Total Running Time: 8:16:28 | January 2017 | by Chris Kadlec
Latest Update: 31 January 2021
The Seoul AM Radio Listening Guide is a three-hour documentary broadcast narrated by Chris Kadlec that looks at the AM band as heard in Seoul, Korea after dark. In addition, it takes a look at propaganda and signal jamming as part of the radio wars between Seoul and Pyongyang. The broadcast is accompanied by a detailed 115-page guide and complete audio transcript (pg. 91-115), which is also previewed below.
〈서울 AM 라디오 수신 가이드〉는 세 시간짜리 다큐멘터리로 115 페이지에 달하는 안내서와 Chris Kadlec의 내레이션으로 구성되어 있으며 한밤중에 서울에서 수신되는 중파 대역에 대해 자세히 다루고 있습니다. 또한 선전(대남·대북) 방송과 방해 전파를 남북간의 라디오 전파 전쟁과 관련지어 수신 가이드의 일환으로 다루고 있습니다. 이 방송에 모든 내용들은 즐거움과 교육적인 목적만을 위한 것이라는점을 반드시 유념해두세요. 대한민국과 북한으로 부터 온 어떠한 선전물들은 어느 한쪽을 편애하며 퍼뜨리는 수단이 아닌 순수한 교육적인 것임을 알려드립니다.
Welcome to the Seoul AM Radio Listening Guide! I’m Chris Kadlec and today we’ll take a very detailed look at the Seoul medium-wave band and radio throughout East Asia one frequency at a time, including more than 160 skywave regulars. You’ll hear Cold War-era signal jammers and propaganda, music from Taylor Swift, Beck, and Foreigner to Michael Bolton, Black Sabbath and Bach, some Chinese opera, top-of-hour station IDs, and a general look at major regional radio networks and their content and programming. As a final bonus, we’ll run through 30 Korean AM jammers frequency by frequency, take an extensive look at Korean propaganda stations on both FM and shortwave, and listen to a late-night national intelligence numbers station broadcast to North Korea.
Listening Guide Downloads
Download the 3-hour audio documentary (.mp3, also embedded above)
Download only the documentary’s propaganda segment (.mp3, also featured below)
Download the 115-page station guide (.pdf, available for preview below)
Download the Google Earth tower guide and map (.kmz, paired with full FM log data)
Download the Seoul AM radio station map (.pdf, as featured above)
Download the Seoul AM radio station logos (.pdf, as featured below)
Listening Guide Videos
A year after the first consideration, Ryan Grabow finally collaborated with me to add three video bandscans to his YouTube series using the audio and translations I provided to him. He did a great job and has helped spread my project to numerous video-saavy listeners who wouldn’t have found it otherwise. Enjoy 51 minutes of audio paired with maps, additional station information, and subtitles to better understand and appreciate what is the AM band in this region.
The Band in Ten Minutes
Realizing that the full 3-hour documentary isn’t for everyone (perhaps try my 6-hour FM documentary instead?), there’s also a quick summary of the Seoul AM band in just 10 minutes. Download the station guide for this specific broadcast here.
The following file is embedded. Use controls at the bottom to navigate through the pages. Keep in mind that links do not work in this version. For full functionality, it is recommended that you instead download the guide.Seoul-AM-Radio-Listening-Guide
Signal Jammers and Propaganda
Take a listen to the jammers and the sounds they are comprised of by listening to the full broadcast above or the last 45 minutes of it, featured here:
I’d like to take a short time to introduce the different jammers used on the Korean peninsula and a bit of background on these as it tends to be misunderstood that only North Korea has an interest in jamming, which is very much not the case.
The reason for the jammers is more of a government propaganda war and as neither AM nor shortwave are especially popular among South Koreans, the majority of the general public has little idea as to what is going on right under their noses, nor do most people think of or care about any threat from North Korea. The fact is, Korea is the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, 4G and WiFi nearly everywhere, DMB (the mobile phone TV channels) repeated all throughout the nation. All this leaves little use for most people when it comes to AM radio.
