1386 kHz: Lithuania vs. Russia

In March 2002, Vilnius-based Radio Baltic Waves International has been awarded with licence to broadcast on 1386 kHz medium wave with 32.1 dBkW (1622 kW) EIRP.

However, a high-power station located at Bolshakovo in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, uses the same frequency to bring Voice of Russia's German and English programs to listeners in Western Europe.

Many radio professionals and hobbyists are asking questions about this obvious clash on the airwaves. How come? What happened? To answer this, we'll take a look into history.

In Lausanne, Switzerland, at the preparation meeting to the Washington Radio Conference of 1927, the 219 meter medium wave broadcasting channel was assigned to station "Kowno, Lithuania" (Kowno is today's Kaunas). In the Montreaux frequency allocation plan of 1939, this channel was assigned to station "Memel, Germany" (Memel is today's Klaipėda, a town in western Lithuania). In the Copenhagen frequency allocation plan of 1948, it was re-assigned to "Kaunas, Lithuanian SSR". A couple of years later, the station was finally built in Sitkūnai (18 km from Kaunas) and started transmitting radio programs on the assigned channel. However, somewhere between 1953 and 1972 the station was switched off. Later, in 1974, Russians built a high power station in Bolshakovo, Kaliningrad oblast, and put it on the Lithuanian frequency. The new station was located 140 km away from Kaunas. Legally, a move of a station more than 30 km away from its internationally registered location must be coordinated with other European countries. However, Moscow did not bother to respect international treaties, and did not even notify anybody about the move.

In 1978 a new frequency allocation plan in Europe came into force - the Geneva Plan - in which Moscow re-confirmed the 1386 kHz assignment to Lithuania's station in Kaunas (then under USSR administration). In 1991, when Lithuania broke away from USSR, Lithuanian and Russian telecommunication ministries signed a protocol on separation of functions and responsibilities. With this protocol, Russians declared their recognition of frequency assignments to Lithuania. In the ITU Master Frequency Register, the 1386 kHz entry was changed from "Kaunas, USSR" to "Kaunas, Lithuania" giving only Lithuania, and not Russia, the right to operate on this channel.

However, the real situation was different.

Not only Russians did not liberate the 1386 kHz channel, but operated on it with increased power. Instead of having a 1000 kW transmitter allowed by the Geneva Plan, they launched a 2500 kW transmitter. Instead of having a non-directional single-mast antenna with 2.1 dB gain allowed by the Geneva Plan, they used a SV4+4 type antenna (8-mast directional array) with 12.7 dB gain. All in all, this combination produced 29 times greater radiated power than allowed by international agreements.

In autumn of 2001, Lithuanian telecommunication authorities contacted their Russian counterpart asking to stop the illegal operation. This was done because Lithuania intended to launch its own broadcast station on this channel, in accordance with the Geneva Plan. However, Russians responded with no intention to stop broadcasting, and demanded that Lithuania withdrew its assignment of 1386 kHz from the ITU Master Frequency Register.

At the time of this writing, preparations are going ahead to launch a 750 kW nighttime / 250 kW daytime station in Sitkūnai on 1386 kHz. The station is expected to be ready in June 2002, and tests will be conducted to determine the station's coverage and real level of Russian interference. At present, the station in Bolshakovo operates between 0900 and 2100 UTC, reportedly with a 1200 kW transmitter and the 8-mast directional antenna.

There is a very similar situation on another medium wave frequency used by the Bolshakovo superpower: 1215 kHz. Its parameters are identical to 1386 kHz: 1200/2500 kW transmitter and the 8-mast SV4+4 antenna. Internationally coordinated? Nope. Geneva Plan lists Orissaare, Estonia, 30 kW.


Appendix 1. Services and stations whose coverage area is negatively affected by Russian superpowers on 1215 kHz and 1386 kHz:

Appendix 2. Further development.

© Sigitas Žilionis, 2002-2007 May 2002 (edited)