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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, Dec. 30, 2007
Radio Broadcasting in Borneo - Balikpapan Kalimantan

We continue in our onward series of programs here in "Wavescan" that present the story of radio broadcasting on Borneo, the world's third largest island.  On this occasion, we visit Kalimantan, which is the Indonesian area of the island, and in particular, the town of Balikpapan.  In fact, there is so much radio information associated with Balikpapan that we will concentrate on this location for this occasion, and then in another forthcoming program, we will visit the other areas of Indonesian Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

The city of Balikpapan is located on the east coast of Borneo and it is the second largest city in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan Timur, East Kalimantan, with a current population around half a million.  Balikpapan has a good natural harbor and a large international airport, and it is a hub for the export of timber and petroleum.  However, in its earlier days at the time when radio was wireless, Balikpapan was a small coastal town under the colonial administration of the Dutch East Indies.

Balikpapan's Oldest Continuous Radio Station

The Dutch authorities at The Hague in their homeland over in Europe began an interest in the usage of wireless very early.  They established a Wireless Company in 1916, they installed two spark Morse Code stations on the Dogger Banks in 1917, they made their first wireless broadcast in 1920, they installed their first wireless stations in their East Indies in 1921, and they made the first wireless communication between Holland and their colonial enterprise in Java in 1923.    

The first wireless station in the Dutch East Indies territory on Borneo was established in Balikpapan close to ninety years ago, in the year 1921 and its story extends over a lengthy period of time.  It was a commercial facility established by the Dutch for Morse Code communication with shipping.  This station was installed for the Batavia Petroleum Company and it operated under the Dutch East Indies callsign PKF.  The original installation was a simple electrical facility, and as time went by, the mode of operation was upgraded with the implementation of electronic valve or tube equipment. 

Somewhere around the year 1936, station YCP made its appearance in Balikpapan as a 3 kW facility on the international communication channel 8575 kHz and we would guess that this was the same station in a new vogue. 

As was the custom in those days, many communication stations also entered into a spate of irregular broadcasting as time and circumstances permitted.  The available information would suggest that this was also the case with station YCP in Balikpapan during this pre-war era.  Back in the year 1939, there are at least two references to the fact that QSL cards were issued from the colonial radio administration in Bandung on behalf of transmissions from station YCP in Balikpapan.  In fact, at this stage, station YCP in Balikpapan was administered from station YBZ in Menado, and it is well established that the Menado station was in use with both communication traffic and program broadcasting.   A year later, the callsign of the radio station in Balikpapan was amended from YCP to YCC and the channel in use at this stage became the more familiar 9120 kHz. 

With the changing fortunes of war in the Pacific, the Japanese took over the Balikpapan station undamaged on January 24, 1942, and history tells us that the station was used by the Japanese administration as a communication facility for the next two and a half years. 

Surprisingly, six months before the coming change of political administration in Balikpapan from the Japanese to the Australians, presumably this radio station was heard in the United States as Radio Borneo on 9120 kHz with a program of music and talks.  It would be interesting to learn who made these radio broadcasts at this time, and for what purpose.

Then on July 1, 1945, Australian troops arrived at Balikpapan Harbor on board HMAS Kanimbla, a ship that itself had been a noted radio broadcaster a few years earlier.  During its earlier usage as a passenger liner, the Kanimbla was on the air with program broadcasting under the callsign 9MI.  A black and white photograph lodged in the government archives in Canberra, Australia, shows the undamaged aerial masts at the Balikpapan station at this stage and the caption states that the station had been in use by the Dutch, the Japanese and the Australians.  We might also add, that it was in use again subsequently by the Dutch, and then the Indonesians. 

Australian Radio Stations in Balikpapan

As soon as things settled down in Balikpapan, the Australian army personnel got themselves busy in the area of radio broadcasting.  They began to make program broadcasts over the camp amplifier system under a pretend radio station callsign TBC, which had the probable meaning, "The Balikpapan Company".   

