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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.


Radio Vilnius and Radio Riga broadcasting schedule on 1989. Radio Vilnius: The Broadcasting service of the Lithuanian Soviet republic transmits in English: 22:00 – 23:00 666, 610 kHz 23:00 23:30 6100, 6200, 7165, 13645, 15810, 15455, kHz. Programs one hour earlier in the summer. Reception reports will be reviewed by QSL card. Adress: Radio Vilnius, Lietuvas Radijas Konarskio 49, Lithuanian SSR, USSR Radio Riga. The foreign service from Latvia in Latvian and Swedish can be heard here: Programs in Swedish: 8:00- 8:30 576, 5935 kHz Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 20:00 -20:50 576, 5935 kHz, 21:30-22:00 576, 5935 kHz The Sunday morning program on 5935 kHz is mostly good to receive. Programs in Latvian on medium wave can be heard on 1350 kHz. Sundays from 8:30 we can hear a Latvian program on 5935 kHz, Reception reports will be reviewed by QSL card Adress Radio Riga, Latvijas Radio Box 3360 226 000 Riga, Latvia, USSR from “Sender und Frequenzen ’89” West Germany


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 Tallin_Freq_1988

Broadcasting schedule of Radio Tallinn on 1989. Programs from Estonia can be received sometimes on the evening on medium wave at 1035, 1215, 1332, or 1512 kHz. Broadcasts in Finnish: Sundays: 8:00-9:00 1035, 5925 kHz Daily: 9:15 10:00 1035 kHz Daily 16:00 -16:35 1035, 5925 kHz In Swedish Sundays: 9:00- 9:30 Daily: 21:00-21:35 In Estonian Daily 21:35 -22:00 1035, 5925 kHz In summer all broadcasts are one hour earlier. The morning programs can be heard. Reception reports will be reviewed with QSL card. Adress: Radio Tallinn, Esti Radio Lomonossovi 21 Estonian SSR, USSR. from “Sender und Frequenzen ’89” West Germany

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

Canceled 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/


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International Shortwave Radio Broadcasting in Latvian Language

During the Cold War shortwave radio broadcasting was essential tool of propaganda used by both sides. United States spent large sums of money to host two major shortwave services – the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE). The goal of these stations was to broadcast the American point of view to the people of the Eastern bloc trapped behind the Iron Curtain.  The stations had many language services that broadcasted to the targeted nations in their own native language. The workers of these stations were exiles, who wished to fight for freedom on the airwaves.  VOA and RFE broadcasted in Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech and many other languages. Eventually both stations started the Latvian service to reach out to the people of the occupied country. Broadcasts in Latvian were hosted also by Radio Vatican, National Radio of Spain and Radio Free Russia. All these broadcasts made great impact on anti-soviet movement and played important role in process of restoration of independence. Today the shortwave radio is almost forgotten so it’s worth to remember once again. Also, within the context of present day war of information between West and Russia this serves as reminder. Article describes the history of these Latvian western radio stations in detail.

USA VOA sticker

Voice of America (Amerikas Balss)

Voice of America was the first US shortwave radio station funded and controlled by the state. It was established on 1942 dictated by the need for state propaganda during the World War II. The Office of War Information hosted the station and it was mainly for Germany and Japan.  On 1945 it was transferred to the Department of the State. The political situation rapidly changed into confrontation between two former allies US and USSR so on 1947 the VOA started broadcasting in Russian. It was done to counter the soviet propaganda and spread the US view of democracy to the soviet people. Eventually VOA sought the need for broadcasts for the people in the occupied Baltic States. US never recognized the occupation of Latvia, the Latvian embassy in Washington worked in exile and US hosted large number of Latvian refugees. So work begun on organizing the VOA Latvian service.

The preparations were made on autumn of 1950. The Latvian ambassador in exile Jūlijs Feldmanis came to Latvian exile newspaper Laiks (Times) in Brooklyn New York to gather staff for the new service. The volunteers had to fill Security Clearance inquires of the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The questions mainly focused on person’s biography, workplace, organizations and relatives to test the applicant’s political loyalty to US. Also the inquiry needed three witnesses to confirm the fairness of the given information.

The first who applied were Orests Berlings, Ēvalds Freivalds, Irēne Karule, Arvīds Klāvsons and Aleksandrs Liepa and the well-known actor and stage director Osvalds Uršrteins.  Berlings had experience working in pre-war Latvian newspaper Brīvā Zeme (The Free Land) and the newspaper of the displaced people in Germany Die Post un Im Ausland (Post in Foreign Land) Freivalds also worked in Brīvā Zeme, later in the Latvian State Radio, in exile was editor of the Austrijas Latviešu Balss (Voice of Latvians in Austria).  Karule as student worked in Latvian State Radio for a short time in 1940. Klāvsons was chief editor of the pre war newspaper Rīts (Morning) He took part in the anti-Nazi resistance group during the Nazi occupation.  In Germany he edited the Latvijas Ziņas (Latvian News) in the Latvian refugee camp in Esslingen. Liepa also worked in Rīts and in Germany was one of the founders of the Latvian Press Workers cooperation assembly and edited the newspaper Latvija (Latvia).

Shortly after New Year’s Eve on 1951 the volunteers were invited to interviews to the VOA office in New York. The interviewer was Robert Bauer chief of European section. All except Klāvsons were admitted to the service. The heads of the Latvian Service was Benno Ābers who edited the Latvian Encyclopedia before the war,  Vilis Masēns from the Latvian diplomatic staff and director of the service Harijs Lielnors the only one with US passport, resident since 1923.

Lithuanians were first to broadcast on February 16 1951 the Lithuanian Independence day. Latvians and Estonians first broadcast on June 3 1951. The radio programs were produced by Osvalds Uršteins whose professionalism soon lead him to produce programs for other language services. Meanwhile FBI excluded Aleksandrs Liepa for “bad political background”, while Vilis Masēns left the service to work for the Committee for a Free Europe, Inc. The service hired more workers including Alfrēds Bērziņš the Minister of Social Affairs during Kārlis Ulmanis dictatorship and was active in the Latvian exile and author of many books.

First broadcast started with words of former actor Milda Zīlava with words in English: “This is the Voice of America. The following broadcast is in Latvian”, and then the same in Latvian. After statement that the broadcast will take place every day, the announcer Masēns introduced Latvian ambassador in exile Jūlijs Feldmanis and one now forgotten member of the US congress. Masēns then read the statement of the US State Secretary Edward W. Barrett that US never accepted and recognized the occupation of Latvia. After 15 minute broadcast Masēns, named the times and frequencies and in the ending statement read the VOA standard phrase “We broadcast truthful news, no matter good or bad, but always true!”, and with that Zīlava said farewell words “To hear us again, dear listeners!”.

First broadcast was met with excitement by the staff by the fact that it was received in Latvia. Many exiles were inspired by the War in Korea hoping that it will lead to ultimate collapse of communism and liberation. On November 18, Latvian Independence day, special broadcast by Irēne Karule touched the issues of the Latvian history. The history or wars, resistance, independence and occupation and hope for brighter future were written in poetry. The peculiar programming style different from VOA standard was impressing and Irēne Karule was rewarded. Later however, the VOA standards were applied to Latvians too.

