Tag Archives: Latvian Radio

International Radio Broadcasting from Baltic States. Broadcasting the Voice of Independence

Lithuanian Shortwave Transmitter site at Sitkunai

Lithuanian Shortwave Transmitter site at Sitkunai

During the Cold War various international radio stations made daily broadcasts in Baltic States languages mainly aimed for people in the soviet occupied countries. Stations like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America Baltic services provided the local listeners with information outside the Iron Curtain and encouraged the resistance against the soviet regime. From 1987 when independence restoration movements took power in Baltic states it was now time for Baltic radio stations to start international broadcasts in English, German ect to broadcast the voice of independence and gather the support across the world. Historical records show that these international broadcasts gathered significant attention from the shortwave listeners and raised awareness over the goal of restoring the Baltic States independence.   Although these broadcasts were short-lived and forgotten they were one of the first Baltic attempts of international representation before the era of internet and satellite TV.

From Monitoring times November 1988

From Monitoring times November 1988

Radio Riga International/Radio Latvia International

Radio Latvia begun its broadcasts on 1925. It had no foreign language service, yet its shortwave transmitters were powerful enough to make radio receivable in Japan. Shortwave signal can travel great distances across the world and is the best form for international radio broadcasting. Long Wave and Medium Wave signals becomes stronger during the nights when they can be received in vast areas around the transmitting country. Meanwhile FM radio signal is almost impossible to receive in wide areas and is unsuitable for international broadcasting.

Radio Latvia continued to work during the soviet occupation and served the official soviet point of view. Despite the presence of the soviet propaganda the Latvian Radio was well enjoyed and culturally significant. It had foreign language service in Russian and later in Swedish on 1960. While the primary soviet international broadcast station was Radio Moscow, the capitals of the soviet republics had their own sister stations. For stations like Radio Riga their goal was to show Latvia as proud and integral part of the Soviet Union contrary to the official Western policy that did not recognize the occupation of the Baltic states. On 1986 the Radio Riga was reported to use 5935 kHz daily in various languages to different target areas. However, this frequency was also used by Kenga radio from Bhutan that made interference to some listeners. One of the problems of the shortwave radio is that not all stations have common agreement on the use of frequencies and sometimes they are used by two stations at once or nearby station signal is stronger. The shortwave signal targeting, transmitter power output and signal targeting often decides which station is received and which is not. This was not the first time when Riga Radio experienced problems from other shortwave stations.

Before the rise of the national movements the stations of the soviet republics were mostly viewed as exotic catch for shortwave listeners, but nothing more as the stations kept the official line with the Radio Moscow. That begun to change as early as 1989 when the shortwave radio magazines like Monitoring Times begun to list the Radio Riga as the station from Latvia.  The major reforms introduced by soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev allowed more media freedom and Radio Latvia started to broadcast more freely. Also since the shortwave jamming was canceled since 1986 the western radio stations affected the editors of the local stations. They also felt obliged to report the news about the independence movement that was taking power in the country.  On 1989 the Radio Riga was broadcasting in  Latvian at 0830 -0925 and 2100 -2200 Sundays, 2020 -2050 and 2130 -2200 Wednesdays. In Swedish on Tuesday /Thursday from 2020 -2050 and 0800 -0830 Sunday and Russian 1500 -1600, all on 5935 kHz. Various Soviet radio services air on this channel at other times between 0300 -2000 (all times in UTC) Radio Riga transmitter was also used by Radio Moscow that sent broadcasts in Hausa language  intended to South Africa on  15140 kHz while also providing Russian service on 11920 kHz.