The first actual radio broadcasting station in this sequence was 7KM, which could be understood as a valid callsign for a mediumwave broadcasting station on the island of Tasmania in Australia. This shortwave station was established in August 1945 by the Australian Signal Corp and it operated with just 12 watts in the 7 MHz band.  Station 7KM was originally allocated the channel 7880 kHz but it soon moved to 7960 kHz to avoid interference.  The transmitter itself was a low power Australian army unit, though the auxiliary equipment was assembled from abandoned Japanese equipment.  Broadcasting station 7KM was on the air for three broadcast sessions daily, it was on the air for just 10 weeks, it was heard quite regularly up to 500 miles distant, and it was closed in October when the AAAS station 9AG was inaugurated in Balikpapan.

Next on the radio scene in Balikpapan was the mobile station 9AG.  This 200 watt broadcast facility was part of a 21 station network established by AAAS, the Australian Army Amenities Service. Original government announcements in Australia at the end of 1944 and in early 1945 indicated that this particular unit was not allocated to a specific location, but it would be available to move to any desired location in the Pacific/Asian arena.  It was stated at the time that each of the seven mobile stations at 200 watts would be built into three army trucks, each truck rated at three ton capacity. 

Although several of these mobile mediumwave stations were heard throughout Australia and New Zealand with test broadcasts beginning around mid 1945, there is no tangible evidence that 9AG was heard with any test broadcasts.  Perhaps mobile station 9AG did make a series of test broadcasts in Australia and these broadcasts escaped detection by radio monitors?  Perhaps 9AG did not make any test broadcasts before it was taken up into the islands?  Or perhaps 9AG was taken up to Balikpapan in crates with the intention of installing it into a regular building that was already under construction?  Who knows?

Suffice it to say that station 9AG was inaugurated in its own building in Balikpapan in October 1945 and it was on the air as an AAAS entertainment mediumwave station at this location for a period of a little under half a year.  The last day of operation for station 9AG as an AAAS station was February 28, 1946.  Next day, this station was taken over by the Dutch colonial government in Borneo.  

Radio Balikpapan

Now, in assessing the available information, we would suggest that the Dutch colonial authorities took over both of the radio stations in Balikpapan from the Australian army; that is, the mediumwave station 9AG as mentioned earlier, and also the long established shortwave station that utilized generally just the one channel, 9120 or 9125 kHz.  The date for this acquisition was March 1, 1946; and it would also be suggested that they activated both units, mediumwave and shortwave, with their programming in Dutch and English on that date.  However, due to propagation conditions, it would appear that the mediumwave unit was not heard in Australia nor New Zealand, though the shortwave unit was heard in both the South Pacific and North America.  In fact, both the noted Rex Gillett in Adelaide and the equally well known Miss Sanderson in Victoria received QSL letters from this station during this era.

A news report published in the United States declares that Radio Balikpapan shortwave was off the air for about a month, and we would read this as the time interval during which the station was transferred from Balikpapan on the east coast of Borneo to Pontianak on the west coast.  When this station returned to the air at its new location, the on-air identification announcement stated: "Radio Balikpapan Pontianak." And we note that the two locations, Balikpapan and Pontianak, are more than 500 miles apart.  Interestingly, at this stage there were three shortwave transmitters on the air in Pontianak, one of which was listed as 125 watts, the exact power rating of the transmitter at the previous location in Balikpapan.

Now, around the same time as the Dutch authorities took over the mediumwave and shortwave stations from the Australians in Balikpapan, a new shortwave station in Balikpapan appeared on the radio dial.  This station also identified on air with a Tasmanian callsign, 7ER.  This new shortwave station emitted a mere 8 watts and it began operation on 6980 kHz, though this was soon modified to 7205 kHz to avoid interference.  Radio station 7ER utilized Australian army equipment, though plans were announced for the installation of a 100 watt shortwave transmitter abandoned by the Japanese.  We would guess that the make shift studio for the broadcast of this programming was in reality the camp amplifier system that was on the air earlier with programming under the callsign 7KM.


