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International broadcasting is broadcasting that is deliberately aimed at a foreign, rather than a domestic, audience. It usually is broadcast by means of longwave, mediumwave, or shortwave radio, but in recent years has also used direct satellite broadcasting and the Internet as means of reaching audiences.

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

Reasons for international broadcasting

Broadcasters in one country have several reasons to reach out to an audience in other countries. The examples given below are not meant to be exhaustive, but are illustrative.

One clear reason is for ideological, or propaganda reasons. Many government-owned stations portray their nation in a positive, non-threatening way. This could be to encourage business investment and/or tourism to the nation. Another reason is to combat a negative image produced by other nations or internal dissidents, or insurgents. Radio RSA, the broadcasting arm of the apartheid South African government, is an example of this. A third reason is to promote the ideology of the broadcaster. For example, a program on Radio Moscow from the 1960s to the 1980s was What is Communism?

Other reasons include broadcasting news which might be censored, or at least of little interest, in a nation. The BBC World Service and the Voice of America have emphasized news broadcasts. In addition to these services, during the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, the American Radio Free Europe ran its own domestic service for nations "behind the Iron Curtain."

In the case of emergencies, a nation may broadcast special programs overseas to inform listeners what is occurring. During Iraqi missile strikes on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, Kol Israel relayed its domestic service on its shortwave service.

Besides ideological reasons, many stations are run by religious broadcasters and are used to provide religious education, religious music, or worship service programs. For example, Vatican Radiomarker, established in 1931, broadcasts such programs. Another station, such as HCJBmarker or Trans World Radio will carry brokered programming from evangelists. In the case of the Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, both governmental and religious programming is provided.

Stations also broadcast to international audiences for cultural reasons. Often a station has an official mandate to keep expatriates in touch with the home country. Many broadcasters often relay their national domestic service on shortwave for that reason. Other reasons include teaching a foreign language, such as Radio Exterior de España's Spanish class, Un idioma sin fronteras, or the Voice of America's broadcasts in Special English. In the case of major broadcasters such as the BBC World Service or Radio Australia, there is also an educational outreach.

History of international broadcasting


International broadcasting, in a limited extent, began during World War I, when Central Powers and Allied stations broadcast press communiqués using Morse code. For example, the station in Nauenmarker, Germanymarker became a fully commercial telegraph station in 1911, with a 260 m high antenna and a spark-gap transmitter running 100 kW of power. During World War I, with the severing of Germany's undersea cables, Nauen was the sole means of long-distance communication of Germany. The US Navy Radio Service radio station in New Brunswick, Canada, transmitted the Fourteen Points by wireless to Nauen in 1917.. In turn, Nauen station broadcast the news of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 10, 1918.

Following experiments in the shortwave frequencies in 1925 from Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, radio station PCJ began broadcasting to the Dutch East Indiesmarker on March 11, 1927.

The BBC followed this with the BBC Empire Service on December 19, 1932, with transmissions aimed towards Australia and New Zealand.

Other notable early international broadcasters included Vaticanmarker Radiomarker (February 12, 1931), Radio Moscow, the official service of the Soviet Unionmarker which began broadcasting on long-wave in 1923 (this has since been renamed the Voice of Russia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Clarence W. Jones started transmitting on Christmas Day, 1931 from Christian missionary radio station HCJBmarker in Quitomarker, Ecuadormarker.

Shortwave broadcasting from Nauenmarker to the USA, Central and South America, and the Far East began in 1926. A second station, Zeesen, was added later. In January 1932, the German Reichpost assumed control of the Nauen station and added to its shortwave and longwave capacity.

Broadcasting in South Asia was launched in 1925 in Ceylonmarker - Radio Ceylon, now the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation is the oldest in the region.


Shortwave programming was a low priority in the Weimar Republicmarker. Once Adolf 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 18 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 Zeesenmarker, near 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.

In the 1930s, international broadcasting was a key means of promoting Nazi Germany foreign policy. German propaganda was organized under Joseph Goebbels, and played a key role in the German annexation of Austria and the Munich Crisis of 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.

In 1936, the International Radio Union recognized Vatican Radio as a "special case" and authorized its broadcasting without any geographical limits. On December 25, 1937, a Telefunken 25-kW transmitter and two directional antennas were added. Vatican Radio broadcast over 10 frequencies..

