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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, September 11, 2011

The Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations - VOA Ship No. 2: The Mystery Story of the Radio Ship Phoenix

The story of the radio broadcastings ship, Phoenix, has always been wrapped in mystery ever since its inauguration more than half a century ago. The ship was fitted out as a radio broadcasting ship and it was in use in the Pacific at the latter end of World War II with broadcasts aimed at Asian rim countries, and in particular, Japan.

But where did the ship come from? And what happened to it afterwards? And what about international monitoring reports while it was on the air? In answer to all of these questions, a lengthy and intense spate of research has produced some interesting and unexpected information. That is the opening story in Wavescan today; The Mystery Story of the Radio Ship Phoenix, the 2nd ship broadcasting station that was on the air with programming on behalf of VOA, the Voice of America.

Let's go back to the beginning, and we discover that the ship itself was not named the Phoenix; its real name was Triton Maris. The name Phoenix indicated the wartime project under which the purpose of the ship was developed, and it was never the name of the ship.

To make the matter more confusing, there was an American battleship in the Pacific during the same era and this was named the USS Phoenix. The official designation for the navy vessel was CL46, but this ship was never in use as a relay station for VOA programming.

Old shipping documents show that the Triton Maris was an Italian ship, not Greek as was mistakenly suggested for the Phoenix on previous occasions. It was constructed in the year 1898 as a dry bulk carrier, a cargo ship. It was nearly 250 feet long and 35 feet wide with an empty weight of 2300 tons.

The ship, Triton Maris, was taken over by the American army, and then granted to OWI, the American Office of War Information for modification as a radio broadcasting ship, we would suggest during the year 1943. Originally, this ship was intended for use as a floating radio station for deployment in European waters, quite similar to the usage of the American battle ship, USS Texas, a few months earlier, off the Mediterranean coast of Morocco in Africa.

A 50 kW mediumwave transmitter, a Western Electric Model 7A, was obtained from the well known broadcasting station, KSL in Salt Lake City Utah. This 8 year old transmitter was installed in the ship Triton Maris, probably at some port along the California coastline.

However, there was a delay in the deployment of this radio broadcasting ship, brought about because the navy was apprehensive that this slow moving vessel could become a liability in any active theatre of war. In view of the fact that the ship was finally not making its way towards Europe, General Douglas MacArthur ordered its deployment in the Pacific. Maybe they made some test broadcasts before leaving the sheltered waters of the United States.

The ship Triton Maris was temporarily moved to Hawaiian waters, probably at Pearl Harbor, and it was inaugurated as a radio broadcasting station on December 25, 1944. The nearby landbased shortwave station KRHO was inaugurated on the same date, and both stations were on the air with a relay of VOA programming from the new California shortwave station KWID. At this stage, the mediumwave transmitter aboard the Triton Maris was on the air under the callsign KRHO.

At the end of February, in the New Year 1945, the Triton Maris was moved to the coastal waters off the recently liberated island of Saipan. The first broadcast from this new location, as monitored in New Zealand, was on March 4, and the callsign at this stage remained KRHO. Programming was again taken off air from shortwave KRHO.

However, in June the transmitter was removed from the ship Triton Maris and re-installed at Tanapag on Saipan Island. At this stage, a new callsign was employed for this now landbased mediumwave relay station, the now familiar KSAI.

Mediumwave radio station KSAI was located on Saipan in a set of quonset huts, which was also the location of the AFRS mediumwave station WXLD. KSAI was on the air on Saipan until the middle of the year 1946, when, according to some reports, it was simply abandoned.

However, that is not the case. VOA documents indicate that the transmitter was instead removed from Saipan and re-installed in the Philippines at Malolos, on the site of an early VOA relay station north of Manila. This transmitter was inaugurated at its new location as VOA Manila A on March 7, 1948. By now, the old Western Electric 7A transmitter, still rated at 50 kW, was noted on 920 kHz with programming directed towards Asia.

Over a period of time, the mediumwave transmitter, while still aboard the Triton Maris, was heard in Australia, New Zealand and the United States on many different channels, in an attempt to avoid Japanese jamming. The original channel in Hawaiian waters was 1000 kHz, though there were often quick moves to other channels, such as 1010, 860 and 960 kHz. When the station was installed on land at Tanapag on Saipan Island, usually only one constant channel was in use, 1010 kHz, though in July 1945, tests were made on two other channels, 1280 and 850 kHz.

Programming for mediumwave KRHO-KSAI was usually in parallel with shortwave KRHO in Hawaii, though there were occasions when local programming was produced on the island of Saipan in the Japanese language. At times the local AFRS 1 kW mediumwave station on Saipan, WXLD, was also in parallel with the programming from the 50 kW KSAI, with the signals from both stations beamed towards Japan.

During the year 1945, there were at least two navy reviews regarding the effectiveness of the OWI broadcasts from the Triton Maris, and these documents are lodged in the Eisenhower Library in Abilene Kansas.