Osvalds Uršteins (producer) and Irēne Karule (both behind) interviews a refugee from Soviet Union Žanis Nice on 1953

Osvalds Uršteins (producer) and Irēne Karule (both behind) interviews a refugee from Soviet Union Žanis Nice on 1953

Latvian VOA service survived many presidential administrations from Harry S Truman to George W Bush. It had to confirm with the changing foreign policy of every president, to not made aversions and create unfilled hopes within listeners. Bravura and empty promises done more harm than good so were forbidden. The staff was forbidden to express their personal views that in many cases were difficult task because Latvian exiles mostly opposed the US attempts of appeasing the Soviet Union.  The broadcasts were supervised, nongovernmental views were only allowed in the press reviews. The core of every program was official news from Washington, accustomed to Europe and Latvia. The station broadcasted news about worker uprising in East Berlin on 1953, the Hungarian uprising on 1956 when VOA added eight special daily broadcasts. VOA also reported on the Cuban missile crisis, actions of the Latvian exiles and Latvian anti-soviet resistance movement. Briefly from 1956 to 1958  reacting to the events in Hungary VOA set up a station in Europe in Munich and Latvian service moved there involving local exiles. However, two years later VOA cut funds to Europe station and Latvians moved back to US. Onwards from 1987 the VOA Latvian service covered all the news of the restoration movement. On 1987 when first mass protests took place in Latvia, VOA and Radio Free Europe was one of the first to announce the dates and places of the protests. It helped to gather large masses to the events and boosted the campaign for full independence from USSR.

The VOA Latvian service was in brief trouble after the election of Richard Nixon. VOA intended to shorten the broadcast times for Baltic service stations. The reason stated was the soviet jamming stations that required new frequencies and longer broadcast times for Russian service. The real reason was Nixon detente policy to ease relations with Soviet Union that also meant easing the stance on Baltic States occupation. The act was met with many protests from the Baltic exiles who complained to the Unites States Information Agency (USIA) After Nixon resignation, the new president Jimmy Carter renamed to International Communications Agency. His doctrine for defending the civil rights and weak position to USSR was not enjoyed by Baltic exiles either. More favorable was Ronald Reagan with his “crusade against communism” that was enjoyed by the Latvian VOA staff.

The reaction from Latvian audience in homeland was mixed. At first it was met with excitement; however after 1949 mass deportations many Latvians found VOA promises of coming liberation empty and unsettling. The reaction from soviet authorities was the establishment of the powerful jamming stations. Despite that the VOA broadcasts were still heard. The Latvian radio factories VEF and Radiotehnika produced the radios in masses. The authorities tried to limit the frequency range for domestic models. KGB persecuted people caught listening to VOA. Despite all of this the facts shows that VOA affected the Latvian listeners. On first year of broadcast Irēne Karule interviewed student in exile who received state grant.  The broadcast was heard by her father who was just released from soviet prison camp and found out his daughter is alive and well in America. He sent the letter from Denmark to VOA editorial in New York. The post address was written in Latvian; surprisingly the Danish post office managed to translate the address and sent it to New York. The daughter who was unaware of his father’s fate was also exited. Five Latvian fishermen who demanded political asylum in Newfoundland claimed they heard VOA in their ocean trawler and back home in Latvia. The editorial received letters from Latvia, praising and criticizing the broadcasts. Broadcasts were also listened by the Latvian exiles in Europe.

After the restoration of independence, VOA Latvia service worked until 2004 when it was closed by the decision of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The service was no longer sustainable due to the financial situation and changes in the US foreign policy. The Latvian exiles were getting old and the number of listeners in Latvia significantly dropped. VOA used FM frequencies hosted by Latvian State Radio and other radios. Shortwave radios became use less and less. The service was closed with its staff expressing hope that after 30 years of work the VOA Latvian service had reached its goal. Latvia was independent and member of NATO with open connections to the western world.

VOA Latvian service interval signal (2002)

RFE Sticker

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (Radio Brīvā Eiropa) (Radio Brīvība)

The communist takeover of Eastern Europe and soviet anti-western propaganda sought US counter action. The National Security Council issued NSC-4-A order to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to “initiate and conduct covert psychological operations to counterattack soviet and soviet inspired activities which constitutes a threat to the world peace”. One of these operations was to create “surrogate radio stations” that would broadcast anti-soviet information to the soviet occupied countries, and yet they must not be officially connected to the US government.  Former US ambassador in Moscow George F. Kennan lead the creation of the Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty who made the guidelines for these covert CIA propaganda stations. Frank Wisner later CIA director was in charge of the Office of Special Projects set the practical stage for these stations to work. Radio Liberty or Radio Svoboda was primary for Soviet Union in Russian language that started to work on 1949. Radio Free Europe was made for Eastern European communist controlled countries and begun work on 1950 in Czech language, eventually broadcasting in Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, ect. RFE was known for its propaganda campaign “Crusade for Freedom”. RFE is often mentioned as one of the prominent stir ups of the Hungarian revolution on 1956 when it actively supported the resistance against the soviet invasion. Perhaps a bit too actively, for the Western support never came and revolution was crushed and soviets blamed RFE for provoking the nation into fight. On 1967 leftist magazine Rampant disclosed the RFE and RL connection with CIA. Scandal erupted the White House.  At one point disappointed Richard Nixon who wanted completely re-organize the CIA thought about closing the stations.  However, on 1973 the decision was taken to turn RFE/RL into new hybrid organization both funded privately and by the United States congress.  The RFE/RL works this way until this day.

Baltic services came to RFE bit later than VOA. The CIA front organization The National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) that directed RFE rejected first calls from Lithuanian exiles to include Baltic nations in their program. NCFE indented to use RFE to organize anti-communist exiles in US to serve as surrogates for the lack of democratic institutions in homeland.  American policy makers were thought that such committees might duplicate or worse make the exiled Baltic diplomats representing their republics irrelevant with broader exiled communities globally. NCFE also determined the Baltic service as too costly in comparison to already existing language services. After VOA started its Baltic services, the NCFE saw that as prime excuse not to make their own broadcasts.

The Baltic exiles became more organized and cooperative and eventually gained more support from NCFE. NCFE supported the Baltic Freedom Rally on 1952 in New York that took place again many years ahead. Over the decade more new generation exiles started to take active part in the community and lobbied the NCFE. After 1967 CIA cover up and changes into US foreign policy towards detente, state the policy towards RFE changed. On 1971 the campaigns in US congress started to fully detach RFE and RL from CIA and on 1973 as mentioned above the stations were now funded by US congress. This decision was actually favorable for Baltic exiles because now they could more openly influence the congress and RFE to include them into broadcasts. After joint lobby attempts by the Baltic exile organizations, the proposal for adding Baltic language broadcasts was added to 1974 Fiscal Budget plan. The proposal again sought opposition because of financial expenses. Representative of the exiles Ilgvars J. Spilners head of American Latvian Alliance  (ALA) made testimony to the congress explaining the importance of these broadcasts. Spilners described to the congress of the dangers of Russification in the Baltic States and determined that more broadcasts in native language would help the Baltic nations to survive the assimilation. Spilners also noted that RFE Baltic surrogate stations would also broadcast more news from the Baltic States then allowed by official VOA. Spilners convinced many congress men including Robert H. Steele to push for Baltic service within RL Eventually thanks to his efforts on 1975 all three Baltic language services started broadcasting. In February Lithuanian started first on July Latvian and Estonian followed. Baltic services were included within Radio Liberty because it was intended mainly for nations in Soviet Union.

