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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, April 18, 2010

The World's First Wireless Station in Antarctica - The Macquarie Island Saga

Macquarie Island is a cold, windswept, lonely island prone to blizzards, and located half way between Tasmania and the Antarctica mainland. The main island is twenty one miles long and about two miles wide. It is uninhabited, and over-run at times by rats, mice, cats and rabbits. Native animals are penguins and fur seals, and albatross birds. The area is prone to earthquake, including two quite recent quakes that measured up around 8 on the Richter Scale.

Macquarie Island has been noted as a place of shipwreck, the temporary unplanned home of shipwreck survivors, and a cause for dispute between Australia and New Zealand as to who owned the island. The island was named in honor of the governor of New South Wales, Governor Lachlan Macquarie. On several occasions, seafarers have been marooned on the island, for varying periods of time.

The first known visitors to Macquarie Island were Polynesian sea travelers, though it is not known when they initially encountered the island. Geography would suggest that they came from New Zealand.

The first European to visit the island was Captain Frederick Hasselborough aboard the Perseverance who by chance came across the island on July 10, 1810. Ten years later, the Russian explorer, Thaddeus von Bellinghausen also visited Macquarie. An additional two years later again, Captain Douglass on the Mariner visited the island and he described it as unfit for human habitation.

Three years later, that is in the year 1825, Macquarie Island was declared as a part of Van Diemen's Land, or Tasmania as we know it today. In the year 1997, it was declared a World Heritage Site.

For about a hundred years, Macquarie Island was used as a base for commercial companies harvesting animal oils and furs and skins. This commercial exploitation ended around the year 1920 when the animal populations were hunted to almost extinction.

During the past one hundred years, a total of four different communication stations have been established on Macquarie Island and its claim to fame is that the very first wireless station in Antarctica was installed on this forbidding island. The story goes back to the year 1911.

It was in December of that year, 1911, that a small convoy of sailing ships led by the Aurora left Hobart Tasmania, bound for Macquarie Island. A little over a week later, these venturing ships arrived off the coast of Macquarie, only to find several wayfarers on the island, the survivors of a ship that was wrecked there just the day before.

On board the Aurora was all of the apparatus intended for the new wireless station; a 1-1/2 kW Telefunken spark transmitter and receiver, masts and wires, and a petrol generator. All of this electrical equipment was installed into a newly built wooden hut at the northern end of the island. The twin wooden masts were erected on top of the nearby hill which was 350 ft above sea level.

The first historic wireless contact with the outside world was made on the evening of February 13, 1912 when station MQI talked with shipping south of Australia and New Zealand in spark gap Morse Code. Soon afterwards, Morse Code contact was made with wireless stations AAM in Melbourne, AAA in Sydney and WN in Wellington.

However, the Macquarie Island wireless station did not fare well. The aerial system was damaged and destroyed by wind storms on three or four occasions, and there was always difficulty in making adequate contact with the Antarctic mainland as well as with Australia and New Zealand.

Finally, at the end of nearly three years of difficult service, the station was dismantled and shipped back to Australia, but the ship was sunk by enemy action soon after the commencement of World War I, and all of the equipment was lost.

The second wireless station for Macquarie Island was listed with the callsign VIQ. This was in the year 1921, but available records do not confirm whether the station was ever actually erected. It would appear that it may have been on the air for just a short period of time.

The third occasion for a radio station on Macquarie Island was in 1947. A new shortwave station with the callsign VJM was planned, and it was finally installed by a contingent of amateur radio operators in 1952. This station at 1-1/2 kW was in intermittent usage, depending upon availability of personnel, until communication on shortwave was phased out in 1988 in favor of satellite communication.

However, the shortwave station on Macquarie was re-activated in 1992 under the same callsign, VJM, but with a batch of new equipment, including a 1 kW Racal transmitter.

Thus, Macquarie Island has been on the air with communication equipment during three or four widely separated eras under three different callsigns, MQI, VIQ and VJM. Wireless and radio messages from Macquarie Island were mainly for the benefit of other shipping, other isolated wireless stations, and with the home base on the island of Tasmania. Important news information was passed on for publication in newspapers, and in more recent eras, for use by the electronic media.

It is understood that a few QSLs do exist verifying the VJM callsign, though several amateur radio operators who have served on the island have also issued their own amateur QSL cards.

The WWV Sister Stations

Last week here in Wavescan you heard the long and interesting story of the chronohertz station WWV, with its panorama of activities at five different locations. On this occasion, we continue this historic radio saga with the presentation of information about the three other radio stations associated with WWV, and their moves from one location to another.

It should also be stated that the FCC licensing authority in the United States requires all time and frequency stations, chronohertz stations if you please, to identify with callsigns in the WWV series; this, in spite of the fact that the FCC states that they have no authority over these stations.

