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

http://www.lvrtc.lv/lat/par_mums/vesture/radio_vesture_Latvija

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