The average Korean, keeping in mind that Seoul’s suburbs are no more than 10 miles from the border, really doesn’t think much of the perceived conflict. However, it’s very obvious to one upon tuning in on the radio, especially on AM and shortwave. The majority of the jammers on the air are run by the south as a way to block the high-powered signals from the north, though many of those signals in the north actually exist for domestic use and don’t target the south at all. The south believes that it’s protecting its citizens from content they’re better without, which it also does by extensively censoring the Internet, including all North Korean content and anything that goes against the expected social and moral norms the now-highly unpopular government wants to push on the people.
Now this isn’t to say the government is in the wrong on the jamming situation. The two sides are fighting a propaganda war against each other and jamming is perhaps in the best interest of both sides. After all, it makes for interesting listening, right? In fact, I’m not even saying that either the south or the north is correct in their views, merely documenting the situation from an impartial perspective. One day these stations – these jammers – will be gone. I’m just here hoping to capture them in the moment.
North Korean Propaganda
Korean Central Television (조선중앙텔레비죤 개성 송신소): TV network with low-FM band audio. While the north’s main TV broadcaster, Korean Central TV, is well-jammed in the south by local communication networks purposely using the frequencies of the north’s video carriers, not to mention the north using analogue as the south has converted to digital, its audio carriers are another story. Because the north uses the Russian and Japanese FM band for its television audio and most people in Korea don’t have a radio that tunes that low, the TV audio carriers are wide open for a listen. The station is aimed away from the south and is meant for a domestic audience. You can hear both the innocent and the sinister here, no language skills necessary for these.
The following was recorded locally on Korean Central Television’s Kaesong affiliate. As its audio frequency is not widely-known as many of the local AM and FM stations are, it is not being disclosed here.
대한민국과 북한으로 부터 온 어떠한 선전물들은 어느 한쪽을 편애하며 퍼뜨리는 수단이 아닌 순수한 교육적인 것임을 알려드립니다!
Echo of Unification (통일의 메아리 방송 해주 송신소): FM radio and shortwave network / former AM radio network. Along with 1053, 1080 is the second of the two Haeju locals, of which the sign-on sequence can be heard here. This one is Echo of Unification which has been broadcasted locally on 97.8 (former Pyongyang FM) as well since 2013, a signal that just screams across the water despite the jammer in Seoul.
The station, just like 1053 and broadcasting from just up the road from the FM, is 1500kw aimed at Seoul but runs propaganda broadcasts for two hours at a time, three times a day – morning, afternoon, and night. In the afternoon, 1053 turns off and 1080 turns on immediately after. Oddly enough, 1080, which is flat-out anti-South propaganda, is less jammed than 1053, which is basic domestic North Korean programming. There’s a beehive jammer at the main NIS tower site in Seoul and not much else, though the Hwaseong experimental site came on with a new jammer in November of 2016 that fills in the suburbs exceedingly well much to the common hobbyist’s demise. However, a month later, both 1053 and 1080 permanently went off the air in favour of new FM transmitters.
대한민국과 북한으로 부터 온 어떠한 선전물들은 어느 한쪽을 편애하며 퍼뜨리는 수단이 아닌 순수한 교육적인 것임을 알려드립니다!
Korean Central Broadcasting (조선중앙방송 평양 송신소): AM radio and shortwave network. 819 is rather heavily jammed in Seoul as it’s the flagship frequency of the KCBS network, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station or in Korean, Joseon Jungang Bangsong, to the north in Pyongyang. This one has a variety of programming that includes propaganda, radio stories, news, music, and cultural programming and its programs and signals run part-time on the rural Pyongyang Bangsong signals. While it’s well-blocked in the city – the jammer is just 6 miles from my radio here – it’s easier to pull it in along the coast. And as a sidenote, the station runs a video game-sounding jammer during its late-night off-air hours that counters the Seoul beehive jammer. Listening to the two of them duke it out can be ultimately hilarious.
Pyongyang FM (평양FM방송 해주/개성 송신소): FM radio network. Pyongyang FM – a domestic FM network – was a constant powerhouse outside Seoul from both neighbouring Kaesong on 92.5 and from Haeju on both 97.8 and 103.7. Echo of Unification (a propaganda signal aimed at the south and featured above) eventually took over 97.8 in 2015.