The chief editor of the Latvian service was Valdemārs Kriecbergs who worked in pre war Latvian Foreign ministry and on 1956-1958 worked in VOA European station in Munich. The broadcasts were 30 minutes long were irregular at the beginning, then from September the broadcasts were daily, discussing political, social and economic issues. The very first members of the staff were Valdemārs Kriecbergs, Vilis Skutāns, poet Margarita Ausale and Dagmāra Vallena. The studio was in RL headquarters in Munich. The transmissions took place from 100 KW transmitter  in Lampenheim, West Germany. The staff workers used aliases due to the omnipresent surveillance from KGB. On 1982 the new chief editor was Vilis Skultāns (alias Pēteris Vijums). Valdemārs Kriecbergs only came to his duty after his employers re-assured that RL Russian editorial would not influence the Latvian service. The 24 hour Russia service tried to affect colleague services. However it was baffled itself in the conflict between old generation WWI/WWII exiles and new generation exiles many of them with Jewish origin.

One of the five most known RL Latvian service staff journalists were Margarita Ausala, philologist and poet, and was active in the academic circles. Egīls Švarcs was well received musician in Soviet Union where he lead the Riga Music Hall orchestra later emigrated to Germany and took up the radio microphone. Born in US from exiled family in West Germany Juris Kaža was one of the youngest members of the service. He was working there for three years, and then started long carrier in many foreign media including Associated Press, Radio Sweden. Kaža now works and lives in Latvia, an active journalist and blogger. Doctor in philology Dzintra Bungs made many studies and reports about the issues in the Baltic States that were used by many RL/RFE services for their broadcast programs. Rolfs Ekmanis started working on 1975 as Māris Rauda, commented on social and national issues within the Soviet Union. On 1986 he became the senior editor; on 1990 he became the chief of the RFE Latvian service. On 1993 he left the radio to work in Arizona State University.

Rolfs Ekmanis in his Latvian editorial office in Munich

Rolfs Ekmanis in his Latvian editorial office in Munich

The program started with brief musical interval signal, the program announcement, daily news, on Sundays- weekly review of events. The news are followed by detailed commentary about world events, including those in occupied Baltic countries, materials from the Baltic press in exile, interviews and brief excepts from books and printed works. Latvians were first in RL to extend program time from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Despite soviet jammers the station was receivable and listener reports and letters concluded that station receives significant attention. Most Latvians liked to listen to Latvian language stations and found RL best alternative to soviet stations. It was reported that families and friends gathered to listen to scheduled RL broadcasts with no objections. Sometimes in Latvian journals the soviets published texts condemning or ridiculing the RL broadcasts showing how disturbed were the authorities by these broadcasts.

Satirical soviet magazine Dadzis on Radio Free Europe

Satirical soviet magazine Dadzis on Radio Free Europe

On 1984 the Latvian service was moved to Radio Free Europe. RFE involved broad spectrum of Latvian exiles all across the world. On 1986 the new soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev fully stopped the shortwave jamming allowing the RFE and VOA to freely broadcast in the Latvian radio waves. RFE journalists freely entered Latvia, and featured the leading forces for independent Latvia. Same as VOA or even more it aided the restoration movement. After Latvia became independent again,  RFE was featured on Latvian FM frequencies. Some of its staff members moved to Latvia and took part in local social and political activities. Radio Free Europe ceased its Latvian broadcasts for the same reasons as VOA on 2003. Radio Liberty still broadcasts on Russian and Belarusian to counter resurgent anti-democratic regimes in Russia and Belarus.

Radio Free Europe Latvian service interval signal 1999


Radio Vatican   (Radio Vatikāns)

Historically the Latvian service on Radio Vatican was the oldest broadcasting already on 1948. Radio Vatican (Radio Vaticana in Latin) was founded on 1931 as the voice of the catholic people across the world. First, broadcast took place on October 2 1948 for 15 minutes once a week. From 1966 Programma Lettone started to broadcast four times in a week, from 1975 six times in a week and extended to 20 minutes. First broadcasts were mainly religious, preaching’s, prayers and papal news. Later the program included news about Catholics in Latvia, life of other confessions and lives in exile. The station recommended believers not engage into political resistance or subversion; however the soviet power regarded the Catholic Church as dangerous anti-soviet element.  As first foreign broadcast in Latvian it gathered large audience and interest. The radio called to gather in the churches to pray for free Latvia, for God to open road to free Latvia more quickly. After radio mentioned Kārlis Ulmanis and Stalin as man with no honor the broadcasts were targeted by jammers. The jamming stopped in the sixties making the station better receivable than the other ones.

The Vatican radio host can only be clergy man, his assistant must so too. Other staff members can be laity. At first programs was lead by Jesuit father Pāvils Beičs. For long years chief editor was father Staņislavs Kučinskis who after finishing Catholic Studies in Latvia, in thirties went to Rome, then to Krakow to study theology. After that he worked as priest in various places across Italy. He also proved himself as historian writing researches about Catholic history. On 1968 the editorial was joined by Monsignor Ārvaldis Andrejs Brumanis. Brumanis was conscripted into Latvian Waffen SS Legion, wounded in Pomerania, taken captive in Belgium where he finished the Latvian Catholic Seminary.  He also finished Louvain University Faculty of History and doctor in theology. On 1996 Pope John Paul II consecrated him to the Bishop of Liepāja, in Latvia.

One of the prominent laity staff members were Dr. Marta Rasupe who came to Rome after winning in international Romanic language competition and became doctor in philology in Rome University where she headed the Latvian section for long decades. She worked as reporter for the radio using her great translation and academic skills, made rich programs of culture.

Starting from seventies, the radio talked more about the difficult relations between the Church and the soviet power. Radio also called Latvians to keep their national traditions. The Lithuanian Catholic underground magazine Lietuvos kataliku bažnyčios kronika was featured by the radio exposing the persecution of the Catholic priests and believers across the Soviet Union. The Vatican Latvian service continued broadcasting until 2012 when major service cut by the Radio Vatican was made. It was the oldest and longest Latvian language service.

Radio Vatican Interval signal 1982


National Radio of Spain/Voice of Free Latvians Radio (Radio Nacional de Espańa/ Brīvā Latviešu Balss)

National Radio of Spain (NRS) came in to light in 1937 during the Civil War controlled by the Francisco Franco regime. Franco’s Spain was one of the countries in the West who did not recognize the occupation of the Baltic States and hosted their embassies in exile. As anti-communist regime it allowed NRS broadcast in 16 languages of the nations within Soviet Union. The Latvian program was called Brīvā Latviešu Balss – the Voice of Free Latvians (VFL) the people who created the service was Latvian diplomatic envoy in Spain Roberts Kampus and daughter of famous Latvian writer Pāvils Rozītis Dzidra Rozīte.

