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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, October 10, 2010

Amateur Radio on the Air from Radio Netherlands Bonaire

Beginning today, a special event amateur radio station is on the air from a unique location on the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean. The amateur radio station is on the air under a PJ4 callsign; the location is the huge shortwave station operated by Radio Netherlands on the west coast of the island of Bonaire; and the special occasion is the new political status for Bonaire and all of the other Dutch islands in the Caribbean. Our story today focuses on Radio Netherlands Bonaire.

The island of Bonaire is just 24 miles long and 5 miles wide. It is located in the Caribbean just 50 miles off the coast of South America. The island occupies an area of 111 square miles and it is ringed completely by a coral reef. In fact, the small capital city on Bonaire is named in the Dutch language, Kralendijk, which can be translated into English as Coral Reef.

A thousand years ago, Bonaire was settled by Caquetios Indians, a sub-tribe of the Arawaks in Venezuela. In 1499, Spanish explorers discovered the island and named it Bonaire, meaning Good Air. More than a hundred years later, the island was captured by the Dutch, and another two hundred years later again, it was captured twice by the British. However, the island was returned to the Dutch by treaty in the year 1814.

During World War II, the island of Bonaire was taken over as a precautionary measure by the Americans and the British, and administered as a joint protectorate. The official languages these days are Papiamento, Dutch and English, though Spanish is also widely spoken.

We take up the radio story on Bonaire, and the first of the two shortwave stations was installed by Trans World Radio. Construction work on the mighty TWR international broadcasting facility began on the west coast in the south part of the island in September 1963, and plans were laid for the installation of a 500 kW mediumwave transmitter and two additional shortwave units, one at 250 kW and the other at 50 kW.

One year later, test broadcasts began from the mediumwave Continental unit on 800 kHz and the 250 kW shortwave unit on 5955 kHz under the callsign PJB. During the following year, on February 25, 1965 to be exact, the station was officially opened by Crown Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands during her state visit to the island.

However, it is not so well remembered these days, that the original broadcasts on the part of Radio Netherlands on Bonaire was actually a relay over this new TWR station, on both mediumwave and shortwave, and this relay service began way back at the time when the station first went on the air in 1964. And in fact, for a period of 8 years after Radio Netherlands opened their own station, RN was still on the air on mediumwave from this Trans World Radio facility.

Now for the story of Radio Netherlands itself on Bonaire. Originally they planned on a total of five shortwave transmitters, Dutch-made Philips units at 300 kW each, though ultimately only three were installed and active on air simultaneously. The Radio Netherlands station is also located on the west coast of Bonaire, though in the northern section of the island.

Test broadcasts began in March 1969 and the station was officially opened by the Minister for Public Works early in that month, on March 6. Two months later, regular programming began. Two transmitters were installed initially, with something like a score of antennas on 17 towers, ranging in height from 82 ft to 330 ft. A total of 6 power generators were also installed, though only three were in use at any one time.

Twenty years later, a 3rd shortwave transmitter was installed, a 250 kW Swiss made ABB unit. Initially it was in use as a standby unit, though later it was taken into full time usage.

In August 1996 an unusual storm in the Caribbean stirred up the sea sand and this caused a problem in the cooling systems. Then, in April 2000, a generator exploded and caused a fire that destroyed several other generators. They were off the air for a little over a week, and during this time, additional relays for Radio Netherlands were taken out over other major shortwave stations, including the BBC Ascension Island, the Deutsche Welle/BBC station on the island of Antigua, and the American private station WSHB in South Carolina.

A major renovation project was inaugurated four years ago. A new office building was constructed at the site and two new shortwave transmitters were installed. These days, they are on the air with a total of 13 antennas, mostly curtains, each with its associated reflector.

Originally, a separate receiver station was installed at a location on the edge of Kralendijk, some 7 miles from the transmitter site. The programming feed was sent from a communication transmitter in Holland and it was received on large rhombic antennas at the receiver station on Bonaire. However, when satellite capability became available, the receiver station was closed and satellite dishes were installed at the transmitter station.

Radio Netherlands has always been a reliable verifier of listener reception reports, and cards can be obtained from both Bonaire as well as from the Radio Netherlands office in Hilversum. Holland. The Indianapolis Heritage Collection holds many QSL cards for the Radio Netherlands shortwave broadcasts from Bonaire, including one when the programming was on relay over the other station installed earlier for Trans World Radio.

Today, Sunday October 10, begins a new political day for the island of Bonaire. No longer is Bonaire administered as a unit within the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean. Instead, Bonaire is now its own separate unit within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

To honor the occasion, a total of 6 special event amateur stations are on the air at widely spread locations throughout the island under different PJ4 callsigns. The main amateur station is located at the Radio Netherlands transmitter facility, and it is on the air with the usage of the huge curtain antennas, thus ensuring a powerful signal over a wide area.

These special event amateur radio stations are scheduled to be in use from October 10 to October 24. In addition, Radio Netherlands is planning to broadcast a series of special programs to honor this auspicious occasion.

Tibet QSL Cards - Why So Valuable?

Quite recently, several QSL cards from Tibet were offered for sale on Ebay, and the starting prices were very high, running into several thousand dollars each. This would provoke a question, and we would ask: How come that QSL cards from Tibet can command such a high price?

