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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/