On March 1991 the Radio Riga extended the English broadcast 30 minutes on 1830, Sundays at 0700 on 5935 kHz. Radio Riga also got an English newscast on Radiostantsiya Atlantika, normally Russian only seamen service from Leningrad, Sunday at 1305-1315 on 15330 kHz.  From July 1991 Radio Riga renamed itself to Radio Latvia. Since May 4 1990 Latvia had started the process of restoring full independence from USSR and the events like 1991 January barricade movement was reported by the Latvians on the radio waves. The Radio Latvia building was surrounded with barricades and all the most important speeches and announcements were issued from there.  The Medium Wave broadcasts were temporarily cut.   On August 1991 during the Moscow coup attempt the Latvian Radio building was stormed by Soviet special forces and turned off the transmitter. However, the Radio Latvia managed to restore work using reserve transmitter in Salaspils city.   On November 1991 the journalist of the popular Monitoring Times magazine Charles Brian Goslow  toured all three Baltic states and met the workers of the Radio Latvia. There he met young radio journalist Uldis Cērps. Cērps and Mārtiņš Grāvitas hosted the weekly English program focusing on political issues, culture and Latvian music. Daily news were read by Inese Eglīte. The news material was assembled from Radio Latvia content, the Latvian Telegraph Agency LETA and Baltic News Service BNS. While the station was well received in in Europe in United States its reception was only best during winter times. There was plan to establish transmission point in US using the help of the Latvian American Association. It was also planed to establish a satellite network with other Baltic states to make the radio stations receivable in US and other countries using satellite TV. Both the Radio Latvia and Radio Vilnius exchanged news material

At that time the fate of the Latvian independence was decided to Latvian favor and Russia had recognized its independence. The station had filed an appeal with the United Nations for acquiring anew frequency. Its present 5935 kHz position is not very usable, however the Moscow had secured most of the best frequencies for themselves.  However, new frequency was not gained and new trouble was caused by World Wide Christian Radio that started to broadcast on 5935 kHz blocking the English program in US. Radio Latvia continued to use this frequency for many years until the closure of the foreign service on 2001.  Broadcasts also took place in Russian on evening times at the same frequency. The Russian language broadcasts were also aired on Medium Wave on 1071, 1485. 1539 kHz as the MW broadcasts could reach Russia during evenings and nights. There was also plan for Radio Riga station as joint venture between Baltic News Service and Germany that was short-lived project.

Radio Latvia continued its   shortwave radio broadcasts until it was decided that do the lack of state funding these broadcasts are no longer feasible. On 2000 the shortwave and medium wave broadcasts were turned off leaving the Radio Latvia on FM and on internet. The shortwave transmitter tower  in Ulbroka was rented by some foreign stations until it became abandoned and demolished on 2014. Recent years with new information war with Russia has shown that Radio Latvia lacks Medium Wave broadcasts to properly reach the border areas, where Russian and Belarusian radios are received in more better quality. Also Medium Wave broadcast in Russian directed towards Russia is cheaper and effective solution than   fruitless discussions about new Latvian TV service for Russian audience.

From Monitoring Times 1990 July issue

From Monitoring Times 1990 July issue

Radio Vilnius 

Lithuania started its radio service on 1926 from Kaunas which was than a national capital. After the soviet occupation when Vilnius became part of Lithuania the radio center moved there. Radio Vilnius on 1986 had no shortwave transmitter near Vilnius. Instead it used transmitters in Kaunas and two relays in Russia. Therefore their broadcasts were better received then their counterparts in Latvia and Estonia. Radio Vilnius used 7400 and 9710 kHz and was part of the Radio Moscow network.

Radio Vilnius started to broadcast in English as early as 1988 when they English broadcasts were scheduled on 13645 kHz on 22:00. Radio Vilnius English broadcasts were easy to receive in North America because it was using powerful Radio Moscow transmitters aimed at US. 2200  On 1989 it broadcast on -2230 (2300 -2330 in winter months) on 9765, 9860,15240, 15455, and 17665. The most rarely reported home service was on 9710 at 0300-2200. Judging by the reception reports on Monitoring Times magazine the Radio Vilnius was the most received and listened of all three Baltic international stations. The English program was hosted by Andrius Uzkalnis and Izolda Malyte. The radio hosted its own listeners club that was aired at the final Sunday of the every month. Membership was gained by sending 1o reception reports. In return for letters, the radio sent QSO cards (special radio postcard sent as a replay to the reception report), souvenirs and pennants.

