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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, August 23, 2009

Early Radio Broadcasting in West New Guinea, Irian Jaya

The island of New Guinea, they tell us, is shaped like their national bird, the "Bird of Paradise." The eastern half of this very large island is an independent nation known as Papua New Guinea, and the western half is part of the Asian nation of Indonesia. In several previous editions of our DX program "Wavescan," we have presented the story of early wireless stations and radio stations in Papua New Guinea; and in this program we cross over the border from Papua New Guinea to discover the story of early wireless and radio in Irian Jaya, western New Guinea.

Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the Dutch colonial authorities operated a wireless station at Manokwari which is located in what we would say is the back of the head of the "Bird of Paradise." This communication station was on the air under the official callsign PKK. Initially, station PKK was a spark wireless station operating in Morse Code, though subsequently a valve transmitter was installed for voice communication. There are no known QSLs in existence verifying the reception of station PKK at Manokwari in western New Guinea.

However, in the middle of the year 1938 a team of men from the United States set out on a year long expedition to explore a rugged interior area of the island of New Guinea. This project was known as the Richard Archbold Expedition and it was sponsored by the New York based American Museum of Natural History.

This team of men flew from San Diego, California via Hawaii and Wake Island, and landed in Humboldt Bay, Hollandia in a Consolidated Flying Boat on June 10, 1938. This aircraft was the world's largest plane in private ownership at the time. It was named "Guba," which means "Sudden Storm" in the Papuan language, and it was moored off the town of Hollandia during the long trek inland by the explorers.

These days, Hollandia is known as Jayapura and it is located on the back of the "Bird of Paradise" just inside Irian Jaya, quite close to the international border with Papua New Guinea.

The airplane "Guba" carried radio equipment for local communication with the explorers and also for communication back with the mainland United States. Their main transmitter, rated at 300 watts, was licensed under the callsign PO6ZA for official communication, and for the relay of radio programming back to the United States. This same equipment was also licensed for amateur communication as PK6XX, the callsign that is better known historically. The airplane transmitter itself was licensed with the callsign KHAHX.

Many reports published in the United States, Australia and New Zealand at the time, indicate that this station was often heard at quite a good level, sometimes with phone communications and sometimes with program relays for broadcast on mediumwave throughout the United States. These relay programs were picked up by RCA Kahuku in Hawaii and by RCA Bolinas in California.

The exploring party themselves walked inland and uphill to a high mountain lake known as Lake Habbema. Daily contact with the base station in Hollandia was maintained by the inland exploring party via their portable transmitters which were rated with an output power around 5 watts.

Four months after the Expedition arrived at Hollandia, it so happened that an Australian amateur radio operator living in Port Moresby, Papua, on the other side of the international boundary, made contact with the base camp at Hollandia. It was a man by the name of H. G. Nicholson with the callsign VK4HN in Port Moresby who made the amateur radio contact with station PK6XX in Hollandia, West New Guinea.

Almost exactly one year after the Richard Archbold Expedition arrived on the northern coast of the island of New Guinea, their work was completed and they left on the return flight to the United States. This flight took them to Australia, and then to Africa and the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, thus completing a round-the-world tour. Their departure date from New Guinea was June 15, 1939.

However, before the expeditioners left Hollandia, New Guinea, arrangements were made for the amateur radio operator VK4HN in Port Moresby to transfer over to Hollandia and to operate the radio station PK6XX. Wireless operator Nicholson manned this station for a period of just three months.

Due to the rising political tensions in continental Europe, the Dutch government sent a wireless telegram to Nicholson in Hollandia in West New Guinea, requiring him to close the station. Thus, the radio station that had been on the air for a little over a year under the double callsigns P06ZA and PK6XX was silenced at the beginning of September 1939.

Soon afterwards, Nicholson made a tour of the United States and then he returned to Port Moresby as VK4HN where he processed all pending requests for QSLs from PK6XX.

During the time of its on air activity, QSL certificates and occasional QSL letters were issued to verify the reception of this quite remarkable radio station, the only one on the air in that territory during those early years of radio development. It is probable that some of these QSL certificates issued to verify the reception of station PO6ZA-PK6XX are still in existence, though we have never seen one.