`Moonlighting' technicians help Soviets tune in to BBC broadcasts
Undercover radio engineers inside the Soviet Union are helping Soviet citizens hear British broadcasts that are subject to state-organized jamming. The efforts of moonlighting radio technicians to puncture the jamming barrier by adjusting privately owned radios have been brought to the notice of British Broadcasting Corporation officials.
Austen Kark, managing director of BBC External Services, told a House of Commons committee last week that Russian technicians, operating secretly and illegally, adjust radio receivers to improve reception of programs from London.
The moonlighters -- who work for a fee -- are helping expand the number of listeners to the BBC's Russian-language broadcasts beyond the current 14.5 million. The BBC beams 61/2 hours of Russian-language programs to the Soviet Union each day. The heaviest concentration of listeners is around Moscow and Leningrad.
BBC programmers have a fairly clear idea of the kind of audience they are serving. Four out of every five are male, a high proportion of them university-educated. The audience covers all age-groups, but the largest segment is between 31 and 49. The BBC derives these figures from a research unit based in Paris.
Tuning radios more finely to shortwave frequencies is one of the methods Soviet technicians employ to improve reception.
Another is to extend the wavelengths of Soviet-manufactured receivers to receive the 19-meter band, a group of frequencies less heavily jammed by officially organized Soviet interference transmitters. Sometimes the sets are adjusted to receive on the 16- or even 13-meter bands.
BBC engineers know that there are ground-wave jamming stations near all Soviet cities of more than 200,000 inhabitants. Sky-wave jammers cover the countryside generally. The combination blots out 80 percent of foreign programs beamed to the Soviet Union.
Fine tuning of receivers, however, can minimize the effects of jamming. Much of the moonlighters' efforts thus involve sensitizing home receivers to the BBC's Russian-language broadcasts.
Ironically, the BBC is waging its war against Soviet jammers at a time when its financial resources are strained. The BBC is having to save 1.5 million (nearly $1.9 million) out of its annual grant of 86 million, because of government-inspired cutbacks.
Radio Moscow's external service broadcasts 2,169 hours a week, while US stations such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe broadcast 2141 hours weekly. The BBC's total external output is 728 hours. Nevertheless, Mr. Kark said, the BBC is able to claim the most listeners with an estimated audience of 120 million -- more than 10 percent of them inside the Soviet Union.