution at the hands of the Chinese Government. With an estimated 50 million Chinese regularly tuning into shortwave radio stations, there is (almost literally) a captive audience. The opening broadcast translated as "Dear listeners and friends, greetings! World Falun Dafa Radio will officially begin broadcasting from today. The broadcast time is every evening 2200 to 2300 Beijing time [1400 to 1500 GMT] on the shortwave frequency of 9.915 MHz’. Falun Dafa operate clandestine television broadcasts as well as radio. The Chinese Embassy in the U.S.A claimed that in June 2002 signals from Falun Dafa cut into television signals on the Sino Satellite, blocking World Cup matches and 5th anniversary celebrations of Hong Kong’s return to China. BBC Monitoring reported that in November 2004 and March 2005, six transponders on the AsiaSat 3S satellite were also interrupted with programming carrying Falun Dafa content. Falun Dafa claim that they had nothing to do with the latter interruptions. They also state that China has killed more than 1,100 of their followers and sent 100,000 to labour camps.


There are a plethora of clandestine radio stations operating to and out of Iraq at present. It is a confusing process trying to work out the politics and differences of each one. However whilst trying you can hear examples of many of them at Dave Kernick’s Interval Signals website:

Current and recent Iraqi clandestines include: ‘Radio Freedom the Voice of the Communist Party’, ‘Radio Kurdistan’ (both, unsurprisingly, in Kurdish), ‘Radio Mesopotamia’ in several languages including English, ‘Voice of Independence’, ’Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan’, ‘Voice of the Iraqi People’, ‘Voice of Iraqi Turkmen Radio’, ‘Voice of Kurdistan Toilers’, ‘Voice of the Mujahedin’ and ‘Voice of Rebellious Iraq’.

An example of how the U.S employed Psyops in the long running Iraqi crisis is the clandestine station ‘Radio Tikrit’. It came on air (on 1584 KHz) in early 2003, sounding as if it was a pro-regime Iraqi station broadcasting from Saddam Hussein’s home town. With it’s haranging of the USA and programmes such as ‘Open Dialogue’ they generally sang the praises of and supported the regime.

It soon transpired that this was not the case. Gradually Radio Tikirit slipped in news items on Iraqis so poverty-stricken they were selling doors and windows from their homes to buy food. This slowly built up into telling the Republican guard to desert and encouraging locals to turn against the Saddam regime.

It is widely accepted that Radio Tikrit was an American station, with programmes made by the 4th Psychological Operations Group broadcast from a CIA-controlled transmitter in Kuwait. Radio Netherlands commented that ‘The US is the only country which has a special unit of the Air Force permanently assigned to this task [Psyops]’.

West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) in Dakar, Senegal is a newcomer to the ever-changing clandestine scene. WADR is a pro-democracy and human rights radio station broadcasting on shortwave and 94.9 MHz FM since 14th November 2005. At the time of writing, BBC Monitoring and DXers report their schedule to be 0700 to 0800 UTC in English on 12000 kHz, followed by an hour of French on the same frequency. Programme content includes West African news and current affairs, youth programmes and music. They can also be heard online at:

Radio Rhino International Africa is run by the Uganda People's Congress. Based in Germany it aims to be ‘Your voice for freedom, liberty, democracy and an equally developed Africa’. It can be heard in English on 17870 KHz at 1500 to 1530 on Wednesdays and Fridays, transmitting from Juelich in Germany. Audio is also online at:

Many of these stations do offer QSL letters or cards, or e-mails, and are grateful for outside support and contact, so for the radio hobbyist there is an added bonus to monitoring them. As areas of conflict change the some stations fade away and new ones spring up. At the time of writing the Ethiopian/Eritrian border looks a likely hotspot. For instance Voice of Oromo Liberation in the Oromo language from 1700-1800 on 9820 kHz, Voice of the Democratic Path to Ethiopian Unity in Amharic from1900 to 2000 UTC on 9620 kHz and the Voice of Democratic Alliance, Eritrea on 7165.13 kHz at 1500 UTC.