Roberts Kampus was Independence war veteran, studied in Latvian University and Sorbonne University in thirties worked in embassies in Moscow, Stockholm, Rome and London. From 1953 he was the Latvian envoy in exile in Madrid. The service started broadcasting on 1955 and was directed by Kārlis Videnieks until 1961. Every day program was aired twice in 24 hours made almost by Videnieks alone. He was replaced by Teodors Strautmanis, who worked in the newspaper Rīts (Morning), during Nazi occupation was editor of the foreign section of the newspaper Tēvija (Fatherland). He escaped soviets by crossing the Baltic Sea and arrived in Sweden where edited newspaper Latvju Avīze (Latvian Newspaper). Before taking job in Madrid, he worked at the VOA section in Munich.

From 1964 to 1965 the service was directed by Vilis Skultāns who worked in the Latvian Telegraph Agency before the war. He was the one who first informed Latvian foreign minister Vilhelms Munters about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. During Nazi occupation he worked in Tēvija (Fatherland), and then was conscripted in to Waffen SS where he worked in front line newspaper Daugavas Vanagi (Hawks of Daugava). He spent two years in refugee camps. After that, he took part in the exile social activities published in many newspapers.

The work in RNS was difficult do to the primitive technical recourses. The twenty-minute program was made by only two people, sometimes just one. If one of the workers fell sick, he could not be replaced. The RNS did not pay full salary to the two staff workers and the exile organizations were not generous either. With some funding the exiles gave information materials often in novice level. One of the top contributors of information was closed society Apvienība Tēvzemei (Alliance for Fatherland). The less known organization in undated report stated that NRS VFL broadcasted AF materials were sovereign and independent broadcasts for free and democratic Latvia. The AT refuses to support the official views of Washington and condemns the non-political, pro-American agenda of the American Latvian Alliance. AT opposed the Truman Doctrine for it only wowed to prevent the communist expansion outside its borders, but allowed to exist within.

As other stations the RNS VFL was jammed by soviets, except the times when jammers were turned off so the soviet agents could listen to VFL. RNS did not have the funds for broadcasting at many frequencies at once from various places and repeat them. Despite technical issues and jammers the radio was heard in Latvia, and through covert ways the listener letters were received. Some listeners praised the station for its sharp “poisonous” tone when criticizing the soviet power. Others praised for playing the national anthem on the morning of the November 18th. As the radio aired on mornings some described them as the happiest time of the day. Meanwhile soviet newspapers condemned the “fascist pirates” on the radio waves.

Skultāns wrote memorandum on the future of the Latvian broadcast and presented it at the 1st Latvian Culture congress in Chicago and Madrid radio committee to improve the station was formed. The radio station program consisted of every day news, cultural events and reviews.  Once a week a special program was aired to counter claims of the soviet propaganda. Twice a week the radio talked about Russification and some economical issue. Skultāns made strong anti-communist comments more sharper than all other Latvian language services.  Radio also told stories of the brave Latvian Waffen SS legion fighting the soviets and countered the soviet accusations towards them.

On May 31 1965 for unknown reasons the RNS VFL was suddenly taken off air. At first the shutdown was temporally, and then it held for 52 months.  Officially the reason was technical issues, but as it was rumored it was due to change of Spanish foreign policy. After months of unsuccessful talks Skultāns abandoned Madrid and went to Frankfurt. There the Voice of Free Latvians made second coming as part of Radio Free Russia.

On 1969 the RNS unexpectedly restored the Latvian service. Skultāns returned to Madrid. On September 20 1969 narrator Ivonna Muktāne announced on the radio waves: “This is broadcast for our Latvian fatherland and freedom from the main Spanish National radio in Madrid. We broadcast every day from 21:15 to 21:30 on Latvian time on 32,04 meter shortwave with two repeats on 15:45 to 16:00 in the evening on 30,7 meter shortwave. Please tell your trustful friends and relatives, so they can also listen to our programs! Skultāns meanwhile was cautious about longevity of the Latvian program in Spain due to the coming changes in the Spanish government. He warned member Silvestrs Lambergs of ALA that criticized by many the VFL on Radio Free Russia might live longer than VFL on Spanish radio. ALA planned to take over the VFL broadcast and made Lambergs as supervisor. Lambergs had received special education in radio programming and later did half-hour Latvian radio programs in Latvian in Boston.

Skultāns had issue gathering staff members and financial support. Many offered support, but later declined. The religious programming was troubled because preacher Vilis Vārsbergs was always late in submitting program materials and was out of contact. ALA Information Bureau paid its reporters no more than 8$ for every text. Eventually the Madrid editorial came into conflict with ALA because it started to ignore ALA directives and sent program texts. Skultāns originally promised to work in Madrid for three months so ALA tried searching for a new chief editor. The search failed for the candidates the editor of newspaper Latvija (Latvija) Austra Liepiņa was seen as unfit for radio, while flamenco guitarist Andris Kārkliņš who know Spanish very well was seen as too young for such job. So Skultāns was left as chief and even tasked to write three programs in a week.

From 1955 to 1965 VFL featured programs in Latgalian – a distinct form of Latvian language in Latvian eastern part of Latgale. The programs were hosted by Vladislavs Lōcis. When Latgalians tried to apply for new radio show promising no financial need for Latgalian exiles have enough support on their own, the ALA rejected because it would not have any control over this broadcast. Also, the issue was raised over Latgalian language that was not knowledgeable to all Latvians and ALA demanded not to allow Lōcis to appear every week on the radio, and send their broadcast text to ALA in middle-Latgalian dialect that is more knowledgeable to the common Latvian. Meanwhile the Spanish radio management on 1970, 1971 and 1972 issued orders to Latvians to use only Spanish official sources. In each situation the order was quickly canceled and Spanish bureaucracy apologized for misunderstanding. The management was unaware of the Spanish non-recognition policy and did not coordinate their decisions with the governmental officials.

The issues between ALA and VFL grew stronger. ALA paid ridiculously low salaries to two assistants of Skultāns Ivonna Muktāne and Elza Grigāne De Miguel – 100$ in a month. While Skultāns asked to increase the salary, ALA ordered to fire one of the workers. Ignoring Skultāns ALA ceased payments to both workers, who for patriotic reasons decided to stay at the station. ALA then came to decision to end all financial support to Madrid station. Estonians and Lithuanians who continued to support the broadcasts were puzzled by this action, while Spilners started campign to support the radio station. ALA only agreed to finance VFL in case if Spanish radio increases the transmitter power. While such promises were made,  they were not fulfilled and funding problem continued. On June 14 1972 Ivonna Muktāne went to Venezuela to give birth to a child and become a citizen of the country. Elza Grigāne asked for replacement, but it never came. While Lithuanian and Estonian service went on full swing, the Latvian service of the National Radio of Spain was closed forever.

National Radio of Spain interval signal 1965

The Radio Free Russia transmitters used by the Voice of Free Latvians

The Radio Free Russia transmitters used by the Voice of Free Latvians

Свободная Россия/Brīvā Latviešu Balss (Radio Free Russia/Voice of Free Latvians)

The National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (Национально Трудовой Союз) NTS was formed on 1930 by the group of Russian anti-communist exiles. Their aim was topple the Bolshevik regime in Russia. By 1932 they tried to infiltrate their members in the Soviet Union, spread anti-communist propaganda using balloons. Their members were arrested in Soviet Union and persecuted by the Nazis. From today’s perspective a peculiar thing was their symbol – the Ukrainian trident along the Russian tricolor.  NTS survived the war and continued to establish contacts with Russian compatriots. KGB tried to silence the organization by sending Captain Nicolay Hohlov to assassinate the NTS leader Gregory Okolovich. Instead Hohlov asked for political asylum in West Germany and joined the NTS. Later Hohlov to KGB shame even became professor in American university. In late forties NTS acquired transmitter from the US army and started its clandestine broadcasts on 1950. The station was called Свободная Россия – Radio Free Russia. The transmitter was mounted on cargo truck moving along the border of the soviet controlled Germany. Antenna was simply thrown on the trees of the high-points. The Western German and US intelligence kept closed eyes on this operation, only in some cases asked to move truck to another hilltop. Eventually RFR moved to two stationary transmitters and without any license broadcasted daily for 13 hours for years. On 1958 KGB bombed the NTS transmitter in Sprendlingen. Despite the all the odds NTS survived the Cold War and ceased its activities after the fall of Soviet Union.

