AM frequency pivotal to accelerate change in NK

◆Why the need for AM frequency broadcast? 

According to North Korean listeners that
tune in to radio broadcasts from the South, sound quality is the main reason
for the fluctuating amount of listeners. It was also reported that, because
radio channels are locked on state-controlled stations, it can take roughly an
hour just to tune into the broadcasts, as citizens try to avoid crackdowns.

Therefore, listeners tend to tune in to
broadcasts based on audibility of the station rather than on personal content
preference. When they end up finding an interesting program, most will search
for it again later, however the majority will base further listening off of the
station’s sound quality.

In South Korea, the current frequencies in
use can be mainly be broken down into FM, AM, and shortwave radio. FM
frequencies are the clearest but cannot reach far into North Korea. Shortwave frequencies
can travel long distances, but the sound quality is unstable and doesn’t make
for a good listening experience. On the other hand, AM frequencies, found in
the 100kWh range, are able to penetrate the current jamming technology employed
by Pyongyang and extend to more areas of North Korea, making it much easier for
listeners to tune in.

Choi Kyu Won (pseudonym, age 54), a former
military cadre, gave his impressions of the radio broadcasts via his
experiences listening in the North. “AM frequency programs via Radio Free Asia and
Korean Broadcasting System’s (KBS) ‘One
People Radio’ (Han Minjok Bangsong) were the most audible. Other than that, you could sometimes stumble
onto one of the broadcasts from unofficial groups but if you try to find it
again later the sound quality was either really poor or it was too difficult to
correctly land on the correct frequency.”

Added Mr. Choi, “North Korean authorities
purposefully assign the state-run media broadcasts very close to the same
frequencies that of many of the outside broadcasts. This commonly causes a
blending of the two stations which jumbles the transmission, making it very
difficult to understand. Without AM frequencies, there’s no way to effectively
reach anything past the provinces of North and South Hwanghae.”

According to Song Kyeong Jin (pseudonym,
age 42), a North Korean defector, “I was surprised to find that broadcasts from
outside South Korea, such as the U.S.’s Radio Free Asia and Voice of America,
were the easiest to hear. It was only after arriving in South Korea that I
realized that the local broadcasts are much more in-tune with the minds of the
North Korean people. It really is a shame that these broadcasts can’t be heard more
readily within the North.

◆Upgrading sound quality of broadcasts targeting North Korea imperative to driving change 

Both KBS’ “One People Radio” and Ministry of
Defense’s ‘Voice of Freedom’ domestic radio broadcasts have been allotted AM
frequencies and are transmitting into the North. Meanwhile, NGO-based
 broadcasting organizations such as Unification Media Group (UMG) and North
Korea Reform Radio have been sending short wave radio broadcasts into the North
for over 10 years via transmission stations in Central Asia.  Despite a
wealth of knowledge and expertise, due to a lack of AM frequency and high
production costs, these broadcasts are limited in their reach and audibility,
thus making it difficult to garner more listeners within the isolated nation.

Recently, ruling Saenuri Party
representative Ha Tae Kyung, alongside Kim Eul Dong, proposed the “North Korea
Private Broadcasting Production Aid Bill”, which aims to both allocate medium
wave frequencies and production funds to NGO-based broadcasting organizations
like Unification Media Group. However, at present, it remains unclear whether
the bill will make it through the National Assembly. Also, while it is true
that the civil society, including some political entities, have suggested the
allocation of AM frequencies to private broadcasting organizations, they have
consistently met opposition over the argument that it will worsen inter-Korean

Lee Kwang Baek, president of UMG [the radio
leg of which has been broadcasting into the North for over 10 years], pointed
out, “Recently, radio broadcasts using the FM band in South Korea have rapidly
increased, but there are still plenty of idle AM frequencies available. So, I’m
curious why the government, which places great importance on reunification, is
so reluctant to assign these leftover frequencies to private broadcasting

President Lee dismissed worries concerning
the potential degradation of inter-Korean relations, stating, “Our broadcasts
differ from the anti-North loudspeaker transmissions in that they can’t be
physically seen. They are not a hindrance to inter-Korean relations, but
instead a means to bring change to the North Korean people. Furthermore, North
Korea has also been transmitting into the South from various stations along the
border with its “Echo of Reunification” propaganda broadcast, which began on December
1, 2012. It’s hypocritical for the regime to denounce us on the issue.”

Mr. Kim Il Nam (pseudonym, 48), a defector
and former listener of North Korea-targeted broadcasts, emphasized, “North
Koreans who listen to even a low-quality radio broadcast once become hooked,
searching it out again and again like a drug. Given that over an estimated 70%
of North Korean citizens now have access to a radio, an increase in broadcast
quality will inevitably lead to wide-scale enlightenment.”

Mr. Kim added, “Power capable of
instigating internal change, in a North Korea that is suppressed by Kim Jong’s
iron fist, is currently lacking. These North Korea-targeted broadcasts need to
be the catalyst for revolution. After unification, if politicians want to honorably
claim they played a role in bringing the two Koreas together then support for
NGO-based broadcasting into North Korea should not be put off any longer.”

President Lee stressed that while only an
estimated 2-4% of North Koreans are thought to be listening to the NGO-based
broadcasts, it is imperative to remember that the statistic is from insignificant; it represents as many as
200-400 thousand North Korean citizens (of the adult population). By securing
an AM frequency to improve transmission quality and range, this number could comfortably jump to 1-2 million people–a robust contingent capable of of reshaping the country
and bringing about change.

“The content of the broadcasts must
diversify in order to bring systematic change to North Koreans on all levels of
society. This is why private broadcasting organizations are developing various
programs based on accurate understanding of the people. I’m confident that
broadcasting over AM will become the “signal flare” that leads to the
enlightenment of the North Korean people,” Lee asserted.

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