In 2001, there were 417 million radios in use in China, a rate of 342 per 1,000 population, up from 50 per 1,000 people in the 1970s. However, many more people were reached, especially in rural areas, via loudspeaker broadcasts of radio programs that bring transmissions to large numbers of radioless households. . Radios are used much less today than in decades past as nearly all Chinese, even in remote rural areas, have smart phones or cell phones. [Source: Library of Congress]

Ting Ni wrote in the World Press Encyclopedia: As a state-owned and party-controlled instrument of propaganda, television had limited penetration prior to the 1980s and thus figured insignificantly compared with newspapers and radios before the reform period. However, due partly to a more open political atmosphere and an emerging market economy, and partly to the Chinese Communist Party's intent to use television as an effective means for political and cultural propaganda, television programs became increasingly interesting and more relevant to Chinese daily life.[Source: Ting Ni, World Press Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2003]

Many Chinese in the Guangdong Province tune into Hong Kong radio stations. In Fujian residents can easily pick up Taiwanese stations. In other parts of the country Chinese with short wave radios listen to the BBC and the Voice of America, which the government tries to silence by jamming and drowning them out with Chinese broadcasts in the same frequencies.

Radio in the Mao Era and Afterwards

In the Mao era most people got their news and other information from the radio. Many old people still turn on the radio first thing in the morning as they did in the 1960s when they listened to hear what Mao and the Communist party wanted them to do. Many radios are tuned into only one station, the local Communist party station. Radio announcements are still widely broadcast on trains and over loudspeakers in villages.

Before cell phones became common place, radio was the most widely utilized form of electronic media in the developing world. According to some estimates 80 percent of the world's population had access to radio in the early 2000s. In the old days, with electricity being in short supply in many areas, radio was the main electronic medium for dispensing news and information. Shortwave radios, powered by batteries, solar energy, and car batteries, have traditionally been the main sources of international news in places without electricity.

Radio expanded rapidly in the 1980s as important means of mass communication and popular entertainment. By 1985 radio reached 75 percent of the population through 167 radio stations, 215 million radios, and a vast wired loudspeaker system. As radio and television stations grew, the content of the programming changed drastically from the political lectures and statistical lists of the previous period. Typical radio listening included soap operas based on popular novels and a variety of Chinese and foreign music. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987]

The Central People's Broadcasting Station controlled China's national radio network. Programming was administered by the provincial-level units. The station produced general news and cultural and educational programs. It also provided programs for minority groups in the Korean, Manchurian, Zang (Tibetan), Uygur, and Kazak languages, as well as programs directed toward Taiwan and overseas Chinese listeners. Radio Beijing broadcast to the world in thirty-eight foreign languages, putonghua , and various dialects, including Amoy, Cantonese, and Hakka. It also provided English-language news programs aimed at foreign residents in Beijing. Medium-wave, shortwave, and FM stations reached 80 percent of the country — over 160 radio stations and 500 relay and transmission stations — with some 240 radio programs.

Since large segments of the rural population in the 1990s and early 2000s still didn’t have radios or televisions, the government operated a massive wired broadcast network linked to more than 100 million public loudspeakers. In Hong Kong, there are about 686 radios and 504 television sets for every 1,000 people [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007].

Radio Stations in China

There are over 3,000 radio stations in China. The Central People's Broadcasting Station, the nation's official radio station, has eight channels, and broadcasts for a total of over 200 hours per day via satellite. Every province, autonomous region and municipality has local broadcasting stations.

In the 1970s and 80s a nationwide network of wire lines and loudspeakers transmitted radio programs into virtually all rural communities and many urban areas. By 1984 there were over 2,600 wired broadcasting stations, extending radio transmissions to rural areas outside the range of regular broadcasting stations.*

In 2004, 282 domestic radio stations and 774 short- and medium-wave radio relaying and transmitting stations operated, and many stations provided Internet access to some of their broadcasts. China National Radio, headquartered in Beijing, transmits programs in standard Chinese, Kazakh, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uyghur . China Radio International, also headquartered in Beijing but with domestic service branches in major cities, broadcasts in 43 foreign languages and several Chinese dialects. [Source: Library of Congress, August, 2006]