After National Radio of Spain closed the Latvian service Vilis Skultāns was looking for new radio station to host his Latvian service. American Latvian Alliance asked Skultāns to consider hold talks with West German radio Deutsche Welle broadcasting in nine languages, create independent station or hold talks with NTS in Frankfurt. Also, the Radio Vatican was asked to allow more room for political content. Deutsche Welle rejected the offer and Radio Vatican also refused. Meanwhile NTS was more approaching to allow Latvians to join their radio. Using NTS contact person Ojars Gobiņš who was in good relations with Ukrainian and Russian anti-communists he established friendly contacts with the movement.

On 1966 Skultāns issued manifesto all exile organizations explaining the goals of the Voice of Free Latvians. The station was set to fight russification, keep Latvians in hope for liberation day, strengthen the national self-conscience and resist the repression and injustice. The station was supported by Alliance for Fatherland AF who sent tape recordings of program Freedom for Fatherland. Station was also supported by Russians from Latvia such as Lev Rahr, who was Latvian citizen and served in the Latvian army. He helped Latvians to reach common agreement with NTS leadership. The agreement was made on commercial basis, NTS did not censor the station and the station kept its Madrid radio name – The Voice of Free Latvians. One of the Latvians dean Miķelis Lizdiks asked can Latvians speak freely against the russification in Latvia and against the Russian chauvinism as whole. The answer was yes – from all republics Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have full rights for independence. Only demand was not to associate whole Russian people with communism. However, the heads of the leading Latvian exile organizations did not believe the Russian promises for support for independence. Month later NTS sent letter in German where he again re-assured that Latvia that was annexed by Soviet Union has full rights of restoring independence, also adding many citations from NTS conferences supporting this view.

On October 15 1966 the Voice of Free Latvians was back on the airwaves. The broadcast started with NTS hosts in Russian saying “let’s give the microphone to our Latvian common thinkers”, afterwards the voice in Latvian issued: This is VFL, the broadcasts take place every day from 9:00 in the evening to 9:10 with two repeats right after that. Our wavelength is   26 and 46,9 meters. Long live free Latvia!” Followed by nationalist slogans and reading of the poem by Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš Remember Latvia! the first issue of the program was “Communist party troubles in Western world”. The station aired from 21:00 to 21:30, containing 10 minute original program, repeated two times, to avoid the soviet jammers. The location of the station was kept secret to avoid KGB sabotage.

NTS demanded 1 000 Deutschmarks in a month, later slightly increasing it. However, because of financial shortages, Latvians could not always pay in time. They were forced to send apply to increase the debt period that NTS accepted. NTS cut monthly pay to 700 DM. On 1968 Latvians owned 4 200 DM to NTS. With all the NTS cuts the supporting organizations from Chicago and AF still could not assemble enough funds to pay of NTS. Latvians had to decrease the broadcast times while both supporting sides conflicted with each other. The station workers had no pay; often had use their own funds to buy tapes, writing materials and sometimes even half of program time. Such situation went on until 1969. The main Latvian exile organizations not only denied support for the VFL but also condemned the only politically free Latvian radio station that had no funds to sustain itself.

While NTS demanded only to cover financial issues and did not mind nationalistic rhetoric voiced by VFL, other Latvians in exile raised suspicion that VFL is hosted by Russians and condemned the VFL association with Russian chauvinists. VFL tried to show voice of reason that not all Russians are communists and many Russians are anti-communists and Latvian allies and more danger comes from Latvian communists.

Other critics raised arguments that the station was not receivable in Latvia. While an argument that station cannot be received in the UK was ridiculous because station was aimed at Riga, many claimed that there is no one from Latvia who had listened to the “NTS Latvian Broadcast”. VFL countered the arguments that they have received letters from listeners in Latvia and their broadcasts are interesting to Latvian listeners then the Latvian VOA report on US Foreign  Secretary daughter’s wedding with Afro-American.  On 1968 Latvian National Fund made secret survey in Riga and Ogre where 25 people stated they mostly listen BBC World Service in Russian, VOA in Latvian and the VFL despite, the fact it’s jammed more than others. One NTS agent in USSR was tasked to drive from Leningrad to Tbilisi and measure the reception of the NTS radio. His report concluded that VFL is receivable very well in Latvia outside large towns. And, with that the best source was soviet newspapers that complained about Radio Free Russia and mentioned Latvians. Despite the KGB efforts VFL received letters praising the station. VFL broadcasted wide spectrum of political and historical issues. They were not affected by other state guidelines were more nationalistic and anti-communistic.

On 1969 National Radio of Spain suddenly renewed broadcasting in Latvian. Most of the VFL staff moved to Madrid. Meanwhile for three years VFL continued broadcasting on Radio Free Russia. Dean Miķelis Lizdiks worked alone in the Frankfurt transmitter. Loaded with work and lack of funds Lizdiks eventually gave up on 1971. On 1972 NTS received letter in Russian, that claimed that in deep regret the VFL have failed to attain its goal and was never received by anyone in Latvia and disappointed financers have cut all funding. While the statement was false and self inflicting, the VLF was received in Latvia, the true reason was lack of support from exile committee, NTS accepted the closure and sent their best regards.

Radio Free Russia interval signal 1972

This is the long story short about the international broadcasting in the Latvian language. While VOA and RFE/RL was supported by the US government and managed to reach enough quality, the Voice of Free Latvians was troubled by the lack of the support amidst Latvian exiles. The story of the Voice of Free Latvians is unique one because for one period of time it operated as unlicensed clandestine service hosted by Russian exile nationalist movement. Until the appearance of RFE/RL Latvian service the VFL was only alternative to the VOA and Radio Vatican. Both VOA and RFE/RL can be praised for their work transmitting the western point of view to Latvians kept behind the Iron Curtain. The stations inspired Latvian anti-soviet resistance and kept the ordinary Latvians hesitant to the sovietization and russification. While Latvia is multiconfesional country with Catholic Church only playing main role in some regions, the Radio Vatican service did great work exposing the soviet repressions against Christians and kept the spirit of religion among the Latvian believers. During the soviet rule Catholics were the most resistant to the soviet policy of atheism, while Lutherans and Orthodox were more willing to give up their faith.  Voice of Free Latvians meanwhile broadcasted alternative point of view not affected even by their hosts the Spanish Franco government and NTS the Russian exile movement.