From Monitoring Times 1990 July issue

From Monitoring Times 1990 July issue

Onward’s from 1990 when Lithuania declared full restoration of independence the Radio Vilnius received great attention from foreign listeners.  Station broadcast news about its independence declaration and national history and soon got in conflict with the Radio Moscow which provided resurgent station with powerful transmitters. On mid March 1990 for two days the Radio Vilnius transmissions were replaced by the Radio Moscow programs a move made by Soviet Ministry of Communications. Not only Moscow could cut off all the Radio Vilnius transmissions it also tried to jam them by transmitting strong Radio Minsk broadcast near the Radio Vilnius frequency. Unfortunately Radio Liberty also interfered by transmitting on of the Radio Vilnius frequencies.  Moscow official explained the two-day takeover
of Vilnius frequencies as a switching error due to converting schedules to summer time (BBC Monitoring) Trouble is, it happened a week before DST. The disruption continued as high power transmitters were cut off and replaced by weak defective transmitters that were used before as jammers. The reception was poor affected by load noise indicating deliberate disruption. The Lithuanian parliament voted to take control over radio and TV however, that did not seem to affect the radio disruption. On November 1990 the Voice of America looked up the possibility to find source of transmissions outside Soviet Union. Such step although noble was could also mean serious shift in US diplomacy that was generally supportive towards independence, but restrained to take active part hoping the issue would be decided by Lithuanians and Soviets themselves.

Soviets saw Lithuanian radio and TV as serious threat and therefore it was no wonder that on January 13 1991 the Soviet special Alfa forces stormed the radio and TV center in Vilnius with tanks. The assault and civilian resistance caused bloodshed taking the lives of 15 people. During the events of January foreign listeners heard the calls for armed resistance. January 13 was major turning point in the fight for independence that also caused Barricade uprising in Latvia.  Until August 1991 Soviets withdraw from further attempts to suppress the independence. However, the State and Radio building was still under soviet control till late August. The radio and TV had to relocate to new location within the city, a building that belonged to the Lithuanian Society for the Blind. In June the building was raided by Soviet Black Berets, but studio staff received warning of the incoming assault and loaded all the necessary equipment in the car and moved to the apartment building nearby.

The night after the attack on the radio station the soviet relay frequencies played only fill music. Two weeks later the Radio Vilnius was heard again with very critical report the events of January 13. Broadcasts continued from Kaunas transmitter. On March after exchanging for broadcast rights in Lithuania for two Moscow TV programs the Radio Vilnius gained its Soviet relays back. Meanwhile the Radio Vilnius got is competitor – Radio Centras – one of the first independent private radio stations in Soviet Union. From May 1991 it started its own shortwave broadcasts in English for DXers (hobby receivers of faraway signals) on 9170 kHz on morning times. 9170 kHz was also used by Radio Vilnius. Later the Radio Centras also made broadcast in Esperanto.

From Monitoring Times 1991 November issue

From Monitoring Times 1991 November issue

On August 1991 during the Moscow coup attempt Radio Vilnius was off for two days. The temporary studio building was seized, but after the end of the failed coup radio got its main building back. The radio and TV building was ransacked by soviet troops during the months of occupation and had to be placed back to order. Full independence was gained, however that meant that Vilnius may lose the transmitter relays in Russia that provided it with great worldwide reception. Also the transmission costs to rent these relays increased by six folds. The Radio Vilnius had used transmitters in Khabarovsk, Petrapovlosk-Kamchatky, in Moldova and in Krasnodar. Another transmitter was given up in Ukraine. On September, the transmitter in Khabarovsk was out-of-order.

