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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, October 23, 2011

Radio Afghanistan Returns to the Air on Shortwave - 2: The Early Shortwave Scene

In our continuing story about radio broadcasting in Afghanistan, we pick up the sequence of events associated with the shortwave scene in that beleaguered country; and that goes back to the year 1935. On a previous occasion, we have already presented the story of the original mediumwave radio events in Afghanistan, back ten years earlier, beginning in the year 1925.

According to an old radio magazine from that era, mention is made of the fact that plans were announced in 1935 for the installation of a small network of five low powered shortwave communication stations throughout Afghanistan. It is known that two of these transmitters were intended for installation in Kabul and Herat, and it is probable that the other three units were intended for Mizar-i-Sharif-Balkh, Kandahar and Baghlan. The Kabul transmitter, it was stated, would also have voice capability, whereas the other four, apparently, would communicate only in Morse Code.

The transmitter building for the communication transmitters was erected on the eastern edge of Kabul, in the suburban area known as Yakatut, and the building itself was constructed on the northern edge of the highway running towards the Khyber Pass, just beside and behind the mediumwave building. An American radio magazine reported the reception of the new 500 watt transmitter with the callsign YAA in October 1936, on the frequency 4225 kHz. It was hoped that the Kabul transmitter would soon be used for the relay of radio programming from the capital city mediumwave service.

Around the same time, an additional 20 kW shortwave transmitter was installed in the same building though it is indicated that it was in use only for communication purposes, under the same callsign YAA. An additional 20 kW unit was installed in the same building in 1966 and this was used for international and regional communication by the Bakhtar News Agency.

The communication transmitter building at Yakatut was subsequently damaged and/or destroyed on two occasions, 1979 and 1994.

The shortwave communication station that was installed at Herat in 1936, on the western edge of Afghanistan, was also a 500 watt unit, and it was on the air under three consecutive callsigns, AFH, AZH, and finally YAH. It was intended that this station would also broadcast radio programming, though apparently that never happened back during that era.

However, radio monitoring reports in Australia indicate that the shortwave station located at Herat was indeed on the air with program broadcasting in mid year 1948, on the channel 7960 kHz. These broadcasts were in one of the Afghan languages, and they were on the air for just two hours a week, that is just one hour each on Tuesdays and Fridays.

At the same time, another Afghan station was noted on 6845 kHz with a similar schedule of two broadcasts per week, at one hour each on Mondays and Thursdays. The location was unknown, though we would guess that this station was located at the twin cities, Mizar-i-Sharif and Balkh.

The transmitter building that housed the transmitters for the program broadcasting service on shortwave in Kabul was located on the south side of the highway running towards the Khyber Pass, almost opposite the two mediumwave and communication transmitter buildings. In fact, some of the antenna systems for these stations were actually strung across the highway.

In mid-year 1950, the Director for Radio Afghanistan made a visit to Berlin for the purpose of ordering two shortwave transmitters for installation at Yakatut. At the time, it was stated in the American journal Radio News, the only radio broadcasting service on the air in Afghanistan was the 20 kW
mediumwave unit on 674 kHz.

Two German shortwave transmitters were obtained, one at 20 kW and the other at 50 kW, though in actual reality, the 50 kW unit was two at 25 kW, side by side. These transmitters were installed progressively during the years running from 1956 through 1961, with an additional 10 kW unit installed in 1958.

Programming from these units was somewhat spasmodic, and it was intended for national coverage and coverage into nearby countries in Asia. A series of test broadcasts was completed in February 1959, and Radio Afghanistan was truly on the air, shortwave.

A new 100 kW transmitter was installed in the same building in 1966, and it was officially inaugurated during the month of August. Ten years later, five new transmitters were installed at Yakatut, replacing older equipment, and these were rated, three at 50 kW and two at 10 kW.

However, this building and its electronic equipment was subsequently damaged and/or destroyed during fighting in the years 1979 and 1994.

There are two other items of interest during this era; one in Kabul and the other in Mizar-i-Sharif.

In July 1958, Kabul was noted in Australia on the communication channel 18637 kHz under the callsign YAK, with a program relay from the mediumwave broadcasting service. At the time, Radio Afghanistan was installing new shortwave transmitters at Yakatut, and it would be presumed that this out of band broadcast was an experimental transmission from a 20 kW communication transmitter for the purpose of assessing likely coverage from the planned new shortwave service.

The other item of interest refers to a large advertisement in an English language newspaper published in Kabul. This advertisement was a call for tenders to establish a 20 kW shortwave station in Mizar-i-Sharif, up near the northern boundary of the country. Associated studios, equipment and relay transmitters were planned, and the closing date for the submission of tenders was September 27, 1971. It is presumed that this projected regional shortwave station was never constructed.

On the next occasion when we delve into the radio story in Afghanistan, we will look at the Russian years.