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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, January 24, 2010

Earthquake Radio - Haiti

The Caribbean nation of Haiti, located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola, was struck by a massive earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale on Tuesday January 12 around early evening. The widespread devastation in their capital city, Port-au-Prince, and in nearby country areas, has caught the attention of news media throughout the world, and aid is pouring in quickly from many countries on all continents. From the air, as shown on TV networks across the United States, it seems that Port-au-Prince is almost entirely damaged and destroyed.

This recent earthquake in Haiti is described as the worst in the region for more than 200 years and it has left the population without food, or water, or living supplies. Electricity is cut off, as are also the water and sewage systems, and the telephone networks are not working. To compound these multitudinous problems, a series of more than thirty aftershocks has spread fear among the people, hundreds of thousands of whom now have nowhere to live.

The sympathy of the world towards the unfortunate people of Haiti is demonstrated by the huge amount of money running into billions of dollars that is already pledged, and by the amount of food and water and supplies that has already been delivered by plane. It should also be stated that ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, is already working in the capital city area in relief work and with the delivery of provisions to the people. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, with more than a third of a million members in Haiti, operates a hospital and a university in Port-au-Prince, as well as a city bakery.

In our program today, we wish to recognize the people of Haiti in their unfortunate plight, and we focus on this independent Caribbean nation with the story of radio broadcasting in this small but heavily populated country.

The original inhabitants of what is now the French speaking country of Haiti were Arawak Indians. It was Christopher Columbus who landed on the island of Hispaniola in the historic year 1492 and he established the first European settlement at what is now Cap Haitien in Haiti. Multitudes of slaves were subsequently brought in from Africa, and two hundred years later, Spain recognized French control of the western third of the island. Haiti gained its independence in 1804, as one of only two nations in the new world that chose French as a national language; the other country is Canada.

Haiti is a quite small country of 10,000 square miles, just 180 miles across and 135 miles broad, though the shape is very irregular with two widely separated peninsulas. The name Haiti is taken from the original Arawak word Ayiti, meaning high mountains. The total population is around ten million, with two or three million living in the capital city area, Port-au-Prince, on the southern peninsula.

The story of radio broadcasting in Haiti goes way back to the early wireless days. It was in the early 1920s that the American navy established a spark wireless station in Port-au-Prince under the callsign NSC. The first local communication station was established in the early 1930s under the callsign HHM.

Their first radio broadcasting station was installed by the government in the capital city in 1927 and it operated under the callsign HHK with 1 kW on 830 kHz. It was in the year 1950 that the callsigns of radio broadcasting stations in Haiti were changed from the HH prefix to the still current 4V prefix.

These days more than fifty mediumwave stations are listed in the World Radio TV Handbook, with the highest power rating at 10 kW. However, nearly half of these stations were not active on the air in the era just before the recent earthquake. There is an equal number of FM stations throughout the country.

The official lists show an Adventist radio station in Port-au-Prince, 4VVE, with 10 kW on 1560 kHz, together with an FM relay station on 89.7 MHz. The mediumwave station was inaugurated in 1988 and the FM was added in the year 2001.

For a period of almost sixty years, Haiti was on the air from numerous little shortwave stations, mostly with just 1 kW or less, though a couple gave wider coverage with 10 kW output. Their first shortwave station was licensed as HH2R in 1935 and it was owned by the Haitian Automobile Association. Over the years some sixty of these little shortwave stations were on the air in Haiti.

The best known shortwave station in Haiti was the Gospel station 4VEH which was inaugurated at Cap Haitien at the top of the northern peninsula in 1950. Some forty two years later, there were only two shortwave stations on the air in Haiti, 4VEH and 4VWA, and they both abandoned the usage of shortwave transmissions in the same year, 1992. Station 4VEH, with its American headquarters near Indianapolis in Indiana, was always recognized as a reliable verifier and sometimes they were the only source of QSL cards from a shortwave station located in Haiti.

Interestingly, in the year 1946, ambitious plans were announced by a French commercial company to establish a powerful shortwave station in Haiti that would give radio coverage to almost the entire planet. This station, with a commercial world service, was planned with three shortwave transmitters at 50 kW each. However, that grand announcement was the last that was ever heard about this ambitious project.

These days, it is not possible to hear any radio broadcasting station in Haiti, unless you happen to live somewhere reasonably close to the Caribbean areas. However, in earlier times, QSL cards were issued by several of the mediumwave and shortwave stations located on this exotic, but stricken, independent nation in the Caribbean. These exotic QSL cards, often picturesquely presented, are available to QSL card collectors these days, only through antique postcard sellers, and at times, on eBay.

