Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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, February 6, 2011

Turmoil in Tunisia & Egypt: Backgrounds

Because of the recent major political events that have taken place in both Tunisia and Egypt during the past few days, we interrupt the flow of our regular programming here in Wavescan and we take a look at the radio scene in these two North African countries. In brief outline, this is what the major news media are stating about the current events in these two countries.

On December 27, a street vendor in a country town in Tunisia set himself afire as a protest against official denials to his appeals for justice in his employment needs. Already festering unrest in the country began to mount, and two weeks later, protesters took to the streets demanding government reforms. Night curfews were implemented, but the public demonstrations continued in several cities, including the capital city Tunis, with as many as 10,000 people participating. On January 14, the president fled from the country, but the unrest continues.

Soon afterwards, tensions due to smoldering grievances in nearby Egypt erupted into street demonstrations and violence with many tens of thousands of people participating. In response, on January 28, the president of Egypt ordered his entire government to resign, but the unrest, public demonstrations and widespread looting still continued. Rioters have broken into the fabulous Cairo Museum with subsequent looting and damage to ancient artifacts. The American government has closed its embassy in Cairo and they are airlifting out several thousand American citizens.

And, the intense unrest is spreading to other countries in northern Africa and the Middle East.

Radio in the Land of the Ancient Pharaohs

As a result of the wild demonstrations in Egypt, usage of the internet has been closed, and the programming from the internal services of the Egyptian radio and TV networks has been modified for the occasion. In addition, the international shortwave service of Radio Cairo has been drastically reduced and modified also.

Internationally, many of the major shortwave stations have introduced special programming for coverage into Egypt. Radio Netherlands for example, has increased its Arabic coverage into Egypt on satellite; and on shortwave, they have introduced three hours of special programming in Dutch for the 8,000 Dutch citizens in Egypt. These shortwave broadcasts are presented in three separate transmissions, using two transmitters in parallel.

On the map, Egypt looks like a small country at the top of Africa, but in reality, it is quite a large country, nearly 800 miles across and 700 miles long. It is a quite modern country in many ways, though at the same time, it is one of the most ancient countries in the entire history of our world. The beginnings of civilization in Egypt can be traced way back more than 4,000 years ago.

Egypt is well known for its pyramids and the Sphinx, the animal like creature with a human head. It is well known for the fertility along the Nile River, and also for the fabulous historic displays in the Cairo Museum. From a Christian perspective, Egypt is mentioned by name more than a thousand times in the Holy Scriptures. In addition, several of the ancient Pharaohs are mentioned by name in the Bible, thus enabling a reliable correlation for ancient events in the Middle Eastern areas.

Wireless came to Egypt quite early. The New York Times on March 8, 1912, stated that a large wireless station would be established in Egypt as part of the Imperial Wireless Scheme as outlined by the famous Guglielmo Marconi. This station was constructed at Abu Zaabal on the north eastern edge of Cairo during the year 1914.

The 300 kW transmitter at Abu Zaabal was on the air on 55 and 66 kHz longwave under the callsign SUC and it communicated with a similar station at Leafield in England. This station, after successive upgradings and modernizations, was destroyed in 1954 during the Suez War.

During the early 1920s, several small broadcasting stations were established in Egypt, mainly in Cairo and Alexandria; though in 1931, the government closed all of the irregular stations, permitting just a few well run stations to remain on air. The Egyptian State Broadcasting Service was established in 1934, and all radio broadcasting in Egypt has since remained under government control until more recent times.

On the shortwave scene, new shortwave transmitters were installed at the longwave transmitting station at Abu Zaabal in the late 1920s, and it appears that initially two units rated at 10 kW were in use. These units were on the air for phone communication with Europe and the United States under callsigns in the SU series, such as SUV, SUX and SUZ. The first known usage of these shortwave transmitters with the broadcast of radio programming was in mid 1935, when station SUV was noted on 9570 kHz in both the United States and Australia. Over the years, the shortwave base at Abu Zaabal has been re-outfitted with numerous additional transmitters, and at the present time a total of 18 are listed at this site.

Another shortwave station located at Mokattam, also near Cairo, was developed in the late 1950s, and at least four transmitters at 50 kW and 100 kW have been in use. This station is no longer on the air.

A third shortwave base was developed at Abis near Alexandria also in the late 1950s with several Marconi transmitters rated at 250 kW and 500 kW. The Abis station is still in use today with 9 transmitters listed.

