YLE  Capital FM   brought international
news channels to the FM dial in Finland

Capitalin levikki 2000

The schedule and coverage of Yle Capital FM at around 2000.  Besides the all-day FM in the Helsinki area, the channel was available parts of the day in Turku, Tampere, Lahti, Jyväskylä and Kuopio.  The frequencies outside the Helsinki were later assigned by Yle to the spoken word channel Yle Radio Peili when it became a national service.    In 2005 Yle Capital FM (then renamed Yle Mondo) got national availability as a radio channel in the Yle digital television service.  In 2016  Yle chose to close down radio channels in the digital television service, and the national availability of Yle Mondo closed in that process.  During the later abandoned DAB radio launch in Finland, the channel appeared in the Uusimaa regional network as two separate programme flows, one in English only and the other in the rest of the languages.

In November 1991 Yle Radio Finland began relays of leading international radio stations on an FM frequency in Helsinki, along with Yle foreign language broadcasting.

The FM channel had actually started as early as 1978. It had initially offered Radio Finland's foreign language segments, hours of empty air time in-between. Originally it had been English only, but  German started in 1985, French in 1987 and Russian in 1990.

The frequency was originally launched as a way of controlling  what was sent in the foreign language service that was otherwise not audible inside Finland, as most of Finland was in the dark zone of the Pori shortwave station.  

When the relays of foreign stations began in 1991, Yle was not alone with such arrangements.  Commercial radio stations around Finland had started relays of the BBC Finnish Section and VOA Europe, a music oriented satellite service of VOA.  "Placement" had become a tool of the many external broadcasters as the development of small dish ku-Band consumer satellites had made downlinks logistically easier.

In line with the principles of placement in the early 90s, Yle got the programming free of charge. There was no special budget for the service, and for the launch in particular, the enthusiastic co-operation of technicians in the Yle Distribution Engineering was vital. The in-house organizational distance to Distribution Engineering was huge, but that was no impediment.  Procurements had to be done cheaply, however. The preprogrammed clock that switched audio sources from one satellite to another was actually of the type used for switching on saunas in Finnish condo buildings. The pre-printed channel names S1, S2, S3 etc were to refer to saunas, but in our usage they meant satellites.

The first three foreign stations to air on Capital FM were Deutsche Welle in German, BBC World Service in English and Voice of America in English.

From VOA, initially only VOA Europe was available. It was a bit of an embarrassment, as the same channel aired widely over commercial stations, albeit Yle took only the few spoken word segments that VOA Europe either produced on its own or took from mainframe VOA. It took a year and a half until we were able to switch to  VOA Worldwide English.

In early 1992 Radio France Internationale (RFI) in French joined. At that time, and since, the main audience of RFI was in Africa and the channel focussed extensively on African affairs. For serving the French-speaking Finnish nationals, the domestic France Info would have been preferable, but due to the intra-France media rules, it was not possible to air France Info as a placement. Relays of RFI were received enthusiastically by the then growing communities of immigrants from Western Africa in Finland.

The BBC channel used on Capital FM, at the start and for many years, was a "news version" of the English World Service, with less of the traditional WS non-news programming. For our purposes, domestic BBC, at least partially, would have been better, taken the wide contacts between Finland and the UK, and the tendency of the World Service to keep overseas audiences in mind.  Apparently, the World at One from Radio 4, for example, could have been feasible, but it would have attracted costs.

Text continues after the pictures.

Capital FM logo

Capital logo

Logos of Yle Capital FM in the early 90s.  The frequency 103.7 MHz  featured the standard power of Yle FMs at the time, and gave a good signal in the whole Helsinki region However,  Yle later reassigned Capital FM back to 97.6 MHz, which meant a weaker signal in the Helsinki area.

First in Europe with NPR

As another US source on Capital FM, National Public Radio started in the autumn of 1993.  However, the very first non-VOA radio programme from the US had been the CSpan Weekly Radio Journal that had started in late 1992. The programme was received on telephone lines from WAMU in Washington. At the time when the CSpan began on Yle, the availability of NPR in Europe (except for American Forces Radio) remained uncertain. The CSpan Weekly Radio Journal acted as an example for the NPR decision makers who perhaps were uncertain whether an NPR Europe would be successful.

