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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, March 29, 2009

Radio Broadcasting in New Guinea - Early Wireless Stations

The island of New Guinea, located north of Australia, is considered to be the second largest island in the world, with only Greenland larger. New Guinea is about 1500 miles long with an area of a little over 1/3rd million square miles, much of which is not yet totally explored. The shape of the island, according to many people who live there, is like one of their national birds, the Bird of Paradise. It is a very rugged island with high snow covered mountains in the interior, deep forested valleys, and low lying jungles along the coastal areas that are hot and humid.

The total population of the entire island of New Guinea is around nine million people, most of whom are Melanesian and Palauan whose ancestors migrated in pre-historic eras from South East Asia. In addition, there are several minorities whose ancestry is European, Asian, Indonesian or Australian. The peoples of eastern New Guinea speak more than eight hundred and fifty languages with three nationally recognized languages; English, Tok Pison, and Hiri Motu. On the western side, there are more than three hundred languages, with Indonesian as the government language.

History tells us that the first European to visit the island of New Guinea was the Portuguese governor of the nearby Molucca Islands, Jorge de Menesses, and this was in the year 1526. He named the island "Papua," a Malay word meaning "frizzy hair." However, twenty one years later, a Spanish explorer, Ynigo Ortiz de Retez, visited the island and he named it New Guinea, due to the similarity to the people he had seen in the country of Guinea in Africa.

The first European settlement was established by the English at Fort Coronation at Doreri Bay in 1793, but it was abandoned two years later as untenable due to the poor export quality of the local produce. This settlement was located near the top of the head of the Bird of Paradise map, at Manokwari in what is now Irian Jaya.

Following the introduction of European settlements in several locations around the island, the three major powers in the area, Holland, England and Germany, agreed to partition the island; the western half to Holland, the north eastern quadrant to Germany, and the south eastern quadrant to England.

However, at one stage, the Australian colony of Queensland laid claim to the south eastern quadrant of New Guinea, and after the Australian colonies were federated into one country, England passed on to Australia the administration of its territory in this bird shaped island. Then, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations granted the German territory, North East New Guinea, as a mandate under the Australian administration.

During the Pacific War, Japanese forces landed on the northeast coast of New Guinea in mid 1942, and three months later their overland forces came within just thirty two miles of Port Moresby itself. It was claimed that they could see the lights of Port Moresby from their mountainous viewpoints. A year or two later, American and Australian forces reversed the situation and reclaimed this strategic island.

After the Pacific War was concluded, the two eastern territories on the island of New Guinea were combined under the Australian administration as Papua New Guinea. In 1973, Papua New Guinea was granted self-government for its internal affairs; and on September 16, 1975, Papua New Guinea was granted complete independence.

When Indonesia assumed independence in 1949, it laid claim to the western half of New Guinea; and ultimately, it became a province within Indonesia as Irian Jaya, though these days, the entire territory is now administered apparently as two provinces, Papua and Papua Barat.

The very first attempt at wireless communication in New Guinea took place in Port Moresby in March 1911. The Australian born Catholic priest, Father Archibald Shaw, had joined a search party that went to Port Moresby looking for a group of lost Australian officials. He brought with him some electrical equipment manufactured in his own factory in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. He installed this equipment temporarily at Paga Hill, Port Moresby, and tried unsuccessfully to contact a wireless station on Thursday Island.

In the era before and during World War I, a total of four different permanent wireless stations were established in the mainland territory of Papua New Guinea, though the advent of wireless in the Dutch side of the island was not implemented until after the conclusion of the European conflict. These very early wireless stations were located at Port Moresby, Aitape, Madang and Morobe. The equipment for these stations was assembled in Australia, using a mixture of Telefunken apparatus imported from Germany, items of electrical apparatus manufactured in Sydney by AWA, together with some additional items from the Randwick factory of Father Shaw. All of them at this stage were spark wireless stations which we would describe these days as being electrical transmitters, rather than electronic.

The first of these new permanent stations was installed on the edge of Port Moresby, Papua. It was a 5 kw. Telefunken transmitter and the receiver was a simple crystal set. It should be remembered that all of the spark transmitters anywhere in the world at this stage were operating only in Morse Code.

The Port Moresby station, VIG, was installed and operated by Sydney based AWA and it was intended to be a gathering point for news, information and messages from other stations in the New Guinea area for onward relay to the AWA station located at Pennant Hills, near Sydney in Australia. Station VIG was also intended for use in communication with nearby shipping approaching or departing the harbor at Port Moresby. Station VIG, Port Moresby was officially taken into service on February 26, 1913.

Photographs of the Port Moresby wireless station taken on the opening day of the European Conflict in August 1914, show two buildings, both about the same size. Perhaps one housed the technical equipment and the other was for use by staff personnel. The station was located in an isolated area beyond the edge of Port Moresby; and the aerial mast was a little under one hundred feet high.

The second wireless station installed on the New Guinea mainland was VZX, Aitape, and this unit was installed in 1914. The station was located on a flat area in between a muddy river and the ocean beach; and the town itself was built on a rocky headland overlooking two islands in the bay. Aitape town is situated on the north coast of New Guinea, a little over a hundred miles from the Dutch/Indonesian border of Irian Jaya. At the time when the station was installed, there were some seventy five foreigners in the town of Aitape, mostly Dutch or German.

Station VZX was built to enable the local administration to communicate with government headquarters in Rabaul, and initially the Morse Code messages were relayed to Rabaul via an intermediate Morse Code station on Manus Island.

The third wireless station installed in New Guinea was located at Madang, under the callsign VIV. By this time, World War I in Europe was well underway and the Australian government moved quickly for the installation of this facility.

Madang was settled originally by people from Germany in the year 1884. The town is located on a peninsula overlooking a beautiful harbor on each side and it was finally ridded of deadly malaria mosquitoes twenty years later. The wireless station, VIV, was quickly installed by AWA for the Australian government in 1916.

The fourth wireless station installed in mainland New Guinea during this very early era of wireless communication was station VZK at Morobe. The town of Morobe was originally named by the German settlers as Adolfhafen and it was located a little south along the coast from Lae. Station VZK, Morobe also came into service during the year 1916.

Each of the three smaller regional wireless stations in mainland New Guinea was described as having a normal coverage range of two hundred miles, whereas the main station at Port Moresby had a range of five hundred miles.

And that's the story of our first introductory presentation on the long and interesting research into the history of radio broadcasting on the island of New Guinea. More on a later date!