On the air waves  from Finland

Recollections  of  international radio from Finland

 Last update  08.08.2016     Editor:  Juhani Niinistö       juhani.niinisto   AT  ulkomaanmedia. net  (spaces added)                  

This logo of  YLE Radio Finland was used for some ten years from the early ´90s. Those were also the peak years of marketing world band radios  as an essential companion to travellers.

Based here on a photo from a poster the logo is not seen in all detail.

These pages feature information about Finnish international broadcasting  services in 1938-2006., This is not  a YLE publication, but a private media history site. 

The writer, Mr Juhani Niinistö  worked  as  Head of International radio at YLE  for decades, until leaving YLE in 2005.

Any comments to: juhani.niinisto AT ulkomaanmedia.net

In brief: Foreign language broadcasts 
from Finland  

A detailed  timeline of  the ups and downs of  the Finnish  International Service  here.

Number of languages used varied,  at the height there were seven languages.

Bulletins in  English and French produced at the  Foreign Ministry  Radio  Service  Unit were broadcast on YLE. The Ministry closed  the  service in 1958.

Some  radio enthusiasts got  permission  from  YLE to produce programming in English.

YLE  launched a modest daily English service.

English programming was developed and  expanded.

YLE resumed  German  service (had been closed in 1945).

YLE and the state financed jointly a new SW broadcasting station in Pori (western Finland).

YLE resumes  French  service (closed in 1958)

YLE resumes  Russian  service (closed in 1945)

YLE begins "Special Finnish", at slow speed.

YLE  launched availability of radio on satellites. By 1997 the service covered the globe, except South America. Placement of YLE foreign language programming mainly in Russia, Canada, Germany and Australia.

YLE added weekly  bulletins  in languages related to Finnish, such as  Udmurt and Mari, spoken in Russia.

YLE closed down  international services  in  English, German and French. Russian and the small Finno-Ugric languages continued.

With the closing of  SW  the remaining foreign language programmes and Special Finnish continued on satellites and internet.



A  detailed  timeline  here.



































Background was necessary in the early 80s

"Finland is a democracy in the western sense of the word"

"Northern Report" covered Finland and the North for an international audience.  Read about the ins and outs of covering Finland  for western audiences during the last two decades of the cold war. 

Northern Report, also known later as Compass North, entered the international airwaves  in a situation where Stockholm had been the place for covering the North for the world, also in international broadcasting.


Audience  reactions  to  closing  in 2002

The German service
was missed the most

In October 2002  YLE Radio Finland broadcasts in  English, German and French were closed.  Domestic news in English and the  Russian service continued. 

There was not much of a response to the closing internationally, except for the German service and the  YLE presence on CBC Overnight in Canada.  CBC Radio One had been relaying YLE in its night format since 1996 and a half hour of English from Finland  had become  a regular part of the night schedule. 

The fact that audience response to the closing of the German service would stand out was no surprise.  The language service had been the best part of  Radio Finland, in terms of  audience relations.

The Press Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  had made an attempt to influence the decisions of YLE. With no impact though.  The  services had been financed totally by YLE on the basis of its licence fee recenue. The Ministry had no official role in the service.

When YLE  resumed English language broadcasts in 1967, limited  government funding had been made available to YLE  and  the sums had been paid annually. But in the early 70s YLE had not filed applications any longer  and the budget item was withdrawn.  Theoretically, if the small public funding had survived until the early 2000s,  a decision to close down foreign language  external radio perhaps would not have been that easy.

Radio  Finland  on  the  international  broadcaster  scene

International  broadcasting was a  sector  where  your   closest colleagues  could  be  in another  country. 

There  were   "alliances"  of  stations  on the international broadcast scene  formed  on somewhat political  lines.  Thus,  Voice of  America, the BBC  and  Deutsche Welle   were  co-operating   as the big three.   Then there was  “Group of  Six”   including   Radio Nederland,  Radio  Sweden,  Swiss  Radio International, Radio Australia, Radio Japan  and  Radio Canada  International.  

Radio Finland  was not  in any grouping.  Admittedly, there   were  Nordic  SW meetings,  but   they did not  constitute  much more than  a  framework for  Sweden  establishing that it was  biggest,  until the   fast  expansion   of   Radio Finland in the 1980s.  There was "no group of Nordics" in international broadcasting. Of  the five Nordics, only  Finland  and  Sweden maintained  daily broadcasts  in foreign languages.  The  relationship between  Radio Finland and  Radio Sweden became increasingly  competitive as the Nordic political scene was seen somewhat differently from  Stockholm and  Helsinki. 

 Within the  large  broadcasting  unions such as EBU,  international  broadcasting  (or  external)   did  not have much presence  for  decades, except on the technical side.  It was  not  until  the  late 70s  that   initiatives   were  taken  to change the  situation.    The  idea  was  to  establish   a  forum  within the  EBU  to  share  and  solve  problems   that  external  broadcasters  had in common.  