In the late 90s ABC Radio Australia and Canadian CBC were included. Also South African SABC was aired for some years.  The 10 am hour in local Helsinki Time was the Melbourne hour all thru the well over ten years ABC was with the Capital FM and its successor brand.

The World at Six, from CBC Radio One aired for years either at midnight Finnish time or at 1 am. Due to the time difference it was either the Atlantic or the Montreal edition.  CBC in French was sent for some time in the afternoons, but was not available later.

As Finnish nationals, retirees in particular, had begun spending winter seasons in Southern Europe, there was demand in Finland for the local languages of the area. The idea was that those seasonal emigrants who had picked up some knowledge of the local vernacular down there, could follow the news "back home" while in Finland.

Accordingly,  it was mandatory to get the Southern European local domestic services, that the "dual residents" could easily recognize, and not the external broadcasts that often gave only a superficial coverage of domestic news in their countries. Unlike in France (where France Info simply could not be obtained), there was no problem in Spain to sign a contract for relaying Radio Five,"Todo Noticias", the local news channel, and not Radio Espana Exterior.  In Portugal, however, there seeemed to be no interest in arranging a relay for "such a distant country as Finland", and we had to give up the plan.  In Italy, talks with RAI progressed, but seem to be leading to nowhere.  Thus one day I telephoned Vatican Radio. Their director general, Pascale Borgomeo was a friend from the EBU External Broadcasting meetings  and the relay of their Italian language afternoon Radiogiornale was arranged within a few weeks. No doubt, the was a Christian gravitation in the programme, but that was a time when the Catholic church and its media branch did not show a blatant bias.

The technical setup of Capital FM developed greatly towards the late 90s. During the initial "sauna watch" system, any changes in the origination required for someone, mainly me, to go to the Distribution Engineering Control Center, in another building, to do the change manually.  But later a system was created that made it possible to choose the origination in the offices of Yle Radio Finland. However, even though changes were easy to programme, the treshold for changing the scheduled language remained high. Thus, when the evening schedule was widely changed on September 11, 2001, the Russian language slots remained. This triggered some domestic media reactions that Radio Finland responded to.

During the few years in the early 00s that  Yle offered a regional digital service in the Helsinki-Uusimaa area also Voice of Russia, in Russian, was included. The digital service had two channels, Yle World was all in English and Yle Mondo in other languages.  Yle World aired mainly the English blocks of Yle Capital FM and covered the non-English slots with other English programming. For example, with additional arrangement with the BBC World Service, we aired extra live sports coverage, such as Wimbledon.

WRN made more variety feasible

The role of the London based World Radio Network was essential for us to be able to create the variety of programming, beyond the major stations.  World Radio Network was a satellite distribution company launched  in the UK in the early 90s.  They provided  direct-to-home radio satellite flows based on programming from various providers and made the broadcasts available for relay.  Their service made it possible for Capital FM to obtain such stations as ABC Radio Australia or SABC in South Africa, and others. ABC, for example, provided no other satellite radio service for Europe except presence on WRN.  As a small operator, WRN was flexible and appeared to price their services "according to the ability of the customer to pay".  Yle did not pay anything for the incoming programming used on the Capital FM. Later Yle purchased satellite radio channels from WRN, for part of the day in North America, and two all-day channels for Europe (after the closing of the analogue radio satellite channel we leased from Deutsche Welle).

From 2001 Capital FM included China Radio International in English, with a daily half hour.  The intention was to make the news coverage of Asia more versatile.   Needless to say, the presence of Radio Australia on Capital FM gave access to its unique coverage of Asian news, and ABC was a major asset in that sense. However, the problems in getting the Chinese view heard were tangible at times, and I noticed it in particular during the "Hainan crisis" in 2001, when a US intelligence aircraft was intercepted by China and landed in Hainan. One flight to Peking was required to get the relay rights.  Please note that this CRI relay by Yle was not associated at all with the later Chinese broadcast presence in Finland through a media company in Tampere.  (Yle gave up CRI in the late 00s, when I had left, I have no information about the circumstances. )

In the early 00s, Nordic news programmes in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian were included, as produced by SR, DR and NRK.

