North Korean Audience for Open Radio for North Korea

[imText1]It’s been about two months since Open Radio for North Korea (ORNK) was launched. “Is there anyone who listens to the broadcasts in North Korea?” This is one of the questions I have frequently been asked since I started ORNK. Actually, this was also the most important question to me while preparing to establish ORNK, as there would be no use to broadcasting without an audience.

Because information from outside is strictly banned in North Korean society, official statistics on the size of the audience that listens to foreign radio broadcasts are not available. The only way to get this information is to estimate based on the number of North Korean refugees who claim to have heard foreign radio broadcastings. Fortunately, a survey conducted by three broadcast companies who broadcast in North Korea- Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and the Social Education Broadcasting of KBS- shows the ratio of listeners among North Korean refugees.

This survey verifies that there are people who listen to foreign radio broadcasts. However, I can’t entirely quote the results, since the survey was conducted by the broadcast companies themselves. It is theoretically reasonable to think that they might overestimate the numbers out of public relations considerations.

However, a more reliable survey was recently released. The Korean Press Foundation conducted a survey of 319 North Korean refugees who made it to South Korea within the last two years. 304 respondents provided valid responses. Among these 304 respondents, 13 people, 4.27%, have listened to foreign short wave radio broadcasts and 34 people, 11.2%, have listened to the foreign medium wave radio. This is quite a significant proportion.

Considering the possibility that North Korean refugees had listened to the radio more often than other North Korean citizens, let’s assume that one percent of the North Korean population listens to foreign programs. Out of a total population of 20 million, it means that there are 200,000 listeners. We can’t say this is a small number.

Then how do North Koreans get radios?

The radios recently sold in North Korea are made in China. Most Chinese radios have a function to receive a short wave, since countries with a huge territory usually use short wave. By contrast, a country like South Korea with a small territory does not need to use short wave. FM or AM is enough. As a result, short wave radios are hard to find in South Korea.

Big countries such as Russia, China, and the US use short wave to send signals over long distances. Therefore, it is easy to find short wave radios in those markets. Short wave radios in China are currently flooding into North Korea.

Can North Korean citizens listen to shortwave ORNK? The broadcast is only two months old. Is anybody listening to it?

Fortunately, I confirmed that there were listeners of ORNK. I was informed that people in three cities in Ham-kyoung province were listening to the broadcasts and the quality was good enough for them to understand its contents. I can’t reveal my source of this information for their safety, I believe readers will understand.

Listeners make broadcasters become more energetic. In this regard, it is very encouraging and exciting that ORNK already has an audience within two month of its founding.

I believe workers at ORNK will be greatly encouraged by this news and that it will invigorate their efforts to produce better programs.

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