The plan – originally  from  the Director General of  Radio Nederland,  Joop Acda - got intense  support  from the Director General of  Radio Vaticana  Pasquale Borgomeo, S.J.   Juhani  Niinistö  of  Radio Finland  was very keen  on  getting something  launched,  as  Radio Finland  was  outside  all the existing groupings.  

The  creation of  a space  for  international radio  within the EBU  was  debated  in three  meetings of the  EBU  Programme  Committee, in Istanbul 1980,  Athens 1980 and Lisbon in 1981.  Juhani Niinistö  attended  all three  - and  was  able  to  promote the  idea even though the  YLE corporate level had   reservations   as  such involvement in such  a grouping  could  entail political risks, with a view to the neutral position  Finland  pursued.  Yle  actually voted  blank  in the  final vote about the plans to create an international broadcasting plenary meeting, but  Yle Board Members  explained at the same time that  Finland would participate in the upcoming  meetings.

After  approval  of  the plan in Lisbon,  the first  preparatory meeting took place in Geneva in June 1982.   Plenary meetings  continued then to  be  arranged then  at roughly  18 month intervals.  In the late 80s  YLE  became  a member in the “small group”  or "steering group"  that  met more often and discussed  upcoming issues.   The  group  often met  in Vatican City.

YLE  was  a member in both the Soviet bloc  broadcasting  union OIRT  and the  Western  union   EBU.   OIRT  was actually the original  European broadcast union. At the start of the Cold War  the  West had  pulled out of OIRT, but YLE had  remained. 

Even though  YLE  was  active  in many OIRT  working  groups,   the  OIRT external  broadcasting working group  never  invited  YLE  Radio Finland.  There was one invitation inthe early 80s, actually, a  telex  in Russian, but a  cancellation  came the next day in German.   Had YLE  Radio Finland  been obliged to participate in OIRT working groups and air OIRT  campaigns, it  would have risked its  credibility. 

YLE  representatives  at the EBU Programme  Committee  meeting in Lisbon that took the final decision to  accept the  establishment of  an international broadcasting forum in the EBU.   From the right  Paul v Martens, Programme Director of  Swedish language YLE radio,  Liisi Lahtonen, a specialist in International Relations,  Jouni Mykkänen,  Director of  YLE Radio 1, Keijo Savolainen, Programme Director of  YLE Radio 2,  Juhani Niinistö, Head of  YLE International Radio.    On the left  there is  Joe Gwathmey  from the US  National Public  Radio. 


"Zero  cents  per minute"


"Listen to radio from Finland  at the rate of  zero cent per minute..."  

From the mid90s onwards, YLE used the language of  the contemporary advertising of  mobile media  in its promotion of world band  radio -  as seen here in an ad  prepared for the annual Travel  Fair in Helsinki in 2001.  The campaign positioned  the easy and cheap world band radio against the costly use of  mobile  phones  outside the home country. The target group were  Finnish tourists abroad.  

The campaign was fairly succesful and sales  of  world band radios   increased in Finland. Tourists soon rediscovered  world band radio  as  a way to avoid the invoices that had been awaiting them on arrival from recent trips at home.  Marketing was eased  through the  all-day availability of  Radio Finland in  Western Europe: 11755 and  6120 kHz gave an almost complete coverage from Germany to the Canaries from morning till late night.  When 11755 faded, 6120 opened.   The Finnish  service of  Radio Finland  for  Western and Southwestern Europe was not a typical block broadcast of  a limited duration, but an all day  service, like  domestic radio.  Live sports - such as ice hockey - was part of the  service.

The slogan was phased out in 2003 as it had been established within the company  to give "conflicting marketing signals".

The decision must be understood against the backdrop of the increased  interest  of YLE at the time in the mobile handset media.  The  slogans  lived on some more years though  as part of  a compaign by expatriate organizations  to bloc plans to discontinue  world band radio  from Finland.  The  efforts to even slow down the plans of  YLE  were futile, and YLE went ahead and  closed down SW and  phased out specialized journalistic  services for  Finns abroad.  

Audience service in target areas

YLE  Radio Finland  appears to have been the first  international broadcaster to open an 800-line (toll free) in the US, and  later in Canada.  Done in the very early 80s  the  move  had  an  expensive look, though the cost actually  was not that  high.  The   calls  never  reached Finland, but an answering system  at the office  of  John Berky,  the YLE  Radio Finland  audience  and distribution representative in North America. 

From mid 80s,  Radio Finland started  arranging audience  events in target areas and participating in expatriate  festivals.  The first such visibility was arranged by the German service in 1986.

More here.

"Finnish international radio
rose and fell the quickest"

A  German  media  student wrote in 2009  a  thesis  about YLE Radio Finland,  Radio Sweden and  the Swiss International  Service  in comparison. Read here.