QSL card from Radio Vilnius from 1997

QSL card from Radio Vilnius from 1997

Radio Vilnius raised popularity pretty quickly, but soon after the independence experienced fast demise. Station openly admitted that   its existence it at stake because of the funding shortages on 1993. All three Baltic States experienced major financial problems for many services caused by the collapse of the  soviet market. Many favorite radio shows disappeared without proper explanation , demoralizing the staff. After much talk the Radio Vilnius secured the English service for another year. Later on 1997 Radio Vilnius used transmitter in Germany. On 1999 a new transmitter site was unveiled  at Sitkunai, near Kaunas that was the main state transmitter site. New antenna towers were made by German company. Radio Vilnius broadcast on  three frequencies 9710, 9875, and 7325 kHz. The new modern transmission center supported by state parliament allowed Radio Vilnius to work for many years until 2009 the shortwave broadcasts were completely shutdown. The financial crisis that struck the country finally put end to the most famous of the all Baltic shortwave stations. The Sitkunia transmitter still uses Medium Wave for Radio Lithuania domestic service. Sitkunai is also used for Medium Wave transmissions of the Radio Baltic Waves International on 1386 Khz, the same frequency is also used by Radio Liberty Belarusian service, and Japanese NHK World Belarusian service. The close proximity to the Belarus allows Sitkunia transmitter to be good source of transmissions aired towards the authoritarian country.

From Monitoring Times August 1992

From Monitoring Times August 1992

Radio Tallinn/Radio Estonia

Estonia was the first Baltic country to start domestic radio service on 1924. It had one of the strongest transmitters in all inter war Europe. The broadcasts were aired for 15 hours a day, it had its own orchestra and joint broadcasts with Finland. On 1938 an experimental stereo broadcasts were made by the Tallinn radio.  Estonia started external service on 194o. Later however, comparing to Latvia and Lithuania its radio lesser known. Also comparing to Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia had very small almost unnoticed radio industry, while Latvia and Lithuania was one of the top radio producers in Soviet Union. Radio Tallinn on 1986 used 5925 kHz, however on certain period of day the frequency was also used by station in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The station featured a five -minute Esperanto broadcast at 0925 UTC on two Sundays of the month, and at 2225 UTC on two Thursdays of the month – a whole twenty minutes of shortwave per month. Such ‘economical’ schedule showed that shortwave is a low priority to the Estonians. On 1989 the political situation in the country made the station to start broadcasting in English once a week. Station also broadcast in Swedish and Finnish.  The 50 kW transmitter was one of the weakest in all three Baltic states therefore was a challenge to receive.  Lack of qualified English speakers kept the station from transmitting more often. News material and support was provided by Radio Finland. Since Estonia always considered it as Scandinavian country the Swedish and Finnish service was considered more important and signal in these languages were well received in the target country. Estonia also enjoyed quality reception of the Finnish TV and radio thanks to its close proximity to Finland. Soviet jammers were unable to properly silence the Finnish transmissions because only a narrow strait of Finland separated both countries.

Estonia started transition to independence on 1990. Similar as Latvia it had sizable Russian speaking population, many of them against independence. So in Estonia a station called Radio Nadezhda (Radio Hope) appeared on  Medium Wave frequency 747 kHz that was voicing the support for Moscow and stood against the Estonian independence. The station worked for many months until August 1991. Despite the opposition the events in Estonia were most peaceful comparing to Latvia and Lithuania. Estonia was mostly unaffected by  January events on 1991. Partly this because of the soviet Major-General Dhzokhar Dudayev who was in charge of the armed forces in Estonia and ignored the orders to attack Estonian parliament and television. Dudayev sympathetic to the Estonian national movement later became the leader of the Chechen struggle for independence.

