"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, November 15, 2009
St. Helena on Mediumwave and Shortwave
You will remember that last week here in Wavescan we presented two major features regarding the wireless and radio backgrounds on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. In this edition of Wavescan, we conclude the St Helena story with a presentation of the entire panorama of radio broadcasting, both mediumwave and shortwave, on this isolated and fascinating volcanic outpost that is home to 5,000 people.
We go back to the year 1967, which is actually quite late in the story of radio broadcasting in many other countries around the world. On March 11, test broadcasts were initiated by the personnel at DWRS, the Diplomatic Wireless Relay Station, that had been established on St Helena by the British diplomatic service some two years earlier. These broadcasts, using a modified transmitter at the DWRS outpost, were radiated on 1511 kHz in an endeavor to ascertain the likely coverage area for a regular radio broadcasting service on the same mediumwave channel.
A little less than a month later, an announcement in the local newspaper stated that a new mediumwave station, the first official broadcasting station on the island, was under construction at the Country Senior School. The equipment for this station was made available by the Diplomatic Wireless Relay Station and their personnel performed all of the technical services for this new facility. The original studios were installed in a building on the campus of the country school.
A regular broadcasting service was soon introduced, though these broadcasts were described at this stage as test broadcasts. Programming consisted of Schools Broadcasts on Fridays, with entertainment programs and announcements on Saturdays.
The Government Public Works Department constructed a new building for the transmitters and erected towers for the antenna system. Two communication transmitters were modified for this new broadcast service, both older Marconi units manufactured around 1944 and rated at 450 watts each. In addition, a 350 watt shortwave transmitter was also co-installed with the two mediumwave units.
A special ceremony was conducted on Christmas Day, Monday, December 25, 1967, for the official inauguration of this new radio broadcasting station, with the island governor presenting the opening speech. Radio St Helena was now officially on the air, with 500 watts on 1511 kHz. The first known distant monitoring of this new mediumwave broadcasting station was in South Africa a few months after the station was officially inaugurated.
Soon afterwards, control of the station was transferred from the country school to the Government Information Office in Jamestown. Studios were established in a building known as The Briars, then The Castle, and finally out at the transmitter location in Pounceys. The operating frequency was changed to 1548 kHz in October 1978, and two new Harris Gates transmitters at 1 kW each were installed in 1993.
Radio St Helena is recognized in the international radio world for its annual shortwave broadcasts and interestingly, they have used three different transmitters for this purpose. Back in the year 1970, Radio St Helena conducted a lengthy series of test broadcasts, running from August to December. Their own 400 watt transmitter was tuned to 6100 kHz, and also 11830 kHz, for these propagation tests with programming beamed to Ascension Island. However, due to the low power output of this single transmitter, these broadcasts were heard in Ascension Island on only professional radio receivers.
In fulfillment of a request from a radio club in Scandinavia, Radio St Helena presented what was intended to be a one-time-only shortwave broadcast beamed to Europe on Friday October 6, 1990. The special programming was presented live by Radio St Helena mediumwave on 1548 kHz, and it was received off air at the nearby Cable & Wireless facility and re-transmitted on 11092.5 kHz LSB (lower side band).
At the time, C&W operated an old 1.5 kW Redifon shortwave transmitter with a folded dipole antenna under the callsign ZHH for communication with shipping. This unit was in occasional use, on average about once a week, on the frequency 11092.5 kHz.
However, through the work of Scandinavian DXers, John Ekwall and Jan Tuner, a second similar broadcast was arranged two years later; same procedures, same shortwave channel though this time in the USB mode (upper side band). Similar annual broadcasts followed each year up until 1999, though the year 1995 was missed out. The entire three hour program on October 14, 1994 was relayed live to local listeners on distant Ascension Island by local mediumwave Volcano Radio.
Announcements were made in advance that the 1998 broadcast would be the last, but just one more was squeezed out of the old and ailing shortwave transmitter the following year. After the 1999 shortwave broadcast, the C&W transmitter was finally retired, removed, and sold locally for scrap.
However, through the efforts of Robert Kipp in Germany, international radio monitors around the world rallied to the cause and an entirely new set of equipment was procured abroad, shipped to St Helena, and installed at their transmitter facility. Thus, the annual shortwave broadcasts from Radio St Helena were re-introduced on November 4, 2006.
For the eleventh occasion, the once-a-year shortwave broadcasts from Radio St Helena were on the air just last Saturday evening, November 14, 2009. Highly prized, very special QSL cards have been issued for each of these shortwave broadcasts, and the Indianapolis collection holds eleven of these cards.