Over the years since the mid 1930s, the statistics show that Radio Cairo shortwave has utilized a total of somewhere around 40 shortwave transmitters ranging in power from 10 kW to 500 kW. Although Egypt on shortwave was not always a reliable verifier, yet multitudes of colorful QSL cards, showing ancient monuments and current scenes have been issued.

Radio in the Land of the Ancient Phoenicians

And now we cross over to the other country of recent turmoil, Tunisia. This North African country lies at the top of Africa and it is nearly 500 miles long and a little over 200 miles wide. The total population is around 10 million, and the capital city of Tunisia is Tunis.

The history of Tunisia goes way back into antiquity, with ancient tribal peoples inhabiting the area. The famous city of Carthage was established in the year 814 BC by Phoenician colonists from Tyre on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. History tells us that Queen Elissa took a contingent of settlers from the Phoenician coast in Palestine and established Carthage in Africa, which means New City in their language.

This Queen Elissa was a grand niece to the infamous Queen Jezebel of Bible times, and her brother was King Pygmalion, about whom George Bernard Shaw wrote in one of his famous plays. According to the story, Pygmalion fell in love with a statue of a beautiful woman that he had made.

As time went by, Tunisia was overcome by the Romans from Italy, the Vandals from continental Europe, the Byzantines from Turkey, and the Arabs from the Middle East. France took over Tunisia as a protectorate in 1881, and Tunisia became independent in 1956.

Just before the beginning of World War I, the French navy established the first wireless station in Tunisia, under the callsign TZF. After the war, the French were operating three wireless stations with just two internationally regularized callsigns, FUA and FFT.

Radio broadcasting came to Tunisia in the mid 1920s, with a longwave station operated by the French army, TUA on 205 kHz with 500 watts. During the subsequent years, in the 1920s and 1930s up to the time of World War II, a half a dozen mediumwave broadcasting stations were established in different cities in Tunisia, including Tunis itself, as well as Sfax and the modern Carthage. However, none of these stations demonstrated any form of long term permanency.

However, in August 1938, the French government established an official radio station which was named Radio Tunis and broadcasts from this station were inaugurated soon afterwards with 30 kW on mediumwave 868 kHz.

Back around the end of the 1920s, there were a couple of attempts at shortwave broadcasting in Tunisia, from stations TUA and 8KR, and perhaps some others. Then, soon after the new Radio Tunis became stabilized on mediumwave, shortwave broadcasting was also inaugurated with the use of 15560 kHz as the main channel.

However, when France came under German occupation, the shortwave outlet in Tunis was closed. Then, in January 1943, Radio Tunis was again heard on shortwave; the channel was 7280 kHz and the programming was noted by an international radio monitor in the United States.

During the year 1959, work was completed on a new shortwave station located at Djedeida, some 20 miles west of the capital city Tunis. This station operated with just one transmitter at 50 kW and it was first noted in late December 1959 on 6125 kHz.

A second shortwave base was established near Sfax on the central Eastern coast of Tunisia. This station was inaugurated in 1968 and it operated with three Telefunken transmitters at 100 kW each, and a series of curtain antennas.

A third shortwave transmitter base was installed at Sidi Mansour, very near to the Sfax facility, and this station was inaugurated in 1997 with four transmitters at 500 kW each. This is the only shortwave station in Tunisia still on the air today, though current scheduling shows only three transmitters in operation at any one time, with a reduced power output of 250 kW each.

QSL cards from Tunisia are not common, and usually they were tourist picture cards with the QSL text typed onto the reverse side.

Early Voice of America Relay Stations in Tunisia

Back on May 7, 1943, during the North Africa campaigns, American forces captured two mediumwave radio stations in Tunisia, both of which were taken into service as relay stations for the Voice of America. One was a low powered station in the city of Tunis, and we could guess that this was a 700 watt station on 1402 kHz. This station was active on air at the time of its capture, and on the same day, it was taken over with a relay of programming from the Voice of America.

The other station was the higher powered Radio Tunis with 30 kW on 868 kHz, with studios in Tunis and the transmitter 20 miles distant at Djedeida. Early records from the Voice of America show this station with 240 kW, but apparently reliable lists show this station at the time with 30 kW. Perhaps the 240 kW is the total usage of electricity at the station.

During the six weeks after it was taken over by the Americans, Radio Tunis was renovated and restored, and it was was re-launched a little past mid June 1943 as a relay station for the Voice of America. VOA Tunis was also used at this stage to beam special programming into Italy. The VOA programming was taken off air shortwave from east coast transmitters in the United States.

It would be suggested that the VOA usage of Radio Tunis lasted for just a few months at the most. There is no evidence that there were any shortwave broadcasts from Radio Tunis during the short era of VOA usage.