Radio Tallinn added new shortwave frequency 9650 kHz and improved its English broadcasts. The August coup attempt on 1991 was met with Estonian resistance and barricades were built in the streets of Tallinn. On August 1992 the station was featured in the Monitoring Times magazine. Estonian radio had four domestic channels and external service in Swedish, Finn, Esperanto and English. The English service had only one staff member Ethel Halliste, who complained that low radio salaries did motivate other Estonian English speakers to acquire the job. The low funding and the weak shortwave transmitter made low prospects for the Estonian international radio broadcasting. On October 1993 Estonia was first to cancel all the foreign language broadcasts. On 1994 the shortwave broadcasts were again restored for a short time. Estonia did not live up to the shortwave broadcasting. In later years the country took different step by becoming one of the most innovative internet countries creating such mass communications tools as Skype and becoming one of the most Westernized of the three Baltic countries.

Shortwave radio broadcasting is now a thing of a past in the Baltic States. Latvia is a country of a rich history of radio production, its shortwave service however, was less known because its transmitter on 5935 kHz was not strong enough comparing to ones in Lithuania. The relative success of the Radio Vilnius can be explained by its use of multiple transmitters across the Soviet Union and high enthusiasm of its radio staff. Also the country provided great support to the state radio by building new major transmitter site in Sitkunai that is still used today. Estonian and Latvian governments did not gave much support to the shortwave broadcasting. The Radio Latvia board started to carefully study the Latvian Radio and Television law and found that shortwave radio transmissions can only took place if supported by state. Since state gave no money, the Latvians canceled the broadcasts. However, the work of these short-lived stations were not in wain. Western countries received important information about the events in the Baltic countries and generated support towards the independence movement. The shortwave radio journals show that foreign listeners were interested and sympathetic towards the Baltic radio stations. The radio stations helped the Baltic States to be found again on the world map. Today all the main news information from the Baltic states is available solely on internet. There is no Baltic news 24 hour satellite channel. The local state funded internet English news services have various quality. Good quality broadcasting and news content on English, German, Russian is vital in these times when new information war has taken pace. It’s doubtful that Baltic States will again broadcast in shortwave. However, the transmitter in Sitkunai, can be used for such purposes if the need arises.

Selected Sources:

Monitoring Times  issues from 1986 to 1999.

Jerome S. Berg. Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today.McFarland. 2008.

How Lithuania Boosted its Voice on the Shortwave http://www.zilionis.lt/rtv/qth/sit/RNW_lithuania020204.htm

Cancled transmissions from Lithuania http://mt-shortwave.blogspot.com/2009/01/cancelled-transmissions-from-lithuania.html

Jāizlemj par īsviļņu raidītāja izmantošanu Latvijas tēla veidošanai http://www.diena.lv/arhivs/jaizlemj-par-isvilnu-raiditaja-izmantosanu-latvijas-tela-veidosanai-10446936

The Classic and not so classic shortwave broadcast and utility and broadcast band (MW & LW) QSL home page http://k6eid.com/Lithuania.htm
Shortwave Radio Recordings: Radio Vilnius 1990-1991 http://swling.com/blog/2015/01/shortwave-radio-recordings-radio-vilnius-1990-1991/

Comments Off on International Radio Broadcasting from Baltic States. Broadcasting the Voice of Independence

Filed under Historical Articles

The VEF Radios

VEF 206 and VEF 221 world receivers

VEF 206 and VEF 221 world receivers

The Latvian famous State Electrotechnical Factory (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) founded on 1919 made many things – the famous Minox camera, telephones, even airplanes. But,  for one thing that its most liked by many including myself is their radios. VEF was one of the pioneers in the transistor analog radios in the Soviet Union. Together with Latvian Radiotehnika and Belorussian Selena radios the VEF set the standards for  Soviet radio quality. There is already a special post of the VEF overall history. This post is dedicated to VEF radio models in accordance to World Radio day on February 13th.

VEFAR 2MD first VEF rado from 1932

VEF has been known to make first radio receivers since early thirties. VEFAR 2MD made in 1932 was table model radio operated by tubes was known of the earliest stock models. It could receive Long Wave and Medium Wave bands. Most of early models had full wooden case. 1933 VEF Super 4MD/34 was first radio to include two shortwave bands as the shortwave reception was a new thing and not fully used. Owning a radio in thirties was a sign of intelligence and  wealth. Latvia received a handful of exports from Germany, but the Latvian made receivers started to become popular. After the rise of patriotism boosted by Kārlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime the Made in Latvia sign made these radios even more worthily.

Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37

Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37

One of the most beutiful models of  those times was Veflux Special (Geographic 37) MDGr/37. Decorated with map of Europe and with wide shortwave reception it was what connected Latvians with outside world. VEF released at least two new models every year and at the end of the thirties they became more compact and theretofore more affordable.  Some like Vefar B211 were exported to other countries like Germany. However, the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union and the German invasion 1941 halted the production.

VEF М-1357

After the World War 2 the VEF was nationalized by the Soviet Union. Soviet policy was not to destroy past Latvian companies but to restore them accordingly to Soviet economical needs. Riga was chosen as the main industrial center in the Baltic States. So radios were pretty soon again made in the VEF factory. On 1945 on the basis of the VEF Luxus M1307 the blueprint for VEF M-1357 was made. 14 lamp powered receiver with MW/LW and 3 SW bands was also very stylish according to those times. The main designer for VEF models was talented Anrejs Irbīte. Only small quantity of those models were released. Then came a truly compact receiver VEFSuper M557 with 3 bands and the ways of operation that became a standard. Volume knob served also as on and off knob, tuning knob and a smart tuner to alter the signal strengths. Together with round frequency dial. As the Soviet consumers demanded radios the Baltika (Baltics) radio receivers were released.  People who had no knowledge about  Latvia soon recognized it by VEF radios.

VEF-Akords (М-255)

The VEF production in fifties were still tabletop radios, in large size mostly to fit in the household main living room. Radios like Мир М-152  or Latvija M137 had vast shortwave reception despite the fact that soviets soon were forced to use jammers to prevent the western propaganda broadcasting. 1955 VEF-Akords (М-255) had vinyl record player so now people could listen to they favorite music every time.

Turist the first Soviet portable receiver

Even the most compact radio receiver was still too large and heavy to carry around. Then on 1955 a revolution was caused by portable Турист (ПМП-56) Turist PMP-59 the first Soviet portable radio. Size -270 – 180 – 90 мм. mass – 2.4 kg that was the parameters of the first Soviet portable. A radio also packed in letter case easily to carry around became a fad among youngsters. What today is another issue of Mini Ipad the VEF portables were the greatest gift for music lovers and travelers. Soviet people just as everyone else in the world knew how to have a good time. Battery powered and with earphones the VEF portables could be taken everywhere.

Spīdola portable transistor

The Radiotehnika company from Latvia is said to make first portable transistor radio Ausma on 1962. A transistor radio is a small portable radio receiver that uses transistor-based circuitry. Radiotehnika soon became popular with their Selga and Gauja series. So VEF came up with another grand idea to make ever successful Spīdola receiver. Named after mythical witch like character in Latvian epic Lāčplēsis the Spīdola was a revolutionary multi-band receiver. After the first Spīdola the Spīdola 10 followed, then VEF 12. VEF 202 was on 1970 was a successful model and later was released as VEF 206 export model. VEF radios were exported to Eastern block countries, Soviet allied countries like Cuba and countries in Africa. However, some companies in Western Europe also received the VEF production.

VEF- 214

The 1985 VEF 214 was more advanced. It had Automatic Frequency Control, separate on and off button, ability to switch battery power and AC power. Comparing to VEF 206 from 1975, that had only three knobs and the AC power box had to be screwed in the battery plug, the VEF 214 was a great step forward. However, the same uneasy to round band switcher was kept. For instance the 1967 Sanyo Campanetta Japan made 7 band receiver, already had AFC control, button for every wave band, treble and bass knob. Also the telescopic antenna was lot more taller than VEF antennas. And also the Sanyo had full FM band. The VEF 221 made on 1988 featured full FM band great audio quality and showed that Spīdola series still has potential.

