Broadcasting in the Soviet Union

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Broadcasting in the Soviet Union was owned by the state, and was under its tight control and Soviet censorship.

Broadcasting's governing body in the Soviet Union was the "USSR State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting", or USSR Gosteleradio (Государственный комитет по телевидению и радиовещанию СССР, Гостелерадио СССР), which was in charge both of Soviet TV and Soviet radio.

The problem of broadcasting in the Soviet Union[edit]

Because of the Soviet Union's size, there were several problems to overcome. The first was geography; the European area of the Soviet Union was typical East European. Then there were the mountains such as the Urals. There were also the taiga and steppes of the east and the north. Another problem was time; the Soviet Union encompassed 11 different time zones, and thus what would be shown at 18:00 in Moscow would be different from 18:00 in Frunze, Kirghizia. The population too was unevenly spread out, the overwhelming majority being west of the Urals. In addition, the Soviet Union also relayed their programming to other Warsaw Pact states.

As a result, Soviet television and Soviet radio required ingenuity to overcome the aforementioned problems as well as to transmit programming to the Eastern bloc.

Soviet standards[edit]

Broadcast radio[edit]

Soviet domestic stations broadcast on shortwave, MW, LW and FM wavebands, though the majority of stations were on medium and long wave. Neither the transmission sites nor the frequencies of domestic FM, MW, LW or SW stations were ever disclosed, thus leaving listeners having to memorise the frequencies.


The Soviet Union used SECAM D (VHF) and K (UHF) (also known as CIS-SECAM). The Soviet Union also used the OIRT VHF band (the "R" channels ranging from chs. R1 to R12) and the pan-European/African UHF band.

Radio services[edit]

Home services[edit]

There were four national radio channels. The first was the All-Union First Programme. It broadcast items of national interest along with local opt-out programmes in each of the Republics. The second channel was called Radio Mayak (Radio Beacon in Russian) and was a music and speech entertainment channel intended to be the "beacon" of Soviet culture, similar to BBC Radio 2 in the UK or Radio National in Australia. And the All-Union Third Programme carried the programme strands Radio Yunost and Radio Orfey.

External services[edit]

Most people who have listened to shortwave are familiar with Radio Moscow, the main Soviet shortwave radio station. However, that's only part of the picture. Soviet radio also had Radio Station Peace and Progress, officially called the "Voice of Soviet Public Opinion". Most republics also had an external service, relayed by Radio Moscow's transmitters. Radio Moscow also relayed other radio stations from their satellite states, such as Radio Afghanistan.

Television services[edit]

Igor Kirillov was the face of Channel One, known as the 1st Programme in the Soviet Union, during the Leonid Brezhnev era. He still makes occasional appearances on this channel, however.

National television channels[edit]

Generally there were four channels (called "programmes" in the typical European fashion then). The first channel (1st Programme) was the main channel. It was also the most adaptable for the republics to utilize (see "Regional services" below). Other channels were the All Union Programme (the second channel), the Moscow Programme (the third channel aimed mostly at Moscow), and the Fourth Programme (the fourth channel).

Television programming[edit]

Soap operas and TV series of original cast were rare until the last decade; a notable example is Seventeen Moments of Spring which quickly became a cult film. It involved the exploits of Stierlitz, a Soviet superspy in Nazi Germany, who inspired many jokes (see Russian humour). However, in the later years quite a few of soap operas were brought in from the West (United States, Brazil, etc.), and a number of detective series were cast locally.

Regional services[edit]

In addition to the national radio and television channels, each SSR and ASSR had its own state radio and television company or state broadcasting committees, although other regions were allowed regional state broadcasting companies/committees. Taking the Chechen-Ingush ASSR as an example, one would see that there was a lot of flexibility in the Soviet radio and television system.

Like other areas of the Soviet Union, the four national television channels, Radio Mayak, the All-Union First and Third Programmes, and (if equipped with appropriate transmitters) Radio Moscow would be broadcast by either a Television and Radio Company of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic or by a State Committee on Radio and Television Broadcasting. However, in the First Programme (TV) and in the All-Union First Programme (radio), the Company/Committee was allowed to broadcast regional programming alongside the official First Programme/All-Union First Programme schedule. Depending on the political status of an administrative division, the Company/Committee would broadcast the regional programming in either Russian or the local language. In the Chechen-Ingush ASSR's case, the regional programmes would be broadcast in Russian, Chechen, or Ingush.

The Company/Committee would also broadcast additional channels for their coverage area only. Such cases were usually a second programme, known by a special name, in the main language of the SSR/ASSR. Other districts had their own local programming, and cities such as Moscow and Leningrad had special programs, broadcasting only in the evening and on FM.

Satellite services[edit]

Aside from Canada's ANIK satellite system and the U.S.'s satellite system, the Soviet Union had the largest and most ingenious domestic satellite system in the world. Part of its ingenuity laid in the programming itself. The Soviet Union was a master at time-shifting programmes so that everyone in the Soviet Union could enjoy radio and television programming. This involved several solutions to the Soviet Union's geography and time zone problems:

  • Schedule. The national television channels were only on the air for part of the day. This would make it easy for transmitting the channels throughout the Union. For instance, the Fourth Programme aired from 1300-1740 GMT. This would make it easy for the Fourth Programme to be aired by satellite.
  • Time-shifting. This is the heart of the programming aspect of the Soviet television system. By time-shifting programmes, this allowed the Soviet Union and countries that relayed Soviet television (such as Warsaw Pact states) to enjoy programming in their own time zone.

