Foreign radio broadcast listenership growing among North Koreans

A growing number of residents in North Korea are covertly tuning into radio broadcasts from other countries to learn about the state of their own country, seeking alternative information to their government propaganda sources, Daily NK has learned. 
News disseminated by North Koreans returning from China for business or family reasons is also said to be contributing to this trend, spurning interest in rumors that are circulated about ongoing affairs. Moreover, workers dispatched abroad are increasingly able to access outside information and share it with family back home, driving up domestic demand for news generated in the outside world.
When asked how common citizens gain access to outside news, a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK, “I usually listen to South Korean radio broadcasts. I would say that’s the case for about 50 to 70 percent of residents in the downtown area.” 
The source added that “economic sanctions from nuclear and missile tests,” as well as “someone defecting to South Korea from an embassy in a foreign country (ie. Britain),” were some of the stories he had recently heard.
North Korean citizens listening to such broadcasts have learned that the conduct of a singular nuclear test requires funds that could instead purchase tens of thousands of tons of corn. Between trusted relatives, some are airing their concerns regarding the poor state of affairs in the North, despite the leadership touting the success of its weapons program. However, people remain extremely cautious and do not openly discussing radio broadcasts, noted the source. 
Most North Korean residents secure their radios from China or dismantle state-distributed radios and alter the fixed frequency settings, enabling them to tune in to incoming broadcasts from other countries. “People usually rely on state radios that they’ve managed to jailbreak from the set frequencies,” the source said. “But I use a radio that’s the size of my palm, which I bought from China. If we could get more radios like this, people here would love it,” he said, explaining that the broad range of devices equipped with radio tuners fuels the demand. Even most notetel (portable media players produced in China) models can pick up television and radio signals.
Listening to overseas broadcasts is not only limited to members of the public, with cadres from the State Security Department and the Ministry of People’s Security regularly tuning in. “They have been listening in on them for a long time now, even though they know they’d be punished by the regime if they were ever caught,” the source said. 
However, a major challenge that remains for clear radio reception is securing a strong frequency. More often than not, the audio signal comes in with excessive interference, underlining the need for broadcasters to find ways to send in clearer signals. “I usually tune in from around 9 pm to midnight, but sometimes there’s so much static that I can’t really hear,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province, adding that some nights are spent solely focused on finding a good frequency. 
The North Korean regime continues to use radio-jamming equipment to prevent its population from listening to outside broadcasts. Larger broadcasters that use medium wave frequencies such as the South’s KBS “One People Radio,” together with the USA’s Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) are able to send in stronger signals with better quality audio. However, smaller broadcasters must resort to shortwave frequencies and are more vulnerable to jamming techniques employed by Pyongyang. 
In terms of content, both sources commented that despite being residents of North Korea, they are cut off from credible information about what actually goes on inside their country. Radio broadcasts, they noted, are the best means at their disposal to hear more balanced news.