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Chernivtsi (Чернівці́)(400 km south of Kiev, near the border with Romania) with 25 kW: reactivated on 26 February 2022 (no longer active since 1 February 2018). 837 kHz from Kharkiv (Ха́рків)(150 kW): on-air since 25 February 2022, discontinued the next day (had ended broadcasting on 1 February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.
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 The other stations in this band, mainly state-owned, had been discontinued due to budget problems, as they had been replaced by frequencies in the new band, where broadcasts were in stereo rather than mono.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).
To inform millions of refugees, who have arrived in neighbouring countries, Poland has been broadcasting Українське Rадіо (Radio Ukraine) on a DAB channel since 4 March to inform Ukrainians in their mother tongue. The digital network reaches 70 per cent of the Polish population, focusing on urban areas and main communication routes. Similar situation in the Czech Republic: Radio Ukraine has been included in digital radio multiplexes since 11 a.m. on Friday, 4 March and is repeated on the website of the national radio station, Český Rozhlas. Pictured is a coverage map showing where the digital signal can be received on Czech territory.
Longwaves cover the whole of Ukraine and the Russians can’t “switch them off”
But Poland has done more: Polskie Radio Jedynka (the first Polish public radio programme), shortly after the invasion, started broadcasting news items in Ukrainian, produced by the native speakers working on the international radio programmes. The channel is also broadcast on long waves, on 225 kHz, from the Solec Kujawski/Kabat broadcasting centre, which with its 1200 kW of power (reduced to 700 at night) covers most of the Ukrainian territory. In this way, the population in war zones can be informed even if the telecommunications networks are interrupted.
The day after the beginning of the invasion, the tension rises on social networks: the protection measures are answered with a partial blockade
Facebook protects Users? Putin obscures it
Nick Clegg, President, global affairs of Meta (company that controls Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger), in a Tweet warns users that technicians have implemented security measures to protect the accounts of Ukrainian citizens: they will be able to prevent users who are not part of the friends from downloading or sharing the profile photo or see the posts published. The function “profile block“, was created to protect journalists, activists and people “exposed” in high-risk areas, and has already been used during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan to protect the population from Taliban retaliation. An operations center has also been set up, with experts and native speakers to follow developments in the conflict and act promptly, possibly activating other tools designed for emergency areas.
The pressure exerted by Russia on the former Soviet Republic is taking place on many fronts: from the military one, with the deployment of troops at the borders, to disinformation, which travels on social networks but also on the airwaves. Today the 7 MHz band, reserved for radio amateurs, is flooded with propaganda messages or messages denigrating radio operators on both sides. Francesco Cecconi discusses these messages on the Radio Hernica website, putting them into historical perspective (during the Cold War, Radio Tirana raged over the amateur radio bands). He then discusses the manoeuvres implemented by radio amateurs to counter “The Buzzer”, the Russian system that broadcasts encrypted messages on short waves, Army FM, a Ukrainian station created to counter Russian transmissions, and Vesti FM, a Russian channel broadcast from Moldavia. Audio documents with recordings of pirate broadcasts complete the in-depth analysis.
We continue our journey through the airwaves of Eastern European countries where the “old” FM OIRT band (between 65.8 and 74 MHz) is about to be completely abandoned. The situation in this band in Ukraine should be examined taking into account the presence of three public radio channels and some private broadcasters, of religious or informative nature. The head of the organization responsible for the development of the radio and television networks, National Radio and Television of Ukraine (NSTU), Dmytro Gruzynsky, in an interview in December 2020, affirmed the intention of the organization to soon dismantle almost all the installations still operating in the OIRT band.
The situation of the public broadcaster’s national programmes
In the plans of the company, about ten transmitters should have remained on air for Persha Program, as many for Radio Promin’ and 15 for Radio Kult’ura. The reason for the cuts was, on the one hand, the obsolescence and inefficiency of many systems, and on the other hand the possibility of being assigned FM frequencies in the same basins. Typically, new concessions are awarded through a tender and the state broadcaster must always beat competition from the numerous commercial radio stations. In some cases, the authorized powers have proved to be insufficient to satisfactorily cover the service area, so much so that NTSU asked to increase the power of a concession for UR1 from 500 watts to 1 KW). The fact remains that the presence of the three Ukrainian public broadcasters in the OIRT band is destined to be increasingly residual.
Commercial radio stations in the OIRT band?
As far as private broadcasting is concerned, both OIRT band frequencies of Yaskrave Radio and two out of three OIRT band frequencies of Hromads’ke Radio have been switched off. In addition, at the end of 2020, RadioM let lapse the concession for 68.36 from Odessa, which was the only OIRT band frequency of the station.
Two religious radio stations broadcast only in the OIRT band
The installations of two religious radio stations remain active; at the moment they only have frequencies in the OIRT band and therefore it is likely that they will not be switched off, since listeners still have devices and car radios to receive the programs broadcast in this band. To date, the Catholic Radio Mariya has 11 different frequencies, Svitle Radio Emmanuyil (close to the Pentecostal Church) has 8, while Golos Nadiyi (“Voice of Hope“, an Adventist radio station) has only 4 in the OIRT band and 3 in the “new” FM band and it can be assumed that it takes over some of the licenses issued by the NSTU.
Analogue TV channels remain on air – for political reasons
As a curiosity, the OIRT FM band is adjacent to a band used for TV and there are still some analogue TV channels on air, and can be received on 65.75 MHz (the audio frequency related to the TV channel R2). It seems in fact that not all analogue Ukrainian TV stations have completed the switch off; moreover Ukrainian authorities intend to keep on analogue transmissions serving the Donbass area and in several settlements in the Kherson region near occupied Crimea (for obvious political reasons).
Starting March 1st, ‘Dom’ has been turned on: a TV channel through which the Ukrainean government is transmitting its voice to the regions where control was lost in 2014. Those regions are the Donbass, in the hand of Russian separatists, and Crimea, occupied by the Russian Federation (see red circle on the image above). This initiative is just one part of a strategy promoted by the government in Kiev: in 2018 the transmitters were already improved to boost the TV signal (five digital channels and two analogue) to Crimea, where Ukrainian channels have been replaced by the Russian ones.
Ukrainians, come back home
The channel has been created to spread the message : ‘Ukraine is our home’, said the general manager of the broadcaster Yuliya Ostrovska ; during a press conference she also reported that ‘54% of the inhabitants of occupied territories can’t watch Ukrainian TV channels, and the 43% of them can’t view Ukrainian websites’. The design of the channel logo is interesting : it has been created to be read as ‘Dim’ (Ukrainian) and also as Dom (Russian), two different words that have one meaning : home. The languages used for the transmission will be Russian and Ukrainian.
A showcase for the country
The broadcaster, now in a testing phase, is going to transmit TV series and sport programmes, selected from the premium content provided by different groups: 1+1 Media, StarLight Media, Inter Media Group and Media Group Ukraine. The 15% of the quota allocated to 1+1 will be realized by Kwartal 95 studio: a production company founded by the current President Volodymyr Zelensky, that has helped forge his notoriety as actor and comedian. The schedule will be enriched with news (national and local) and talk shows, aiming to become capable of creating all the content autonomously.
But all those efforts may be compromised by electronic interference, said Mykyta Poturayev, a parliamentary responsible for information that attended the press conference. Just like during Cold War, when high power transmitters with giant antennas were active from the USSR territory, spreading noise, to make listening of Western broadcasters very difficult. Dom is like a foreign channel: it is dedicated to the occupied regions by being transmitted only over air. Once the autonomy of programmes’ production is reached, it will be transmitted via satellite and by cable.