Today the situation again resembles the days of the Cold War where information and propaganda is used as essential part of hybrid warfare. The propaganda wars now mostly takes place on television on the internet as shortwave broadcasting has been used by only few countries in the world. But, the methods are often the same, and Latvia and the West as whole again needs a lot of recourses to counter propaganda coming from Russia and various terrorist organizations. Latvia now is independent country with the Western support, so the need for defending its point of view relies heavily on us. The lesson from Latvian exile bickering over the Voice of Free Latvians shows how good projects can be doomed by people who are interested in it in the first place. Today Latvian information services are unable to form a TV program in Russian language and the attempts on foreign language service on internet often give poor results. The defeat in the information war can once again lead to situation where exiles and refugees are forced to seek means of broadcasting information to the homeland controlled by hostile forces. Because of this all past lessons are meant to be taken into account. The propaganda and information is one of the essential weapons of the national security.

Selected Sources:

Johatan H. L’Hommedieu. Baltic Language Broadcasting: Emigre Politics and American Cold War Radios.    Latvian History Institute Journal.  2014. Nr. 2

Richard H. Cummings. (2009) Cold War Radio. The Dangerous History of the American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950-1989. New York. Mc. Farland& Company Inc.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē.

Rolfs Ekmanis.  Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio brīvā eiropa / Radio brīvība (rfe/rl) – v

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio brīvība (rl) paspārnē 1975-1984– i

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio brīvība (rl) paspārnē 1975-1984 – ii

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio Vatikāns.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Madrides brīvā latviešu balss 1955-1965

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965–1972 – i daļa.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965-1972 – ii daļa.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965-1972 – ii daļa. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965-1972 – iii daļa.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Latviešu balsis atkal madridē 1969-1972

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Shortwave radio monitoring by the KGB in Latvia

Soviet made Shortwave radios were enjoyment for citizens but were headache for KGB

Soviet made Shortwave radios were enjoyment for citizens but were headache for KGB

Soon after the end of the World War 2 the tensions between Soviet Union and United States of America engulfed into Cold War. A full-scale war of propaganda was used by both side including shortwave radio broadcasts. Shortwave radio broadcasts could reach listeners to faraway locations including the Soviet occupied Latvia.  Soviet security services were unable to control the foreign broadcasters so they tried to jam the broadcasts or to punish the listeners. But in either way it was never-ending carousel as Soviet radio industry made shortwave radio receivers in masses and neither the technical jamming or KGB monitoring could not fully block the western propaganda.

Shortwave radio broadcasts were popular among Latvians because many of them were critical of the soviet mass media content and therefore they seek alternative news sources. In first post war years radio was still a rare household item, as may pre-war Latvian and German-made radios were lost and Soviets attempted to register the radio owners. The average shortwave listener needed to know English, German and Russian although some of their news were transcribed in the national partisan underground newspapers and leaflets. However, the circulation of these newspapers were quite low. So radio owners tried to listen to “Radio London”, “Voice of America”, “Radio Luxembourg” and “Radio in American Sector”, that transmitted from Western Germany. After the Winston Churchill “Iron Curtain” speech in May 24 1946 in Fulton the BBC World Service started broadcasts in Russian. From September 2 1948 “Radio Vaticana” started broadcasts in Latvian.

Soviet authorities listened and discussed these broadcasts themselves. Since the content of these broadcasts were beyond their control they started to build powerful jammers. Their technical operation is discussed in separate post. War in Korea triggered the full-scale “campaign of truth” against the communists and decided to boost nationalism within Soviet occupied Baltic republics. On June 3 1951 the “Voice of America” begun to broadcast in Latvian. Latvians at first paid large attention to it, radio played the Anthem of Latvia and called for resistance making many people to believe that US will send its support. However, it took place after the deportation of March 25 1949 and Soviet power had fully established itself in Latvia. Later people got enough of repetitive information and lack innovation.

Soviet Ministry of Security gathered reports about people listening to “Voice of America”. Mostly they were discovered when they unknowingly talking about the broadcasts to a KGB agent or their conversations were overheard. They were added to KGB list as persons as spreaders of the “anti-soviet propaganda”. Soviet bureaucrats were even suggested to stop the production of the shortwave receivers, however it was turned down by the producers. At the start of the sixties Latvian industrial companies like VEF and Radiotehnika were one of the first to produce portable affordable transistor radios in USSR. Radio was no more a large cabinet like standing in room corner it could be battery-powered and taken to picnics.

Despite the relative liberalization after the death of Stalin and limitation of repressions the ideological war with west was far from over. Broadcasts from the west continued and it was forbidden to publicly spoke about the content heard in them. Doing so might result an arrest in “Corner house” of KGB main headquarters in Riga. It was also no secret that shortwave radio broadcasts inspired many dissidents and no wonder why many workers in VEF and Radiotehnika became dissidents. Most known of them were Gunārs Astra. On September 3 1953 in town of Auce locals streamed the Voice of America within local radio broadcasting net. They were later arrested.

During the crisis in Hungary on 1956 people were tuned to BBC World Service and Voice of America. Some young students told they only first learned about Stalin’s cult of personality from the Voice of America. In Preiļi region people gathered in groups to listen to Voice of America. While USSR was reluctant to speak about negative news within the country the US spent an enormous recourses for anti-communist propaganda. President of US Richard Nixon told that its much more useful to spent one dollar on radio propaganda rather than spend 10 dollars on another new rocket. Another massive radio propaganda network also broadcasting in Latvian was “Radio Free Europe” that in its r0ots was a funded by US CIA. It was kept secret until on late seventies KGB funded leftist magazine uncovered it. After that Radio Free Europe was funded by US State Congress. Soviet Union also had shortwave propaganda station “Radio Moscow” that transmitted in various western languages. Shortwave radio jamming in USSR was halted during diplomatic warm-ups on 1963-1968 and 1973-1979 both times restarted because of the Soviet invasions in Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.  Because of relative low numbers of English speakers the broadcasts in English were not jammed. This is also one of the reasons why in schools the English studies were limited.

Radio Free Europe begun its Latvian broadcasts on 1975. KGB foreign branch was tasked to gather information about the Latvian broadcasting staff and their editors and tried to infiltrate their agents in them. KGB succeeded to find information but failed to send agents to subvert the Latvian editions of VoA and RFE. As the soviet power weakened on seventies people were less afraid to speak about the things heard on the radios. KGB still tried to punish some people who were too open, often it was included into official accusation that the crime was influenced by the western radio broadcasts. Last such case was for Rolands Silaraups on 1986 the member of the nationalist Helsinki-86 movement.

On 1987 in the spirit of perestroika the shortwave jamming was fully halted. People now closely followed the VoA and RFE. Some of them heard about the first pro-independence protests on 1987 in the foreign radios and took action on following ones. On political level most influential were the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. On cultural level the foreign pop and rock music heard by youngsters on their Spīdola radio receivers also boosted the Latvian cultural life. The banned Latvian movie “Four White Shirts” included  old conservative party functionary in the censorship meeting talking about the bad influence on the young generations caused by Spīdola radio receivers.

