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[HCDX] Korea - Making Radio Waves

By Andrei Lankov

If you, our reader, fiddle about with the tuning of your radio set, sooner
or later a militant march-like music will fill your room. This indicates
that you have come across a North Korean radio broadcast _ they can be
easily received in the Seoul area.
The history of North Korean broadcasting began in October 1945, with what
was from 1946 called Radio Pyongyang. In 1948 it was renamed the Korean
Central Broadcasting Station or KCBS. Up to this day the station remains a
mainstay of the North Korean domestic broadcasting media.

North Korean broadcasting produces a rather bizarre impression on a
foreigner (or, for that matter, on a South Korean). In the North Korean
broadcast music alternates with short information blocks. Every hour begins
with the news, largely identical to that published by Rodong sinmun. Then
there are several minutes of marches or songs about Kim Il-sung, Kim
Jong-il, or other lofty political subjects. Those songs are followed by a
short 5-10 minute talk _ either a commentary on the internal situation, or
on South Korea, or on the philosophy of juche. Often, articles from Rodong
sinmun are also broadcast on radio. The intonation of the announcers is
always peculiarly exaggerated, not to say hysterical.

The South Korean scholars often make a painstaking analysis of the content
of North Korean programming. According to a recent estimate, in 2000 the
KCBS programming spent 34.2 percent of its time praising Kim Jong Il or Kim
Il-sung, 28.8 percent encouraging the workers to toil even harder, 17.4
percent explaining and promoting the juche ideology, and 12.0 percent
telling stories about the suffering of the South Korean ``masses¡¯¡¯ and
schemes of the ``Seoul puppets.¡¯¡¯

Most programs are as boring as articles from Rodong sinmun, even for the
North Koreans who are deprived of better food for thought. However, there
are some programs that target specific audiences, like ``Soldiers¡¯ Hour¡¯¡¯
or ``Young Pioneers¡¯ Hour,¡¯¡¯ and they enjoy some popularity within their
target audience.
KCBS also broadcasts programs in foreign languages _ Russian, Chinese,
Japanese, Arabic, and Spanish. Their content is, once again, poorly
presented propaganda. Alas, the North Koreans have been very inept in their
PR activity in the West. The problem is not the message: after all we have
seen how very unpleasant regimes managed to win the heart-felt support of
the Western public (or at least its Right or Left-inclined sectors). The
problem is the production, and the concomitant blatant inability to
understand the mindset of foreign audiences.

KCBS broadcasts some 22 hours a day from its headquarters in the Moranbong
district of Pyongyang. The owners of the standard North Korean radio sets
can listen to KCBS alone, since their contraptions lack tuning and are fixed
on the wavelength of this official broadcast. This means that until the
recent influx of small transistor radios, smuggled in from China, the North
Koreans were stuck with KCBS.

However, KCBS is not the only battleship in North Korea¡¯s broadcast system
fleet. There are a number of others, but these target largely or exclusively
the South.
First of all, I should mention Radio Pyongyang. It was established in 1967
as the ``Second KCBS¡¯¡¯ and acquired its present name in 1972. It
broadcasts programs that are somehow adjusted to the tastes of the South
Korean audience, as well as to overseas Koreans. It also has an FM branch
whose transmitters target the northern part of South Korea. The ``FM Radio
Pyongyang¡¯¡¯ broadcasts musical programs, with an emphasis on classical
music. It mixes that with radio dramas and book readings that eulogize the
North and criticize the South. It cannot normally be heard in the North, and
its intended audience are younger South Koreans.

Radio Pyongyang does not make a secret of whom it represents. However, the
North is engaged in ``black propaganda¡¯¡¯ as well. The North-based ``Voice
of National Salvation¡¯¡¯ declares itself to be a clandestine station
secretly broadcasting from South Korean territory, and managed by the local
leftist underground. I do not know whether anybody is silly enough to
believe this improbable statement, but it is how the ``Voice of National
Salvation¡¯¡¯ describes itself. It actually broadcast from Haeju and employs
a number of South Korean announcers and editors who have defected to the
North, or who were kidnapped by the North Koreans (the difference in some
instances between abduction and defection is hardly clear-cut).

It is unlikely that the efforts of the ``Voice¡¯¡¯ are especially
successful. However, it is difficult to deny that the Southern perception of
the North has changed greatly over the last decade. But that is another


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