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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, November 20, 2011

The Original Radio Free Asia

During the past more than half a century, there have been three different radio broadcasting organizations on the air shortwave under the slogan "Radio Free Asia." The first organization under this title was launched in 1951, and it was on the air for less than two years.

The next version of "Radio Free Asia" was launched 17 years later, in 1968, with the usage of a one megawatt mediumwave transmitter in Thailand, as well as supportive broadcasts on shortwave from relay transmitters in other Asian countries operated by the Voice of America. These services are still on the air today, though the mediumwave unit in Thailand is listed simply as an IBB-VOA relay station.

The 3rd version of "Radio Free Asia" was inaugurated on shortwave from several different relay stations just 15 years ago, on September 29, 1996. This service is alive and vigorous to this day, although not all of the locations of the shortwave relay stations have been revealed officially.

On this occasion here in Wavescan today, we check into the original "Radio Free Asia," together with all of its interesting involvements. Let's go back to the beginning, more than half a century ago.

It was on March 1 of the year 1950 that the "Committee for a Free Asia" was legally constituted in California for the purpose of launching a specific radio broadcasting service into China. This radio service, it was intended, would be somewhat similar to another broadcasting service which was under development somewhat simultaneously with a somewhat similar name, "Radio Free Europe." However, unlike its European cousin, the programming from "Radio Free Asia" would not be political in nature, but rather it would focus on agricultural and health matters.

This first version of the new "Radio Free Asia" was inaugurated on Tuesday September 4 in the year, 1951, with live programming produced in the studios of mediumwave station KNBC, at the NBC Radio City facility on the corner of Taylor and O'Farrell Streets in downtown, San Francisco. The programming was relayed live to the Philippines via a shortwave transmitter located at the RCA transmitting station at Bolinas, north of San Francisco. According to the official RCA designators, this regular 6 days a week relay was carried on the Trans-Pacific circuit identified as RCA-C.

According to the two well known international radio monitors in California at the time, August Balbi and Paul Dilg, at least two shortwave channels at RCA Bolinas were in use, though only one at any particular time. These two channels were 8900 kHz and 10250 kHz, both of which were heard in California at a strong level.

It would appear that the American programming for "Radio Free Asia" was received at the RCA receiving station in the Philippines, located out from Manila, usually as a reliable signal, though not always. This programming was then fed to the shortwave transmitters owned by the Republic Broadcasting System in Manila, and then rebroadcast live from transmitters DZI and beamed out on diamond shaped log periodic antennas for reception in China.

Interestingly, at this time in the Philippines, there were several different callsigns on the air under the callsign DZI. Usually we would expect that the callsign DZI would identify one transmitter, with a numeric designator indicating a specific channel. However, during this era in the Philippines, the callsign DZI was in use by six different organizations in Manila, five of which were unrelated. As an example, we present this compiled information taken from various editions of the World Radio Handbook and other sources around that era:

DZI2 1 kW 9550 kHz Bolinao Electronics 1954
DZI2 3 kW 9550 kHz Alto Broadcasting System 1955
DZI3 5 kW 6110 kHz Republic Broadcasting System 1954
DZI5 10 kW 11940 kHz Radio Free Asia 1952
DZI6 1.5 kW 17805 kHz Far East Broadcasting Company 1954
DZI7 .3 kW 6080 kHz Manila Broadcasting Company 1954

In Manila in the Philippines, "Radio Free Asia" was linked up in some undefined way with the Republic Broadcasting System, which was a very new radio broadcasting organization at the time. Their makeshift studios were installed on the 4th floor of the Calvo Building in Escolta, which was in the then business district of Metro Manila. Republic was on the air from assembled mediumwave equipment under the callsign DZBB, and it is presumed that the mediumwave, and also the shortwave, transmitters and rhombic antennas were located out of town.

The shortwave signals from Manila during the 1-3/4 years that "Radio Free Asia" was on the air were always listed at 10 kW. Usually there were two channels in Manila on the air for each broadcast, though occasionally only one was noted. The daily broadcasts, except on Mondays, were of nearly 2-1/2 hours duration, and the original languages were English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Hakka was added in June 1952.

The two shortwave channels in use at Manila were designated as follows:

DZI3 or DZI4 10 kW 6110 kHz
DZI5 or DZI7 10 kW 11940 kHz

In mid 1952, an additional relay station was taken into use, and this was a communication shortwave transmitter on the island of Guam. This station was on the air with 1 kW on 9490 kHz under the callsign KUJ2; and again, it is presumed that this facility was operated by RCA.

It was around this time that RFA personnel were transferred from San Francisco to Manila in an attempt to assess the effectiveness of the "Radio Free Asia" service, and to increase its impact. However, from the very beginning, this first "Radio Free Asia" was ineffective for two major reasons:

All three locations that were on the air shortwave with the programming of "Radio Free Asia," San Francisco, Manila and Guam, were all heard in North America, Europe and the South Pacific. A few QSL letters are known and these were issued from both of the postal addresses, San Francisco and Manila.