VEF 260

VEF 260 and its successor models were adjusted to the new needs for cassette players.  VEF 284 was one of the first truly magnitola (radio with cassette players) and were very close to western models. VEF 287 on 1987 had dual cassette player. Also stereo systems and speakers were made however the Radiotehnika was more better at them.

After the fall of the Soviet Union both VEF and Radiotehnika lost it prime ties with the Soviet market. The badly done privatization ruined VEF and it has split in many parts making insignificant production. Radiotehnika managed to survive and  makes the top quality Hi-Fi audio speakers and systems and still two FM only portables Kandava and Abava.

The supreme VEF ,models especially the Spīdola series are now a vintage radio collection valuables. If preserved they work strikingly well.  They can work with modern mostly D type batteries, if the AC power plug is preserved then they can work with it. However, the outputs for headphones and external antennas are different than the western standard. The signals they can receive is according to their bands – if Long Wave, Medium Wave and Shortwave these bands are not empty as most would think. Many international broadcasters have ceased their activity, but many remain and also the radios must be placed further from modern electric appliances to keep of interference. If the conditions is good and patience is at hand the LW,MW and SW bands can be more fun then the regular FM band.

Latvia has its very special place in radio history with its radios made by VEF and Radiotehnika. As radio hobbyist myself I find important to write stories and find and preserve the Latvian made radio receivers. If you happen to own a old VEF or even working VEF radio don’t trow it out. keep it and listen to it as they were ipads and planshetes at the times of our fathers. Radio is not dead and will never be and exists in what ever like form.

Selected Sources:




Comments Off on The VEF Radios

Filed under Historical Articles

The History of the Latvian Radio

The main building of the Latvian Radio

Radio is the first mass media in the world. For many decades since the end of 19th century radio has been an important source of information. Despite the television and the internet people still listen to the radio everyday and everywhere in the world. In the possible event of the natural or industrial disaster radio may be the only source of information as it was back in the days of World war II and early days of the Cold War when millions of people’s turned radio every evening to hear the latest news.

Latvia is no stranger to radio and the Latvian Radio has worked since 1925. It all begun in 1895. When scientists learned to transmit information over large distances using radio waves. It’s still a matter of discussion whether it was Guglielmo Marconi or Alexander Popov who first discovered and invented radio, but both these men made great contribution to radio invention. In the first years after the great invention radio was used for two point communications. Then in the  beginning of the golden  twenties radio signals were transmitted to various locations and the public broadcasting was born.

The first working broadcasting center was opened in London on  February 1 1922. Next one was opened in Berlin year later and many other cities in Germany. Then in 1925 first experimental radio broadcasts were done in Riga, Latvia. From radiotelegraph transmitter at Kuģu street first words transmitted were: “Hallo! Hallo!  The Riga radio test!”

The building of Latvian broadcaster was inspired by engineer Janis Linters. Radio broadcasts were not widely known to public. First Latvian parliament budget  commission rejected the funding of the new project. It was hard to explain to deputies how radio receiver actually works. From available parts found in the Pardaugava radio center a radio receiver was made. A two pair of headphones was included and the radio receiver was demonstrated to the deputies. Astonished statesmen one by one listened to the broadcaster who was reading the “Government Herald”. Linters explained how easy it was to use a radio receiver and told that can also be made in Latvia. Linters calculated that invested funds will pay off in 10-15 years. However he was wrong because of the high numbers of radio subscribers the investments paid off in four years.

The father of the Latvian radio Janis Linters.

Before the final vote. Deputies asked many questions how the electromagnetic waves spread – should doors be opened to let them into the room. The budget commission finally voted yes.  140 000 LVL was given to build a broadcaster. It happened in 1924, March 28.

The radio station was built by  a French company. From Dunkirk to Riga by ship antenna pole and transmitter equipment was sent and was intended to be used in Central Post office along the canal side. Later this street along the canal was named Radio street. Radio equipment working on 200 watts was placed in two rooms. The wavelength was 480, 3 meters. Antenna pole was erected near the Post building.

