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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, May 23, 2010

Radio Broadcasting on Lonely Ascension Island - The BBC Atlantic Relay Station

Last week here in Wavescan, we presented the story of the several different radio stations, mediumwave, FM and communication, all located on lonely Ascension Island, out there in the central Atlantic Ocean, halfway between South America and Africa. We take up the Ascension story again this week, and this time, it is the tale of the BBC Atlantic Ocean Shortwave Relay Station. Here is what happened.

During the year 1961, the BBC sent a team of technical personnel to Ascension to conduct a feasibility survey; and during the following year, the British government gave approval for the setting up of a shortwave relay station on Ascension Island for use in rebroadcasting the programming from the BBC in London to the many countries in Africa and South America.

During the following year, as a preliminary to the construction of the station, Cable & Wireless, C&W, set up a small shortwave station in a caravan, a trailer home, at English Bay and transmitted a series of test broadcasts. It is probable that these transmitters were amateur or communication transceivers with a power output of 1 kW or less.

However, in spite of the low power, these test broadcasts were noted by international radio monitors in Europe and North America. Unfortunately, C&W stated that these test broadcasts were of a private nature and they indicated that they would not issue any QSLs in confirmation.

Work on this massive new project on Ascension Island began during the next year, 1964, and we should remember that everything had to be imported from England and elsewhere. Ascension was once uninhabited and everyone on the island has come in from another country. Even children born on the island are not granted Ascension citizenship, they are considered to be citizens of their parents' country.

This huge new BBC shortwave station was constructed on the edge of English Bay, located at the northern tip of Ascension Island. The original plans called for four transmitters at 250 kW each and a series of twenty reversible curtain antennas.

Monitoring reports during that era tell us that the first transmitter was taken into service two years later again, on July 1, 1966 in the BBC service into Africa. Six months later, the second transmitter was activated, and early in the following year, all four transmitters were fully operational. To honor the occasion, the local postal authorities issued a series of four postage stamps depicting various scenes at the new station.

A QSL letter from the station in May 1989 stated that another shortwave transmitter at 250 kW had just been activated, the fifth, and that the sixth would soon be operational. These two latter transmitters were previously on the air at the large and historic BBC shortwave station at Daventry in England, and when Daventry was closed these two units were removed and shipped for installation on Ascension Island.

The original BBC Receiver Station was installed at Butt Crater, three miles from the transmitter station, and it contained six receivers and two rhombic antennas beamed for reception from England. However, a quarter of a century later, a satellite receiving dish was installed at the English Bay transmitting station, and Butt Crater was then maintained for standby usage.

In addition to the two radio stations, transmitter and receiver, the BBC also operates support facilities for its personnel, and these include a school, hospital, farm, and power generators, as well as local radio broadcasting stations. Currently, it is stated, the British government owes Ascension Island more than one million pounds, and this places the entire island and all of its activities and its nine hundred imported workers into bankruptcy.

Over the years, the BBC Atlantic Relay Station has re-broadcast the programming from other well known international radio organizations. In 1994, the first of these new relay services began with the programming from the Voice of America. Twenty years later, RAI Italiana took out a relay from the BBC shortwave station on Ascension Island.

Since then a dozen or more other international broadcasting organizations have increased the international coverage of their programming with relays from the Ascension Island shortwave station. Among these extended relay services from the BBC shortwave station on Ascension are the following:

Government Stations NHK, Tokyo, Japan
RCI, Montreal, Canada
CRI, Beijing, China
Radio Prague, Prague, Czechia
RFI, Paris, France
RTE, Dublin, Ireland
Religious Gospel Stations HCJB, Quito, Ecuador
FEBA, England
WYFR, Oakland, California, USA

During the events associated with the brief 1982 war in the South Atlantic, the usage of the Ascension shortwave station was commandeered by the British Ministry of Defence for the relay of two different forms of programming beamed to the Falkland-Malvinas Islands. Beginning at 2300 UTC on May 19, a program service identified as Radio Atlantico del Sur was broadcast daily via Ascension Island. At times two channels were noted in parallel. The final broadcast of Atlantico del Sur was a little less than a month later, on June 15.

The other program service beamed to the South Atlantic during this short era was on behalf of the BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service. These two program services originated in London and they were relayed to Ascension Island via communication transmitters located at Daventry.