During the Spanish Civil War, the Nationalist forces received a powerful Telefunken transmitter as a gift of Nazi Germany to aid their propaganda efforts, and until 1943 Radio Nacional de España collaborated with the Axis powers to retransmit in Spanish news from the official radio stations of Germany and Italy.

World War II

During the Second World War, Russian, German, British, and Italian international broadcasting services expanded. In 1942, 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.

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"; 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 most of them soon lost interest. Japan had "Tokyo Rose," who broadcast Japanese propaganda in English, along with American music to help insure listeners.

For details of German propaganda themes, see propaganda.

During World War II, Vatican Radio's news broadcasts were banned in Germany. During the war, the radio service operated in four languages..

The British launched Radio SEAC from Colombo, Ceylonmarker (Sri Lanka) during World War II. The station broadcast radio programs to the allied armed forces across the region from their headquarters in Ceylon.

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 3, 1990, and Deutsche Welle took over its transmitters and frequencies.

The Cold War Era (1945-1991): modern practices, modern technology

The Cold War led to increased international broadcasting, as Communist and non-Communist states attempted to influence each other's domestic population. Some of the most prominent Western broadcasters were the Voice of America, the BBC World Service, and the (covertly) CIA-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Soviet Union's most prominent service was Radio Moscow (now the Voice of Russia) and China used Radio Peking (then Radio Beijing, now China Radio International). In addition to the U.S.-Soviet cold war, the Chinese-Russian border dispute led to an increase of the numbers of transmitters aimed at the two nations, and the development of new techniques such as playing tapes backwards for reel-to-reel recorders.

West Germany resumed regular shortwave broadcasts using Deutsche Welle on May 3, 1953. Its Julich transmitter site began operation in 1956, with eleven 100-kW Telefunken transmitters. The Wectachtal site was authorized in 1962 and began with four 500-kW transmitters. By 1989, there were 15 transmitters, four of which relayed the Voice of America.. Meanwhile in East Germany, the Nauen site began transmitting Radio DDR, later Radio Berlin International, on October 15, 1959.

In addition to the superpower states, international broadcast services grew in Europe and the Middle East. Under the presidency of Gamal Nasser, Egyptian transmitters covered the Arab world; Israel's service, Kol Yisrael, served both to present the Israeli point of view to the world and to serve the Jewish diaspora, particularly behind the Iron Curtain.

Radio RSA, as part of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, was established in 1966 to promote the image of South Africa internationally and reduce criticism of apartheid.. It continued in 1992, when the post-apartheid government renamed it Channel Africa.

Ironically, the isolationist Albaniamarker under Enver Hoxha, virtually a hermit kingdom, became one of the most prolific international broadcasters during the latter decades of the Cold War, with Radio Tirana one of the top five broadcasters in terms of hours of programming produced (Although Radio Tirana's programming was almost universally regarded as insufferably dull).

Post Cold War to today

At the end of the Cold War, many international broadcasters cut back on hours and foreign languages broadcast, or reemphasized other language services. For example, in 1984, Radio Canada International broadcast in English, French, German, Spanish, Czech/Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. In 2005, Canada broadcast in English, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Spanish There is a trend towards more TV (e.g. BBC World, NHK World, CCTV-9), and news websites. Some services, such as Swiss Radio International, left shortwave altogether and exist in Internet form. In addition, new standards, such as Digital Radio Mondiale, are being introduced, as well as sending programs over the Web to be played back later, as "podcasts."

Daily developments are followed in Radio Netherlands' Media Network blog [15353].

The television era (1990s - Present)

International broadcasting using the traditional audio only method will not cease any time soon due to its cost efficiencies. However, international broadcasting via television is considered more strategically important at least since the early 2000s.

The BBC World Service was the first broadcaster to consider setting up a satellite television news and information channel as far back as 1976, but ceded being the first to CNN (that had primary access to Canada soon after launch). The defunct BBC World Service Antiguamarker Relay Station was built in 1976, but its setup costs were not known to have been part of the BBCWS decision processes at the time.

In the early 1990s many international (as well as domestic) 24 hour news and information channels launched as part of the post-Cold War prosperity bubble. There was another burst of global news channels launching in the late 2000s as part the developing world trying to catch up with the developed world in this area.

