Citizens' Radio in Hong Kong

(SCMP via AsiaMedia)  On Monday, the rebel unlicensed Citizens' Radio transmitted for 90 minutes on the 102.8 FM frequency, within the band currently used by the Metro Finance station. The transmission reached Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and parts of Happy Valley.  Despite using an $8,000 transmitter ordered through the internet, chief orgaznier Tsang Kin-shing said the technical results of the trial broadcast were satisfactory and the underground station had the capability to expand coverage to other areas.  It is understood the station could operate from the back of a truck, which would be driven to different locations each day.  A close friend said Mr Tsang considered the transmission to be an act of civil disobedience because the government had yet to respond to the station's licence application.
In theory, the argument is made as follows: "I am a dissident; I want a radio channel; if I can't get one from the government, then it proves my freedom of speech has been suppressed; therefore, I protest by encroaching upon someone else's frequency; take me to jail if you like and it will be an international incident."
In reality, things are more complex.  How so?  The fact is that all existing frequencies are probably allocated already.  If there are unused frequencies, Tsang Kin-shing would have used them instead of trespassing on Metro Finance (unless he was a total idiot) and be sued.  Now, some people will find it incredible that all the frequencies are used up already.  After all, everybody knows that there are only three radio stations in town: RTHK, HK Commercial Radio and Metro Radio, and other cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, London and New York City have dozens and dozens of FM radio stations.  But this is not how it is counted.  Each of the three Hong Kong radio 'stations' have multiple channels.  The correct count is that there are ten FM radio channels in Hong Kong belonging to three organizations.  But first, let me borrow from my own post on the physics of FM radio:

FM frequencies correspond to electromagnetic waves with frequencies between 88 mHz and 108 mHz (where a "mHz" represents a million Hertz, or 1,000,000 oscillations per second). The FM (Frequency Modulation) method involves the encoding of the original sound through modulating or changing the frequency of the radio signal, which is then decoded by the receiver to recover the original sound.

Each FM channel is assigned a bandwidth of 200 kHz, and the midpoint of this operating channel range is used for identification purposes (such as FM 881 for HKCR CR1 "Supercharged 881"). This means that there can be at most a maximum of (108-88)/0.2 = 100 stations on the FM dial.

Here is the list of FM radio stations in New York City (with format and location (if applicable)).  It should be noted that some of radio stations at the top of the dial are university radio stations whose low-power signals cover only the campus areas.  This is why WFDU and WNYU can co-exist at FM 89.1, etc.

In theory, FM 88.1 occupies 100 kHz on each side.  That is, FM 88.0 to FM 88.2 is reserved for it.  In practice, in a up-and-down terrain such as in Hong Kong, this is not viable.  Whereas New York City could be covered with a single transmitter on top of the Empire State Building (previously, it was the World Trade Center and that explained why all tv/radio broadcast signals went dead on 9/11), Hong Kong requires multiple transmitters at strategic hill tops.  However, there will be times in which one can be situated in a location where one can receive signals from different transmitters with a time-delay.  For this reason, the different transmitters may have to work on different frequencies in order to provide full coverage (e.g. FM 88.1-FM 89.6 is assigned to HKCR CR1).  Thus, if you live in Stanley on the south shore of Hong Kong island and you drive to Disneyland, you may have to change frequencies several times if you want to listern to HKCR CR1 all the way.

For example, here are the detailed broadcasting frequencies for RTHK Radio 1 by the location of their transmitters:

According to, here are the licensed FM radio channels in Hong Kong:

HKCR CR1 (Supercharged 881): FM 88.1-89.6
HKCR CR2 (Ultimate 903): FM 90.3-92.1
RTHK Radio 1: FM 92.6-96.9
RTHK Radio 2: FM 94.8-96.9
Radio Radio 3: FM 97.9
RTHK Radio 4: FM 97.6-98.9
RTHK Radio 5: FM 99.4
Metro Showbiz: FM 99.7
RTHK Putonghua: FM 100.9
Metro Finance: 102.4
RTHK Putongua: FM 103.3
Metro Finance: FM 106.3
RTHK Radio 3: FM 106.8
RTHK Radio 3: FM 107.8

You look at this list and you think that you can detect unused gaps.  Wrong, because you are forgetting that Hong Kong share the radio airwaves with Shenzhen.  You cannot have Hong Kong FM 88.1 as well as Shenzhen FM 88.1 because their signals overlap near the border.  So here is the list from

