Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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, January 17, 2010

The Story of the Canadian Spy Transmitter

Our opening feature in Wavescan today presents the story of the Canadian Spy Transmitter. This is a true story, but it equals the mystery and suspense of any thrilling spy story you can read in any spy novel today.

You will remember here in Wavescan last week, we presented the story of the 10 kW shortwave transmitter W3XAU-WCAI-WCAB that was on the air in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from early in the year 1930 to the very last day in the year 1941. After this shortwave station was closed, it was announced at the time that it would be packed up, shipped to England, and taken over by the BBC in London.

However, that is not what happened, and we could ask the questions: Was this a deliberate item of mis-information during the hectic, and sometimes shady days of World War II? Or was it simply a change of plans on the part of decision making personnel? Or was it just a case of bad memory regarding the events of long ago?

The website for the "Broadcasters of Philadelphia" states quite clearly that the shortwave transmitter from Philadelphia was dismantled and sent overseas to aid the BBC war effort in the middle of last century. Recent e-mail communications with colleagues at the BBC in England state that they have no record of the usage of this transmitter in England. At that stage, they say, the BBC was using transmitters with a rated power at 100 kW, not 10 kW. They also state that the black propaganda stations in England during World War II were using transmitters rated at 7-1/2 kW, not 10 kW.

Likewise, the noted radio historian in the United States, Jerome Berg of suburban Boston, states that he has no information regarding the subsequent usage of the 10 kW shortwave transmitter from Philadelphia.

However, at the same time as our enquiries were buzzing across the internet, the Philadelphia radio historian who used to work at the mediumwave and shortwave transmitters at the WCAU complex, Charles Higgins, came across a recent article in QST magazine that provided a solution to the enigma. The answer?

The shortwave transmitter W3XAU in Philadelphia was in reality sent to a secret location near Toronto in Canada where it was installed at Camp X for daily communication with Bletchley Park in England. Camp X was a secret spy training facility during World War II and it was so secret that even the current experienced radio personnel in the area still do not know all the answers to this day.

The article in QST magazine, dated in January 2006, states that a radio transmitter, code named Hydra, was installed at Camp X in Canada for secret communication with Bletchley Park in England on 15 MHz. In this article, Gil McElroy states that the original transmitter at Camp X was a 2-1/2 kW unit, and that a subsequent 10 kW unit was provided by courtesy of WCAU in Philadelphia for use at this spy camp.

The only 10 kW transmitter on the air with WCAU during that era was certainly the shortwave relay unit. As confirmation, the 10 kW shortwave transmitter Hydra at Camp X bears a striking resemblance to the 10 kW shortwave transmitter previously on the air in suburban Philadelphia, as shown on one of their pre-war QSL cards.

Information in the book "The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-1945" by William Stephenson confirms the usage of the Philadelphia shortwave transmitter at Camp X, and he further states that the transmitter was "overhauled" before its installation in Canada.

The spy training facility known as Camp X was opened at Oshawa, 25 miles east of Toronto on December 6, 1941, just one day before the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. Radio transmission with England in secret codes was chosen, due to the fear that communications by undersea cable might be intercepted.

After the Philadelphia shortwave transmitter was refurbished, it was installed at Camp X in the one large building on the property, a building that had windows placed 7 ft. above ground level for security reasons. Transmitter Hydra was inaugurated late in the year 1942.

Three large rhombic antennas were in use for the transmissions to England (and at times to South America), and also for the reception of incoming shortwave signals. As part of the local cover up in Canada, it was stated that the large rhombic antennas were part of a facility for broadcasting the programming of CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The usage of the Hydra shortwave transmitter extended well beyond its original World War II service. When the war ended, Hydra was taken over by the Royal Canadian Signals as the Oshawa Station, for use during the Cold War. The station was finally closed in 1969; worn out and no longer serviceable.

Camp X no longer exists, and none of the original buildings are left standing today. It would be presumed that the historic shortwave transmitter, known successively as W3XAU, WCAI, WCAB, and finally as Hydra, was simply and unceremoniously scrapped.

So the story about this transmitter going to England for use by the BBC: Was it a case of bad memory, or perhaps a change of plans? No, it was not. We would suggest that it was in reality, a cover-up story, to disguise its real purpose for usage in spy communications between North America and Europe.

Reception Report Cards - Shortwave

In our continuing series of topics on various types of radio cards, we come now to "Shortwave Reception Report Cards."

During the latter half of the last century, a large number of international shortwave stations encouraged listeners to send in reception reports, which of course were verified with the station’s QSL card, a valuable collector’s item. As an added encouragement to respond, many shortwave stations prepared their own Reception Report Cards for this specific purpose. So, on this occasion here in Wavescan, we focus on these particular radio cards, that is, the Shortwave Reception Report Card.

The Indianapolis Collection contains 30 or 40 of these Shortwave Reception Report Cards, almost all of which were prepared by large, well known shortwave stations for use by their listeners. As we assess this information, we discover that all of these cards are quite simple in design, and the majority are simple text cards with little adornment, printed on thin white card. Usually, each card also contains a series of small blank boxes into which the SINPO values can be written.

In alphabetic order of country, we can go down through the list. Over the years, Radio Australia in Melbourne, Victoria, produced at least three different styles of Shortwave Reception Report Cards. These cards were quite similar in design, each was printed in green ink, and each was quite attractive.

On one card, the text is printed in regular style type, and in another the text is printed in bold type. Their third card is the same in design, with the Kangaroo as the Radio Australia logo, though this card is just a little smaller than the first two.

Radio Sofia in Bulgaria also produced its own Reception Report Card and this is printed in brown ink on a shiny white card. Their style of card is also quite attractive.

Radio Prague in Czechoslovakia also produced their own Reception Report Card, and part of this was in color, a sort of winey red.

At least three different organizations in Germany produced their own Reception Report Cards, and these were:

Deutsche Welle in Cologne
Evangelische Rundfunk in Wetzlar
Sud Deutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart

The Deutsche Welle card is quite simple with black type on white card; the ERF card comes in three different styles with an appeal in color; and the SDR card shows also a photo of their antenna tower.

While we are still in Europe, as we look at these radio cards in alphabetic order of country, we come to Hungary. One of their cards is printed in light blue ink on a white card, and the other in dark blue ink on a gray card.

Now we cross over to Asia, and we examine the cards that were issued by Adventist World Radio some 30 and 40 years ago. At least three different printings of these cards are known, all in a similar design. One card is printed in light blue ink, another in dark blue, and a third in green. However, one of the major differences between the AWR card and many of the others is that the AWR card was endorsed as a QSL card, rubber stamped, and posted back to the listener.

This same concept was also demonstrated by RCI, Radio Canada International, and the three Christian Science stations, WCSN in Maine, WSHB in South Carolina, and KWHR in Hawaii. The Canadian cards were long cards with pictures in color on one side, and they were identified as QSL cards. The three different Christian Science cards were regular postcards in the large format, and each showed a photo of one of their shortwave stations.

At least three other shortwave stations in the countries of Europe produced their own varieties of Reception Report Cards, and these were:

Radio Peace & Progress Moscow Russia
SBC Berne Switzerland
Radio Kiev Kiev Ukraine

It should also be stated that the Voice of America in Washington, DC also issued their own Reception Report Card and this was printed in navy blue on white card. This VOA card stated specifically that some program details would need to be provided in order to issue a QSL card in response.

It is quite probable that most of you who are listening to this program today have already received at least a few Reception Report Cards from different shortwave stations throughout the world. It is worthwhile to retain at least one of these cards from each station. When placed together in your collection, they form another dimension of interest in the onward story of international radio broadcasting.