Today the World Wide Web has replaced shortwave radio as propaganda weapon. Voice of America no longer broadcasts in Russian or Latvia. Radio Free Europe however continues to broadcast in Russian and Belarussian over shortwave, because their local coverage within medium waves were closed by Russian authorities on 2012.  Russia itself has stripped their Voice of Russia the oldest international radio station from 1920ies when it was called Radio Comintern. But, now the neo-soviet Vladimir Putin regime has begun a crackdown on Internet calling it a project of the CIA. In such manner it could be possible that if Russia will isolate itself from rest of the world, the shortwave broadcasting to Russia can again became active. There is present example of China and even more extreme of North Korea where controlled Internet has caused extensive shortwave broadcast targeting towards these countries. In return China and North Korea use extensive shortwave jammers to limit these broadcasts from US and Europe. Will Russia will return to an old days of shortwave jamming and arresting their listeners we shall see.

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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:




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Radiotehnika – The Latvian Radio Flagman

Radiotehnika vimpel

Radiotehnika vimpel

On October 20 1907 Aleksandrs Apsītis was born in workers family. At the age of 16 he came to work in Riga Telephone Office and practiced as telephone repairman. With his skill he then made his first radio receiver. From 1923 to 1930 he studied at Riga Craftsman School and evening technical school. At the same time on 1926 Abrāms Leibovics gained production rights for his designed radio receivers. His company was called Abrams Leibovics photo radio central. On 1928 Apsītis received request from the Ministry of Interior to construct 200 three lamp battery-powered receivers. Together with E Krasovskis he made a company called “Jauda” (Power). The 200 radio receivers were made, but because of swindlery made by Krasovskis the company was closed.

Rīgafons the first radio designed by Aleksandrs Apsītis in Abrams Leibovics radio company

Rīgafons the first radio designed by Aleksandrs Apsītis in Abrams Leibovics radio company

Then Apsītis came to work at Leibovics company to organize the production of radio receivers. He first made two lamp plugged radio receiver “RīgaFons”. It was a 1 AM circuit(s), with Magnetic loudspeaker (reed) of high quality (4 magnet poles). The model was a success and Leibovics company gained profit 10 000 Lats. Two more models were made. On 1932 Apsītis however, had disagreements with Leibovics, and he was fired.

Apsītis restarted his radio business on 1933 when he founded his radio production company “A. Apsītis un F. Žukovskis”. With help from Siemens company that gave rights for use of Telefunken made radio lamps and Siemens schematics Apsītis again produced new radio receivers. His first was Toņmiestars – the Tone Master. MW and LW radio was a success. He produced 2500-3000 receivers in a year. On 1935 he produced T420 Concert Super. It included also Shortwave. It was radio with 4-AM circuits and with superb audio quality for those days.

Concert Super radio made by Apsītis company

Concert Super radio made by Apsītis company

On 1940 there were 70 people employed in the factory. There were many other private radio companies. Not just in Riga, but also in Liepāja. On 1938 there were 29 such companies. Meanwhile the main state-owned company VEF also made series of top quality radios. However, after Latvia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union, everything was nationalized including Apsītis company. The company was renamed as “Radiotechnika” (Radio Technics). Leibovics company was renamed to Radio Pionieris (Radio Pioneer). Soviets trusted Apsītis and made him as the executive director of the Radiotehnika company. After German invasion on 1941 Radiotehnika was united with Radio Pionieris and called “Telefunken Geratewerk Riga”.  It was run by Baltic German Blauberg. Apsītis took the technical operator office. Company only fulfilled the orders of the German military and made no new radio receivers for civilians.

On 1944 as the Soviets were approaching Germans issued order to evacuate all the equipment. Apsītis and his co-workers fooled the Germans by placing rocks and metal stuff into packs, while digging the equipment in the basement rooms. With this the work of the factory was soon restarted.

Riga T689 the first Radiotehnika produced receiver

Riga T689 the first Radiotehnika produced receiver

Soviets took over the German unified Apsītis-Leibovics company and called it Radiotehnika. Leibovics was deported by the Soviets to Siberia and died there. Apsītis was placed as the director of the new company. As 1945 it was ready to produce first radios. First radio receiver produced was Riga T-689 with LW, MW and 3 Shortwave bands. Its followup T-755 was impressive success. It was 25% cheaper than other radios and had only three bolts to hold the construction. LW, MW and SW continuous reception from 4 kHz to 12.5 kHz.   Riga B912 was first battery-powered receiver, for MW and LW bands. Riga -10 made in 1952 and Festivals on 1958 were famous tabletop receivers outside Soviet Union.

Radiotehnika Festival

Radiotehnika Festival

On 1948 Apsītis received the title of Honorable Science and Technical worker of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic that meant higher salary and other extras. However, as the company became more famous, the ruling Stalinist regime turned against him. On 1951 the company was named after Alexander S Popov the famous Russian radio builder. Apsītis was blamed for deliberate mismanagement by producing defective models. In the atmosphere of repressions against pre-war intellectuals and scientists, the local communist leaders including Vilis Lācis decided to fire him from his directors office. Soon he was arrested. He spent four months in prison and after the death of Joseph Stalin was released.

However, the four months in jail was psychologically devastating for Apsītis. He came to work as Gomprotorg factory as radio and TV repair worker. Later he went to Academy of Sciences in the Institute of Physics as the chief of sector. On 1956 he was asked to work in governmental Science and Technical committee. By his own words he made “nothing worthly” as he could not fit into new workplace. On 1958 his health made him to leave for pension. As 2th category disabled person he moved to Rauna where he built his own house. He helped the local collective farm (kolhozs) in technical repairs and made his own garden of rare trees and plants. Despite all the hardships he was not forgotten and when during the Radiotehnika anniversary celebration the chief engineer Vladimirs Martinsons called him the “father of Radiotehnika” everyone stood up and applauded. He died on September 1 1988.

The Radiotehnika company still continued to work as Riga Radio Factory named after A S Popov. On 1971 it was unified with Riga Electro Mechanical company, Kandava Radio Factory and radio constructors office Orbīta (Orbit) and named Radiotehnika. A 54,61 meter tall building was built for the factory.

Many new radio receivers were built Sakta first class lamp radio. Rigonda 102 stereo system, Simfonija Hi-Fi system, just to name the few. Surely the free market companies in the West made better quality receivers, but the production of Radiotehnika had high standard quality.  Special car radios were made also.

Hi-Fi Stereo system Melodija -101

Hi-Fi Stereo system Melodija -101

As the trend of so called transistor radios  that were a lot better than lamp radios, the Radiotehnika made the first tabletop transistor radio Ausma on 1962. Then more lighter LW and MW portable Gauja radio was made. On 1964 the Orbīta portable included SW band. But, the most known Radiotehnika portable was Selga. They were released in many variations, many of them came in special leather cases. Selga-309 was revolutionary model for it could fit in pocket and was no bigger than modern Mp3 player. Kandava factory office made Salena series radios with FM reception.

Selga-405 in black leather  case

Selga-405 in black leather case

Closer to eighties first superb receivers with cassette players were released. Special gadgets as voice recorders, walkie-talky radios. Large part of production was secretly allocated to the Soviet military needs. Most Soviet civilian factories were forced to carry out secret requests from the Soviet army. During the Soviet era the Radiotehnika was not the only one Latvian top radio producer. VEF was the largest electric products company and is well known for its VEF Spīdola transistors the first portable shortwave radio in USSR.