The international radio world is very grateful for the efforts of those who have been involved in these once-a-year shortwave broadcasts from St Helena. How nice it would be if other exotic locations around our planet could be encouraged to enter into similar projects, and places of interest could be, for example: Some of the small islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and maybe elsewhere. And perhaps, some of the smaller countries that were earlier on the air shortwave, but are no longer heard on the shortwave bands.
The Bermuda Story - Ship Broadcasting
On two previous occasions, we have presented information about the radio scene on the island of Bermuda, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America. On this occasion, we continue in our Bermuda series and we tell the story of radio broadcasting from passenger liners that have been associated with Bermuda.
It is the story of three passenger liners, all built in islandic Europe. These ships were named: Empress of Britain, Monarch of Bermuda, and Queen of Bermuda, and each ship was noted on air back in the 1930s with radio program broadcasting.
The Empress of Britain was launched by the Brown Shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland on June 11, 1930. This large passenger ship, owned and operated by Canadian Pacific, replaced an older ship with the same name. At the time, it was described as a very modern passenger liner, designed for winter cruising, and with a radio receiver in each cabin.
It was touted as the world's most economical fuel consumer per horsepower hour, burning 356 tons of fuel oil each day. It was so large that it had a clearance of just seven and a half inches on each side as it traversed through the lock system in the Panama Canal.
The Empress of Britain plied the Atlantic on numerous voyages, and occasionally out in the Pacific. On one occasion, this ship crossed the Atlantic, from Halifax Nova Scotia in Canada to Southampton in England with just forty passengers on board. However, these passengers were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, together with their royal entourage.
On September 8, 1939, the Empress of Britain arrived at Quebec at the end of a quick voyage across the Atlantic. It was commandeered for navy service, painted with camouflage paint, and used as a troop carrier back to Europe.
On what became its last voyage, it was attacked off the coast of Ireland by a German long range bomber on October 26 in the following year, 1940. Next day, it was attacked by a German submarine, and early in the morning of the third day, it sank upside down in 500 ft of water.
Our second ship in this feature presentation was the Monarch of Bermuda, and it was built at the Vickers Armstrong shipyards in England for passenger service between New York and Bermuda, a voyage of just forty hours each way.
Three years later, the Monarch of Bermuda received accolades for the rescue of passengers and crew from another passenger ship that was on fire off the coast of New Jersey, the Morro Castle. Towards the end of the year 1939, this ship was also requisitioned for navy service and it was in use as a troop carrier across the Atlantic. In 1946, it resumed its peace time role and it carried war brides from Europe to Canada.
During the following year, the Monarch of Bermuda was gutted by fire while it was undergoing re-fitting for further passenger service. The burned out shell was moved to Southampton where it was rebuilt and renamed New Australia. This ship made its first voyage to Australia, filled with English migrants in August 1950.
Subsequently, this ship was involved in a collision in Torres Straight, north of Australia. It was then bought by a Greek company, modernized, and renamed Arkadia for use as a cruise ship. However, eight years later, it was sold for scrap in Spain.
Our third passenger liner in this feature was the Queen of Bermuda, and this ship was also built at the Vickers Armstrong shipyards in England and launched one year later again after the previous ship. It was taken into passenger service in the Atlantic.
In August 1939, the Queen of Bermuda was requisitioned by the British navy, converted into a merchant cruiser, and taken into service in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In 1961, the ship was completely rebuilt for passenger service, but five years later it was withdrawn from service, taken to Scotland, and scrapped.
Now, what about the matter of radio broadcasting from these three notable passenger liners? The Empress of Britain was described in the 1930s as the most active ship broadcaster during that era. It was on the air with music programs mainly, under the British callsign GMBJ. Program broadcasts from the Empress of Britain GMBJ were relayed off air by NBC in the United States, as well as by national networks in Canada, England, and Australia. This ship was often heard in radio contact with the marine radio station in Bermuda, and sometimes with spontaneous radio broadcasts for whoever might be listening.
The Monarch of Bermuda was often heard in contact with Bermuda Radio and New York Radio during the 1930s, and it was noted also with occasional spontaneous radio broadcasts and with relays to local mediumwave stations in the United States. This ship operated under several consecutive callsigns, such as the English registered GTSD, and the Canadian registered VTSX and VQJM.
Likewise, the Queen of Bermuda was also often heard by North American DXers in communication traffic with Bermuda Radio and New York Radio. This ship was also noted occasionally with program broadcasts, and it was on the air under two consecutive Canadian callsigns, VPTG and VQJP.
And what about QSL cards acknowledging the reception of radio broadcasts from these three passenger liners? We have never seen any, although it is possible that they do exist somewhere. Maybe some of these exotic QSL cards, if they do exist, will turn up one day in some old QSL collection in North America, or perhaps even in England.