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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 8, 2011

Middle Eastern Cave Radio: Yemen

A few weeks ago, during a spate of research on the topic of radio broadcasting in the troubled country of Yemen in the Middle East, an interesting item of information came to light. This unexpected information tells about what appears to be an almost unknown radio broadcasting station in Yemen, and of all places, it was located in a huge system of Middle Eastern caves. This is what happened.

You will remember that there were two countries under the name of Yemen, North and South, for many years and that they finally united a score of years ago. However, long before that, back half a century ago, there was a coup d'etat that took place in North Yemen, and Republicans ousted the Royal family and took over the government. That was in 1962.

Those who were loyal to the Royal family, the Royalists, established an encampment inland in a mountainous region in the southern area of Saudi Arabia, just across the border from Yemen. However, soon afterwards, the location of this encampment was moved back across the border into North Yemen near a place called Amara. This new encampment was established into a massive and deep cave complex, in which there were living quarters, government administration, and an electrical system powered by their own generator plant.

In May 1964, a representative from the United Nations made an official visit to the cave headquarters of the Royalist movement and he made out a report on his observations. One of the statements found in his document tells that plans were underway to establish a radio broadcasting station in this bomb proof cave system. Foreign aid had been granted for the project, and the station would operate with 5 kW in the 41 metre band.

The June 1964 edition of the Australian radio journal, "Radio, Television & Hobbies", contains a one paragraph statement from the noted international radio monitor, Arthur Cushen in South New Zealand. He stated: "Yemen is to operate a new 5,000 watt shortwave station in the 41 metre band, according to a member of the United Nations Commission who has visited this country recently. He reports the Loyalist faction will operate this station from a bomb-proof cave and the station plans to have transmissions in French and English."

The question remains: What happened to this projected shortwave broadcasting station? Did it ever take to the air? There are no known monitoring reports regarding the reception of this station in other parts of the world. However, an article in Wikipedia does state that the station did indeed go on the air with information broadcasts aimed at the Republican coalition in Sanaa city.

It would be presumed that these radio broadcasts from the cave complex near Amara in North Yemen were quite simple in nature, with an announcer simply reading official statements from the Royalist faction, and maybe some music played from readily available recordings. It would also be presumed that the planned broadcasts in French and English never eventuated. Maybe this station never did receive its 5 kW transmitter, and maybe just a locally available transmitter was in use.

Another question remains: Was this station a legitimate broadcaster, or was it a clandestine operation? If you were a Yemeni Republican, you would state that it was a clandestine operation. If you were a Yemeni Royalist, you would claim that it was a legitimate broadcaster in support of what should be the legitimate government.

Maybe the real answer could be that it was in fact a legitimate broadcaster operating in the style of a clandestine station.

Two Radio Ships: On the Air in Libya

During a spate of research in the preparation for another topic in Wavescan, we were reminded again of the fact that two radio ships were once in use by the government of Libya for the broadcast of regular radio programming. This is the story of the two radio ships, known as Mebo or Mebo 1, and Mebo 2; or as they were known in Libya, Al Masira and Al Fateh.

The small ship Mebo 1 began life in Norway as the Bjarkoy. It was purchased by the Swiss electronics company Mebo soon afterwards, and in 1969, it was loaded with electronic equipment as a radio broadcasting ship. There seem to be some reports that radio broadcasts were indeed made from the Mebo 1.

In the meantime, another slightly larger ship was procured by the Mebo electronics company. This ship began life in 1948 as the Slikkerveer in Holland and it was purchased by the Mebo company in 1969. In actual fact, it became one of the biggest and best radio ships back in the era of European pirate radio broadcasting. This radio ship contained usually four different radio broadcast transmitters for operation on mediumwave, shortwave and FM.

The first test broadcasts from the Mebo 2 were made off the coast of Holland on January 23, 1970, and test broadcasts and regular programming continued for the next five years in various seagoing areas off the coast of Holland, Belgium and England. The shortwave transmissions on the edge of the 49 metre band were heard throughout Europe and North America, and at times in Asia and the South Pacific. These broadcasts were best known as Radio North Sea International, though other identifications were used at various times.

Both radio ships went silent on August 31, 1974, and both were taken into a Dutch harbor for refitting, maintenance and repair. Soon afterwards, efforts were made to sell the two ships, and it appears that offers were made, but nothing came of these endeavors at that time.

However, both Mebo 1 and Mebo 2 were sold to Libya three years later, and they both arrived at the port of Tripoli on February 9, 1977. Shortly afterwards, test broadcasts began from the Mebo 2; and in August, regular broadcasting began under the Libyan leader, Colonel Qadhafi, as Radio Jamahariya.

These ship broadcasts were intended to be temporary while the same Mebo company was installing their electronic equipment in a new land based shortwave station in Libya. In the meantime, Mebo 1 was renamed Al Masira, and Mebo 2 was renamed Al Fateh.

Three year later, broadcasting from the radio ship was terminated; and four years later again, the two ships ended their lives unceremoniously when they were sunk for navy target practice in the Mediterranean in the Gulf of Sidra.

The best known QSL card from the Mebo 2 is an aerial photo in color, showing the ship under the title Radio North Sea International.