"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, June 6, 2010
The Temporary VOA Relay Station, Hicksville, Long Island, New York
Another of the early relay stations that was taken into usage for the programming of the Voice of America was located at Hicksville on Long Island in the American state of New York. At one stage this massive electronic complex was looked upon as being one of the largest communication stations in the world.
The history of the Press Wireless shortwave station at Hicksville goes way back to the year 1929, to the time when the news company known as Press Wireless, Inc. was formed. At the time, a group of newspaper personnel got together and formed this new company in an endeavor to improve the flow of news into the United States from different countries around the world.
Their first station was a small facility located at Needham in Massachusetts. It was installed in 1930 for the purpose of communicating with another station in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada for the transfer of press news from Europe, and it was on the air under the callsign WJK.
Soon afterwards, work commenced at the two facilities on Long Island, the receiver station at Little Neck and the transmitter station at Hicksville. The receiver station at Little Neck contained anywhere up to a dozen or more operating positions, and this facility was in constant usage at least well up into the 1940s. One of their QSL cards shows the interior of the Little Neck facility.
The transmitter station was located on a property of 185 acres of farmland at Hicksville and it was opened for full service during the year 1932. The initial list of callsigns in 1933 shows five calls, all beginning with the letters WJ. As we are aware, at the time back then, each shortwave channel was allotted a different callsign, regardless of the actual transmitter in use.
These original callsigns were:
WJO WJP WJQ WJS and WJU
Interestingly, one four letter callsign was also allocated to the PWI shortwave station at Hicksville and this was WRDK. It would be presumed that it was the intent of PWI management that the shortwave station would also enter the field of program broadcasting, and this indeed proved to be the case.
The original transmitters located on the Hicksville estate were rated at 10 kW. As time went by, additional transmitters were progressively installed, some listed at 5 kW and one at just 500 watts. It is known also that there was one transmitter on the air during World War II that was rated at 40 kW, a unit that was manufactured by another facility operated by Press Wireless. In addition, Time magazine states that there was one transmitter rated at 100 kW, on the air in 1939.
The first test transmissions with broadcast programming were noted on air in the United States under the callsign W2XGB in May 1935. Initially, this was from a transmitter rated at just 500 watts, though subsequently, transmitters rated at 1 kW and 5 kW were used for these broadcasts of radio programming. Quite frequently, the programing was an off air relay from the 50 kW mediumwave station WOR in New York-New Jersey.
QSL cards issued by Press Wireless in the late 1930s show that callsign W2XGB was rated at 5 kW and station W2XDH was rated at 1 kW. However, the first usage of a 10 kW unit for program broadcasting was noted in December 1940.
On occasions, Hicksville transmitters were noted pre-war with the relay of special program broadcasts to Europe, the Caribbean and South America. These program relays were usually on the air in English and Spanish, and they were usually taken from the regular programming of the NBC mediumwave network.
In a co-operative venture with mediumwave station WOR, an attempt was made in August 1939 to communicate with the planet Mars, and the radio frequency energy from a 100 kW shortwave transmitter at Hicksville was beamed skyward. As would be expected, there was no return broadcast from what is understood to be the lifeless planet Mars.
In January 1942, the Hicksville shortwave station under the callsign WCW began a series of test broadcasts with programming from the Mutual mediumwave network. This was in anticipation of the commencement of regular relays on behalf of the Voice of America.
As was the case, these regular relays began on April 20, 1942, and a multitude of transmissions on a multitude of shortwave channels in many different languages were beamed to Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Pacific during the subsequent period of nearly three years. These relays on behalf of VOA, the Voice of America, contained programming for direct broadcast to listeners, and for relay by other radio stations. The regular broadcast schedule also included programming intended for American forces as well, and at times news reports were forwarded for onward usage.
Beginning in March 1943, several of the VOA relays from PWI Hicksville were identified on air with regular four letter callsigns, in just the same way as the mediumwave broadcast stations in the United States. These ten known callsigns were:
According to a radio magazine comment at the time, these four letter callsigns identified a program service to a particular area, and not a specific transmitter, nor a specific shortwave channel. However, at the same time, the usual three letter callsigns at Hicksville were still also in use for a multitude of transmissions.
The relay of VOA programming, including AFRS broadcasts and press dispatches, came to an end at the very end of the year 1944. Thirteen years later again, PWI Hicksville itself was closed, and a new station, ultimately containing forty seven transmitters and seventy antennas, was opened at Centereach, a little further east on Long Island.
Back in the 1930s, the illustrious shortwave station operated by Press Wireless at Hicksville New York issued a few QSL cards showing their one level transmitter building. These historic QSL cards were issued for the callsigns W2XGB or W2XDH. No QSLs were ever issued for the three letter callsigns under VOA usage, though a few cards were issued for the four letter VOA callsigns, but not many. Neither were any regular QSL cards ever issued during the final thirteen years in the lifespan of the Hicksville shortwave station.
Like so many other shortwave stations in the United States, the property upon which the station stood during its era of glory in former times has been taken over for use as a housing estate.