If Citizen's Radio wants a frequency, it will have to be taken away from someone else.  I'd love to see what that reasoning is given for the party that loses.  Meanwhile, Tsang Kin-shing has obviously taken the path of least pain and maximum publicity -- he avoids public ire by not tackling the highly popular HKCR or RTHK channels and he does not want to create an international incident by tackling the Shenzhen stations; so he picks on the lowly rated niche station Metro Finance owned by the richest man in town, Li Ka-shing, who can afford to lose a radio channel or two.  So what will the Hong Kong government say to Li?: "Mr. Li, we are going to have to give your frequency away, because Tsang Kin-shing knows how to mobilize street demonstrations and besides, you can afford to lose it ..."  It is doubtful that Mr. Li will go along with that decision.  After all, Mr. Li went through the proper procedures to bid for those frequencies and holds a license to operate them.

The most pertinent point is this:  If Tsang Kin-sheng thinks that he can squat on that frequency, then what happenes if someone else comes along and overpowers his signals on the same basis?  Maybe these people want to play The East Is Red all the time.  Why couldn't they have just as much freedom of speech as Tsang?

'Bull' leads charge of radio rebels  Justin Mitchell and Mimi Lau, The Standard.  November 7, 2005.

Activist is set to test officials' patience with another broadcast, write Justin Mitchell and Mimi Lau.

Eastern district councillor Tsang Kin- shing, who goes by the nickname "The Bull," seems to relish his self-appointed role as a Hong Kong radio rebel.  He's faced government inquiries since he organized a 90-minute October 3 "Citizen's Radio" broadcast on 102.8 FM, within the bandwidth used by the Metro Finance station owned by Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing.

The allegedly illegal transmission, which used content from People's Radio, a Hong Kong Internet station, reached Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and parts of Happy Valley.  A second broadcast is reportedly planned today, from 10pm-11.30pm, using a feed from People's Radio of a talkshow to be hosted by Raymond Wong, who was sacked by Commercial Radio, and legislator Emily Lau.  "I don't know our topic, yet," said Lau. "We just turn up and say whatever we want to say. I think we will talk about political reform."

Tsang, a burly, normally outspoken man, chose to keep mum October 24 when invited by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority to answer questions about the October 3 broadcast.  Just before he was questioned, he and legislator Leung Kwok-hung scuffled briefly with security guards outside the OFTA office when they called for an expansion of Hong Kong's airwaves.  "I chose the right to remain silent regarding the illegal radio broadcast accusation because the questioning was ambiguous," Tsang said.

On the same day, an OFTA official went to Tsang's house and asked his wife for information about Citizen's Radio. She refused to answer, and the visit lasted less than a minute. Tsang was furious and later blasted OFTA.  "[My wife] doesn't know anything about it and is not a public figure. They should come to me and leave my family alone," he said, adding that the government was acting like communists and creating a "red terror."  Wong was also summoned but refused to go to the OFTA office.

An OFTA spokeswoman said the government does not disclose details of an ongoing investigation. "Everything is being conducted using normal investigation procedures," she said.  

It's not known how many listeners Tsang's broadcast reached.  "Maybe six or seven people, one taxi driver and others, called us during the broadcast," Tsang said. "It was also a test to see the government's ability to monitor us. We want all citizens to hear what we have to say. We have limited technology and equipment and if the government catches us they will take it. But I'm prepared to face criminal charges."

Tsang declined to give specifics about his transmitter but admitted it cost about HK$10,000. It was ordered via the Internet and can fit in a truck or van and be driven to different areas for future broadcasts.  Pointing to a chart of the FM frequencies assigned to all 13 city stations owned by three organizations, RTHK, Commercial Radio and Metro Radio, Tsang insisted 102.8 is not being used.  "When I listened to 102.8 before, I heard Guangzhou radio," he said.

But he couldn't explain that because FM channels are assigned a bandwidth of 200 kHz, and the midpoint of a channel's range - 102.5 in this case - is used for identification purposes, it means that he was likely squatting on Metro's signal.  "We don't intend to attack any particular station," he said when asked why a frequency on Metro's bandwidth was targeted. "There are 12 stations taking up a lot of space, more than they need."

Tsang said that in an earlier application for a license, he was told two AM spots were available. Why not go AM?  "No one listens to AM and not many Hong Kong radios or radios around the world have AM reception," he said, apparently not attuned to the fact that AM is the frequency of choice for talk radio - such as he is proposing - in the United States.