In 2000, there were 673 radio broadcast stations — 369 AM, 259 FM, 45 shortwave. The most important station is Beijing’s Central People’s Broadcasting Station (CPBS). CPBS broadcasts daily on several channels using a variety of languages. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

In addition to Chinese-language programming, local AM and FM radio stations now have daily news and feature programs in English, and regularly broadcast Western classical and pop music. A short-wave radio can pick up VOA, BBC, Radio Australia, and other English-language broadcasts. [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Early History of Radio in China

“Newspapers, journals and periodicals were all well-established media forms by the 1930s but the decade was a time of technological change when both the radio and the newsreels became forms of mass communication to stand alongside, complement and often rival the newspapers. China’s first wireless station---the Osborn Radio Station, known alternatively as XRO and the Radio Corporation of China---had opened in 1923 in Shanghai. It transmitted from studios on the roof of the Dollar Building on the Bund with an initial 65-minute program of classical and light music as well as some news. The station estimated that there were 500 wireless sets in the International Settlement though, to boost the audience, XRO’s signal was transmitted to Tianjin and other major areas where foreigners lived. The station was owned and established by an American journalist called E. G. Osborn and a wealthy overseas Chinese. Sun Yat-sen declared himself a fan of the new media but there simply weren’t enough listeners. Despite moving the studios to the more prestigious roof garden of the Wing On Department Store on Nanking Road and trying to organize live concerts, the station failed after a few months due to a combination of precious few listeners, government distrust and censorship.” [Source: “ Foreign journalists in China, from the Opium Wars to Mao” by Paul French, June 19, 2009]

“Shanghai’s second radio station---the Carol Broadcasting Station launched in 1924 from studios on Nanking Road---fared better. The station was supported by the Carol Corporation, the Shen Bao newspaper, the Shanghai Evening News, the Paris Restaurant and the Kobe Electrical Equipment Company. Others followed. In 1928 the China Press backed a new station, KRC, that also introduced lady broadcasters to Shanghai’s airwaves as Irene Corbally Kuhn moved over to the wireless. Her first broadcast on 14 December 1928 was from the studios housed in a back room at the China Press offices: with my legs melting under me like butter on a hot stove, I had stepped up before a “mike “and sent my voice into the air, the first woman ever to broadcast in the Orient, and probably the first feminine announcer in the business.”

“These early foreign attempts at radio stations, and others set up by American, British, French, Italian and Japanese entrepreneurs, were not great successes but they did encourage more people to buy wireless sets and they also led Chinese entrepreneurs, as well as the government, to start stations aimed at the Chinese population that had large audiences and were both popular and commercially successful.”

“By the early 1930s Shanghai had a proliferating number of stations. Thirty started broadcasting in 1930 alone, including the Millionton Radio Station jointly run by Reuters and Millington Ltd., and by 1935 there were over 60 in operation across the city. Most were Chinese-run and light music-oriented but others were foreign-owned and ranged from music to political commentary. There was also the Christian Broadcasting Station run by Dr. Frank and Aimée Millican, an energetic husband and wife team of Presbyterian missionaries who also ran Shanghai’s Christian Literature Society and regularly prayed that Shanghai’s leading gangster Big Eared Du would see the error of his ways and embrace Christ.”

Radio first became a popular medium and then an extremely important one as the political situation worsened. Following the bombing of Shanghai in 1937, with newspapers being censored, banned or having their distribution interfered with, the radio became a way of keeping up with world events and also finding out about the local situation. The best-known station was XHMA owned by U.S. Harkson, the wealthy head of the Henningsen Produce Company of Shanghai that ruled the ice cream and candy bar business in the city and sold the concept of the Eskimo Pie to the Chinese. At first Harkson used the station to build his ice cream and confectionery empire but it soon became a proper business in its own right due to advertising revenues. Harkson was also keen for the station to be relevant to all of Shanghai’s various communities and the station broadcast a wide series of programming for the Shanghailander community, including shows in Yiddish, from its studios on Race Course Road. When war broke out in 1937, Harkson handed the station over to anyone who needed to communicate with relatives, colleagues or nationals inland, and missionaries, diplomats and business people all used it as a lifeline to the outside world.”