Notable networks

Anyway you look at it, it would appear that television as well as radio are viable methods for international broadcasting—but with two very different audiences. Global television news channel viewers tend to be far richer than the vast bulk of radio listeners by default. Radio is a cheaper and more affordable technology for most of the world's population, but on average that population is poorer.

Means to reach an audience

Because of this many broadcasters are discovering they can reach a wider audience through other methods (particularly the internet and satellite television) and are cutting back on (or even entirely dropping) shortwave.

An international broadcaster has several options for reaching a foreign audience:
  • If the foreign audience is near the broadcaster, high-power longwave and mediumwave stations can provide reliable coverage.
  • If the foreign audience is more than 1,000 kilometers away from the broadcaster, shortwave radio is reliable, but subject to interruption by adverse solar/geomagnetic conditions.
  • An international broadcaster may use a local mediumwave or FM radio or television relay station in the target country or countries.
  • An international broadcaster may use a local shortwave broadcaster as a relay station.
  • Neighboring states, such as Israelmarker and Jordanmarker, may broadcast television programs to each other's viewing public.

An international broadcaster such as the BBC, Radio France International or Germany's Deutsche Welle, may use all the above methods. Several international broadcasters, such as Swiss Radio International, have abandoned shortwave broadcasting altogether, relying on Internet transmissions only. Others, such as the BBC World Service, have abandoned shortwave transmissions to North America, relying on local relays, the Internet, and satellite transmissions

Mediumwave and longwave broadcasts

Most radio receivers in the world receive the mediumwave band (530 kHz to 1710 kHz), which at night is capable of reliable reception from 150 to 2,500 km distance from a transmitter. Mediumwave is used heavily all over the world for international broadcasting on a formal and informal basis.

In addition, many receivers used in Europe and Russia can receive the longwave broadcast band (150 to 280 kHz), which provides reliable long-distance communications over continental distances.

Shortwave broadcast

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.

In previous decades shortwave (and sometimes high-powered mediumwave) transmission was regarded as the main (and often the only) way in which broadcasters could reach an international audience. In recent years the proliferation of technologies such as satellite broadcasting, the Internet, and rebroadcasts of programming on AM and FM within target nations has meant that this is no longer necessarily the case.

Transmitter output power has increased since 1920. Higher transmitter powers do guarantee better reception in the target area. Higher transmitter power in most cases counteracts the lesser effects of jamming.
  • 1950s : 100 kW
  • 1960s : 200 kW, early 1960s (2 x 100 kW 'twinned')
  • 1970s : 300 kW, but many 250 kW transmitters sold
  • 1980s : 500 kW sometimes transmitters were "doubled up" to produce 1000 Kw output
  • 1980s-Present: 600 kW single, 1200 kW from twinned transmitters.

International stations generally use special directional antennas to aim the signal toward the intended audience and increase the effective power in that direction. Use of such antennas for international broadcasting began in the mid 1930s and became prominent by the 1950s. By using these antennas a station may achieve tens of millions of watts of radio power today.

Digital Audio Broadcasting

Some international broadcasters have become available via Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in Europe in the 1990s, and in a similar limited way in the Americas via in-band FM (IBOC) DAB systems in the US in the 2000s. This is a popular method to reach listeners in cars that would otherwise not be accessible during that part of the day. However, in terms of the global international broadcasting audience the DAB listener base is very small—one can assume that it is less than 2% of the listener base globally.


International broadcasting via 24 hour TV news channels has its origins in North America in the early 1980s. CNN technically was the first 24 hour international news channel as it was made available in Canada soon after launch. It must be noted that the BBC World Service considered setting up a global TV news channel as far back as 1975, but abandoned the idea for internal reasons.

In spite of a large number of international 24 hour television news and information broadcasters—the television percentage of viewers is still fairly small when compared to global radio listener numbers.

It must be understood that the rural populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (as well as East Asia) have radio listener bases that are far larger than the largest international TV broadcaster could hope for—yet could be considered under served since the end of the Cold War (when these regions had more radio broadcasts targeted at them).

Streaming video sites

Many international television broadcasters (as well as domestic television broadcasters) have set up accounts on streaming video sites like You Tube to allow their news and information broadcasts to be globally distributed prognosticatively. The viewer numbers for these sites may seem huge. Cable, TVRO and terrestrial television broadcasters probabilistically have 100 to 1000 times larger audiences for their international broadcasting content.