Eddie Leung, who organized the People's Radio Internet radio site last year, said, "I cannot speak for Tsang, but my opinion is that most people in Hong Kong listen to FM frequencies. Hong Kong people should have a wider choice of media, including more FM stations. The audience currently doesn't have too much choices."  Legislator Lau said she doesn't know Tsang well but called him "a symbol who represents the aspirations of those who can't express themselves freely, and I include myself in that category."

Former Teacup in the Storm host Peter Lam said Tsang was a once-a- month regular on the freewheeling Commercial Radio show for five or six years and held forth on a number of issues, from local labor and housing issues to "anything anti-Japanese."  "He went to Taiwan and organized a boat trip to the Diaoyu Islands [that are claimed by China and Japan]," said Lam.  "He often petitions the Japanese consulate here about issues like the [Japanese history] textbooks. Anything that is anti-Japanese he supports. It's a matter of national pride and being Chinese. He's hardworking and voters love him because he's very blunt, very brave and very daring."  Though Tsang denied singling out Metro Radio's frequency, Lam provided a clue. Lam and other backers had competed with Li for the FM slot. "I spent HK$3 million writing a proposal but, of course, we lost," Lam said. "However I really don't know why [Tsang used] that certain spectrum."

Tsang was a construction worker with a secondary school education who said he became politically galvanized in 1989 by the Tiananmen Square massacre, and went from pounding nails to politics as a full-time district councillor.  He was further inspired to organize Citizen's Radio - which he said has "less than 15 core members and more than 1,000 supporters" and depends on street donations - after the abrupt departure of Lam and Albert Cheng from Teacup.

In September Tsang applied for a license with the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority for a 24-hour FM station featuring public affairs talkshows and live broadcasts of open meetings of district councils and government advisory bodies.  A TELA spokesman said his application is still being reviewed. Tsang said his chances for receiving permission was "harder than winning the Mark Six."  "I know his chances are quite slim," said Lam. "But he's an action man who really tries to get what what he wants, regardless of the end result. That's why people call him The Bull."

(Slate)  Fighting for Democracy in Hong Kong.  By Daisann McLane.  December 20, 2006.

"Stand here, and don't move," the taxi driver—let's call him Chan—orders me in Cantonese. I don't have to think twice about obeying. It's around 10 on Saturday night, and I'm balanced precariously on a 3-foot-wide strip of dry, slippery underbrush that's on top of one of the tallest mountain ridges in Hong Kong. Tonight is cold, about 48 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind is whooshing across the ridge, which drops off steeply on both sides. It's scary, but the view is stunning. If I turn around—carefully—I can see the dimly lit street grids of Shatin and the New Territories and the electric glow of Shenzhen, China, across the border. In front, city lights spread out in a sequined carpet. I can make out the famous Hong Kong skyline in the distance, twinkling like a string of miniature Christmas bulbs.

Chan and his partner, the engineer—a young, energetic guy nicknamed "Monkey"—scramble over to a tall tree, then Monkey quickly shimmies up a hanging branch that looks way too slender to carry his weight. In the full moonlight, I can see him clinging to the branch as it sways and threatens to break in two. It occurs to me that what I'm watching is either a supremely courageous action in defense of free speech or a reckless adventure—maybe a bit of both. 

Chan and Monkey are climbing up branches on a mountain in the dark of night in order to set up a transmitter and antenna for Man Gaan Dihn Toi, or Citizen's Radio, a pirate underground FM radio station that broadcasts, once a week, a one-hour talk show hosted by Hong Kong district councilor and pro-democracy activist Tsang Kin Shing. What they are doing tonight is completely illegal. In Hong Kong, possession of an unlicensed broadcast transmitter is punishable by a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to U.S.$13,000.

When I'd met Tsang the day before for an interview, I'd asked him if I could come and watch the preparations for his broadcast. I wanted to know how a handful of Hong Kongers with very little money were managing to put a pirate radio station on the air in one of the most mountainous, difficult cities for radio reception in Asia. Citizen's Radio has been broadcasting since September, once a week, operating on a shoestring. (The 1-watt transmitters Tsang uses are Chinese-made and cost HK$2,000, or U.S.$260, each—the group has bought 10.) Tsang said I could go, no problem, as long as I agreed not to take pictures of his crew or to learn their names.

