To counter possible damage to its FM repeater network, Ukraine has switched back on some radio stations operating on medium waves. They had been switched off in 2018, like so many energy-intensive installations supplanted over the years by the frequency modulation network, which has the advantage of offering better audio quality. But reactivating them has become strategic because they are installations that can serve large areas of the country and are often located in areas far from those affected by the conflict, and could operate undisturbed. Of the six reactivated, mainly between 24 and 26 February 2022, only one was damaged. They all broadcast the first programme (UR1 Pershiy Kanal).
Rumours coming from the back
549 kHz from Mykolaiv (Миколаїв)(100 km east of Odessa) with 400 kW: reactivated on 24 February 2022, on air until 6 March 2022 (it had been off since 1 January 2022). 657 kHz from Chernivtsi (Чернівці́)(400 km south of Kiev, near the border with Romania) with 25 kW: reactivated on 26 February 2022 (no longer active since 1 February 2018). 837 kHz from Kharkiv (Ха́рків)(150 kW): on-air since 25 February 2022, discontinued the next day (had ended broadcasting on 1 February 2018, broadcasting the cultural programme UR 3 Radio Kul’tura). 873 kHz from Chasiv Yar (Часів Яр) (25 kW): this is in the Donetsk region, in the self-proclaimed Doneck People’s Republic (it had been off the air since June 2017). 1278kHz from Kurisove (Курісове), near Odessa (100 kW): reinstated on 8 March 2022 (it had been broadcasting the cultural programme UR 3 Radio Kul’tura until 1 February 2018). 1404 kHz from Izmail (Ізмаї́л)(in the Odessa region, but close to the border with Romania): restored since 26 February 2022.
The global Radio Maria network adds a new element in Africa, opening in Nigeria. It is the 27th African country (out of 54 on the continent) where the radio station is present. In Africa, Radio Maria also has another 29 radio stations with programmes in local languages. Fr Patrick Alumuku, director of communications for the archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, announced in February 2022 that broadcasting would begin in the city on 91.3 MHz. The inauguration took place on 18 March 2022, while streaming was activated on 4 April 2022. In order to expand its presence in the country (where out of 206 million inhabitants 49.3% are Christian and of these 24.8% are Catholic), an initial group of five frequencies will be switched on in Kaduna, Owerri, Makurdi, Gboko and Ibadan, upon completion of fundraising.
Radio Maria, which finances itself with donations from listeners, periodically launches extraordinary subscriptions to expand into new countries. These are long live broadcasts called “mariatone”: the one for Nigeria was launched on 7th September 2020 by Father Livio Fanzaga, the true “soul” of the radio station, which he has been directing for 35 years.
While in South America it strengthens
The focus on the African continent does not divert attention from other locations: the broadcaster continues to improve even where it is already active. It was only a few days ago that a frequency was activated in Mexico at Guasave Sinaloa on 90.5 MHz. In Argentina (where it has 270 repeaters), the cities of Colonia Caroya (95.3), Jesús María (95.5), Villa de Totoral (96.1), Laborde (97.0) and Monte Maíz (97.0) have been added in the province of Córdoba; in the province of Santa Fe, the cities of Rosario (103.9, flanking 89.1) and María Teresa (94.9). The World Family of Radio Maria takes care of the affiliates: founded in 1988, it is a non-profit association that helps to spread the radio station by taking charge of the organisation and exchange of experiences of all the activities which can promote and develop the project in the world. The World Family of Radio Maria brings together all the national associations which develop a Radio Maria radio station in their own country.
Since 28 March, the Taliban have banned the possibility of repeating foreign broadcasters’ programmes on Afghan territory. The first to stop broadcasting was the BBC, which asked for the decision to be revoked because programmes in Persian, Pashto and Uzbek are still only receivable by those with a satellite dish: 20% of the estimated six million listeners. Before the American withdrawal, the BBC also had dozens of FM installations in various parts of the country, including two in Kabul, on 89.0 and 101.6 MHz. The blockade makes no distinction and also affects the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and the China Global Television Network.
Free speech in free fall
According to a survey conducted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in collaboration with the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), in four months (15 August to 20 December 2021), 231 media outlets ceased operations, putting more than 6,400 journalists out of work. And women are the hardest hit: four out of five have been ‘sent home’. And who knows how many positions Afghanistan will lose in the world press freedom rankings drawn up by the World Press Freedom Index, which measures press freedom in 180 countries around the world: in the 2021 report, Afghanistan was already in 122nd place.
Radio Mariya stopped transmitting. But then it was reactivated
Compared to what one read in the newspapers about the FM stations housed in the Kiev tower, the numbers are different: before 1 March, in the “old” FM band (called OIRT, ranging from 65.8 to 74 MHz) only Radio Mariya was active (suspended transmissions after the attack, but has informed RadioReporter that it is back). The other stations in this band, mainly state-owned, had been discontinued due to budget problems, as they had been replaced by frequencies in the new band, where broadcasts were in stereo rather than mono. Between 87.5 and 108 MHz (CCIR band), there were fifteen stations. Of these, only two have suspended broadcasting:
1 March: Moscow tries to switch off the capital’s broadcasters
At the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia targeted social networks, which in response raised their defences to prevent tracking of users in the occupied territories and blocked Kremlin-controlled media. But since March, the target has been extended to radio and television infrastructures, even though the Russian army is keeping Ukrainian mobile phone networks intact for use due to technical problems with encrypted military communication systems). Europe’s response is not long in coming.
Ukraine is a largely flat country, and in the capital, even if antennas were placed on a skyscraper (the tallest, the 178-metre Klovsky Descent 7A, was inaugurated in 2015), the signal would be absorbed by the ground after a few tens of kilometres, due to the earth’s curvature. A respectable transmission tower is therefore used to extend coverage. Built between 1968 and 1973, during the time of the Soviet Union, it has a diameter at the base of 90 metres and is 380 metres high. It is the tallest in the world (among those made entirely of metal) and the tallest building in Ukraine. (Wikipedia info here).
On GoogleMaps, there are several pictures and with StreetView you can ‘walk’ around the tower, changing perspective.
2 March: BBC responds by dusting off the short waves
In order to inform the Ukrainian population, the BBC is reactivating two short-wave frequencies that used to broadcast the news of the World Service for four hours a day (broadcasts to Europe had ended in 2008). These are the British transmitters in Woofferton. Built during World War II, and privatised at the end of the Cold War, it is still used by the BBC to broadcast the World Service and leased to other broadcasters (Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Voice of Vietnam).