Alcott was modestly popular at first when he started broadcasting in July 1938 but as the situation worsened he became a must-listen-to radio journalist and one of the greatest enemies of the Japanese in Shanghai. He also attracted a rather large and loyal following among women listeners, receiving 500 letters a month from fans, due to his charm, though he was actually quite fat and not particularly attractive---a great face for radio, as they say. His shows were funded entirely by advertising from brands like Jell-O, Ovaltine and Maxwell House Coffee, despite Japanese threats to punish those companies for sponsoring his broadcasts, which they regularly tried to jam.”

China National Radio

China National Radio (CNR) is the national radio network of China. Headquartered in Beijing, it began with a transmitter from Moscow set up in Yan'an, the home of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1930s and 40s after the Long . The fledgling station used the call sign XNCR ("New China Radio") for broadcasts when it was first radio station set up by the Chinese Communist Party, in December 1940. Broadcasting two hours daily, it was known as the Yan'an New China Radio Station in the West and Yan'an Xinhua Broadcasting Station in China. [Source: Wikipedia]

In March 1949, the station was renamed Shanbei Xinhua Broadcasting Station. It began operating under the name of Peiping Xinhua Broadcasting Station when it moved to Beijing (Peiping). In December 1949,, two months after the establishment of the People's Republic of China, it was officially named to Central People's Broadcasting Station (CPBS). At that time it offered 15.5 hours of daily programming broadcast to most parts of China.

Ting Ni wrote in the World Press Encyclopedia: By the end of the 1980s, CPBS and China Central Television (CCTV) had monopolized the broadcast media. They are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television, which serves as both a news organization and a broadcasting administrative bureaucracy. CPBS's 6:30 to 7:00 morning news and CCTV's 7:00 to 7:30 evening news are transmitted nationwide everyday, making them the most important news programs in the country. [Source: Ting Ni, World Press Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2003]

By the early 2000s, CPBS had established 34 stations nationwide and provided broadcasting and music programs to 34 countries. Popular programs include "Selections from News and Newspapers," "Local People's Broadcasting Stations' Programs," "Small Loudspeaker," "Reading and Appreciation," and "Hygiene and Health." Besides CPBS, every province had at least one radio station under the provincial government, with at least two different channels providing general interest, as well as original programming in specialized areas such as music and business news. [Source: Ting Ni, World Press Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2003]

China Radio International and Radio Beijing

China Radio International (CRI) broadcast in 43 languages and has one of the largest broadcasting staff’s in the world. The only national overseas broadcasting station, is is beamed to all parts of the world in 38 foreign languages, standard Chinese and four Chinese dialects, and broadcasts for a total of over 300 hours every day. It offers various special programs of news, current affairs, comment, entertainment, politics, economy, culture, technology and so on. Currently, CRI ranks third in overseas broadcasting time and languages in the world.

Radio Beijing was the only national station that broadcasts to the world. From 1947 to 1949 all its broadcasts were in English. Then Japanese language programming was added. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it used 43 languages to broadcast to most countries in the world. After 1984, it opened programs to foreigners in Beijing, and twelve provinces followed suit. It provided programs to more than 20 countries. [Source: Ting Ni, World Press Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2003]

Radio Programming in China

The People’s Broadcasting Station transmits radio broadcasts in standard Chinese (Putonghua) and the various dialects and minority languages throughout China. The Communist government likes pop music that promotes party values and soothes the masses:. Most of the stiff hear in the radio these days is uplifting ballads and gentle love songs. Rock is given only brief moments of air time in the middle of the night. The lyrics of one song often played on state-run radio went in 2007: “Don’t care about loneliness/ I don’t think it really matters.” Another went “Ah, little man, ah, succeed quickly/ Enjoy being poor but happy every day.”

There are no stations that play exclusively rock music. Explaining why one propaganda official told the New York Times, “New radio stations need approval, and regulators would consider whether the content fits with social trends and national policy.” Explaining what these were he said, “It’s about how to orient the audience, and provide them with a kind of spiritual food.”

Image Sources: Wikicommons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2022

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