Then the preparations took on a Mission: Impossible feel. We left his office and dove into an off-duty taxi that was waiting by the curb. The taxi drove around for a while and we talked. "Better not to discuss this on the phone, it could be tapped," Tsang advised. The taxi driver turned out to be Chan, one of the two guys who assembles the transmitter each week, then takes it up to its mountainous location.

Tsang Kin-Shing is a short, scrappy 49-year-old ex-construction foreman with a hearty laugh; he always wears suspenders and he has a reputation as a steadfast, even pugnacious, fighter for populist causes. His nickname, in Cantonese, is "Ah Ngau"—The Bull. He's also a talented puppet-maker—his giant portrayal of Hong Kong's current chief executive, Donald Tsang, having his strings pulled by Chinese President Hu Jintao was a big hit at last summer's July 1 democracy march. The Bull is one of the most famous characters in Hong Kong's pro-democracy community; you'll find him whenever there's a street protest in Hong Kong (and in this city of protests, where people are still fighting for universal suffrage, there are demonstrations pretty much every day), fist in the air, alongside "Long Hair" Leung Kwok Hung, and other regulars in Hong Kong's indefatigable band of political activists.

Media self-censorship has made Hong Kong's lively press tamer and tamer since the 1997 handover. When I was following Leung Kwok Hung around earlier this year to write a magazine profile, I began to notice something odd. Although Long Hair was always trailed by a video-camera-toting pack of Hong Kong reporters, his level-headed press conferences and stand-ups seldom appeared on Hong Kong's evening news broadcasts. I asked one of the local reporters why this was, and she unabashedly replied: "I'm not allowed to write anything about him unless it is bad. My boss is pro-government and pro-Beijing." Hong Kong's media, owned by wealthy businessmen who also have interests and/or holdings in mainland China, has a huge incentive to play nice with the mainland government and support its policies in Hong Kong. And right now, the mainland policy toward Hong Kong is basically: Democracy? Universal suffrage? Forgettaboutit.

There's only one pro-democracy newspaper among Hong Kong's 12 or 13 dailies: Apple Daily is owned by maverick entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, who sold off his successful business (Giordano, The Gap of Hong Kong) in order to be able to publish without looking over his shoulder. (Apple is currently the No. 2 newspaper in town, sales-wise.) Hong Kong's three radio stations—two are commercial, and one is government-run—toe a careful line, striving to avoid controversy. Last year, two well-known pro-democracy radio talk-show hosts received threats and ended up quitting their shows. This year another outspoken host, Wong Yuk-man, was sidelined by management to a graveyard slot; he subsequently quit.

In Hong Kong, talk radio is as popular as it is in the United States, maybe even more so. Ride a taxi in the city and the driver will almost always be tuned into some rollicking Cantonese-language chat-and-call-in program where a gaggle of guests, hosts, and callers trade puns, banter, and talk fast and loud as if they were having dim sum on a Sunday afternoon in a crowded restaurant. In Cantonese Hong Kong culture, that beloved bustle is called "yit lau," and it's what the talk shows strive for. But with the most outspoken talk-show hosts on the regular radio stations sidelined, the most "yit lau" radio is now happening on pirate broadcasts like Tsang's, and on a couple of upstart Internet radio stations, like People's Radio of Hong Kong, which broadcasts every weekday evening.

PRHK is very, very yit lau—so much so that occasionally guests threaten to throw a punch and stomp out. It features, among other things, a soccer show hosted by Long Hair and district councilor Andrew To, and live coverage of all the big Hong Kong democracy protest marches. Shiu Yeuk Yeun, a Hong Kong millionaire businessman (he used to produce Hong Kong B movies like The King of Debt Collecting Agent and now owns a string of beauty and weight-loss salons) founded and bankrolls the all-volunteer PRHK. Shiu told me that since the station started up about 18 months ago, they've built an audience of about 700 listeners a night, mainly Cantonese-speaking Hong Kongers and Chinese living abroad, some logging in to listen from as far away as Nigeria. 

But you can't listen to Internet radio from a Hong Kong taxicab, which is why the Bull (who also appears on PRHK) and his group of supporters decided to apply for a license for Citizen's Radio last September. "Of course they will never give it to me," he says. The Hong Kong government maintains that the area's FM band is completely full (the three radio stations each broadcast on multiple frequencies). But there's another, unspoken problem with giving a license to a bunch of yit lau pro-democracy advocates, as someone who works for government station RTHK pointed out to me. "The last thing the Chinese want is some independent, freewheeling Hong Kong station broadcasting pro-democracy political talk that can be picked up on the mainland." The Chinese government's comfort level with Hong Kong's freedom of expression is so low that even the Web site of the even-handed, BBC-like government radio RTHK is blocked on the mainland.

