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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, November 21, 2010

The World's Largest Wireless Station - RCA Long Island - The Long Island Relay Station for the Voice of America

Over the years, several wireless and radio stations have laid claim as the largest in the world, and at the time when the statement was made, the claim in many cases was indeed quite accurate. However, close to 100 years ago, the most grandiose claims of largeness were made on behalf of the massive RCA wireless station located at Rocky Point on Long Island, New York, and if the station had been completed in its original intent, those claims would surely have been correct. Even so, it was indeed developed into a very large station, though somewhat different from the original concept.

That is our story for today; RCA Radio Central at Rocky Point on Long Island, New York, a huge communication station that was also in use for the relay of programming on behalf of the Voice of America.

Long Island is located off the edge of the eastern coast of the United States. It is 118 miles long, and 23 miles wide at its widest point. The island was inhabited by Indians of the Delaware and other sub tribes at the time when it was first discovered by European explorers.

It was the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano who was the first European to site the island back in the year 1524. (We might add that he explored much of the east coast of North America during three consecutive voyages, but he did not fare well on his third and final voyage to the Americas. He was killed and eaten by Carib Indians on the island of Guadeloupe.)

The first European settlers came from Holland and England, and it was the Dutch who gave the name to the island, as Lange Eylandt, or Long Island, in their language. Today, much of Greater New York City is located on the western end of Long Island.

The first known mention of Rocky Point is found in official records for the year 1714; and 40 years later, the area was listed as Rocky Poynt Hollow, in the quaint old spelling of that era. In 1872, their first Post office was installed; and two years later, there was a small shop in Rocky Poynt Hollow, and a district school for the children living in the 20 dwellings in the nearby community.

It was in the year 1919 that RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, was formed as an amalgamation of half a dozen interested radio companies. As their first big venture, they set out to establish a new super sized international wireless station, and they procured a suitable property on the northern edge of Long Island for this purpose.

In July 1920, work began on Radio Central, the huge new wireless station at Rocky Point. The property measured 6,200 acres, some 10 square miles of slightly undulating territory. The original plans called for an ornate two storied central building to house the offices and the transmitters - the huge Alexanderson alternators.

A total of 12 antenna systems was planned and these would be arranged in a spoke pattern around the central building. The steel antenna towers were 410 ft. high, and separated at 1260 ft., that is 1/4 mile apart, and each antenna would be 2-1/2 miles long. Each antenna required 25 miles of high strung wire, and each antenna also required 225 miles of buried copper wire as the counterpoise earthing system. Initially just two of these massive antenna systems were erected.

It was in October 1921 that the first test broadcasts were radiated from the new RCA Rocky point with 200 kW on longwave 18.3 MHz under the callsign WQK. At the time, the station was described as the world's largest and most powerful wireless station. And it was!

The station was officially inaugurated less than a month later, on November 5, when President Warren Harding pressed a button during a special opening ceremony at the White House. Electricity was applied to the new transmission system on Long Island, the alternators began turning, and the first official message was tapped out in Morse Code. It was a message of goodwill to the world from the 29th President of the United States.

Soon afterwards, a second longwave transmitter was activated, a similar unit to the afore-mentioned WQK, and this unit operated on 17.15 kHz under the sister callsign WQL.

However, by this time, smaller electronic transmitters for use on shortwave were becoming available, and they were more efficient with a more reliable propagation coverage than the heavy longwave electrical transmitters. In addition, the new shortwave transmitters required less power to operate.

During the year 1928, RCA lodged a formal document with the Federal Radio Commission requesting approval to establish a total of 65 different shortwave communication stations across the United States. Many of these stations were eventually installed, though not all.

However, plans to install the additional 10 longwave transmitters at Rocky Point were abandoned, and instead, a multitude of shortwave transmitters rated at 10 and 20 kW were installed, together with a bevy of rhombic antennas directed towards Europe and South America. It is stated that RCA installed several dozen shortwave transmitters at Rocky Point during the 1930s, and in 1934, a total of 80 registered callsigns were in use. In November 1935, they activated a 200 kW shortwave transmitter.

During the 1930s, RCA Rocky Point was often noted on air with the broadcast of radio programming. Sometimes, it was a point to point relay for rebroadcast in another country in Europe or South America, and sometimes these broadcasts were an experimental relay for direct reception by shortwave listeners.

The direct broadcast of radio programming was usually made under the callsign W2XBJ, which could be allocated to any channel in use for this purpose. A lesser known experimental broadcast callsign that was in use at times was W2XCU.

The first known radio program broadcast from Radio Central took place
in June 1932 under the callsign WAJ when a music program was relayed for rebroadcast in Germany. During the following year, a special broadcast was arranged from an Italian blimp flying over the United States and this program was relayed for rebroadcast in Italy.

At the time of the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago, Marconi himself arranged for Rocky Point to relay special programming from Chicago for rebroadcast in Italy. There were also many special broadcasts beamed to various other countries in Europe and also to South America during this same era.

