Others were listening: Phnom Penh domestic service broadcasts

The Voice of Democratic Kampuchea radio was an important means of outreach to Cambodian people throughout the country as the majority lived predominantly in rural areas, and had restricted access to print media. Thus, radio was often the sole source of national news and information for most Cambodians.

Radio Phnom Penh, the “Voice of Democratic Kampuchea”, only broadcast a limited domestic service, daily between 6 and 7am, 11 and noon, and 8 and 10pm local time. All three broadcasts repeated the same news agenda.

Generally official Democratic Kampuchea documents and radio broadcasts had a near complete absence of references to Marx, Lenin, or Mao, to any influences. But still it was over the radio that it announced to the listening world its important declarations and news.

The Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea was first promulgated on 5 January 1976, in a radio broadcast by the Cambodian Minister for Information and Propaganda, Hu Nim. The broadcast was monitored and translated for the US Foreign Broadcasting Information Services [FBIS]. A print version in Khmer appeared later that month, printed by revolutionary Cambodians in Paris.

Translated English-language extracts of the broadcasts were available via two main sources: the BBC World Broadcasting Summary and the American FBIS. The news agencies also transcribed and translated broadcasts for their own use.

Official news of developments in the country, diplomatic activity and policy statements were released on air and in bulletins from the foreign ministry. Journalists, usually denied the opportunity for first-hand reporting from inside the country rely for information, at least in part, on the radio broadcasts and embassy briefings and refugee accounts. The Wiki leaks dump of diplomatic cables illustrated it was a reciprocal arrangement with journalistic briefings in information exchange to local diplomats. The restriction on who was allowed to cross the Kampuchean border and exclusion of free roaming journalists did not limit western press speculation on what was happening in the country.

Unsourced items appeared as if authoritative and established fact, for instance, a brief item on the incommunicado and isolated Sihanouk reported he was “said to be very ill. They say he is suffering from malnutrition and that he has almost lost his ability to speak. Phnom Penh has authorised Chinese specialists to come examine him but has refused to allow him to be transported to Peking.”[i]  

Who were “they” saying what, to whom?

Other broadcast proved information and tone when selectively used in accounts of the country, as with Ponchaud’s best-selling publication Cambodia Year Zero that quoted extensively from radio reports:

 “Democratic Kampuchea is one huge work site; wherever one may be, something is being built. The people, children, men and women, and the old people of all cooperatives are enthusiastically building mini dikes. At Chikreng, in Siem Reap province, almost twenty thousand people are united in an offensive struggle to build dikes with a positive and combative attitude and unflagging revolutionary dynamism. Today the dike-building sites are the front lines of the battlefield on which the struggle is being zealously waged, and the peasants of our cooperatives are striving to fight vigorously and without pause, day or night, to achieve the great leap forward and to solve the water problem for the coming rainy season.” [ii]

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Today, the Cambodian-based Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center houses a collection of Voice of Democratic Kampuchea radio programmes dating between 1975-78 [iii]

Here are links to a selection of transcripts from the summer of 1978 that cover developments other than the border clashes with Vietnam.

Phnom Penh Radio domestic service broadcasts 9th July 1978

A Warm Welcome on the Founding Anniversary of the Glorious Women’s Organisation of Democratic Kampuchea

Phnom Penh Radio domestic service broadcasts 18th July 1978

Ratanakiri Khang Kaeut Sector is Developing Steadily and the Living Conditions of its People Are Gradually Improving

Phnom Penh Radio domestic service broadcasts 19th July 1978

Rapid Development and Growth of the Cottage Industry In Our Democratic Kampuchea

Phnom Penh Radio domestic service broadcasts 30th August 1978

Education Program: Another Victorious Step for Our Cooperatives

Phnom Penh Radio domestic service broadcasts 1st September 1978

Male and Female Combatants in Phnom Penh Have Been Seethingly Engaged in an offensive To Grow Cassava and Sweet Potato

Buletinul Oficial (Bucharest) July 22nd 1978

Romanian-Cambodian Trade Agreement

It was not just dry statistics and political reports that came over the wavelength, the focus on Cambodian heritage and folk form traditions were utilised for the regime’s propaganda. The songs of Angkar were important propaganda elements to the radio broadcasts as their titles sang of ‘The Patriotism of Our Peasants’ and exhorted ‘Congratulations for the Victories of the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea’. [iv]

In the summer of 1978, the orchestra of the Democratic Kampuchea Broadcasting Company met in Phnom Penh to record some songs. A tape was brought back by a visiting delegation of the Swedish-Kampuchea Friendship Association, and Swedish record company Folksang released a vinyl LP in 1980 under the title of “Music from Kampuchea”. [v]

 Across the airwaves daily came the national anthem, “Great Victorious Seventeenth of April”. An online Youtube recording (said to be from 1977) “sounds like someone took a recording of the DK national anthem and overlay static on it.” [vi] An instrumental version without the static [vii] and a version with added lyrics are also available.[viii]

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Years of Resistance and dissolution 1981-1998

Following the Vietnamese invasion and the Vietnamese installed government, the chequered designation of the radio station reflected the post-invasion political developments and in the 1990s, a series of name changes reflecting splits and breakaways in the Party of Democratic Kampuchea –  PDK (that emerged in 1981 from the dissolved ashes of the Communist Party of Kampuchea).

he Voice of Democratic Kampuchea which had been broadcasting since mid- January 1979, was widely reported in February 1984, broadcasting on 15115kHz opening at 0900 for an hour. The transmitter location was reported to be in southern China. They appreciated reception reports and listener feedback like any other broadcaster. [ix]


Additionally the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea’s commenced broadcasting with the Voice of the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea in February 1983. The station was believed to be locate at PDK controlled camp near the Thai-Kampuchean border.

