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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, July 11, 2010

Time Ticks Across the Pacific - The Story of Chronohertz Station WWVH

In our opening topic today, Time Ticks Across the Pacific, we present the story of another chronohertz station, this time the story of station WWVH in Hawaii. In actual reality, it is the story of two consecutive chronohertz stations, one on the island of Maui and the other on the island of Kauai.

We go back to November 22 in the year 1948, and it was then that the first of these two stations was inaugurated. The location was against the coastline near Kihei on the lower west side of the island of Maui. At the time, three transmitters were in use, all at 1 kW, and they radiated the time signal service on exactly 5, 10, and 15 MHz. The antenna systems beamed the signals from this new Hawaiian station towards the west for the benefit of American interests in the Pacific.

Interestingly back at that era, the station in Hawaii was turned off twice each day, around 0700 and 1900 UTC, so that the staff at WWVH could check the transmissions from the mother station, WWV, which was located at Beltsville in Maryland at the time. In this way, the accuracy of the transmissions from WWVH could be checked against the infinitely accurate transmissions from WWV. The time distance between the two stations was just 27 mili-seconds.

In July 1964, voiced time announcements were introduced and these announcements conveyed the standard time in Hawaii itself.

Eight years after its inauguration, the power level at each of the three transmitters in the station was doubled, to an output of 2 kW each, still on the same three channels, 5, 10 and 15 MHz. Ten years later again, another channel was taken into regular usage, this time 2.5 MHz with a power output of just 1 kW.

However, at about this time, it was becoming very evident that a new station would be required. The shoreline had been eroded by 75 ft and the ocean waters were encroaching upon the station. In fact, the ocean was now quite close to the main building, and also to the antenna tower in use for the 15 MHz transmissions. In addition, there was no air conditioning in the transmitter building and corrosion from the tropical salty air was taking its toll on the electronic equipment.

During the year 1968, Congress in Washington DC gave approval for the allocation of funding for a completely new chronohertz station in Hawaii.

This new station, with a whole set of new equipment, was installed into a new building located on a 30 acre property in the navy base at Barking Sands at Kokole Point, near Kekaha on the south western edge of the island of Kauai. A total of seven new transmitters were installed, all made by the AEL Company, and all rated at 10 kW, except for one at 2.5 kW. The old station on Maui was progressively closed down and the new station on Kauai was progressively brought into operation in July 1971.

These new transmitters operated on the same standard frequencies, with 10 kW each on 5, 10 and 15 MHz. The power output on the low frequency 2.5 MHz channel was just 2.5 kW at the time, though this was increased to 5 kW shortly afterwards.

For each main transmitter, there was also a standby transmitter. In 1983, two of the AEL transmitters were removed and replaced by three Elcom-Bauer transmitters.

On at least two occasions, hurricanes have damaged the WWVH shortwave station. In 1982, Hurricane Iwa cut off the reticulated power supply, and the station operated on emergency power for a whole week. In 1992, Hurricane Iniki caused considerable damage and the station was on the air for several days with just one transmitter, 5 MHz at half power.

Some ten years ago, new antenna systems were installed at WWVH and these are described as fibre glass whip antennas. Each antenna is encased in fibre glass and a copper wire runs the full length of the whip. In this way, corrosion from the salty air is minimized.

Currently, there is a total of eight active transmitters, primary and standby, at WWVH Hawaii. The main transmitters are powered at 10 kW and the standby units at 5 kW and they can be heard almost worldwide on four channels, 2.5, 5, 10 and 15 MHz.

The modulation level of the various broadcast services is different for each feature. The BCD time codes are inserted at 25% modulation, the steady tones at 50%, voice announcements at 75%, and the actual time pulses, the ticking of the clock, are at 100% level.

Back in the year 1977, it was announced that station WWVH received around 100 visitors each week and 200 reception reports. These days, they still receive many visitors, and they still receive a steady flow of reception reports.

Station WWVH at Kekaha in Hawaii can be heard at least some time of each day on at least one channel almost anywhere in the world. They readily verify all genuine reception reports with a three panel QSL card. You can identify the Hawaiian station by the voice of the announcer, a woman, speaking in English. If you have not yet verified each of their four channels, why not take the opportunity to do so?

Early Ship QSLs

In this feature on early ship QSLs, we begin first with some very old color postcards associated with wireless transmissions in the early days. Our three oldest cards in this style all show the same picture, an artistic rendition of a humor scene. Two ships out on the ocean are talking to each other in Morse Code, and one fish underwater nearby says to another: What are they talking about?

The oldest of these cards is postmarked on December 4 in the ancient year 1902. The second card is postmarked two years later, and the third card is not postmarked at all. It seems that these cards were all printed in the year 1902, and they could apparently lay claim to being the oldest wireless cards in the world.

A wireless card dated in August in the year 1910 is just on 100 years old. This card is printed in the German language and script, and it carries the Captain’s arrival message when the ship Blucher arrived at Gudvangen Fjord in Norway.

Another early wireless card shows a large passenger ship communicating a Christmas message to a land station. Quite coincidentally, this postcard is postmarked December 24, 1914, which is the date of the remarkable Christmas truce on the front lines during World War I.

However, we are also holding several QSL card issued for wireless and radio transmissions from transmitters aboard ships at sea; passenger liners, cargo vessels, and navy ships. The oldest of these cards is postmarked May 21, 1924, and it verifies the reception of a spark wireless transmission from a 1 kW transmitter on board the vessel Ka-Imi-Loa. At the time, the Kaimiloa was at anchor off New Caledonia in the South Pacific.

Another QSL card, dated in the year 1925, is actually a reception report on a QSL card, and it reports the reception of an amateur QSO from 7RY in the United States. At the time, the USS Wyoming was in the Pacific, near Hawaii, and the callsign of the transmitter on board this navy vessel was NWQ. This QSL is actually double sized and it is printed on paper rather than on card.

Then too, we hold a QSL card from station NRRL on board another navy vessel, the USS Seattle, at the time when the Great White Fleet was steaming towards the Australian waters.

We go back to the Kaimiloa, and its interesting story. In the year 1924, business man Medford Kellum formed what he called the Kaimiloa Expedition in association with the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The purpose of this expedition was to scientifically study peoples and islands in various areas of the exotic South Pacific. The name Kaimiloa means, in the Hawaiian language, distant traveler.

Originally, this schooner carried a spark wireless transmitter licensed with the callsign KFUH and rated at 1 kW. However, during the first phase of its tour in the South Pacific, the operator had difficulty in making adequate wireless contact with the United States.

The owner, Medford Kellum gave approval for the installation of a valve, or tube, transmitter and so the Kaimiloa was taken back to Honolulu to receive the new equipment which was installed in May 1925. The transmitter was actually a double unit made up of two transmitters rated at 250 watts.

Soon afterwards, the Kaimiloa resumed its exploratory tour in the South Pacific, calling at several different island groups. Several QSL cards were issued from station KFUH, and posted in Suva, Fiji. It is probable that several news items from the expedition were passed on at times to the news world via station KFUH, and perhaps, even some voiced commentaries.

The claim to fame on the part of the Kaimiloa was that the electronic transmitter placed aboard was, it is stated, the very first occasion in the history of radio in which a valve, or tube, transmitter was installed on board a ship.