During the early part of the 1940s, Radio Central received and transmitted special broadcasts to and from Europe and North Africa, and on occasions, with South America. Some of these special relays were on behalf of the Voice of America, usually the transmission of special voice reports, though occasionally for local rebroadcast elsewhere.

The RCA main receiving station was located 17 miles distant, at Riverhead, also on Long Island, and a back up receiving station was located at Belfast in Maine.

Interestingly, the World Radio Handbook for the year 1951, on page 79, shows two special relays from RCA Rocky Point. At the time, RCA was in use for the transmission of two different language programs on behalf of the Voice of America for local relay on mediumwave. One broadcast was beamed to Italy in Italian, and the other broadcast was beamed to Iran in Persian. The Persian language broadcast was actually beamed to Tangier in North Africa where it was picked up and rebroadcast onwards to Persia for local relay.

As time went by, and with the changing winds of circumstance, RCA Radio Central was no longer necessary. During the 1950s, some of the tall towers were brought down. During the mid 1960s, the station was finally closed. In 1972, a large slice of the property was given to the New York state authorities and it was developed as the Pine Barrens Wildlife Area. In 1978, the remainder of the Rocky Point transmitter property, as well as the Riverhead receiver property, were sold to the state for $1.

Thus, after some 45 years of on air usage, RCA Radio Central at Rocky Point, the magnificent huge radio station on Long Island, quietly disappeared, for ever. It was in use for international communication, and the transfer of radio programming for rebroadcast elsewhere, and at times for the relay of programming on behalf of the Voice of America. Very few QSLs were ever issued for the transmissions from RCA Radio Central Rocky Point, though we do know of a few that were issued during the 1960s and 1970s.

Wireless to the Rescue - The Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan

It was in the morning of Saturday September 1, 1923, just on 87 years ago, that a most devastating earthquake struck the Japanese main island in the Yokohama area. The main shock measured at an almost all time high of 8.2 on the Richter Scale, and it was followed by at least 600 after shocks. It is estimated that a 1/3 million people died in the earthquake and the subsequent tsunamis and the resultant fires.

On land, a forest on the slopes of Mt. Tanzawa slid down into the valley at 60 mph. The land area at Misaki rose by 24 ft., and there was a new underwater ridge 300 ft. high. The island of Oshima suffered a tsunami 40 ft. high.

As a result of ruptured oil tanks and piping at Yokohama, burning oil ran into Yokohama harbor and there was a mad scramble for boats to get out to sea. There were 88 different fires in Yokohama alone, and in the Honjo ward, 40,000 people were suffocated when the fire burned up all of the oxygen in the air. An additional 30,000 refugees took shelter in the city park, and they all died in the ensuing tsunami.

The luxurious passenger liner Taiyo Maru was originally built in Germany and it was donated to Japan after World War I. This floating palace, with 600 passengers aboard, was four days out from Tokyo, 300 miles distant. As a result of the turbulent underwater tsunami, a propeller was torn off.

The cities of Tokyo and Yokohama were largely devastated by the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, as it is known today, and it was difficult to get word out about the massive terrible tragedy. On the day after the earthquake, airplanes were commandeered to fly messages out to nearby cities. In addition, 500 carrier pigeons with tiny messages attached were dispatched to different localities.

The first wireless message from Yokohama Harbor was sent out from the ship "Korea" and it was addressed to the governor of Tokyo. Due to local damage, no reply was received. The "Korea" then sent out a second message addressed to the wireless station at Osaka, and Osaka then made a high powered general broadcast. This message was heard by the American fleet in China waters and they immediately steamed for the stricken areas of Japan.

Soon after the original impact of the Kanto Earthquake, the wireless operator on board the Taiyo Maru sent out an SOS message by spark wireless, stating that a propeller had been torn off. This message was received by navy wireless at Cordova in Alaska, and then relayed to navy wireless at Bremerton in Washington state, who relayed the message on to the ship's agents in San Francisco.

In view of the fact that all land communications were devastated in the earthquake areas, the Japanese government took over the wireless facilities on board the major ships in nearby waters, including the Taiyo Maru. In fact, at this stage, their agents in the United States were concerned that the ship had suffered a major calamity, due to the fact that no follow up messages were received subsequent to the original SOS message. However, the fact was that the ship's wireless was involved in the relay of official messages on behalf of the Japanese government.

Four days after the major earthquake, the ship Taiyo Maru arrived at Yokohama only to discover that the city was totally destroyed. This ship took on board a total of 3,000 refugees. Several American navy vessels had already arrived in Yokohama to provide relief for the stricken survivors. They had been on duty in nearby ports along coastal China and they were the first to provide relief to the area in Japan.

The Great Kanto Earthquake was of such a horrendous nature that for many years, local events were dated by the number of years after this disastrous event. It is interesting though, that the major communication facilities at the time were aboard large ships in nearby waters and they succeeded in passing out important information. This was the case also, as we observed in previous editions of Wavescan, for the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and the 1931 earthquake in Napier, New Zealand.