Shortwave radio played a key role at the time — PDK Radio continued to broadcast, somewhere in the 5 mhz range — and its English language programs were monitored by news agencies and government monitoring organizations.[x]

The formal merger of the Party of Democratic Kampuchea Voice of Democratic Kampuchea and the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea’s Voice of the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea, meant the Voice of the Great National Union Front of Cambodia (VGNUFC) had been operating under its new name since 27th October 1991.

From 11th July 1994 it had been designated as Radio of the Provisional Government of National Union and National Salvation of Cambodia. It adopted its last name on 27th October 1997 and called itself the Voice of the National United Army.

Since 16th June 1997 Voice of the National United Army (until its apparent demise in May 1998) was controlled by a breakaway faction of the Party of Democratic Kampuchea which split from the movement’s former leader, Pol Pot.

Voice of the National United Army was not heard after 11th May 1998, when Cambodian radio reported that it had been “destroyed” by government troops.

  • During the years of the Vietnamese occupation, the rival Phnom Penh based authorities radio, was called the Voice of the Kampuchean People. The current state broadcaster is National Radio of Cambodia .

Appendix [xi]

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AFP issued the following report about Khmer Rouge radio on 25 April 1998: Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge made a foray into radio comedy Saturday, broadcasting over their clandestine transmitter an imitation of a telephone conversation between a senior defector and strongman Hun Sen, the rebels’ hated enemy.

The deadpan send-up purported to describe Second Prime Minister Hun Sen receiving news of the government’s loss of Anlong Veng, the guerrillas’ stronghold in northern Cambodia which fell to Phnom Penh forces last month after a mutiny in the Khmer Rouge ranks.

The news was allegedly delivered to Hun Sen on Wednesday by Keo Pok, a leader of the rebellion who has allied himself with the government and earned the title of “traitor” from the Khmer Rouge.

“Hello! Hello!” Hun Sen said into the telephone without receiving any response from Keo Pok, according to the radio.

“Where is he now? Where has he gone and why is he not answering me?” Hun Sen then said in an aside, the radio recounted.

“A moment later, Keo Pok replied: ‘Hello! Hello! Who is on the phone? Hello! Hello! This is Keo Pok’,” the radio said.

“Hello! It’s you, Keo Pok, why didn’t you answer me earlier? Do you know how to use a telephone? It’s me, Hun Sen,” the conversation continued, according to the radio.

“Keo Pok replied: ‘Yes! Yes! I know that it is Hun Sen and me, I am near Anlong Veng.” The broadcast continued with Keo Pok’s alleged description of how the government and his defectors had “been nearly completely defeated” at Anlong Veng and Hun Sen’s anger at receiving the bad news.

“This is death, this is death,” Hun Sen said, according to the radio.

“With the defeat at Anlong Veng, how can I go to report to King Norodom Sihanouk about my talents?” Despite the radio’s claims, government military sources said they still had control of Anlong Veng.

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REFERENCES


[i] Le Point (Paris ) in French, September 4th 1978 p31

[ii] Partial quoted in Francois Ponchaud (1978) Cambodia: Year Zero. London: Penguin p. 98

[iii]  http://bophana.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/12.-Audio-Public-Ownership.pdf

[iv] See https://english.cambodiadaily.com/lifestyle/fields-fresh-blood-the-songs-of-angkar-115412/

[v] Track list of  “Music from Kampuchea”

A1Phat Cheay
A2The Red Scarf
A3Smaung
A4Sampaung
A5Lullaby
A6Bek Chan
A7Congratulations For The Victories Of The Revolutionary Army Of Kampuchea
B1The Patriotism Of Our Peasants
B2Som Bon
B3The Peasants Are Crossing The Plain
B4Song Of The Boatmen
B5Sunset
B6The Junk Far-Away
B7National Anthem, “Great Victorious Seventeenth of April”

[vi]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lOtojCPlT8

[vii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUAz88CeE5k

[viii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkChelAKgCE

[ix] Source: http://www.radiodx.com/introduction-to-dxing/introduction-to-clandestine-dxing/clandestine-radio-wars-1980s/   QSL credit: thanks to John Durham, Tauranga NZRDXL

[x] Account drawn from Monitoring Research 20 July 1998 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/monitoring/137455.stm

[xi] Monitoring research 20 July 1998 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/monitoring/137455.stm BBC Monitoring then  based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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