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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 14, 2010

The Story of Radio Broadcasting on the Pacific Islands of Tonga

The many scattered islands that make up the kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific stretch across a distance of some five hundred miles, from north to south. The entire cluster of 159 islands lie north of New Zealand at about the same latitude as the state of Queensland in Australia. These islands are mostly volcanic in nature, surrounded by a coral reef, and the total land area for the whole country is only about one hundred square miles.

Only thirty six of the Tongan islands are inhabited, and the total population is just one hundred thousand, most of whom live on the main island, Tongatapu. The name Tonga, in their dialect of the Polynesian language, literally means south.

Historians state that the Polynesian peoples migrated from the Asian mainland some four thousand years ago and they scattered out over the many small islands in the Pacific. It is generally considered that Tonga was settled by seafarers from Samoa around 1500 BC.

Europeans first reached Tonga about four hundred years ago; the Dutch were first, followed by the British and then the Spanish. Two hundred years ago, Protestant missionaries from England settled in Tonga, and it was through them that the island chief was designated as a king, and he took the throne name King George, as in England.

Tonga claims to be the only remaining kingdom in the Pacific, and the only nation that was not annexed by a European power, though they were under a British protectorate through a mutual treaty signed in the year 1900. They gained their independence in 1970 and joined the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The first radio communication station in Tonga was established under the callsign VSB in the national capital, Nuku'alofa in 1921. Other subsidiary communication stations were soon afterwards established in other distant islands, including Vava'u Island with the British callsign GON.

The first radio broadcasts from Tonga came from the American eclipse expedition on Tin Can Island, Niuafo'ou, in 1930 with the relay of news and commentaries back to the United States on shortwave via RCA Hawaii. You will remember that this story was presented here in Wavescan a few weeks back.

Another notable broadcast took place in May 1933 when Tonga produced a short segment that was transmitted on shortwave from station VSB and picked up by AWA near Sydney in Australia for inclusion in a very memorable program for that era, the "South Seas Broadcast."

The first regular radio broadcasting station in Tonga was inaugurated under the callsign ZCO on July 4, 1961 with 10 kW on 1020 kHz. This callsign was changed to A3Z exactly fourteen years later, and the mediumwave channel was changed to 1017 kHz five years later again. In actual reality, there were two mediumwave transmitters at 10 kW installed in the new radio station at Nuku'alofa, one as the active unit and the other for standby usage.

Back more than twenty years ago, a new shortwave service was inaugurated in Nuku'alofa in an endeavor to bring local radio coverage to all of the islands in the Tonga group. The initial temporary shortwave unit was made locally and it was rated at just 200 watts. A more substantial transmitter was installed shortly afterwards and it operated with 1 kW on the 60 metre band channel 5030 kHz. The antenna system was a horizontally polarized dipole.

However, the Tongan shortwave service, was continually plagued with problems. The transmitter was said to be faulty, and spare parts from the manufacturers in France took a long while to arrive. A storm destroyed the antenna system in 1993, after which the United Nations UNESCO provided a new 1 kW transmitter and antenna system. However, four years later again, Cyclone Hina caused further damage to the antenna systems and to the transmitter itself.

The shortwave broadcasts from Nuku'alofa were always a relay from the mediumwave service, and the last known broadcasts on shortwave occurred in June 1997. By this time, a new FM service was on the air, and FM relay stations were installed on the outlying islands.

At one stage, UCB, the United Christian Broadcasters in New Zealand, announced that they had received approval to install several radio stations in Tonga; mediumwave, FM and shortwave. It was their intent to operate a shortwave station that could be heard throughout the Pacific. However, though a lot of preliminary work was performed, UCB ultimately concentrated on FM coverage only.

These days, the only way to hear a radio broadcasting station in Tonga is to tune in while you are visiting some nearby area in the South Pacific. However, the station has always been a good verifier with a distinctive QSL card, both under the old callsign ZCO, and under their more recent callsign A3Z. Many of the QSL cards issued by station A3Z carry unique postage stamps, such as one in the circular shape of a camera lens, and another in the shape of a banana.