Riga 110 cassette player radio

Riga 110 cassette player radio

However, then great changes occurred on 1991-1992. Latvia regained its independence and the prize for this was the collapse of the Latvian radio industry. Radiotehnika and VEF descended into various privately owned companies. As the Soviet market was destroyed and there was no more requests from the Soviet army. However, Radiotehnika was not lost completely. Right now its known as VEF Radiotehnika RRR.  Its current production is acoustic systems and rated positively by experts.

Latvia was a top radio producer even before WW2 and would be so for many years if there would be no war. The Soviet technical quality was not so good comparing to western companies, but these radios were part of everyday Latvian life. With them they could hear music from the west, listen to Radio Free Europe while battling with radio jammers. Culture life despite many soviet prejudices culture in Soviet Latvia was on high level. And in a time with no internet and ipads these radios were top technical gadgets in every home. And the fact that many of them still work today says much about their quality and legacy.

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Shortwave radio jamming in Soviet Latvia

The American made SCR-399 transmitter was used by Soviets to jam US and Western broadcasts

The American made SCR-399 transmitter was used by Soviets to jam US and Western broadcasts

Radio is one of the most effective ways of communication. The information that travels around the airwaves can reach even the most remote places. In late 20 century twenties it was discovered that by transmitting in High Frequency band (1,6 Mhz-30 Mhz) or so-called shortwave the signal can reach every radio receiver in faraway countries. In so the shortwave radio became effective way for government propaganda. And regimes that disliked that their citizens can listen to foreign broadcasts searched for ways how stop this.

During the first Soviet occupation in 1941, the Soviets started the registration of the radio owners. They wanted to know how many and what kind of people could listen to foreign broadcasts, and impose license fees for radio using and in case of need take them away from the owner. During the Nazi Germany occupation a list of suppressed radio stations was made.

In 1945 the Soviet occupation returned. Everywhere in Latvia people gathered at their radio receivers and waited for the news of coming American and British liberation, however soon the frequencies of the foreign stations became filled with load roaring noise. The era of the Soviet radio jamming had begun.

On 1946 USSR Communications ministry issued an order to register the radio receiver in whole country. On the streets of the cities and main squares loudspeakers were placed to transmit the propaganda from radio stations from Riga and Moscow. It was nearly impossible to purchase the radio receiver after the war, so the radio transmission points were placed in the apartments. It had strategic goal because now the government could inform the people about its decisions and orders.

As the Cold War became more intense the Western countries begun to transmit broadcasts to Soviet Union in various languages including Latvian.  The main broadcasters were the Voice of America, BBC Word Service, Deutche Welle and Radio Free Europe. Radio Free Europe was actually a creation of the US Central Intelligence Agency. CIA secretly financed the RFE for many years until it was discovered by the leftist journalists in 1967 and since 1972 the RFE is financed by the US Congress. USSR also had its own shortwave propaganda station Radio Moscow. However, in Western countries listening to the Soviet propaganda was not considered as a serious crime. In Soviet Union listening to Western stations could cause a real jail sentence.

For instance in 1951 Elfida Jansone was put on LSSR High Court for listening to the Voice of America. For this crime she was sentenced for eight years in labor camp. In 1948 the Latvian Communist party Riga city committee bureau issued a decree “For urgent actions for jamming of the anti-soviet broadcasts”. The decree ordered every institution that had a shortwave transmitter to jam the foreign radio stations. Jamming was done by Latvian Energy, Sea Fleet and Soviet Army. Army constructed 10 transmitters that jammed the foreign voices 24 hours in day. However, the power of these transmitters was too weak to completely silence the foreign broadcasts. Because of this in all three occupied Baltic States a special jamming stations were built.

On May 5 1951 the chairman of the LSSR Council of Ministers Vilis Lācis wrote a note to Vyacheslav Molotov that in accordance to USSR Council of Ministers decree on 4 December 1950, a high voltage radio center was to be built in Riga; however the Ministry of Communications had planned to build it only in 1953. The head of the LSSR asked the Soviet Ministry of Communications to start building this object already in 1951 and finish it in 1952. However, the slow Soviet bureaucracy only in 1953 ordered to build jamming systems in the Baltic States. A jammer was built in Liepaja, Daugavpils and Riga.

The order by the Soviet Council of Ministers to build shortwave radio jammers in Latvia

The order by the Soviet Council of Ministers to build shortwave radio jammers in Latvia

All of these special objects were under control of the Latvia republican radio center. American made shortwave transmitter SCR-399 that was delivered by the US in war-time was now used to jam the US broadcasts. The power of these transmitters was not high – only 400 watts however it operated in the 1,5- 1,8 Mhz frequency range that used by the most foreign stations. The object in Liepaja has 12 transmitters and one Russian “Extra” type Medium Wave transmitter (Medium Wave is 526-1600 kHz). In the Riga object at the Dome Square basement had 18 SCR-399 transmitters but at other Riga site 15 Soviet KV-5 transmitters with power of 5 kilowatts were placed.  The transmitters were modified with GMD generator that was the most secret part in the objects. This device made various tone sound signal that was nicknamed “saw” by the listeners. It was impossible to filter this noise because its frequency was the same as the broadcasting foreign station. It even made interference in frequencies free from broadcasts. It was a hard time for people living near the jamming stations because the strong signal made inference for allowed radio and TV broadcasts. Before the start of every broadcast one or even two transmitters were allocated to the broadcast frequency and after the command was given the jammer were turned on. Sometimes the in the time of broadcast the stations slightly changed the frequency, leaving the jammer in behind, forcing to retune it. The radio propagation issues also sometimes did not allow silencing the broadcasts completely.

The Medium Wave broadcasts were completely jammed by stations from Lithuania and Estonia. Sometimes the foreign broadcasters appeared at previously unannounced frequencies and the jammer power was not so high so the ordinary Soviet citizen could listen to them.

Despite the warnings and repressions, people listened to foreign broadcasters. Some were tired of the Soviet propaganda, some were just curious. Some understood that they lived behind the Iron Curtain and had enough of censorship and lies. The Latvian radio receiver producers VEF and Radiotehnika were forced to make receivers without the frequency ranges where the foreign broadcasters appeared. The listeners of these stations were reported by the work colleges, neighbors even relatives. While nobody was thrown in the prison since the death of Stalin, being caught of listening to “hateful anti-soviet propaganda” could mean job loss and further sanctions.

Not every foreign broadcaster was considered anti-soviet, as there were many broadcasters from Soviet-friendly countries. The main condemned broadcasts came from Western Europe and US.

The Soviet spy agency KGB tracked the radio listening. It had many radio control points over all country. In 1982 the KGB was even ordered to track the Ultra High Frequency ranges at 30 km zones around the cities. The main ones who were tracked in this range were radio amateurs. In Soviet times every radio amateur was under the KGB watch. The Soviet Military intelligence service GRU installed a mobile tracking and surveillance base in Riga that could listen and record the telephone conversations. After the fall of the Soviet Union the GRU offered to sell these devices to Latvian government.

The shortwave radio jamming in Soviet Union ended when the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ordered to stop the “useless spending of money”. Shortwave radio jamming is still practiced by many countries like China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam. As long there will be a need for political information the shortwave radios and its jammers will not disappear.

Selected Sources:

Upmalis, Ilgonis, Tiglass, Ēriks, Stankēvičs, Ēriks. (2011) Latvija padomju militāristu varā : 1939-1999.Rīga: Latvijas okupācijas izpētes biedrība.

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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


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