Several of North Korea’s external radio services and its powerful jamming operation that blocks foreign broadcasts are having trouble staying on the air.
Voice of Korea, the country’s international radio outlet, was missing from several of its scheduled broadcasts on Thursday, according to monitoring from sites in South Korea, Japan and the U.S.
Two days earlier its English-language broadcast to North America, scheduled from 1500-1554 GMT (1000-1054 Eastern Time) abruptly cut off around 20 minutes into the broadcast and didn’t return. On Thursday the French program left the air five minutes early while in the middle of a song.
All these events are highly unusual for the station, which is charged with spreading North Korean news and propaganda to a global audience.
The country’s jamming of overseas broadcasts, which involves the broadcast of noise over the top of a radio station to make it unintelligible to listeners in North Korea, has also been sporadic.
Early Thursday it could not be detected on any of the frequencies used by radio stations “Voice of the People” and “Echo of Hope.” Both stations, which are believed to be operated by South Korea’s intelligence service, are usually heavily jammed.
It was also missing from broadcasts of MND Radio, a recently activated station operated by South Korea’s Ministry of Defense.
The country’s domestic services appear to be unaffected at present, according to monitoring reports.
It’s impossible to know the source of the problem and the radio station is unlikely to make an announcement or apology to listeners, but all signs point to electricity shortages. A typical shortwave transmitter requires between 100-500 kilowatts of energy, which is equivalent to hundreds of electric kettles or heaters being used simultaneously. Several such transmitters are on air for jamming alone.
Earlier in February, Reuters reported that Pyongyang is facing its “worst electricity shortages in years,” quoting a foreign diplomat based in the city.