As part of the north’s radio restructuring plan in December 2016, Pyongyang FM migrated its programming elsewhere (while still on satellite, it is unconfirmed if it still exists anywhere on-air, perhaps only in Pyongyang) and former Pyongyang FM signals switched to Pyongyang Broadcasting (평양방송), parallel to 657’s AM signal while the monster 1053 (Pyongyang Broadcasting) and 1080 (Echo of Unification) signals in Haeju were turned off at that time. Meanwhile, to compensate for the AM band loss, the north added new FM signals just outside the Seoul suburbs.
In its day, Pyongyang FM, despite its terrible overmodulation (i.e. distortion) on the Haeju transmitter due to broadcasting on an extremely wide signal heard from 97.3 to 98.5, was full of memories for me, from listening to the New Year’s broadcasts to the live funeral of Kim Jong-il in 2012.
So why are many of the Pyongyang FM clips so distorted? The answer lies half with their transmitter and half with the receiving radio.
Simplifying the explanation that I myself didn’t grasp at the time, Pyongyang FM’s Haeju transmitter broadcasts their 97.8 signal very wide so that it can be heard in the south from 97.3 to 98.5 on many days. That’s not especially normal. However, a sensitive tuner limits the space each frequency occupies so that the listener doesn’t face interference from adjacent frequencies. With the band in neighbouring China using 10MHz spacing (i.e. 96.0, 96.1, 96.2, etc.), you certainly want a sensitive radio. (You can see my logs from China here, where some other signals face a similar issue). When the louder sounds reach a certain level, instead of evenly spreading out on the frequency, the radio limits it to solely 97.8 and the remaining sound is clipped, causing the sound to bounce back, as can be heard during the opening tones of the network’s sign-on and also causing the distortion in the voices. At the same time, softer music doesn’t reach that threshold of sound and therefore sounds normal.
South Korean Propaganda
While Pyongyang FM is just a few miles across the border from the south, the opposite side of the border is lined with propaganda stations aiming north. Unlike the military might that the north often throws around in their propaganda, the south prefers the rainbow-throwing approach. Phrases like “haengbok Korea,” or “happy Korea” are extremely common on these stations, touting the south as the promised land where people are happy.
There are two FM networks with a handful of individual stations in the vicinity of the border which run a variety of programming. We’ll take a brief look at both networks here, both of which have been on the air for many years, followed by two of the main shortwave propaganda broadcasters in the Seoul area and the differences between the two bands.
Jayu FM (자유FM 파주 송신소): FM radio network. The first on FM is Jayu FM, or in English, Freedom FM. This is a network consisting of numerous FMs along the border, including the 97.7 in Paju (파주), 94.5 in Yeoncheon (연천), and 100.6 in Inje (인제). Jayu FM has been around for many years with a similar sound as today. Nowadays, Jayu FM begins every broadcast with the popular song “Seoul, Seoul, Seoul,” prior to sign-on, a sort of love song that glamorizes Seoul that was released in time for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Here’s the full sign-on sequence of Jayu FM (heard only as a brief clip in the full documentary) followed by the station’s daily 3pm sign-on some five minutes later.
Voice of Freedom (자유의 소리 방송 화악산 송신소): AM and shortwave radio network. The Jayuui Sori network, the Voice of Freedom, is similar to Jayu FM with some slight differences. It broadcasts on 101.7 in the islands, 103.1 in Incheon, and 107.3 in the central region, the latter of the three best received in Seoul, broadcasting for about 20 hours a day with hour-long breaks throughout the day. While the network pre-dates them, Jayuui Sori has broadcasted the content of the loud-speakers aimed north along the border since 2015 for much of the day and includes pop music, news, and more. The station has changed very little in past years and uses the exact same sign-on sequence as it did five years prior.
Radio Free Korea (자유코리아방송 서울 송신소): AM radio station. RFK signed onto 1143 back in 2014, and is, like its FM counterparts, an anti-North Korean propaganda station. It signs on whenever it darn well feels like it, regardless of its officially mentioned hours in their ID, usually between 6 and 9 at night, and turns off every morning at 6. The signal is overwhelmingly weak in the south, even with a poor signal at night just 30 miles south of Seoul, leading to believe most of its power is likely aimed northward. In fact, Jilin City Story Radio can be heard in RFK’s off-air hours and can always be heard under RFK along with the North Korean jammer when RFK is on the air.