Radio station WWVB began as a very low power longwave station located at NBS, the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder Colorado in July 1956. At this stage, the station was on the air under an experimental callsign, KK2XEI, with a power of just 40 watts on the longwave channel 60 kHz.

Soon afterwards, the power level was decreased to just 1.4 watts, and even so, the station was heard at Harvard University in Massachusetts, a distance of more than one thousand six hundred miles.

Four years later, experimental station KK2XEI was moved to a small town called Sunset in Colorado, and it was co-sited with another low powered longwave station with the callsign WWVL. At this location, the KK2XEI callsign was regularized to WWVB, and the power level was increased to 15 watts on the same channel, 60 kHz. Even at this low power, the station was heard in New Zealand.

The Sunset facility was quite temporary, and after a three year stay at this location, the station was rebuilt at a new and now more familiar location, Fort Collins. Initially, the power level for WWVB at Fort Collins was 5 kW, though this was increased in stages over a period of time.

On February 7, 1994, a heavy mist in the Fort Collins Colorado area froze and disabled the antenna system electronically. Consultants and electronics engineers from the navy were called in, and as a result of their recommendations, station WWVB was completely reconfigured and rebuilt with the usage of surplus navy equipment.

These days, station WWVB is on the air from two large longwave transmitters each rated at 50 kW. Transmitter Blue is connected to the North Tower which was previously in use with another longwave service, WWVL; and Transmitter Gray is connected to the South Tower. Both transmitters are on the air simultaneously, from the two modified rhombic antennas, on the same channel, 60 kHz. A third and similar transmitter is maintained for standby usage.

The broadcasts from longwave WWVB contain no audio content; instead by electronically changing the phasing, the signal automatically adjusts millions of clocks, watches and other electronic devices throughout the United States.

Station WWVL was another longwave transmitter, operating on a different channel, 20 kHz. Initially, this experimental station was located at Sunset, Colorado and it was on the air with just 500 watts. This station was inaugurated at this temporary location in April 1960.

As with the other two stations, WWV and WWVB, longwave WWVL was also transferred to the new NBS facility at Fort Collins and it was rebuilt up to 2 kW. The original intent was that WWVB would provide coverage to the United States, and WWVL would provide a worldwide coverage. However, the WWVL service was discontinued in 1972 and the tower is now in use for the WWVB longwave service.

The third chronohertz sister station had a very different career. It was located at Mason Ohio and it was operated on behalf of NBS by the Crosley Corporation.

Back during the era of World War 2, AFRS, the American Forces Radio Service, needed accurate and uptodate propagation information in order to plan adequately for the distribution of programming feeds on shortwave. The Crosley Corporation, with its huge mediumwave and shortwave facilities at Mason and Bethany, just a little north of Cincinnati, were already providing a similar service. As early as December 1935, the transmissions from W8XAL on 6060 kHz were monitored by NBS for studies in propagation conditions.

For this new procedure on behalf of AFRS, Crosley installed a 1 kW shortwave transmitter in their shortwave building at Mason and this was tuned to the 49 metre band channel, 6080 kHz with just an open carrier, and no programming. This station was on the air under the Crosley pre-war callsign, W8XAL, though this was later changed to the experimental callsign KQ2XAU.

This unique transmitter was on the air daily for a period of twenty or more years, except for a few hours each day when the VOA shortwave transmitter WLWO was in use on the same channel. Propagation measurements were made on a daily basis at the WWV facility located in Maryland.

Thus, station WWVB has been on the air at three different locations, Boulder, Sunset and Fort Collins, all in Colorado, and it is still on the air today. Station WWVL was on the air from two different locations, Sunset and Fort Collins, Colorado, and it became silent nearly forty years ago. The empty carrier station W8XAL-KQ2XAU was on the air at Mason Ohio for twenty or more years and it fell silent way back half a century ago.

In an endeavor to provide a more reliable longwave service to shadow areas, tentative plans call for an additional WWVB transmitter to be located somewhere in the eastern areas of the United States and to operate on 40 kHz.

A few QSL cards and letters have been issued on behalf of the three additional WWV stations. The WWVL transmissions were verified by a specific card; the open carrier transmissions in Ohio were verified by at least two QSL letters; and the WWVB transmissions are also verified by a specific card. The QSL cards from all of the WWV stations, that is WWV, WWVB and WWVL, are printed as three folded panels, with lots of interesting information.

Incidentally, you do not need a radio receiver to obtain a WWVB QSL card. If you have a watch or a clock on which the time is automatically updated by the signal from WWVB, you can send a reception report containing this information and you will receive their current QSL card.