As we look at a tabulation of high priced QSL cards, we see that the highest known starting price for any QSL card was a staggering $5,000. Back five years ago, a QSL card from amateur station KL7AM in Fairbanks caught the attention of Ebay buyers. The reason for the high asking price was that it was the Alaskan callsign for Robert Hisamoto who was the original organizer of the Japan Amateur Radio League in Japan back in the year 1925. However, it should be stated that this QSL card, KL7AM, did not sell on that occasion.

The highest known sale price for any QSL card was for a card from amateur station AC4NC back a few years ago. The given price for this sale was $3,800, though all of the additional details about this sale have been lost over a period of time. Several additional QSL cards from radio stations in Tibet have been exchanged for figures ranging above the $2,000 and $3,000 levels.

Let's take a look at the radio scene in the Asian territory known as Tibet, high up in the mountains north of India. The first radio station in Tibet was established by the Chinese in the city of Lhasa as a Morse Code telegraph station back during the mid 1930s. It was a low powered operation and it was in use for communication back into China. There are no known published loggings of this operation, and of course no known QSLs.

Soon afterwards, the British army in India sent Lieutenant Colonel Sir Evan Nepean up into Tibet to establish a communication radio station. Nepean was the son of a prominent British army family, and the Nepean River and Nepean Point in New South Wales, Australia are named in honor of his grandfather.

Nepean himself was a keen radio man and before he left England for service in the North West Frontier under the British Raj in India, he was licensed under the British callsign G5YN. While stationed in Rawalpindi, he constructed the radio transmitter and receiver for use in Tibet.

The entire entourage was made up of 50 men and 25 pack animals, and they left Rawalpindi in the early summer of the year 1936. En route, some of the electronic equipment was accidentally dropped into a river and it was necessary to call a halt and rebuild much of the radio station electronics. Then, when they arrived in Lhasa, they discovered that the power generator would not operate properly at such a high altitude, and it was necessary to send back to Calcutta for a hand cranked battery charger.

This unique low powered radio station was installed into a tent in the Deyki Lingka Garden at the British mission in Lhasa, and the station was activated for army communications under an Indian callsign, VUQ. This station communicated with British army stations in India that were on the air under callsigns in the VV range.

Back during that era, there was no government radio licensing authority in Tibet. Thus anyone could go on air, and they could choose their own callsign. Sir Evan Nepean used his army radio station, rated at around 50 watts output, also as an amateur station and he adapted his own British callsign, G5YN, for use in Tibet as AC4YN. At least the prefix, AC4, was accurate at that time for use in Tibet.

During the early winter after just 3 months service in Tibet, Nepean was called back to the North West Frontier and another Englishman, Reginald Fox in Calcutta, was called to go up to Tibet. He operated the radio station, VUQ/AC4YN, and he had the QSL cards printed that are so much sought after these days. Fox married a Tibetan girl, and they had four children, 2 girls and 2 boys.

In 1947, the Tibetan government, at the instigation of the young Dalai Lama, hired Reginald Fox to establish a Tibetan government radio station, which he did, under the earlier callsign AC4YN. This shortwave station was inaugurated as Radio Tibet in 1948, again, as a very low powered facility, on 7200 kHz. The radio programming was on the air at 5:00 pm daily and it was made up with one hour of news in Tibetan, Chinese and English.

An American amateur radio operator, Charles Mellen at W1FH in Boston, maintained regular contact with Reginald Fox while he was operating the Radio Tibet equipment as amateur station AC4YN. The news from Tibet was then passed on to the well known American news commentator, Lowell Thomas. Soon afterwards, Thomas and his son were invited to make a visit to Lhasa where they met with Reginald Fox, and also the Dalai Lama, as well as the famous Austrian POW escapee from the internment camp in India, Heinrich Harrer.

In 1951, Radio Tibet, or Radio Lhasa as it was also known, was on the air with news bulletins just three evenings each week, though the low powered signal was heard only in Tibet and nearby areas of India. Just before the Chinese entered Lhasa, Fox fled back to Calcutta in India in March 1951.

Another Englishman, Robert Ford, was appointed in 1948 as a government radio officer by the Dalai Lama, and he was commissioned to establish a communication station at Chamdo, in a country area of Tibet. Ford also used his low powered radio equipment as an amateur radio station under his self-chosen callsign, AC4RF. He did not fare so well, and he was captured by the Chinese in October 1950, and he spent several years in Chinese prisons.

In 1953, after the Chinese had established themselves in Tibet, an Indian amateur, Mr. N. Chakravarthy of Bombay, went to Tibet and he established an amateur radio station with just 20 watts under the callsign AC4NC. He was on the air in Lhasa for just a few months.

Thus, during the 20 year period running from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s, there were five different radio stations on the air in Tibet; 1 Chinese, 1 British, 2 Tibetan operated by Englishmen, and 1 Indian. All five were used for official communications, 4 were also used for amateur communication, 2 were used for the transfer of news information, and 1 was used also as a broadcasting station, Radio Tibet, Radio Lhasa. QSL cards were issued to confirm amateur QSO contacts for all four amateur operations.

So why are these QSL cards from Tibet so valuable today? Maybe it is because of the rarity of these cards, the low powered operation of the stations, the distant isolation of the country, the political events of the time, and the human drama of their operators.