And so, Citizen's Radio climbs the mountain. High above Hong Kong, on Saturday night, Chan and Monkey successfully attach the antenna, battery, and transmitter to the swaying treetop with black electrical tape (they wear gloves, so as not to leave prints). Mission accomplished, we carefully grope our way back down the path in the dark. At the bottom, Chan uses his cell phone to call the transmitter high above for one final test (the transmitter is controlled remotely by cell phone—just like a terrorist's bomb). When it works, the two guys jump up and do a high-five. The total time spent building, setting up, and placing the transmitter is five and a half hours—for a one-hour broadcast.

"Yes, it's worth the effort," says Chan. "Because if I go out and protest in the street, I'm just one voice. Only a few people can hear me. But with this transmitter, one voice has the power to reach thousands."

(Ming Pao)


最近,電台頻率是否足夠及頻率劃分事宜成為城中一個熱門話題, 很多傳媒、學者、議員都紛紛發表很多意見和論點。電訊管理局作為規劃及管理本港頻譜的監管機構,現試就幾個大家比較關注的議題作出釐清及回應。



另外,在頻譜規劃層面上亦有限制。按國際電信聯盟的FM聲音廣播技術規劃,每條FM頻道應相隔0.1MHz。但在細小的地方如香港,由於每個FM頻率不會因距離而衰減,以致每條FM頻道的鄰頻一般都不能使用,所以在香港的每條地區 FM頻道絕大部份必須相隔0.2MHz或以上。以0.2MHz的頻距計算,在88至108MHz的頻帶內,理論上最多可以提供100條FM頻道。但實際上,由於香港要與鄰近地方(包括廣東省及澳門)分用FM頻段作廣播之用,按公平原則,香港最多只能使用在88至108MHz的一半頻譜,加上為了防止干擾 108至137MHz的民航頻道,部分在88至108MHz內的頻率亦不能使用,因此實際上可使用的FM頻率,經過與鄰近地方互相協調後,只有49個。每一個頻率可提供一條地區性的FM聲音節目頻道。由於本港的電台需要作全港性FM廣播,經過專業技術研究,在現時七個高山發射站發射信號,能最有效覆蓋全港,而每個高山發射站均需要使用七組地區FM頻道,結果併合成為現時七條覆蓋全港的FM節目頻道。

對於有人建議利用同步技術,使用同一個頻率在七個高山站發射,那麼便只需用七個頻率就可以提供現有七條覆蓋全港的FM頻道。如這可行,理論上餘下的42個頻率,便可提供額外42條節目頻道。我必須指出,同步技術一般只應用於數碼廣播傳送,例如L Band及Band III的數碼聲音廣播、UHF Band數碼地面電視廣播等。模擬FM廣播同步技術,一般只在小功率發射站和地區FM頻道覆蓋重疊少的情下使用。在香港使用大功率高山站及FM覆蓋重疊多(即在同一地點可接收不同頻率的廣播)的情下,使用同步技術,FM聲音廣播服務的質素將會嚴重降低,因此在實際上並不可取。

有意見認為,政府可仿效美國將FM頻段數碼化。然而,按現有的數碼技術,先決條件是每個模擬FM頻率必須相隔0.4MHz或以上。鑑於香港可用的FM頻率不多,現已採用了0.2MHz的頻距,要實行像美國的數碼FM,技術上並不可行。事實上,美國採用FM數碼化,是把同一節目,利用數碼和類比方式同時廣播,目的在於改善FM的音質及覆蓋,而不是為了增加FM的節目頻道。模擬FM收音機的價格低廉,令模擬FM廣播的普及率極高,但在FM頻帶實施數碼聲音廣播,在世界各地並不流行。一般數碼聲音廣播,是在其他新的頻段包括L Band及Band III推行。在香港,政府在2000年及2003年經諮詢公眾意見後,採納市場主導的政策,並已預留一些在L Band及Band III的頻譜供數碼聲音廣播之用。不過,由於數碼收音機的售價仍遠比模擬式的為高,業界對採用數碼廣播暫時未見踴躍。