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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, May 1, 2011

Five in a Row: The Forgotten BBC East Africa Relay Station, Berbera in Somalia

You will remember that we presented here in Wavescan a few weeks back the story of radio broadcasting in the two Yemens, North and South, which today are generally operating as one country under the single title, Yemen. During our research into the interesting radio backgrounds in Yemen, we were reminded again that once upon a time the BBC operated a relay station in that area.

In actual reality, the BBC has operated five different relay stations in this general area, one after the other, over a period of time. In coming editions of Wavescan, we will present the story of each of these five BBC relay stations, and in our program today, we begin at the beginning. Here then, is the story of the BBC East Africa Relay Station, which was located at Berbera in Somalia.

The country of Somalia is located in what is called the Horn of Africa, a projection of the continent that points towards the Arabian Peninsula. The Somali peoples were one of the very early peoples of Africa and they moved into the area in the times of African pre-history. Their country is largely desert, though some coastal areas are agriculturally productive. It is estimated that there are around 20 million Somali people, plus or minus, in their homeland and beyond.

The Somali language is described in the encyclopedia as descendant from the Cushite family of languages, and in early times, various forms of Arabic writing were used to transcribe the spoken language. In October 1972, the usage of the English Latin alphabet was officially introduced for use with the Somali spoken language and they use all letters in the English Latin alphabet except P, V, and Z.

The coastal Somali people were experienced traders in historic times. In the year 1490 BC, the woman Pharaoh Hatshepsut in Egypt sent five cargo ships down the coast of Africa to Somalia, known as Punt during that era, and the ships returned with many forms of exotic African goods and people.

A full account of this remarkable trading expedition is presented on the walls of the Deir El-Bhari Temple in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. As a mid teenage girl, Hatshepsut is traditionally recognized as the princess who rescued the baby Moses from the water proofed basket that was floating on a large irrigation canal flowing off the Nile in the delta areas of Egypt.

In the late 1800s, European powers began to take a political interest in Africa, and France annexed a Somali territory that is now known as Djibouti. In 1884 England annexed northern Somalia as British Somaliland; and five years later, Italy annexed southern Somalia as Italian Somaliland. In 1960, the British and Italian Somalilands were granted independence and they united into one nation as Somalia.

Unfortunately, these days Somalia is noted for its internal strife and fightings, and some of the coastal Somali peoples are noted for their acts of piracy on the high seas.

The coastal city of Berbera, located on the bay in the Gulf of Aden, is an ancient African city, dating way back into Greek times. The name "Berbera", is taken from the ancient Greek language, meaning "sea oyster".

During the year 1890, an underwater cable was laid from Perim Island in the Gulf of Aden across to Berbera as part of a communication system linking England with Aden and beyond to India and Australia. When the era of wireless communication began, a wireless station was co-sited with the cable station at Berbera and it was on the air with spark wireless transmissions in Morse Code under the rather logical callsign BER. This station was inaugurated before the Great War on January 1, 1912.

A subsequent callsign for the Berbera station was VPJ, and additional stations were installed in British Somaliland; VQX at Burao, VSA at Hargeisa, and VQY at Zeyla.

On November 2, 1959, the British government was officially informed that a relay station for the BBC was already under construction at Berbera in Somalia. However, one year later, it became apparent that the two Somalias, British and Italian, were about to achieve independence and become united into one country, Somalia.

It was stated in the British Parliament that it was hoped that the new Somalia would permit the BBC to continue with its usage of the Berbera relay station. However, soon afterwards, it became apparent that the BBC would need to leave Berbera due to differences between the governments of the new Somalia and England.

The BBC relay station at Berbera in Somalia was constructed and operated by DWS, the Diplomatic Wireless Service. It was activated in either 1960 or 1961 on mediumwave 701 kHz with programming in Arabic, Swahili and the General Overseas Service in English, but not in the Somali language. The program feed was taken off the BBC shortwave service to Africa, via a shortwave transmitter located at Daventry.

The power output of the BBC-DWS transmitter at Berbera is listed as 10 kW, 100 kW or 400 kW. Maybe there was a standby transmitter at 10 kW located at the cable station, but it is probable that a high powered transmitter at 400 kW was not on the air at this isolated location. Thus, we would suggest, the output power of this single mediumwave transmitter was 100 kW.

This BBC relay station located at Berbera in Somalia is listed in the World Radio TV Handbook for just two years, 1962 and 1963, and it was officially designated as the BBC East Africa Relay Station.

In March 1963, the British government agreed to the closure of the BBC Berbera relay station due to political differences between Somalia and England. The station left the air during the next month, April, at the end of two or three years of active on air service.