The Radio Latvia building at the Aspazijas Boulevard 5 with two radio towers nearby

The Radio Latvia building at the Aspazijas Boulevard 5 with two radio towers nearby

Radio broadcaster was opened on November 1 1925. After the short speech by the transportation minister a connection was made to opera theater and the opera by Puccini Madame Butterfly was played on radio.

 In 1929 a reconstruction of the transmitter was made. Its power was raised to 15 kW and antenna towers were extended to 60 m. It was done by Latvian broadcast workers. Radio became popular in Latvia. The Latvian main industrial company VEF produced large numbers of the top quality radio receivers. The air was filled with news, weather news, children broadcasts,  music and many other programs. Radio was used by Karlis Ulmanis authoritarian regime, speeches and propaganda were played in the air.

As the Soviet occupation begun in 1940, the first thing that was captured was the Radio and Post office building. New regime fired many people from radio and changed the programs. The worshiping service broadcasts were removed and changed to Soviet propaganda.

As the new German occupation came the Latvian radio was added to German radio net (Deutche Rundfunk). The Germans again removed many workers and established the Ostland radio broadcast. When the Germans retreated from Latvia they dissembled or destroyed the radio equipment. Just day before leaving Riga the radio tower was brought down and Radio and Post office was set ablaze.

 After the war everything was destroyed and radio broadcasting was to start again from the scratch. In 1944 at Riga radio communication and radio broadcasting direction was established. The first radio studio site was located at Skolas street 6 now a Latvian Jewish society center. The name was changed many times until the main institution was named Latvian Radio and television center in 1972.

Many transmitter stations were built along Latvia. A new technology was discovered as the stereophonic broadcasts were made and the  shortwave band was discovered. Latvia Radio 2 was made in 1949, along with classical music program. For many years Radio was used as a propaganda tool by the Soviet government. The VEF continued to produce state of the art radios. Then in the late eighties after the lift of censorship the radio started to fight for Latvian independence. During the events of barricades and the August coup in 1991, radio was the only source of information. Radio workers went to the secret transmitting site  in case if the coup in Moscow succeeds.

 After the reigning of the independence Latvian radio became a nonprofit organization. The generous state funding from the Soviet time was shortened and Radio had to cancel transmitting in medium waves and shortwaves. Now Latvian Radio is only available in FM band.

Right now the  Latvian radio has 5 stations. LR 1 is the main news, comments and information broadcaster. LR 2 is for entertainment and plays only Latvian music. LR 2 is one of the most popular radio stations in Latvia. LR 3   plays classical music and jazz. LR 4 broadcasts in Russian language. LR 5 Naba is an alternative music station mainly for university students.  LR 1 in Riga is on 90,7 MHz, LR 2 on 91, 5 MHz, LR 3 103,7 MHz, LR 4 107, MHz. Latvian Radio is also available on the internet from the main site.

The radio must compete with many commercial radios that works on the FM band. The most popular commercial radio is Radio SWH that also has a rock station and Russian language version, also the Radio Skonto, Star FM, Radio 101 and many others. There is a Latvian Christian Radio and many Russian language radios along with local radios. Only Latvian station on medium wave is Radio Merkurs. A last shortwave station that transmitted in Latvian was the Vatican Radio. It halted its broadcast in 2012.

Right now Latvian Radio works in Dome Square 8 in Riga. There is a discussion of merging Latvian Radio with Latvian State television to save money on state financing. No matter the decisions Latvian Radio will be in the air as long as the Latvia exists and will be a symbol of the country.

Selected Sources:

Kruks, Sergejs. “Hallo šeit Rīga, radiofons!” http://www.arhivi.lv/sitedata/ZURNALS/zurnalu_raksti/45-73-VESTURE-Kruks-Radio..pdf


Comments Off on The History of the Latvian Radio

Filed under Historical Articles