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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, January 29, 2012

Colonial Radio during World War 2 - Part 1: The African Scene

Back towards the middle of last century, the countries in Europe in particular, and the rest of the world in general, were in a state of confusion and perplexity due to the antagonism and belligerence of major international powers. Beginning during the first weekend in September 1939, these festering antagonisms boiled over, and several of the powerful countries in Europe aligned themselves into either of two differing camps, the Allies or the Axis as they were known in English.

However, at the same time, several countries in Europe declared neutrality, though only four were ultimately successful in maintaining their own precarious neutrality; Switzerland and Sweden, and on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal. Interestingly, in at least two of these neutral countries, a couple of what we would call rather unusual radio events took place.

Switzerland, as we know, retained its neutrality in both World War 1 and World War 2, and this small though important country has played a vital world role in the areas of the International Red Cross and the original League of Nations. In both areas, international radio broadcasting has played its part also. In researching radio events back during these half dozen critical years around the middle of last century, some of these occurrences are now looked upon with somewhat of a surprise.

In Switzerland for example, an international shortwave service had been introduced in September 1932 when program broadcasting began over two transmitters on behalf of two different broadcasting organizations. One of these transmitters was obtained from the Marconi Company in England and it was on the air under the primary callsign HBL, and the other transmitter was a French made unit and it was on the air under the primary callsign HBP.

Each transmitter was rated at 20 kW, according to the accepted electrical values of that era. Generally speaking, programming was on the air from these new transmitters for just a few hours over the weekend, on behalf of both the League of Nations and the Swiss Broadcasting Service.

Even though Switzerland was totally surrounded by belligerent nations during the war, yet postal mail was delivered into and out of this central European country, and we would guess that it had to be by airmail. For example, a QSL card printed in black and white with a picture of the antenna system, verifies a reception report from a listener in New Zealand during this time period. The confirmation information states that callsign HBH, a secondary channel callsign for Radio Nations in Switzerland, was logged on 18480 kHz on January 3, 1941.

Perhaps even more interestingly, we come to the year 1944, and by this time, intensive warfare is now raging in the Pacific, as well as still in Europe. Some time during the month of May, Radio Tokyo arranged the broadcast of a DX program in the Swedish language, beamed to Sweden. This one time only broadcast was radiated from a 50 kW shortwave transmitter on 15225 kHz under the callsign JLT3. According to the American radio magazine, Radio News, Radio Tokyo received a total of 518 reception reports from listeners in Sweden for this broadcast.

During the month of May in the year 1940, the expanding German Empire overran the coastal European country of Belgium. The entire government of Belgium fled to London in England, where they operated in exile, though the royal family chose to remain in Belgium and share in the difficulties with their subjects.

The Belgian government in exile arranged for the broadcast of national radio programming over shortwave stations at three different locations; the BBC London, Voice of America in New York, and also over a new station in Central Africa. This new station was located at Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo, now known as Kinshasa in Zaire.

During the year 1941, the Belgian government in exile in London began negotiations to obtain a 50 kW shortwave transmitter for installation at Leopoldville in central Africa. This new unit was a 50 kW RCA transmitter from the United States, and it was installed in a property in Leopoldville that was in use by the Order of Jesuits and the British Institute. Soon afterwards, the entire new radio station was re-installed in a new building, at the College Albert Cultural Centre which had been the home of the Jesuit radio station, Radio Leo.

The new shortwave station OTC underwent test broadcasts early in the year 1943 for which QSL cards were issued from both New York and Leopoldville. Station OTC was officially inaugurated on May 16, 1943, with local programming, with scheduled relays from the Voice of America to Africa and Europe, and with BBC programming beamed from London to the United States. Interestingly, the CPRV QSL collection in the United States holds a QSL card issued from the BBC office in New York, verifying the BBC relay via OTC Leopoldville on 9783 kHz.

At the same time as OTC Leopoldville was under construction, so was a new Radio Brazzaville station in neighboring French Congo. The two cities, Leopoldville and Brazzaville, are in reality twin cities, located across the Congo River from each other, though they are actually located in two separate countries, Belgian Congo and French Congo.

Both stations, OTC and Radio Brazzaville, were constructed at the same time with 50 kW RCA transmitters, though the Belgian station was the first on air. These two stations were just 5 miles apart.

Just as a matter of interest, the shortwave station located at Leopoldville acted as a relay station for the Voice of America during two different eras. When the station was newly on the air in 1943 with the 50 kW RCA transmitter from the United States, VOA programming from the United States was received off air and re-transmitted live from Leopoldville to Europe, and also to South Africa. It is probable that this first relay arrangement continued until around the end of the year 1945.

The second era of activity as a VOA relay station took place during the year 1958 when political upheaval was evident in central Africa. Leopoldville was noted on 15260 kHz with VOA programming for Africa, over a 50 kW transmitter, as reported by John Callarman of Texas in a 2007 edition of Glenn Hauser's DX Listening Digest. The Leopoldville relay was shown in the VOA schedule for that period.

The original 50 kW transmitter in Africa had been removed after the end of World War 2 and re-installed in Belgium; and subsequently, another 50 kW, presumably from RCA in the United States, was installed at Leopoldville.

Now, that's all on this topic for today, next week, we plan to continue with this interesting information, and we will present the story of the French colonies during this same era.