The term “clandestine radio” inspires images of cloak & dagger operations, dark secrets and intrigue… and that’s a pretty good description of this nefarious activity often aimed at the overthrow of a government. So, what is the definition of a clandestine? According to the Association of Clandestine Experts (a hobby group) “Clandestine radio stations are unlicensed broadcasts designed to create political change within countries targeted by the transmission.”
Clandestines often broadcast to countries experiencing political turmoil, especially when overt hostilities or wars have broken out. They are common in regions where political opposition groups do not have access to local broadcast media because of government regulations or censorship. They can be found from MW right through SW, mostly using “out-of-band” channels. They are almost always broadcasting to their target rather than from within. A increasing number of clandestine broadcasters use airtime hired off international broadcasters, notably Julich transmitters leased from Deutsche Telekom or in the former Eastern bloc countries. With so many international broadcasters abandoning their transmitters, they are increasingly made available to all and sundry and clandestine operators are high on the customer list.
Many are openly operated by government or non-government organisations. There are some who maintain a tight veil of secrecy and are subject to speculation. Some like Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (run by the US government’s International Broadcasting Bureau), have been around for a long time, having existed through the years of intense jamming during the cold war to now claim wide audiences in their target countries with most governments receptive to their alternative point of view. The IBB also runs “Radio Martí”, whose programmes target the Cuban government and “Radio Free Asia” who targets Asian countries the US government considers to contravene human rights and suppress ethnic groups. The IBB released the following statement to announce the arrival of “Radio Free Afghanistan” : “The US House of Representatives has approved a measure to establish a radio station in Afghanistan which will help explain the United States war aims to Afghans in their local language. The move authorises spending of around $60 million over the next two years for transmissions into the country. Radio Free Afghanistan will run under the auspices of the existing Radio Free Europe or Radio Liberty services which traditionally broadcasts information into countries without free presses”.
Many clandestines are easy to hear and almost impossible to verify as their addresses are not readily available. Neither are their details published in the WRTH. Some are happy to reply and the verification usually comes with printed material justifying their existence. Anywhere in the world where there is conflict, clandestines will make an appearance, even in Fiji!
The Middle East, Korea, the Horn of Africa, Colombia and Asia are current clandestine “hot spots”. And it’s from Asia that we’ll now find most of the jamming originating, particularly of anti-Iranian stations and Radio Free Asia broadcasts, the latter reportedly blocked by the People’s Republic of China.
Clandestines that suffer jamming, notably those aimed at Iran, often move frequency very often. It is common to hear them change anything from 10 – 50kHz every minute or so in an effort to stay one jump ahead of the jammers. The most common form of anti-Iranian blockers are called “bubble jammers”, where a quickly varying “wobbly” pitch is used. They are often high-powered and easy catches. Clandestien broadcasts to China and Korea are blocked by very effective noise-blockers.