Earthquake Radio - New Zealand

At this stage, we are not aware of just what radio coverage has been obtained throughout Haiti in the aftermath of their massive and destructive earthquake. However, we are aware that radio has been used on other occasions in the wake of a massive earthquake, and one of those occasions was in New Zealand way back in the year 1931. This is what happened.

It was at 10:47 am in the morning of Tuesday February 3, in the said year 1931, that a heavy earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale struck the small coastal town of Napier on the east coast of New Zealand's north island. It was a very destructive earthquake, lasting only 2-1/2 minutes, and to this day it is remembered as the worst natural disaster in the history of their country.

The entire small city was almost completely destroyed, and ten acres of the commercial area just simply collapsed. The tramlines running through the city and the suburban areas were all buckled by the force of the earthquake and the trams (street cars) were abandoned whereever they stood. Nearby rivers changed their course and an area of land sixty miles long and ten miles wide was raised up seven feet higher. A nearby lagoon was completely drained and it became the site for the local airport. Aftershocks numbering 525, some quite strong, continued for two weeks.

It so happened that the Royal Navy vessel, Veronica, arrived at the Napier wharf at 2:00 am on earthquake day and it was tied up at berth at the time when the destructive earthquake struck. When the ground level heaved and swayed, and rose up seven feet, the water drained out of the harbor and left the Veronica standing upright in deep mud. However, shortly afterwards, the seawater returned, and the navy vessel was only slightly damaged.

With electricity out, the normal communication facilities in Napier were no longer usable and so the Veronica took over and provided the initial communications from the disaster area. These communications were made with Naval headquarters at Devonport, Auckland and they were transmitted on radio in Morse Code.

Soon afterwards, additional communications were established when two cargo vessels that were anchored out in the bay volunteered their assistance. These commercial vessels, the Northumberland and Taranaki, were loading cargo at the time.

Next day, two additional Royal navy cruisers, Dunedin and Diomede, arrived offshore at Napier, and their crews, together with the crews from the other vessels in the area, aided the stricken population on shore.

An amateur radio operator drove in from a nearby town and also assisted in providing radio communication with the usage of his station, ZL2XP. He set up his equipment in his Chevy car for a couple of days, using a nearby flagpole to support the antenna system.

A few days later, technicians from the government P&T service were able to re-establish the government operated communication systems, and the temporary usage of the radio facilities aboard the naval vessels and cargo ships was no longer necessary.

However, while the Veronica was heading up all communications with the outside world, numerous news items for publication were flashed out in Morse Code from the ship’s radio. These messages were of course intended for publication in newspapers throughout New Zealand and they were also broadcast as news items for worldwide coverage from station ZLW, the 1 kW communication terminal in the national capital, Wellington.

Over in suburban Sydney in Australia, the well known AWA transmitter VK2ME broadcast the information to the world in news bulletins and commentaries, and these were picked up by shortwave W2XAF at Schenectady in New York and passed on to mediumwave WGY for network coverage throughout the United States.

Earthquake Radio - San Francisco

The July 2007 issue of Popular Communications in the United States reports what is believed to be the first ever usage of wireless communication during an earthquake. A disastrous earthquake, measured at 8.3 on the Richter Scale, struck San Francisco at 5:13 am on Wednesday April 18, 1906. Much of the city of San Francisco lay in tumbled ruins and what was not destroyed by rumblings was soon afterwards destroyed by fire.

Back in those days, wireless was only about ten years old and the equipment in use was very primitive indeed. The landline telegraph systems operated by Western Union and Postal Telegraph were not usable, and the only usable wireless transmitter in the area was on board the 21 year old United States navy cruiser, Chicago.

It so happened that the Chicago had left San Francisco the day before, and five hours after the initial quake, it received a Morse Code message about the disaster from the DeForest Wireless Telegraph Station at San Diego. The navy vessel was immediately ordered back to San Francisco to render aid, and at 6:00 pm on Earthquake Day, it berthed at the Ferry Building.

The wireless operator on board the Chicago, probably under the callsign NDI, sent his Morse Code traffic to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, 25 miles to the north east. He gave progressive reports of the damage in the city, the progress of the fires, and the details about rescue operations. This information was then forwarded on landline circuits to the newspapers throughout the United States.