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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, August 21, 2011

A New Radio Country: South Sudan, Pt. 1

Around our world and over the years, there are some united countries that have divided into two separated countries; and in other parts of the world, some separated countries have joined together to form one country. For example in Europe, West Germany and East Germany joined together to form Germany. Over in Southern Asia, British India divided into two countries, India and Pakistan; and then subsequently Pakistan went through another division, to form the two countries we now know as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In Africa, just a few weeks ago, in a significant political event, a quite large country was divided into two countries. It was just last month, on Saturday, July 9, that Sudan was officially divided and two countries were formed; and we know them, at least at present, as Sudan and South Sudan.

In our program today, we take a long and interesting preliminary look at the combined Sudan, its backgrounds and its radio development. Then two weeks from now, we plan to specifically investigate the radio scene as it applies in particular to the new country of South Sudan.

The country of combined Sudan was described in the encyclopedia as the largest country in Africa, nearly 1300 miles long and nearly 1200 miles wide, with a water border on the Red Sea at 400 miles. The northern areas of Sudan are mainly sandy desert, the middle of the country is made up of grass covered plains, and the south merges into dense tropical jungle.

The two major river systems, the White Nile from mainly Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile from Ethiopia, meet in Sudan, and the twin cities, Omdurman and Khartoum, have grown up at the junction of these two waterways. Omdurman is the national capital, and Khartoum is the largest city in the country. The total population is estimated at around 30 million.

The earliest settlements in Sudan go way back into ancient history, and there has always been play and interplay between Sudan and Egypt. During some historic eras, Egypt dominated the Sudan, and there were times when the Sudan dominated Egypt. One ancient historian tells the story of the Biblical patriarch Moses leading a military campaign into the southern areas of Egypt and into the Sudan in a successful endeavor to oust the invaders from the south, though this event is not referred to in the Bible itself.

However, there are many Biblical references to the territory we know as the Sudan and to its people, usually designated as Kush. It should be mentioned that Queen Candace, referred to in the New Testament, was the ruling monarch at Meroe, the ruins of which are still visible today north of the twin cities. Interestingly, there are 223 pyramids in the Sudan, twice as many as in Egypt, though the Sudanese pyramids are smaller and built at a steeper angle.

The Belgians were the first Europeans to lay a territorial claim in the Sudan, and that was in the year 1896, in an area of the south. Three years later, the British took over; and in 1956, Sudan gained its independence as the 54th country in Africa.

Strangely, there is a small territory that neither country claims, the territory on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, known as Bir Tawil. This territory is 60 miles wide and 20 miles deep, and it is mainly a sandy wasteland, though in ancient times it was the grazing lands for the Ababda tribal people. The name Bir Tawil means Deep Water Well, though the location of this obscure water well is now lost.

Early wireless documents tell us that the first wireless stations in Sudan were installed after World War I in Khartoum and Omdurman, and in several regional locations. Callsigns for these stations were irregular at first, though as time went by, it seems that these calls were regularized into the SU series, such as SUD at Port Sudan and SUL at Khartoum.

The Russian Encyclopedia informs us that radio broadcasting in the Sudan began in the year 1940, and this is confirmed by the Sudanradio website. According to this source, the first radio broadcasts were made from the Post Office building in Omdurman in May 1940. Programming was on the air for half an hour daily, and it would be presumed that this was on a mediumwave channel.

Two years later, the radio station was transferred to the Midwife School in West Omdurman, where the station was inaugurated on 524 metres (573 kHz) and the programming was extended to one hour daily. It is evident that this was still a low power operation.

Monitoring reports in New Zealand, Australia and the United States indicate that a shortwave service was added in late 1945, and this operated on 9220 and 13320 kHz. At the time, all three outlets were rated at quite low power; mediumwave 572.5 kHz at 750 watts, shortwave 9 MHz at 450 watts, and 13320 kHz at 250 watts. Reliable coverage at these power levels would extend not much further than the twin cities areas.

In 1949, it was reported that Radio Omdurman in the Sudan was now using a 6 kW shortwave transmitter; and soon after that, three Marconi transmitters from England were installed; two at 20 kW for use on shortwave, and one at 50 kW on mediumwave. All of these transmitter improvements are listed as taking place at the transmitter base identified as Soba, which is located at a small village named Al Aitahab some distance up river, south of the twin cities. Two Philips shortwave transmitters at 120 kW from Holland were installed in the late 1960s, and one Harris at 100 kW from the United States was installed around 1990.

In the meantime, regional radio was developed in several different localities around Sudan, and of importance was a massive mediumwave transmitter rated at 1.5 megawatt located at Sennar, out from the twin cities areas. Anything up to a dozen mediumwave sites in Sudan have been indicated, but it is not certain that stations were installed at all of these listed sites.

However, even in spite of this apparent wide coverage on shortwave and mediumwave throughout Sudan, there have been many occasions when transmitters were reported by monitors as being off air. On some occasions, throughout all of these years, the usage of shortwave, though listed as in use for program coverage, was also actually off the air.

So, what can you hear on air from the Sudan these days? If you live somewhere around the Mediterranean, you might hear Reiba with 600 kW on 1296 kHz; or Khartoum with 100 kW on 963 kHz; or possibly Omdurman with 50 kW on 765 kHz. Then, on shortwave, their programming is listed on 7200 kHz with 100 kW all throughout the broadcast day.

The Sudan has never been listed as a reliable verifier of reception reports, though throughout all these years, a few QSL letters have been issued.

BFBS and AFRS in Sudan

Before we leave the radio scene in the Sudan, let us present this brief information regarding the wartime installation of three allied radio broadcasting stations.

The Americans installed a 250 watt mediumwave station in Khartoum in June 1944, and this was in use for a little over a year. It was closed in August 1945. The channel in use by AFRS Khartoum is shown as shortwave, and this may have been the case, though it is probable that it was actually a mediumwave operation. The callsign for this American radio station is not known.

An additional low powered sound system station was also in use at El Geneina during the same time period.

The British BFBS station was located at Khartoum around the same time period, 1944 and 1945, though no additional details are known. It was described as an out station.