Echo of Hope (희망의 메아리 방송 서울 송신소): Shortwave network. The heavily jammed shortwave broadcasts air a variety of programming, mostly talk interlaced with some pop songs. These broadcasts are clearly aimed at a North Korean audience as opposed to many of the South-based stations that also aim content at South Korean citizens. As a matter of fact, it can sometimes be difficult to tell these shortwave broadcasts apart from content from the north. Here’s Echo of Hope. Most of the jammers you hear in the background are actually South Korean, bleeding over from AM frequencies that share the shortwave tower sites.
News Plaza (뉴스광장 연천송신소): AM radio station. Broadcasting on 756 AM, the newest station in the intelligence network’s arsenal against Pyongyang, appearing on the air in 2019, is so “clandestine” that it technically doesn’t even have a name. The station, best known by its enthusiastic “News Gwangjang!” (News Plaza) announcement at the start of each hour, IDs at the top of the hour with an uplifting or encouraging message that is unique to each hour of the day.
The station broadcasts 24 hours with a signal that is aimed sharply north, clearly audible into Siberia at night but struggling to be heard even in most of South Korea. Programming includes a collage of news from around the world – even an English segment on weekday mornings just before 3 a.m. often pulled from random sources, whether it be CNN, CBS, or even YouTube, typically a week or more out-of-date; pop music, radio dramas, talk shows, and more. Announcers for the station are often well-known personalities working for KBS 1 Radio, of which the station also shares programming with at times. In fact, KBS 1 TV runs its own similar “News Plaza” program, though sharing only the same name and format. The station runs ad breaks at :15 and :45 past every hour.
Aside from a few hours in the middle of the night, the station is prone to interference in many places from China’s CNR-1 network, which occupies the entire frequency of 756 across the country aside from shutting down between 1 a.m. and 5:25 a.m. (Korean time). Historically, 756 was a 100kw relay of KBS 1 Radio’s Seoul feed broadcasting from Yeoju before it shut down in January 2015. As early as 2017, mysterious jamming from the north began on the vacant frequency which hadn’t previously been present, though no other broadcasting activity was noted. Beginning construction in the summer of 2018, the directional three-tower array in rural Yeoncheon was completed by year’s end just 4 miles from the Civilian Control Line and 7 miles (12 km.) from the MDL, the closest broadcasting site to the border.
News Plaza top-of-hour IDs: News Plaza broadcasts an uplifting or encouraging message to North Korean listeners at the start of every hour. Among them, here are the messages for hours most likely to be heard abroad:
• 1000 UTC / 1900 KST:
“오늘 하루도 고생했어요. 7시를 알려드립니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Oneul harudo gosaenghaesseoyo. Ilgop-sireul allyeodeurimnida.
Great job today. We will inform you when it’s 7 o’clock.
• 1100 UTC / 2000 KST:
“오늘의 주인공은 바로 당신입니다. 8시를 알려드립니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Oneului juingongeun baro dangsinimnida. Yeodeol-sireul allyeodeurimnida.
Today’s main character is just you. We will inform you when it’s 8 o’clock.
• 1200 UTC / 2100 KST:
“멋진 당신, 최고. 9시를 알려드리겠습니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Meojjin dangsin, choigo. Ahop-sireul allyeodeurigesseumnida.
Cool you, the best. We will inform you when it’s 9 o’clock.
• 1300 UTC / 2200 KST:
“사랑받기위해 태어난 당신. 10시를 알려드리겠습니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Sarangbadgiwihae taeeonan dangsin. Yeol-sireul allyeodeurigesseumnida.
You were born to be loved. We will inform you when it’s 10 o’clock.
• 1400 UTC / 2300 KST:
“꿈은 이루어집니다. 11시를 알려드리겠습니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Kkum-eun irueo-jimnida. Yeolhan-sireul allyeodeurigesseumnida.
Dreams come true. We will inform you when it’s 11 o’clock.
• 1500 UTC / 0000 KST:
“온 세상에 축복이 가득하길 바라며 자정을 알려드립니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
On sesang-e chukbogi gadeukagil baramyeo jajeong-eul allyeodeulimnida.
As we hope the world will be full of blessings, we announce midnight.
• 1600 UTC / 0100 KST: (CNR-1 sign-off)
“당신은 소중한 사람입니다. 1시를 알려드려요.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Dangsin-eun sojunghan saramimnida. Han-sireul allyeodeuryeoyo.