American Fax Radio: Part 1

In our two-part story about American Fax Radio, we begin by going way back to the middle of the 1800s. It was in the year 1843 that the Scottish electrician and clockmaker Alexander Bain began experimenting with the idea of sending images over a telegraph wire from one location to another. His procedure was the earliest attempt at sending facsimile, or fax information, and it is described as an electro-chemical process.

Alexander Bains fax machine was made up of a wooden frame into which metal blocks were placed. A battery powered pendulum, operated by the mechanism from a clock, swept over the metal parts and the electrical impulse was transmitted over the telegraph wire. At the receiving end, a pen marked the electrical pulses onto a moving ribbon of paper.

Some twenty two years later, the Italian inventor, Giovanni Caselli, modified the Bain fax machine, with the usage of a metal sheet upon which the message was written with insulating varnish. In this way, the first-ever long distance fax message was sent from Lyon to Paris in France in 1860.

Just after the turn of the century, (in 1902 to be exact), Dr Arthur Korn in Germany developed an improved system of fax messaging with the use of a photo-electric cell, which is still the basic procedure for fax messaging to this day. The fax message is placed on a revolving drum and it is scanned electronically.

The first real test for sending a picture by radio using a fax system took place in the year 1924. With co-operation between AT&T and RCA, a photograph was transmitted from New York to London and back again. The photograph showed President Calvin Coolidge and it was sent as a photographic negative which then had to be processed chemically into a photographic positive.

Soon afterwards, both AT&T and RCA began the commercial transmission of pictures, photos and text, by landline as well as by radio, and mostly for publication in newspapers and magazines.

Interestingly, at this stage, mediumwave station WOR, which was located at the Bamberger Departmental Store in Newark, New Jersey at the time, entered into what we might call the fax race. They began the experimental broadcasting of what they called radiopictures using the Cooley system. Under this system, it was necessary to process the received picture chemically to produce a regular photograph. Two years later, they abandoned the usage of this Cooley system, due to the fact that it was too slow and too cumbersome.

However, a few years later again, and this was now in the early 1930s, newspapers and radio stations developed an interest in the transmission of newspaper by radio, or faxradio, if you please. During the first era of faxradio in the United States, which lasted around ten years, a total of some forty radio stations were on the air with the broadcast of fax newspaper information. Some of these stations broadcast the fax newspaper during the dark hours of the night after midnight when most mediumwave broadcasting stations were normally off the air, whereas others were on the air during the hours of the working day with the use of shortwave channels.

The first broadcast of a fax newspaper occurred on December 19, 1933 over shortwave station W9XAF in Milwaukee Wisconsin with a specially prepared text from the Milwaukee Journal. Interestingly, the callsign of this experimental fax broadcasting station, W9XAF, contained the identification letters, FAX, in reverse.

During this era, at least eight different companies began the manufacture of radio receivers capable of printing out a fax newspaper and most of these systems were not compatible with each other. The Finch system was the first that was available for general listener usage, and the radio receiver printed from a roll of heat-sensitive paper at the rate of five feet per hour. One of the problems with the Finch system though was the fact that a burst of static in the analog transmission could wipe out the reception and the printing of several pages of the newspaper.

By the time of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, ten thousand fax receivers of all makes had been sold, but only four stations still remained on air. Soon afterwards, the FCC withdrew the licenses of all of the fax radio stations, and the system came to a standstill. In any case though, FM radio and television also, were beginning to make their inroads into the homes of families in America.

Little known though, is the fact that the idea of faxing newspapers by radio was revived again in the mid 1940s. In the year 1944, five newspapers and twenty radio stations formed an alliance to revive the broadcast of newspapers by fax radio, and the first test broadcasts went on the air two years later, using what they called the electrolytic system.

However, this second era of fax newspapers by radio in the United States lasted only half the duration of the first era, and it was phased out soon after it began.

In total, throughout the twin eras of fax newspapers, during the 1930s and for a while during the latter part of the 1940s, there were stations on the air with fax broadcasts, on mediumwave, on shortwave, and yes, even on FM.

However, the concept of the electronic transmission of newspapers into the home did not die with the cessation of the fax radio system. These days, we can consult all sorts of electronic news sources with the usage of the internet which is readily available almost worldwide.

In our program next week, we plan to tell you about the radio stations that were actually on the air with the broadcast of these fax newspapers during the 1930s and 1940s.