Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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, February 5, 2012

Colonial Radio During World War 2 - Part 2: The French Era

The German Empire was extended completely over territorial France when the two countries signed an armistice agreement on June 22, 1940. Included in this agreement was the division of continental France into two separate territories; the northern area was occupied by German forces; and the southern area was not occupied by German forces, though it was required to acknowledge the German authority. The southern territory became known as Vichy France with the local government established in the small town of Vichy, somewhat in the center of this newly designated territory.

The division of France into the two different territories produced a very difficult situation for the French people, both in France itself as well as throughout their extensive empire. Should they show loyalty to the official government leadership who had signed the agreements for German occupation? Or should they show loyalty to the Free French government that was still under development in London? And what about the vast French Empire that was spread abroad in the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific? With whom should these colonies pledge their allegiance?

The French territories in Asia consisted of the countries we now know as Kampuchea, Laos and Vietnam. Catholic missionaries from France began to establish mission stations in South East Asia in the 1600s, and in fact the major second language in these territories was European French.

The armistice document signed in Paris in 1940 required that the French territories in South East Asia would be administered from Vichy France. Quite soon, Radio Saigon began to assume a new role, that of the official voice of Vichy France to the French Empire.

However, the French colonies in the Pacific adopted an alternative stance and they demonstrated allegiance to the Free French government in exile in London. It was at this stage that an interesting exchange of words took place between two of the French shortwave stations, Radio Saigon in Vietnam and the low powered station FK8AA on New Caledonia. However, it is probable that neither station could actually hear the broadcasts from the other.

Due to its new role, Radio Saigon issued statements over the air requiring the Pacific colonies to toe the official line and pledge allegiance to the Vichy government. However, New Caledonia 's FK8AA issued a statement over the air, indicating that their own local government knew what was best, and they pledged allegiance to the Free French government in London. Three months later, the Japanese Empire took over the French colonies in South East Asia, and the broadcasts from Radio Saigon took on another flavor again.

Over in Africa, the French territory of the Congo did exactly the same as the neighboring Belgian territory, as was mentioned in this program last week. At the same time as the new Radio Brazzaville was under construction, so was the new OTC in neighboring Belgian Congo. The two cities, Brazzaville and Leopoldville, are in reality twin cities, situated across the Congo River from each other, though they are actually located in two separate countries, French Congo and Belgian Congo.

Both stations, Radio Brazzaville and OTC Leopoldville, were constructed at the same time with 50 kW RCA transmitters from the United States. Both stations were officially inaugurated in May 1943, though the Belgian station was the first one on the air with regular programming. These two stations were just 5 miles apart.

Radio Brazzaville supported the Free French movement in London, and it was the voice of the Free French to Africa and to the world. Much of the programming was produced locally, though it is understood that they also relayed the BBC London and VOA Washington at times. The BBC programming was beamed to Africa and the Americas, and the VOA programming was beamed to Europe and to Africa also. The United States Consulate in Brazzaville provided support for the dissemination of information about the United States over Radio Brazzaville.

Over on the Atlantic side of North America is a small French island, lying just a few miles off the south coast of the considerably larger island of Newfoundland. This island is in reality two separate islands joined by a narrow isthmus, a causeway with a highway. When France signed the 1940 armistice with Germany, the local government in St Pierre & Miquelon opted for loyalty with the Vichy government over there in continental Europe.

The first radio station on St Pierre was a communication facility under the callsign FQN. In 1941, there were two shortwave transmitters in use in St Pierre; 500 watts on the higher shortwave frequencies, and 5 kW on the lower shortwave frequencies. An experimental broadcasting service on shortwave in the French language, their first broadcasting endeavor, began during the year 1941.

Under the orders of General de Gaulle in London, a flotilla of Free French navy vessels arrived at St Pierre on December 24, 1941. Armed personnel swarmed across the island, arresting Vichy sympathizers, and installing Free French personnel into government leadership. Likewise, the radio station FQN also changed hands, though the broadcast of radio programming on shortwave apparently came to an end.

The other territories in the French Empire, located in the Caribbean and South America, were not involved in these interesting radio events during this era.