You are a precious person. We will inform you when it’s 1 o’clock.
• 1700 UTC / 0200 KST:
“별처럼 반짝이는 당신에게. 2시를 알려드립니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Byeolcheoreom banjjagineun dangsin-ege du-sireul allyeodeurimnida.
To you, who shines like a star, we will inform you when it’s 2 o’clock.
• 1800 UTC / 0300 KST:
“항상 당신을 응원합니다. 3시를 알려드리겠습니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Hangsang dangsin-eul eungwonhamnida. Se-sireul allyeodeurigesseumnida.
I always support you. We will inform you when it’s 3 o’clock.
• 1900 UTC / 0400 KST:
“새벽이 오는 소리, 들어볼까요? 4시를 알려드립니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Saebyeogi oneun sori, deuleobolkkayo? Ne-sireul allyeodeulimnida.
Shall we hear the sound of dawn? We will inform you when it’s 4 o’clock.
• 2000 UTC / 0500 KST:
“세상의 중심에 당신이 있습니다. 5시를 알려드려요.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Sesang-ui jungsim-e dangsin-i isseumnida. Daseot-sireul allyeodeuryeoyo.
You are at the center of the world. We will inform you when it’s 5 o’clock.
• 2100 UTC / 0600 KST: (half-hour after CNR-1 sign-on)
“세상은 당신을 필요로 합니다. 6시를 알려드립니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Sesang-eun dangsin-eul pilyoro hamnida. Yeoseot-sireul allyeodeurimnida.
The world needs you. We will inform you when it’s 6 o’clock.
• 2200 UTC / 0700 KST:
“상큼한 아침입니다. 7시를 알려드리겠습니다.” [삐 소리] “뉴스광장!”
Sangkeuman achim-imnida. Ilgop-sireul allyeodeurigesseumnida.
It’s a refreshing morning. We will inform you when it’s 7 o’clock.
* Thanks to Bjarne Mjelde for filling in the first three hours with better recordings to counter heavy interference and for José Yoo for providing accurate translations.
Voice of the People (인민의 소리 고양 송신소): Shortwave network. This network is similar to the other shortwave propaganda signals originating with South Korean intelligence. A lot of talk, sometimes a break for a pop song, and some other programming peppered between. All in all, for a non-Korean, it’s some pretty dull content. Furthermore, the shortwave signals are impeded by the north’s main shortwave jammer site based 15 miles (25 km.) outside Kujang (구장읍).
Like many of the propaganda networks, both north and south use entertainment programs and music to spread their message – though the musical selections chosen to propagate the messages varies from nationalist in the north to pop in the south.
V24 Numbers Station: Shortwave broadcasts. This is a South Korean intelligence broadcast for Agent 3890, a numbers station broadcasting a coded message to a specific agent in North Korea. All numbers stations identify each agent by a specific K-pop song followed by their agent number and the text-to-speech coded message using Korean numbers, different from North Korea’s V15 broadcast that uses page numbers in addition.
♫ 소진 – 매일 그대와 / Sojin – Everyday With You (2016)
3890, 3890 전문 받으세요. 조수 13조 본문 부르겠습니다.
(Agent 3890, 3890, receive a message. The number of sets is 13, the message of which I will send you.)
324 10 969 78 932 99 461 58 607 33 943 52 246 44 052 42 440 48 449 14 109 64 990 68 958 72
본문 다시 부르겠습니다. (I’ll send the message again.)
32410 96978 93299 46158 60733 94352 24644 05242 44048 44914 10964 99068 95872
이상입니다. (That’s all.)
After it was released in 2017, this project got positive reviews from the radio community around the world, including reviews in Chinese, Korean, Swedish, Bulgarian, Japanese, and others. It was featured in Shortwave Bulletin, on numerous radio sites, and on Glenn Hauser’s World of Radio (#1860) broadcast.
If you enjoy this documentary, please share it with others who may enjoy it. Due to YouTube’s strict copyright guidelines and the (copyrighted) musical nature of radio, the fact that the project as a whole isn’t on such sites hampers its visibility.
Disclaimer: Due to my long-term residence in Korea and for the sake of national security, I have chosen to voluntarily omit selected details, such as photos, videos, and other related information from this page and guide in the case such information is not already found elsewhere online.