Early Mediumwave QSL Cards
In this edition of Wavescan, we present the 14th feature item on old radio cards, and this time it’s the story of early mediumwave QSL cards back at the time when radio broadcasting was very young. The earliest mediumwave QSL cards that we hold are dated back in the year 1922.
The oldest we have seen is dated June 14, 1922, and that card is a little under 90 years old. This QSL card was issued by station WOQ in Kansas City Missouri and it operated on two mediumwave channels, 360 and 485 metres, corresponding to 833 and 620 kHz.
Back in those days, the radio broadcasting scene was very different compared with what we know today. There were two radio broadcasting stations on the air at the time in this same city, Kansas City, Missouri; station WOQ was owned by the Western Radio Company and station WPE was owned by the Central Radio Company.
At the time, there were just two mediumwave channels allocated throughout the entire United States for the broadcast of radio programming. The official license documents spelled out the type of programming that was permitted on each channel, and the station was required to change channels according to the type of programming format that was presented. These two channels, and the programming permitted on each, were as follows:
485 metres - 620 kHz: Government reports, weather forecasts, market reports, crop estimates, etc.
360 metres - 833 kHz: News items, entertainment, music, lectures, sermons, etc.
In addition, the broadcasting stations in each area were expected to co-ordinate their on-air scheduling so that they were not both on the air, on the same channel, at the same time. This procedure was intended to ensure that the radio stations were not causing mutual interference in the listeners’ radio receivers.
As would be expected, the co-ordination procedure was not always implemented, and the higher powered stations were usually able to dominate the broadcasting channels in any particular area. Actually, as time went by, stations began to move sideways in the radio spectrum, unofficially, in order to avoid mutual interference, and this procedure ultimately culminated in what we now know as the mediumwave broadcast band.
The QSL card from station WOQ in Kansas City, with blue print on a manila card, lists both channels 360 and 485 metres.
Another early mediumwave QSL card from an American station during this same era when they were required to broadcast on either of two channels according to the format, comes from KLZ in Denver Colorado. A QSL card from station CKCK in Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada, shows that they were licensed for broadcast on what we would call a split channel, 715 kHz. According to their QSL card, another American station, WMAW in Wahpeton North Dakota, was on the air with just 5 watts.
The QSL card from station WJZ in Newark New Jersey was actually not a card, but rather a QSL statement printed on a small sheet of paper the same size as a regular QSL card. The QSL text was very general without any specific detail, just thanking the listener for his communication.
Still in the year 1922, and dated on December 19, is the QSL card from WIAR at Paducah in Kentucky. This station was owned by the local newspaper, the Paducah Evening Star, and it acknowledges a reception report from a listener located in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
The QSL card is printed in dark blue ink on a manila card and it gives the full technical details of the station. The transmitter at WIAR was rated at 50 watts, the antenna was a four wire T type 50 feet high, and the counterpoise earthing system was made up of eight radial wires at ground level. This card also states, with what we would suggest was an exaggeration, that the regular coverage area extends for one thousand miles. Their most distant verified reception report was from a listener located at a distance of one thousand five hundred miles.
A hand written QSL on a 1 cent postal card expresses appreciation to a distant listener who sent a reception report to station WTAS, located in Elgin, Illinois. The station owner was apparently experiencing a problem with the licensing authorities and he asked the listener to write a letter to the District Radio Inspector, expressing favor towards the station, WTAS. This informal QSL card from station WTAS in Elgin, Illinois is the only mediumwave QSL card we hold that is dated in the year 1923.
Quite recently, radio historian Jerome Berg in suburban Boston drew our attention to an interesting early mediumwave QSL card that he holds. This QSL card, with a duplicated text message only, is dated on November 27, 1922 and it comes from station WOI in Ames, Iowa. This card, a 1 cent postal card, also mentions the two different channels that were authorized for broadcasting during that era, the same 360 and 485 metres.
In some unknown way, this QSL card apparently came into the possession of the noted radio pioneer in Costa Rica, Amando Cespedes Marin way back in the year 1941. He placed a rubber stamp upon the card, apparently acknowledging the fact that he mentioned this historic radio item in one of his radio programs.
This famous Costa Rica station was on the air in those days under the callsign TI4NRH. Interestingly, many years later, Adventist World Radio procured the direct descendant of this station, and it is still on the air to this day, in the FM band under the slogan Radio Lira.
We come to the year 1924 in our survey of early mediumwave QSL cards, and we observe a card from another famous early station, KDKA in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. This card shows a photo of a large radio broadcasting studio at KDKA.
We hold two QSL cards from mediumwave station PWX in Havana Cuba, dated in 1924. One card shows a photo of the station, and the other shows a photo of the radio building at station PWX, as part of a panoramic view of the city of Havana.
Our final QSL card dated in 1924 is a text card from another Adventist station, this time the early KFGZ in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This card shows the full schedule of KFGZ on 286 metres, 1050 kHz, and it was addressed to a listener in the city of Tiverton in the Atlantic coastal state of Rhode Island.