International broadcasters known to maintain their own streaming video sites (not authoritative)
  • CNN
  • France 24

RSS Feeds & Email

Many international broadcasters (television or radio) can reach "unreachable" audiences via email and RSS feeds. This is not at all unusual, as the first commonly agreed international broadcast was a Morse Code telegram transmitted from US President Wilson to the German Kaiser (mid-1918) via a high powered longwave transmitter on the US East Coast (this important event in international broadcasting history was described in depth in the IEEE "The History of International Broadcasting" first volume). As Morse Code is considered to be a data format, with email and RSS merely being refinements of the technology it can be said that international broadcasting has a deep relationship with modern day datacasting.

The reach of RSS and email for international broadcasters is not really known that well, especially considering that emails get forwarded. The numbers for active RSS and email audiences are probably 5 to 20 times larger than for streaming video. It may take into the 2010s to get meaningful numbers with respect to the size of these audiences for assorted technical reasons related to the RSS and email technologies.

Email and RSS feeds can traverse telecommunications barriers that streaming video cannot, thus the larger expected audience numbers. The global economic downturn of 2008-2009 will probably increase the email and RSS audience audience sizes as fewer people will be able to afford high speed internet connections in North America, Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions.


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 businesspersons, 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 Caversham, Reading in 1936 (now BBC Monitoring). In the United States, the DNI Open Source Center (formerly the Central Intelligence Agency's Foreign Broadcast Information Service) provides the same service. Copies of OSC/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. The practice was made illegal in 1939. In addition, the German government sold a cheap, 76-Reichsmark "People's Receiver", as well as an even cheaper 35-Reichsmark receiver, that could not pick up distant signals well..

The idea was copied by Stalin's Soviet Union, which had a nearly identical copy manufactured in the Tesla factory in Czechoslovakia.In North Korea, all 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 Martí program and the Chinese government jammed broadcasts made by adherents of Falun Gong.

North Korea restricts most people to a single fixed frequency mediumwave receiver; those who met political requirements and whose work absolutely required familiarity with events abroad were allowed shortwave receivers. Another method of reaching people with government radio programming, but not foreign programming, is the use of radio broadcasting by direct broadcasting to loudspeakers.David Jackson, director of the Voice of America, noted "The North Korean government doesn't jam us, but they try to keep people from listening through intimidation or worse. But people figure out ways to listen despite the odds. They're very resourceful."

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.

Jamming can be defeated by using very powerful transmitting antennas, carefully choosing the transmitted frequency, changing transmitted frequency often, using Single Sideband, and properly aiming the receiving antenna.

For a list of international broadcasters, see List of international broadcasters.

See also


  1. Wood 2000: 56
  2. U.S. Government Printing Office. International Law Documents: Neutrality, Conduct and Conclusion of Hostilities. 1919, p. 55
  3. History of Radio Netherlands.
  4. BBC World Service. World Service timeline.
  5. Wood 2000: 49
  6. Wood 2000:57
  7. Shirer, William. Berlin Diary
  8. Levillain 2002: 1600
  9. Wood 2000: 51
  10. Wood 2000: 58
  11. Horwitz 2001: 287
  12. Hughes and Mann 2002: 93
  13. Graef 2005: 36
  14. Martin 2006: 495
  15. Goetz, Philip W. The New Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1991 edition, ISBN 085229400X, p 315
  16. Jackson, David. "The Future of Radio II". World Radio TV Handbook, 2007 edition. 2007, Billboard Books. ISBN 0823059979. p 38.


Graef 2005

Graef, Robert. Bicycling to Amersfoort: A World War II Memoir. 2005, iUniverse. ISBN 0595346219

Horwitz 2001

Horwitz, Robert Britt. Communication and Democratic Reform in South Africa. 2001, Cambridge University Press ISBN 0521791669.

Hughes and Mann 2002

Hughes, Matthew, and Chris Mann. Inside Hitler's Germany: Life Under the Third Reich. 2002, Brassey's. ISBN 1574885030

Levillain 2002

Levillain, Philippe. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia. Translated by John O'Malley. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415922283

Martin 2006

Martin, Bradley K. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. 2006, Macmillan. ISBN 0312322216

Wood 2000

Wood, James. History of International Broadcasting. 2000, IET. ISBN 0852969201

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