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International broadcasting

International broadcasting is broadcasting deliberately aimed at a foreign, rather than a domestic, audience. It usually is broadcast by means of longwave, mediumwave, or shortwave radio.

Although radio and television programs do travel outside national borders, in many cases reception by foreigners is accidental. However, for reasons of propaganda, transmitting religious beliefs, keeping in touch with colonies or expatriates, education, improving trade, or increasing national prestige, broadcasting services have operated external services since the 1920s.

Table of contents
1 Brief History
2 Means
3 Listeners
4 Restricting reception

Brief History

Among the first international broadcasters were Vatican Radio (February 12, 1931), Radio Moscow, the official service of the Soviet Union, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (1932).

In the 1930s, international broadcasting was a key means of promoting Nazi German foreign policy. German propaganda was organized under Joseph Goebbels, and played a key role in the German occupation of Austria and the Munich Crisis of 1938. During the Second World War, Russian, German, British, and Italian international broadcasting services expanded and the United States initiated its international broadcasting service, the Voice of America. In the Pacific theater, General Douglas MacArthur used shortwave radio to keep in touch with the citizens of the Japanese-occupied Philippine Islands.

The Cold War led to increased international broadcasting, as Communist and non-Communist states attempted to influence each other's domestic population.

At the end of the Cold War, many international broadcasters cut back on hours and foreign languages broadcast.


Shortwave programming was a low prioritity in the Weimar Republic. Once Hitler assumed power in 1933, shortwave, under the Rundfunk Ausland (Foreign Radio Section), was regarded as a vital element of Nazi propaganda. German shortwave hours were increased from two hours a day to 118 per day, and eventually twelve languages were broadcast on a 24 hour basis, including English. A 100 kilowatt transmitter and antenna complex was built at Zeesen, a suburb of Berlin. Specialty target programming to the United States began in 1933, to South Africa, South America, and East Asia in 1934, and South Asia and Central America in 1938.

Mediumwave transmitters on the periphery of the Third Reich provided specialty programs to listeners in neighboring countries. Nevertheless, the Germans always had a problem staffing their foreign services with announcers who were both technically competent and loyal to Nazi ideas. Several announcers who became well-known in their countries included British Union of Fascists member William Joyce, who was one of the two "Lord Haw-Haw"ss; Frenchmen Paul Ferdonnet and Andre Olbrecht, called "the traitors of [Radio] Stuttgart"; and Americans Frederick William Kaltenbach, "Lord Hee-Haw", and Mildred Gillars, one of the two announcers called "Axis Sally. Listeners to German programs often tuned in for curiosity's sake--at one time, German radio had half a million listeners in the U.S.--but they lost interest.

For details of German propaganda themes, see Propaganda.

Following the war and German partition, each Germany developed its own international broadcasting station: Deutsche Welle, using studios in Cologne, West Germany, and Radio Berlin International (RBI) in East Germany. RBI's broadcasts ceased shortly before the reunification of Germany on October 2, 1990, and Deutsche Welle took over its transmitters and frequencies.


Most radio receivers in the world receive the mediumwave band (535 kHz to 1700 kHz), which at night is capable of reliable reception from 150 to 2,500 km distance from a transmitter. In addition, many receivers used in Europe, Africa, and Asia can receive the longwave broadcast band (150 to 300 kHz), which provides reliable long-distance communications over continental distances. Yet other receivers are capable of receiving shortwave transmissions (2,000 to 30,000 kHz or 2 to 30 MHz). Depending on time of day, season of year, solar weather and Earth's geomagnetic field, a signal might reach around the world.

An international broadcaster has several options for reaching a foreign audience:

An international broadcaster such as the BBC, Radio France International or Germany's Deutsche Welle, may use all the above methods.


An international broadcaster may have the technical means of reaching a foreign audience, but unless the foreign audience has a reason to listen, the effectiveness of the broadcaster is in question.

One of the most common foreign audiences consists of expatriates, who cannot listen to radio or watch television programs from home. Another common audience is radio hobbyists, who attempt to listen as many countries as possible and obtain verification cards or letters (QSLs). A third audience consists of journalists, government officials, and key business persons, who exert a disproportionate influence on a state's foreign or economic policy.

A fourth, but less publicized audience, consists of intelligence officers and agents who monitor broadcasts for both open-source intelligence clues to the broadcasting state's policies and for hidden messages to foreign agents operating in the receiving country. The BBC started its monitoring service in Cavendish in 1936. In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency's Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service provides the same service. Copies of FBIS reports can be found in many U.S. libraries that serve as government depositories. In addition, a number of hobbyists listen and report “spook” transmissions.

Without these four audiences, international broadcasters face difficulty in getting funding. In 2001, for example, the BBC World Service stopped transmitting shortwave broadcasts to North America, and other international broadcasters, such as YLE Radio Finland, stopped certain foreign-language programs.

However, international broadcasting has been successful when a country does not provide programming wanted by a wide segment of the population. In the 1960s, when there was no BBC service playing rock and roll, Radio Television Luxembourg (RTL) broadcast rock and roll, including bands such as the Beatles, into the United Kingdom. Similar programming came from an unlicensed, or "pirate" station, Radio Caroline, which broadcast from a ship in the international waters of the North Sea.

Restricting reception

In many cases, governments do not want their citizens listening to international broadcasters. In Nazi Germany, a major propaganda campaign, backed by law and prison sentences, attempted to discourage Germans from listening to such stations. In addition, the German government sold a cheap "People's Receiver" that could not pick up distant signals well. In North Korea, many receivers are sold with fixed frequencies, tuned to local stations.

The most common method of preventing reception is jamming, or broadcasting a signal on the same frequencies as the international broadcaster. Germany jammed the BBC European service during the Second World War. Russian and Eastern European jammers were aimed against Radio Free Europe, other Western broadcasters, and against Chinese broadcasters during the nadir of Sino-Soviet relations. In 2002, the Cuban government jammed the Voice of America's Radio Marti program and the Chinese government jammed broadcasts made by adherents of Falun Gong.

Yet another method of preventing reception involves moving a domestic station to the frequency used by the international broadcaster. During the Batista government of Cuba, and during the Castro years, Cuban medium-wave stations broadcast on the frequencies of popular South Florida stations. In October 2002 Iraq changed frequencies of two stations to block the Voice of America's Radio Sawa program.

--Article started by GABaker