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VillageOfJoy claims that:

14 Interesting Facts about North Korea

  1. You can’t turn off the government radio installed in your home, only reduce the volume. [...]

There are many of web-sites with similar claims: 1, 2.

This photo by photographer Eric Lafforgue purports to be an example of such a radio.

Is this true now? Did it used to be true? What sort of messages are/were sent over these radios?

I am not sure if it is technically a radio or rather a speaker. Most areas are not connected to the electricity grid. And I could not find telegraph poles on aereal pictueres yet, so it is interesting how this things work. Perhaps a fixed frequency radio on batteries is included.

Edit: I found this BBC video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRuqustZzKM at 1:43 min one can hear the speaker. It seems to be installed in flats in the cities.

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This may be tricky to answer definitively. North Korean laws are unlikely to be easily available on the web. I look forward to seeing how people tackle this one. –  Oddthinking Dec 25 '12 at 12:54
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The website that you cite don't make the claim that every home has a radio. RationalWiki points to people in town and cities (as opposed to villages) having such radio's. –  Christian Dec 25 '12 at 17:04
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seems to come straight out of 1984... –  ratchet freak Dec 25 '12 at 23:51
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A more interesting claim might be the existence of a radio that is unaffected by having its power supply cut. that would be radical. –  matt_black Dec 27 '12 at 18:04
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@matt_black - the only thing I can think of that satisfies that requirement is a crystal radio ... And those are trivial to make/break. Factoring-in NK's apparent power problems, though, an it seems highly improbable that such a device could be in every home and never turn off –  warren Dec 28 '12 at 17:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Does every North Korean home have a radio ...

No,

Bar graph showing access to media in N Korea

North Koreans in a changing media environment

N Korean farm
Photo by AP photographer David Guttenfelder

A communal farm compound near Kaesong ... Ordinary North Koreans rarely have access to electricity

Daily Mail

Of course, this doesn't rule out battery-powered radios, but it does support the notion that some N Korean homes might be too poor to own their own radio.


... that can't be turned off?

A commenter to the linked photo

Radio photo by Eric Lafforgue
says

well, In South Korea, those kind of speakers in apartment home only use for public announcement of apartment managing office. but in north korea, government took control to whole apartment....

So, to speculate a little: the pictured N korean home "radio" is probably also not a radio receiver but a loudspeaker for a communal system for relaying announcements. To be of value in emergencies, such loudspeaker units would probably not be equipped with an off-switch.


... that can't be retuned?

As pointed out by Oddthinking in a comment below:

All radio frequencies are fixed to the official broadcasting service channels and sealed. If the seal is found broken, the person involved is assumed to be guilty of listening to South Korean or other foreign broadcasting services and is treated as a political prisoner."

From Korea Institute for National Unification's White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2012

It is possible that a reporter has accidentally transformed "can't retune" to "can't turn off".

This might not apply to whatever report included the photo of a wall-mounted "radio" that lacks any obvious off-switch.

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What if they use batteries? You need to cite that the answer is no - not deduce it from something else. –  Sklivvz Dec 26 '12 at 11:31
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Fascinating reading! Via the references, I found the Korea Institute for National Unification's White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2012: "All radio frequencies are fixed to the official broadcasting service channels and sealed. If the seal is found broken, the person involved is assumed to be guilty of listening to South Korean or other foreign broadcasting services and is treated as a political prisoner." (It explains this law is circumvented.) I speculate this has been transmogrified from "can't re-tune" to "can't turn off". –  Oddthinking Dec 26 '12 at 12:41
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Your link North Koreans in a changing media environment was very interesting. Although the number of 250 asked people are not many for a statistic. –  Jonas Stein Dec 26 '12 at 13:02
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Really? We are using Daily Mail as references now? –  Sam I Am Dec 26 '12 at 21:42
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I grew up in USSR and was fascinated by electronics; we had a "radio" in our flat which, upopn disassembly, proved to be nothing more than a speaker, a variable resistor, and a two-pronged plug for connecting it to the signal. My grandma had a similar radio but this one was hard-wired and not un-pluggable (but the resistor had an "off" position). My friends report similar system all across Russia; lots of people still have them installed. So no, these devices do not require batteries, but I do realise I'm only providing anecdotal evidence here... –  romkyns Jan 10 '13 at 18:38

It was stated this was the case in a BBC Documentary in North Korea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSrcLC6Zz54&feature=youtu.be&t=1m46s

This is by no means the answer: There may well, however been a translation error that they do not want to turn it off, instead of being unable to. Perhaps even it is only the case with certain (new?) homes in Pyongyang. Indeed in the documentary the journalist says "every kitchen in the block" rather than "everyone kitchen in North Korea".

It obviously seems unrealistic that such signals could be broadcast throughout North Korea, let alone have the electricity to power these radios.

It is also worth mentioning that North Korean radios are sealed once brought; if the seal is broken you are deemed a political prisoner for trying to listen to South Korea radio. This is apparently checked by random spot checks. This could be used to enforce the rules against turning fitted radios off?

Whilst it wouldn't be practical for all houses to have this propaganda distribution mechanism, a lot certainly could. I am still very sceptical that this is one thing that has literally been taken from Nineteen Eighty Four and attributed to North Korea, maybe in order for a journalist to make the sinister nature of it more obvious.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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Welcome to Skeptics! The only reference you provide is to the documentary that the original poster saw. We are looking for higher quality confirmation. The rest of your claims need references too. –  Oddthinking Mar 25 at 0:30

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