For almost ten years the Yle Russian service slots on Capital FM included news in Russian from the BBC in London. The arrangement greatly improved the local appeal of the Yle Russian service as the news in Russian, as part of the external broadcasting programming, only covered Finnish news, no world news. The BBC Russian was not included in the transmissions on shortwave or satellite for Russia.  The BBC Russian slots were continued until the BBC dropped its Russian language radio satellite feed.

Yle production hit in 2002

In October 2002 Yle decided to close down all its external broadcasting production in English, German and French. Accordingly, these broadcasts closed on Capital FM as well.  A five minute newscast in English remained produced by an English news team established as part of YLE TV News.   However, the Finnish language courses for English speakers "Starting Finnish" continued several days per week on Capital FM, until the end of the 2010s.

Before the delition of the production in the three western languages, Radio Finland had been told to gear the production more towards the domestic availability. The main evening broadcasts that had been produced for international audiences were discontinued and real morning broadcasts were started, done live in English, German and French.

 In 2002 Voice of America let us know that "Finland no longer belonged to countries that could get programming free of charge". Thus, we took VOA off the air. For some reason, however, relays of VOA continued on some commercial stations, later. But that was a VOA Music Mix, not the Worldwide English that Capital FM aired. Some influential friends of the VOA programming in Helsinki contacted and complained. I explained the situation- Whether Washington was contacted, I never heard.

I had myself left Yle at the end of 2005, and moved to Ontario, for five years. Accordingly, information about the station thereafter is mainly based on media listings. There were of course also old friends in the supplier side who told me what was going on. Radio Finland as an administrative entity had been dismanttled and the new home of Capital FM (now Yle Mondo) was a unit called "Compilation channels" (Koostekanavat) which ran Yle Radio Peili (in Finnish), Capital FM and the two remaining radio satellite channels (which closed around 2012).

ABC Radio Australia ceased on the station after 2010,  based on their strategic decision to restrict to South Asia and the Pacific as their target areas. I understand WRN had tried to negotiate about continued distribution in Europe, but ABC had been adamount in their conviction of exiting Europe.  CBC Canada dropped in 2012, also based on a strategic CBC decision. Although the parts Capital FM took were from CBC Radio One, the satellite distribution for Europe was a service of Radio Canada International (CRI), and the closing of the distribution for Europe was part of the demise of CRI. I was aware how small the cost of the service to CBC had been, and tried to take it up with some politicians in Ottawa I had become acquainted with, but with no result.  I had strictly no role with Yle any longer, but had liked to listen to The World at Six while in Finland, almost every month, while I had residence also in Canada.

NPR remained as the only North American voice on the station for five years more. It disppeared in 2017 when their Berlin FM frequency got a new operator in 2017. NPR relays in Helsinki had shared the same satellite feed.

As a new language, however, Yle Mondo (ex-Capital FM) got Estonian in 2013.  The 6 pm newscast was important to the many Estonians who live in Finland, and those who commute. 

News in Special Finnish (or Easy Language, said now) were part of the Capital FM for decades, and were sent usually in connection with the Russian slots.

The decision by Deutsche Welle in 2012 to discontinue their German language radio almost led to German as a language to disappear.  Some people in Germany, interested in continued availability of German radio on FM in Finland, pulled strings in Germany, and Norddeutscher Rundfund (NDR) was encounraged to make its NDR-Info accessible in Helsinki. NDR has been airing since, albeit not to the extent DW was available.

National availability in Finland as a radio channel carried on the DVB network (television) as radio was closed by Yle in 2016.  Thus Yle Mondo (ex Capital FM) was back to being one FM in the Helsinki area.  To my understanding, also the Helsinki area cable distribution (used to be 107.3 MHz) has expired.

For current schedules  see  https://areena.yle.fi/radio/opas      Scroll down to the second part of channels listed. Yle Mondo is the last, after the two Swedish language channels.

YLE Radio Finland domestic schedule in the late 90s.

The  foreign language radio output  at the time when  the two DAB services  were available  as well.  Below are
the coverage  areas on the FM dial in 2001. The map does not include the transmitter in Jyväskylä. The dotted lines around
Helsinki indicate the availability of the short lived DAB regional service.

Capital FM availability as a VHF service 2001.




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