Times and frequencies are liable to change without notice, such is the nature of undercover broadcasting. They are unlikely to adhere to the domestic and international regulations governing mainstream broadcasters. To listen in yourself you can spin the dial in hope or use a more methodical system, such as the excellent online schedule compiled by Eike Bierwirth at:

There are of course, many more stations currently broadcasting that have not been touched upon here. Radio Free Southern Cameroons (12130 kHz, 1800 in English) Minivan Radio in the Maldives, Que Huong Radio in Vietnam, The Polisario Front's National Radio of the Arab-Saharan Democratic Republic in Western Sahara, Sea Breeze, or Shiokaze, in North Korea, Radio Nile, and the Voice of Jammu-Kashmir Freedom in Kashmir. Keeping an eye on websites such as Clandestine Radio Watch keep you up to date with the latest information:

So what of the future for clandestine radio? Clandestine radio has been around almost for as long as radio itself. And there will always be communities with a grievance who use clandestine radio as a means of getting their voices heard, educating people or attempting to overthrow undemocratic regimes. With the accessibility of the Internet increasing, clandestine stations can also use the web as an additional means of promulgating their opinion.

However, the majority of the intended audiences are in parts of the world where often water and electricity are in short supply, let alone computers. The simple means of radio transmissions will remain the best way to get messages to the masses.

There is a world of difference in listener feedback as well. In the western world a measure of a successful radio station is from listeners’ e-mails, text messages or letters. In areas of the world where a clandestine station is operating, success can be measured by a far more fundamental yardstick; an uprising or overthrowing of a government.

For the experienced DXer clandestine radio is a fascinating and lesser-explored aspect of the hobby; for the clandestine broadcaster and intended recipients it can be a matter of life or death.

Resources and further reading
DX Zone:
Radio Netherlands:
Chinese clandestine stations:
Clandestine Radio:
Clandestine Radio Watch (Martin Schoech):
Current Clandestine schedules (Eike Bierwirth):
Clandestine Radio Broadcasting: A Study of Revolutionary and Counterrevolutionary Electronic Communication by LC Soley and JC Nichols, Praeger Publishers, 1986
Don Moore:
DX Listening Digest:
Monitoring Times 4/1989, Revolution! Radio's Role in the Overthrow of Guatemala,
Psywar Org:
World DX Club Contact magazineWorld Falun Dafa Radio:

August 2007 Radio Websites

Published in full in Radio User, PWP Ltd, August 2007

If you want to get away from it all this summer, and are interested in radio, you could do worse than stay in the old Decca building in Lerwick, on the Shetland Isles. It was previously accommodation for Shetland’s Radio Navigational Signal Station and its operators. Now tastefully converted to three two bedroom flats:

Whilst there you will hear the following on the radio dial. Of course you can always listen online instead! BBC Shetland is at: You have to be on the ball to listen live though, as this is just a thirty minute show each Friday at 1730 BST. Good Evening Shetland contains local news and weather, diary, jobspot, the fish report and 'Clear da Air'.

The BBC opened Bressay transmitting station in Shetland was back in 1964, and there is a fascinating illustrated account at part of the MDS975 website:

Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company. On air 24 hours a day on 96.2 MHz, unfortunately its format is nothing inspiring, consisting of the usual bland pop formats so beloved of 99% of local radio stations throughout the western world. The most intriguing part of the programming is the news covering ‘local, maritime, fishing and oil.’:

RTE (Radio Telifis Eireann) is experimenting with DAB Digital radio. Six new stations will be trialled until November, and can be heard if you live in the Greater Dublin and north-east coastal area. The stations are RTÉ Junior (pop radio for children from two to teens as well as for young parents); RTÉ Gold (classic hits); RTÉ Digital Radio News, (a rolling news bulletin station); RTÉ 2XM ( for students and young adults, specialising in playing new music first); RTÉ Digital Radio Sport; and RTÉ Choice (comedy, documentaries, vintage shows, music, international programming). See:

You can also listen to the new DAB station identifications at:

A website opened up in May at the commencement of an Irish body covering Digital Radio in the country:
Finally there is a discussion group on the subject based at:

Fifty summers of Test Match Special

General Overseas Service of All India Radio: and

Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA):
‘Caribbean Radio on the Net’ site at:

A selection of stations from Anguilla to the Virgin Islands are included. Here are some of my recommendations: Radio Ginen in Haiti, Radio Guyana: includes music 24/7 and cricket. The Caribbean Broadcasting Company is at: and offers stations The One 98.1, Radio 900 and Quality 100.7. All of these can be heard online.

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