There are no known QSL cards verifying the BBC Somalia on mediumwave. However, it is possible that a few personnel who could actually tune in this lonely mediumwave station, and who were also serving the BBC as volunteer monitors at the time, did actually receive a much prized valid QSL card from this rather temporary East Africa Relay Station.

Two weeks from now, we will continue the story of this BBC relay station, at a new location under a new name.

The Radio Scene in New York City: Earliest Known Reception Report

Many weeks ago, we planned on presenting the story of the first known reception report, in association with New York City's first radio broadcasting station. However, due to the long series of tragic political events in North Africa and the Middle East, and the equally tragic events in the South Pacific and Japan, the usage of this topic in Wavescan was necessarily postponed for some time. Nevertheless, today we present this fascinating radio story that took place nearly one hundred years ago.

A recent front page news item in an American radio magazine, Radio World, tells about a possible propagation problem in New York, this mighty city of majestic skyscrapers. In today's feature here in Wavescan, we present the story of the early radio scene in the city of New York, the details about the earliest known reception report, and a possible new radio problem.

We go back to the year 1906, and on December 31, the very last day of that year, the noted wireless inventor, Lee de Forest, successfully transmitted an experimental wireless signal across a room in his radio laboratory in the Parker Building in New York City. Two months later, he began a series of radio broadcasts from the same location, using what he called an Arcphone radio transmitter. On January 12, 1910, de Forest made an on-location broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House, a date that stands high as the first known broadcast of its type in the history of radio development.

Soon afterwards, De Forest constructed a 2nd Arcphone transmitter that was installed in the premises of the Cahill Telharmonium Co. at the corner of Broadway and 45th Street. A Tellharmonium is described as an early version of keyboard music similar to the Hammond organ. Several music broadcasts were made from this additional new location.

It was in 1915 that de Forest installed a longwave transmitter at his commercial company's facility in Highbridge, New York, and soon afterwards he launched a regular broadcasting service under the experimental callsign 2XG. Station 2XG was a small unit operating on 800 metres, 375 kHz, with a power of just 125 watts.

Actually, this historic and quite famous station, 2XG, was on the air from several different locations during its five year experimental tenure, though Highbridge in the Bronx was its actual main location. Other temporary locations included the Columbia Gramophone Building on 38th Street, and in 1919, the World Tower Building.

Programming from experimental station 2XG included regular music, special music, radio concerts, educational talks, and on the spot broadcasts. On the occasion of the 1916 presidential elections, station 2XG carried a live report well into the evening, broadcasting the tallies as they became available, as did the well known Pittsburgh station KDKA some four years later.

When it appeared that Chief Justice Charles Hughes had won the election to become the 29th president of the United States, station 2XG announced this during the evening broadcast as the result of the election, and then signed off and left the air. However, the election call was inaccurate, and next morning, late returns showed instead that Woodrow Wilson was re-elected for a 2nd term.

In April 1917, along with most other experimental radio stations throughout the United States, station 2XG was closed down, and it was off the air for a little less than two years. When the war time ban was lifted, station 2XG returned to the air at its familiar Bronx location in February 1919.

In December 1919, Lee de Forest moved his transmitter from the Bronx and installed it in the new World Tower Building in New York. The licensing authorities looked upon this as an infringement of regulations and in February 1920, they required the station to close. De Forest transferred the station from New York City to San Francisco, a move that would just about qualify it as the longest move for a radio station in the United States.

However, one of the engineers working for the de Forest company in New York, obtained a license to establish a new mediumwave broadcasting station in the city known colloquially as the Big Apple. The new WJX was inaugurated on October 13, 1921, though the station was short lived, and it was deleted from official records less than three years later.

Now, about the historic early reception report. At the time, in January 1917, station 2XG was on the air every evening in New York with a program of concert music. In an endeavor to learn the effective coverage area of these longwave broadcasts, announcements were made during the programming, requesting reception reports from listeners. As a result, more than 200 reports were received by post.

One of these reports, quite lengthy indeed, was written by Mr. W. G. Hunt, manager of the radio department in a telegraph office in Newark, New Jersey. This voluminous report, dated Wednesday January 24, 1917, gives complete details of all of the music and the announcements in the evening broadcast. This detailed reception report is the earliest we have seen anywhere in the world.

The front page news item referred to at the beginning of this topic, states that a new skyscraper is under consideration in New York City. The planned new building would be located just two blocks from the Empire State Building, and it would be almost as tall as the Empire State Building.

As the trade magazine, Radio World, reports in its publication on October 6 last year, radio management in New York is concerned that the new building will cast a significant shadow in New York for FM stations currently atop the Empire State Building. The new building is likely to cost around $3 billion, states Radio World, but it would be several years before the building becomes a reality.