It was kind of scary, kind of cool, and definitely eye opening. 

Our Japanese-language reporter Go Hatori has been hard at work helping the team spruce up the SoraHouse, our middle-of-nowhere, up-in-the-mountains house in Saitama Prefeture, by giving it zero-cost electricity and de-roachifying it. All that work and no play makes our reporters dull, of course, so Go brought up a shortwave radio to experiment with and see what kind of interesting international channels he could find. As he shuffled through the available frequencies, he heard some very surprising statements in Japanese:

“The secretary of our beloved and respected leader Kim Jong Un…”
“Our indomitable faith in and conviction for revolution…”
“Comrades of our beloved and respected Kim Jong Un…”
“On November 23, the launch of our first spy satellite…”

Yes…Go’s radio was picking up propaganda from North Korea–broadcast in Japanese! Go had known that North Korea broadcast its propaganda, but not that they did it in Japanese. This opened him up to a whole new set of realizations.

Let’s go back a bit. Recently, Go randomly became curious about radio waves and started looking into the subject. As most people already know, there are two main types of broadcasting: AM and FM. AM is received via medium-frequency radio waves, which have a frequency of 526.5 to 1606.6 kilohertz. They can reach a wide area. FM radio, on the other hand, is broadcasted with ultra-short waves which have a low frequency of 76.1 to 94.9 megahertz, allowing them to reach a medium-sized area (between 10 to 100 kilometers [6.2 to 62 miles]).

However, there is one other category called short-wave broadcasting, whose waves are only 3 to 30 megahertz of frequency but can actually reach extremely far, even overseas. According to what Go read on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, these waves reverberate off the surface of the earth, so they can actually be transmitted to the other side of the planet.

If you have a radio that can read these short waves, you can listen to these broadcasts. This piqued Go’s interest, so some time ago he bought a cheap shortwave radio for 1,479 yen (US$10) and took it back up with him into the mountains of Saitama to see what kind of waves it would pick up from the SoraHouse. There he was able to listen to broadcasts in Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, and Korean (from South Korea).

That only served to deepen Go’s interest, so he decided to do some research. He purchased a book called The Radio Wave Bible 2023, which taught him that there are so many different kinds of radios that he’d never heard about. Among them, listed in the book as “having no perceivable flaws” was one radio that came highly recommended: the World Band Radio Aiwa AR-MD20, which Go recently upgraded to by purchasing one on Amazon for about 10,000 yen.

The main appeal of this second radio is that unlike Go’s cheap starter shortwave radio, it has easy tuning. Instead of requiring you to very carefully and slowly turn a dial to find a channel, you can instead found receivable stations through the push of a single button. Equipped with this new equipment, on his next trip to the SoraHouse Go tried out his AR-MD20.

He first tried FM radio, which picked up all of the Tokyo stations, plus three more, including one from Aichi, one from Osaka, and even one from China. He had even more success with AM radio, which got a whopping 24 channels, not only from Tokyo but all over northeastern Japan, even from as far as the northern island of Hokkaido, as well as a couple from South Korea.

But the real improvement was in the shortwave broadcasting, which picked up an impressive 28 separate channels. There were, of course, Japanese channels, but Go heard languages from around the world, including Chinese, Korean (from South Korea), English, Russian, and other languages he didn’t recognize.

▼ You can watch Go scrolling through the different shortwave stations below.

Among those was a Japanese-language channel that was broadcasting strange things at a frequency of 7,580 kilohertz. As Go leaned in to listen more closely he heard:

“The secretary of our beloved and respected leader Kim Jong Un announces that we have achieved a groundbreaking advancement in our republic’s defensive capabilities with the launch of our spy satellite. We have determined that the scientists and engineers of the National Aerospace Technology Office, which have splendidly and accurately accomplished the determination of the party, have been even more inspired to develop our aerospace reconnaissance abilities according to the party’s current directive goals and prospects and have vigorously been striving to make progress. In celebration, a photo was taken to commemorate the event.”

▼ A video recording of Go as he found the broadcast

That was definitely from North Korea! And they were talking about the satellite they’d launched using ballistic missile technology that had passed over Japanese airspace recently, which Go had heard about on the news. He had a vague memory of hearing about North Korea using short-waves to transmit codes and other broadcasts, but he would never have expected them to use them to broadcast in Japanese.

Go later looked into it and learned that what he heard is a program known as “Voice of Korea”, which is transmitted directly from Pyongyang. Hearing it broadcast on the radio, and knowing that such a satellite had flown over Japanese airspace made for a rather shocking experience for Go. With such a broadcast–and such a satellite–flying over the sea and being received in the remote mountains of Saitama, it really made him realize that the whole world is connected by the great blue, cloudy expanse of the sky.

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[ Read in Japanese ]