In summary then, there were three different wireless and radio installations in Balikpapan in the earlier days, which were as follows:-

1.  Wireless communication station PKF, which apparently morphed into YCP, which became YCC, and which was in use successively by the Dutch, the Japanese, the Australians, and again the Dutch, and lastly by the Indonesians in two widely different locations as Radio Balikpapan.

2.  Camp amplifier radio station TBC, which probably served as the makeshift studio for the low power shortwave stations 7KM and 7ER.

3.  Australian army mobile station 9AG, which was taken over by the Dutch authorities and became Radio Balikpapan.

American Radio Stations in Australia  4QR Brisbane

If you were to check the Radio Heritage website in New Zealand, you would find a very interesting entry regarding the American usage of a radio broadcasting station in Australia.  Now, it is a well known fact down under that the New Zealand Broadcasting Service made one of its mediumwave stations available to the American forces for much of the year 1944.  This station that was on loan to the American forces as part of the Mosquito Network was 1ZM in Auckland with 1 kW on 1250 kHz.  However, it is not so well known that the American forces were granted the usage of a mediumwave radio station on a part time basis in Australia also.  This is how it happened.

Back at the beginning of the year 1938, the ABC in Queensland, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, inaugurated a new mediumwave station in the state capital, Brisbane.  They already had one station on the air at the time, the thirteen year old 4QG, though this station is now identified under the generic callsign 4RN.  The new 1938 station is now known as 4QR, though at the time of its inauguration, it was on the air as 4BR.  These Brisbane radio station callsigns all have a meaning, such as:

4         Identification digit for mediumwave radio stations in Queensland Australia    
4QG   Queensland Government
4RN    Radio National
4BR    Brisbane Radio
4QR    Queensland Radio
Anyway, at the turn of events in 1944, radio station 4QR was on the air from the ABC studios in downtown Brisbane that were shared with its sister station 4QG.  At the time, 4QG carried the National Service on relay from the ABC headquarters in Sydney, and 4QR carried what was called the Alternative Service, that is, locally produced ABC programming.  The transmitter for 4QR, rated at 1 kW on 940 kHz, was quite newly installed at the familiar ABC property at Bald Hills, just a few miles north of Brisbane.

Now, in the latter half of the year 1943, station 4QR began the regular rebroadcast of an American program under the generic title, The American Program.  These broadcasts were recorded in the United States and sent by air to Australia, though in some cases, the programming came by undersea cable or shortwave radio.

Then, a month or two later, a detachment of American personnel was sent to Brisbane for the specific purpose of preparing radio programs that would appeal to American servicemen on leave in Australia.  Brisbane was the chosen location mainly because General MacArthur had established his South Pacific headquarters in the same city.  The Australian government made the studios and transmitter facilities of 4QR in Brisbane available part time for the American programming, some of which was broadcast live and some from recordings.

It just so happened that the new ABC shortwave station, 10 kW VLQ, had been installed at the same Bald Hills facility earlier in the same year, and at times this shortwave unit also carried this American programming in parallel with mediumwave 4QR. 

Early in the following year, 1944, the American usage of 4QR was brought directly under AFRS, the American Forces Radio Service, and shortly afterwards again, this usage was terminated.  Thus, this whole unique project, the American involvement with program production at 4QR and the broadcast of this programming over mediumwave 4QR and shortwave VLQ, lasted no more than half a year.

So what happened to these two transmitters then?  The original 1 kW mediumwave transmitter in use with 4QR at this time was relegated in 1948 to emergency usage only when a 10 kW STC transmitter was installed, and it was finally withdrawn from service completely in 1960 when a 50 kW transmitter was installed.  As far as the shortwave VLQ is concerned, the original 10 kW unit was finally withdrawn from service in 1988.  I guess both units were just simply scrapped. 

As far as can be discerned, there are no known QSLs from 4QR nor VLQ for the American part time era that stretched from late 1943 into early 1944.