The timeshift grid[edit]

There were two types of timeshifting in the Soviet Union. The first was used by both the All-Union First Programme and the First Programme (TV). For simplicity, this system is denoted as the "Radio/TV Orbita" system (named after the editions of these 1st programmes when they are time-shifted). All other national television channels (the All-Union, Moscow, and Fourth Programmes), including Radio Mayak and the Third Programme, used the "Double program" composite time-shifting format.

The Radio/TV Orbita system[edit]

  • Radio/TV Orbita-1 (UTC +11, +12, and +13 time zones or MSK +7, MSK +8, and MSK +9)
  • Radio/TV Orbita-2 (UTC +9 and +10 time zones or MSK +6 and MSK +7)
  • Radio/TV Orbita-3 (UTC +7 and +8 time zones or MSK +4 and MSK +5)
  • Radio/TV Orbita-4 (UTC +5 and +6 time zones or MSK +2 and MSK +3)
  • All-Union First Programme/First Programme (UTC +2, +3, and +4 time zones or MSK -1, MSK, and MSK +1)

The "Double Program" system[edit]

The "double program" system was the other system used for time-shifting programmes. Like the "Radio/TV Orbita" system, identical content would be broadcast on the time-shifted versions, and, in the case of the Third Programme (radio), followed the same type of editions as the All-Union First Programme. However, it was different in that, especially on TV, it was a composite time-shifting system. This means that multiple services could be broadcast on the same edition and thus reduce the cost of broadcasting several different editions of the channels.

Editions of the Third Programme (radio):

  • Third Double-1 (UTC +11 and +12 time zones)
  • Third Double-2 (UTC +9 and +10 time zones)
  • Third Double-3 (UTC +7 and +8 time zones)
  • Third Double-4 (UTC +5 and +6 time zones)
  • Third Programme (UTC +2, +3, and +4 time zones)

Composite editions of the All-Union, Moscow, and Fourth Programmes (TV):

  • Double 2 (UTC +9 and +10 time zones)
  • Double 3 (UTC +7 and +8 time zones)
  • Double 4 (UTC +5 and +6 time zones)

The satellites[edit]

The Soviet domestic satellite system was also known as Orbita - in 1990 there were 90 Orbita satellites, supplying programming to 900 main transmitters and over 4,000 relay stations. The most famous Soviet satellites were the Molniya satellites; other satellite groups were the Gorizont, Ekran, and Stasionar satellites. With the right equipment, people outside the Soviet Union who used TVRO satellite television could receive Soviet television programming.


The Soviet Union's radio news and television news was provided almost entirely by the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union, commonly known as TASS.

TASS still exists today, transformed into the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia (ITAR-TASS). It occupies a Joseph Stalin-era building in Moscow, characterised by a bas-relief sculpture above the main entrance. However, much like its counterparts in cinema and the press, it has suffered since the break-up of Soviet Union.

Broadcasting post-Soviet Union[edit]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Soviet broadcasting landscape also changed. Instead of one uniform system for radio and television broadcasting, there are now multiple systems, one for each country. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the republics themselves. Below is an incomplete list of the changes to the television system in the republics, in alphabetical order:



Broadcasters: Radio Yerevan (radio), Yerevanskaja studija televidenija (TV)


Main broadcasters: Hayastani Azgain Radio (Armenian National Radio), Armenian National Television, Armenia TV



Broadcasters: Radio Baku (radio), Bakinskaka studija televidenija (TV)


Main broadcaster: Azärbaycan Dövlät Teleradio Verilisläri Sirkäti (State Radio and Television Company of Azerbaijan)



Broadcasters: Radio Minsk (radio), Minskaja studija televidenija (TV)


Main broadcaster: Nacyjanalnaja Dzjarzaúnaja Teleradyjokampanija Respubliki Belarus (State Television and Radio Company of Belarus)



Broadcasters: Eesti Raadio (radio), Eesti Televisioon (TV)


Main broadcasters: Eesti Raadio, Eesti Televisioon, Kanal 2, TV3 ViaSat



Broadcasters: Radio Tbilisi (radio), Tbiliskaja studija televidenija (TV)


Main broadcaster: Saqartvelos Teleradio Korporacia (Georgian National Broadcasting Corporation)


1990 Broadcasters: Radio Alma-Ata (radio), Alma-Atkinskaja studija televidenija (TV)


1990 Broadcaster: Dom Radio


1990 Broadcasters: Latvijas Radio (radio), Rizhskaja studija televidenija (TV)


1990 Broadcasters: Lietuvos Radijas (gov. radio), Radio M-1 (non-gov. radio), LTV (TV)



Broadcasters: Radio Kishinev (radio), Kishinevskaja studija televidenija (TV)


Broadcasters: TeleRadio Moldova [1], ProTV Chişinău [2]


1990 Broadcaster: State Committee for Broadcasting and Television of the Republic of Tajikistan

  • Radio Dushanbe

2005 Main broadcaster: Tajik Radio


1990 Broadcaster: Radio Ashkabad


1990 Broadcasters: Radio Kiev (radio), Kievskaja studija televidenija (TV)


1990 Broadcasters: Radio Tashkent (radio), Tashkentskaja studija televidenija (TV)

Russian Federation[edit]

See Category:Media in Russia

See also[edit]


NB: Some of the information in this article is from the 1990 edition of the World Radio TV Handbook). Other information is from the Television in the Soviet Union and Radio in the Soviet Union articles.

External links[edit]