So, that is the story of the Italian cargo vessel, the Triton Maris, that was transformed into a radio broadcasting ship for use under Project Phoenix, and that was heard from the end of 1944 till the middle of 1946 with a very strong signal in many countries around the Pacific Rim.

The Rest of the Story: The VOA Triton Maris

As the well known Paul Harvey would sometimes say: And now the rest of the story. What happened to the ship Triton Maris after it was no longer in use as a radio broadcasting station? This is what happened.

The Italian crew returned to their homes in Italy, the remaining electronics were removed, and the ship was put on sale in the United States in February 1946. No one bought the old ship, so in April 1947, it was returned to its original owners in Italy.

What about the mighty 50 kW Western Electric mediumwave transmitter? Originally from KSL Salt Lake City, as mentioned by Shanon Hunniwell in the American radio magazine, Popular Communications, it was deployed aboard the Triton Maris in the Pacific, reinstalled on the island of Saipan, and later transferred to Malolos in the Philippines, its fourth location.

Around the middle of the 1960s, the Philippine Broadcasting service upgraded the electronics at their recently acquired station at Malolos and removed old obsolete equipment from service. Apparently, the venerable 50 kW mediumwave WE7A was simply removed at that time, demolished, and sold for scrap.

And the Tanapag location on Saipan? The old VOA location is now the site for the Tanapag Elementary School.

And QSL cards? Yes, numerous VOA cards in two different styles were issued from Honolulu and San Francisco for the mediumwave broadcasts under the callsigns KRHO and KSAI. And during the earlier part of that broadcast era, the programming was actually on the air from a radio broadcasting ship, though most listeners were not aware of it, the now historic but obscure Triton Maris.

Minivan Radio for the Maldive Islands

Recently we were asked the question: What is the story regarding Minivan Radio, the shortwave radio broadcasting service beamed to the Maldive Islands, out there in the Indian Ocean? In response, Jeff White at Radio Miami International, WRMI in Miami Florida, provided us with an excellent overview of this radio broadcasting service that was on the air for a period of just three years.

The word Minivan in Diveh, the national language in the Maldive Islands, means "Independent". Minivan Radio, during its brief life span, maintained offices in several different countries, including England and Sri Lanka, and also in Male, the capital city in the Maldive Islands. The programming, always in Maldivian Divehi, was produced in England.

The first one-day test transmissions were broadcast on 11525 kHz from Bulgaria from 1630 to 1730 UTC on August 18, 2004. This original one time test transmission was made at 100 kW during the first half hour, and at 250 kW during the second half hour. Monitoring reports in the Pacific indicated poor modulation during the first half hour though with better modulation during the second half hour.

BBC Monitoring stated that their monitoring observations indicated a site at Kostinbrod in Bulgaria, and we would suggest that this was for the first half hour of the broadcast. We would suggest that the second half hour at increased power was made from the Plovdiv site in Bulgaria.

Regular transmissions for Radio Minivan began just one week later, August 25, 2004, from the Julich site in Germany. The frequency was 13855 kHz, the power was 100 kW, and the time was adjusted to 1600-1700 UTC. This initial broadcast was heard by Jerry Berg in suburban Boston with an identification announcement stating WRMI in Miami; it was heard by Jose Jacob in India with jamming; it was heard by Anker Petersen in Denmark with side band interference; and by Victor Goonetilleke in Colombo Sri Lanka with tone jamming.

Glenn Hauser, reporting in Monitoring Times in the United States, states that an additional test transmission was made from Bulgaria on September 3, 2004, from 1630 to 1730 UTC on two channels, 9985 and 11535 kHz.

During the devastating tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean after the December 26, 2004 earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, Minivan Radio provided much needed communications for the outlying islands in the Maldives. Most of the islands were overwhelmed with water inundation, and telephone and internet services were no longer functioning.

On January 1, 2006, the shortwave transmissions from Germany were temporarily suspended, following a raid on the Minivan offices in Sri Lanka, though the programming was still available on the internet. However, three weeks later the shortwave broadcasts from Minivan Radio were resumed, this time on 11800 kHz, from Julich in Germany.

Around the middle of the year 2006, a listener survey was conducted, and it was determined that 1/4 of the total population of the Maldive Islands were listening regularly to the shortwave broadcasts of Minivan Radio, even though the signal was jammed in the capital city area.

In March 2007, the shortwave broadcasts were suspended in anticipation that a local FM license would be granted. However, the license was not forthcoming, and so once again the shortwave broadcasts were resumed, still from Julich in Germany at 100 kW and still daily at 1600-1700 UTC, this time on 11725 kHz.

However, the last day of shortwave broadcasting was August 31, 2007. The service was no longer needed, since the Minivan organization won the elections.

Interestingly, the Radio Minivan office in Male is co-sited with the Minivan News Service, and with the Minivan Daily newspaper, though Minivan Radio is not organizationally connected with either of the two other services.

QSL cards for the Minivan programming were issued by Media Broadcast in Germany and by WRMI in Florida. QSL letters were issued from the Minivan office in England.