The American radio magazine, "Radio News" presented the latest contemporary update on the doings of this first "Radio Free Asia" on an almost monthly basis during its brief life span.

The 1st broadcast from this 1st "Radio Free Asia" was on Tuesday, September 4, 1951; and the final broadcast was on Thursday, April 30, 1953. This station is long since gone, it was unhonored in its own generation, and these days it is well nigh completely forgotten.

AFRS American Forces Radio Service Celebrates 70 Years

The year 2011 forms the 70th anniversary of the earliest origins of the world's most extensive network of local mediumwave and FM radio broadcasting stations. These radio stations have been active on every continent on planet Earth, and in most countries throughout the world; and they have also been active on ships at sea on all of the major oceans, and in many of the lesser waterways. These are the stations of the AFRS network, variously identified according to area, and their total number over the past 70 years runs into multi-hundreds, and perhaps even thousands.

In our program today, we trace the very earliest beginnings of AFRS Radio, the American Forces Radio Service, as it has been known for at least some of its life.

Actually, the very first radio broadcasts for the benefit of American army personnel were made in Paris, France, during the Peace Conference of 1919. President Woodrow Wilson remained over there in Paris for six months in an endeavor to establish permanent peace; and during this time, Walter Lemmon, of later radio fame with the famous Boston shortwave station WRUL, introduced a radio broadcasting service for American personnel on duty in Europe. The official army communication station was used for this purpose during idle time.

During the year 1941, it is now known that a total of six local mediumwave stations were launched in the Americas for the benefit of nearby service personnel. These initial six stations were located in Panama, Alaska and the United States; and five of these stations began as local, unauthorized and unlicensed stations, launched to fulfill a very real need.

The first of these informal AFRS stations was inaugurated in Panama in January 1941 under a contrived callsign, PCAC. During the following September, the NBC network in the United States in a special program gave nationwide coverage to this lonely little radio station down there in tropical Panama.

Next we go up to Alaska where a series of four little informal stations were launched, one after the other. The first of these was located on an army encampment near Sitka, a little north of the Canadian coastal islands and it was on the air under the informal callsign KRB. This station was assembled from a variety of local equipment and the transmitter itself was an enhanced phonograph oscillator.

Shortly afterwards, a more formal station was inaugurated at Nome, on the far west coast right opposite Russian Siberia. Initially this station was assembled as a carrier current station, using the local power system for distribution. It began life in the Autumn of 1941 in a school building, though soon afterwards it was transferred into the 2nd floor of City Hall, above the fire station. Three years later, the Nome station grew into an official army station with a regular FCC callsign, WXLN, with 50 watts on 1400 kHz.

Next we go to Kodiak, a small settlement at the beginning of the Aleutian Islands that jut out into the North Pacific Ocean. This informal station was launched as an army amplifier station on October 28, 1941. It was located on Fort Greely and it was assembled in the usual way from locally available parts. In December, this station became a true radio broadcasting station with an assumed callsign KODK. Two years later, a regular OWI transmitter was installed, emitting 50 watts on 1410 kHz. The callsign for this Kodiak station was regularized with an FCC approved army callsign WVCQ.

A 4th station appeared on the radio dial in Alaska during this same year 1941. This one was also located at Sitka on the Pacific coast and it was inaugurated under a contrived callsign, GAB. At one stage the output of this low power transmitter was connected to a large piece of bronze plate that was dropped in the nearby salt water ocean. This antenna system gave such wide coverage to the radio transmissions that an alternative antenna, a cable dropped out of a window, was substituted instead.

The final AFRS station that was inaugurated during the year 1941 was located in the Madison Barracks at Sacketts Harbor in New York State overlooking Lake Ontario. This station was inaugurated on December 20, 1941 with just 10 watts. However, it was the first AFRS station that was officially approved before it was inaugurated.

So, that then, is the line-up of all of the AFRS stations that were launched during the year 1941; one in Panama, four in Alaska, and one in New York state. We honor the American Forces Radio Service for their 70 years of illustrious service that began with small beginnings and grew into a worldwide giant.

Before leaving the AFRS radio scene, we should mention that most of the callsigns of these stations began with double letters, either WV or WX. It would seem impossible that a whole slew of these alphabetic callsigns in these two double series could be available for use throughout the world.

However, during the 1906 Wireless Convention in Berlin, the United States was allocated callsigns beginning with K, N and W. Soon afterwards, the United States implemented the usage of these callsign series, and they reserved callsigns in the WV and WX series for use by the American army.

Consequently, when the AFRS began to proliferate mediumwave broadcasting stations throughout the Pacific during the war, several hundred callsigns beginning with WV and WX were still available and not in use anywhere else.

It is probable that there are no existing QSLs from these six early AFRS station during the year 1941, though large numbers of QSL from subsequent stations were issued over a period of time.