An additional BFBS program relay was on the air during the Gulf War in 1990. It is known that feeder transmitters in England relayed the programming to another transmitter location, and research would suggest that this was also located on Ascension Island.

QSL cards, and at times letters, have been issued by many of the organizations whose programming has been relayed over the Ascension Island shortwave station, and these would include:

Voice of America
Radio Canada International
NHK Tokyo
Radio France International

As well as the BBC itself and the two program series, Atlantico del Sur and BFBS London.

Radio Events in the Chile Earthquake

In recent time, there has been an unprecedented series of earthquakes and volcanic upheavals that have claimed the lives of thousands in many different parts of the world, as well as causing untold multi-millions of dollars of unreparable damage. These unearthly events have occurred in Haiti, Indonesia, Mexico, Caribbean, China, South Pacific, Indonesia, Australia, and elsewhere, and seemingly climaxed with the volcanic eruption in Iceland that sent an ash cloud ten miles into the air and all over Europe.

The recent earthquake in Haiti was the most devastating as far as the destruction of human life and the damage to property is concerned, though the earthquake in Chile is described as one of the most violent in modern history, at 8.8 on the Richter scale. We presented the story of radio in association with the Haiti earthquake a few weeks back, so let's do the same thing regarding Chile. This now is the radio story in association with Chile's high magnitude earthquake.

The country of Chile is very long and narrow. It runs along the western edge of South America for two and a half thousand miles, yet the country is only a couple of hundred miles wide. The name Chile is taken from a local language, and it means: The place where the land ends. The country occupies close to one third of a million square miles with a total population somewhere around sixteen million, many of whom were affected by the earthquake.

The recent Chile earthquake struck during the dark hours of the early morning on Saturday, February 27. The major impact of this recent event was felt a little south of halfway down the country, in the city of Concepcion, and in the areas to the south.

Initially, tsunami warnings were issued for many Trans-Pacific countries, though the most damage caused by these so-called tidal waves was the return tsunami that struck the southern coastal areas of Chile itself. Because of the well developed infrastructure within Chile, damage and death was far less severe than in Haiti. In addition, much of the resources for emergency aid were found within the country itself, though aid did flow in from other countries in the Americas.

It is true that a lot of the communication systems throughout Chile were damaged by the violence of the earthquake. However, in spite of this, word about the earthquake was conveyed very quickly throughout the stricken nation and beyond by radio; amateur, commercial and government.

BBC news stated that there is an extensive network of radio and TV stations throughout Chile, and even though many were damaged, yet sufficient remained on the air to convey important news and information to the entire population. In the most heavily damaged areas, where the local radio and TV stations were rendered inoperable, stations in neighboring areas quickly co-operated and filled in.

One major problem was the damage to the electrical distribution systems. Some radio and TV stations were unable to function due to what was described as an unstable supply of electricity.

The shortwave broadcasting station operated by Christian Vision near Santiago reported some minor damage but they stated that they planned to reactivate the station next morning with their regular scheduling. The current entry for La Voz Cristiana in Chile shows the usage of three or perhaps four shortwave transmitters.

This shortwave station was previously owned by the Chilean government and Christian Vision bought the station and reactivated it many years ago. Programming is from Christian Vision's own resources, and it also carries relays on behalf of the well known HCJB in Quito, Ecuador. The noted radio historian, Jerry Berg in suburban Boston, reported the reception of two HCJB program relays via La Voz Cristiana in Chile on 9835 and 11920 kHz.

The Adventist Church in Chile reports a membership of 120,000 members in 860 churches, large and small, with a nationwide network of schools, a university, and a hospital, as well as an active office for ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.

Their website also shows a nationwide network of a dozen FM stations, together with Radio Nuevo Tiempo, the main mediumwave station in Santiago. The Radio Nuevo Tiempo network announced that all Adventist facilities in the stricken areas were open to the public for emergency supplies and temporary accommodations as needed.

The little town of Constitucion is located right on the coast in the middle of the country of Chile, and it has only one radio station, Radio Nuevo Mundo, on 100.5 MHz FM. The area was devastated by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.

In an international news report from Chile, the story was told about this innovative little radio station. Soon after the tragic events in the area, the manager of this little radio station found himself without electrical power to operate the station. He transferred the electronic equipment from the studio location, installed it temporarily on a bench at the City Hall, plugged into their power system, and went on the air again with news and information for the benefit of local listeners.