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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, June 3, 2012

The Story of Radio Broadcasting in Ceylon-6: The Enigmatic Radio SEAC Kandy

The fourth radio broadcasting station in Kandy, the SEAC shortwave radio station, is an enigma. Yes, there are several references in radio magazines to the SEAC shortwave radio station in Kandy, Ceylon, particularly in Australia, and probably also in New Zealand. And yes, occasionally you will read a radio history article that (incorrectly) presents details about the SEAC Kandy shortwave station. And yes, a shortwave station in Ceylon back then did give an identification announcement on air stating: "Here is Kandy."

However, there never was a shortwave radio broadcasting station in Kandy; not a studio and not a transmitter. This is what happened.

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command SEAC, arrived in Kandy, Ceylon from New Delhi. India in June 1944; and soon afterwards, so did four train loads of equipment. He took over the Botanical Gardens at Perideniya, and he established his Asian headquarters in the King's palace, overlooking the neighboring area. In addition, Mountbatten also had his own private railway train for commuting between Kandy and Colombo.

The first transmitter tests from the new "Kandy" shortwave station began on October 11,1944; and at the time, it was stated, they were planning on the broadcast initially of four hours of programming daily. The programming was intended for Forces personnel in the SEAC command areas, and it would be beamed to the Indian subcontinent and to South East Asia.

The broadcasts from SEAC Radio Kandy would be supplemental to the programming that was already being produced by the SEAC broadcasting unit in New Delhi, and which was on the air mediumwave and shortwave over station VUD in Delhi. The timings of the two sets of broadcasts, Delhi and Kandy, would be scheduled daily in such a way that listeners in the intended target areas would have one continuous long series of shortwave programming each day.

Additionally, SEAC Kandy would also transmit news and commentaries to the BBC in London for inclusion in their General Overseas Service on shortwave. SEAC Kandy would also relay the shortwave programming from the BBC London and from the Voice of America in Washington, DC to audiences in Southern Asia and South East Asia.

All of this broadcast schedule, together with locally produced programming, was co-ordinated in a set of borrowed studios, it was stated. In addition, they were also planning on establishing a mediumwave station for coverage of the city of Colombo.

Additional test broadcasts from SEAC Kandy began two weeks later, on October 26 1944 on 15275 kHz and these were monitored in Australia at a good level. Initially, this station identified on air as SEAC Kandy, and also as United Nations Radio. The location announcement stated simply: Here is Kandy. As heard in Australia, the signal was described as strong, no doubt due in part to the saltwater pathway.

For nearly one year, these SEAC broadcasts were noted in Australia, and the last known listing as SEAC Kandy was in October 1945. As stated in an Australian radio magazine, it was a relay of the BBC Forces Program on a new channel, 11765 kHz. All of the known channels for the so-called Radio SEAC Kandy during this time period were: 11765 kHz, 11810 kHz, 15275 kHz and 17815 kHz.

Now, if there was no shortwave transmitter and no studio facility in Kandy, then what is the answer? What was the location for this enigmatic Kandy Radio?

The answer was given to us some time back in a letter from Geoffrey Haggett, who served with SEAC at the time. He was formerly a BBC program producer in England and at SEAC New Delhi, and he subsequently went on to New Zealand for service with Radio New Zealand International. At the time when he wrote to us, he was spending a quite retirement in a regional city in New Zealand. This is what really happened regarding SEAC Kandy.

Initial construction work began on two shortwave transmitter sites at Ekala, a dozen miles north of Colombo, in the early 1940s. These were the large and well known SEAC transmitter station at Ekala, and also an adjoining transmitter base for use by the RAF, Royal Air Force. At the time of the so called Kandy broadcasts, work at the large adjacent SEAC transmitter base was far from completion.

The nearby RAF transmitter station was a self contained facility, with its own power generation system and living accommodations for some 40 staff personnel. Several small shortwave transmitters were installed, Marconi SWB8 transmitters rated at 3.5 kW. These were in use for high speed telegraphy, but they were not equipped with modulators for speech transmission. The antenna systems were directional diamond shaped 3-wire rhombics.

In order to launch the new SEAC radio service, an RCA transmitter model ET4750 rated at 7.5 kW, was installed temporarily in the RAF transmitter building and transmitter tests began on October 11, 1944. Additional test broadcasts began two weeks later on October 26; and on subsequent occasions, this temporary SEAC transmitter also carried some program broadcasts.

A grand opening ceremony for the new and temporary Radio SEAC, Radio Kandy if you please, was planned for Sunday, April 15, 1945, with Lord Louis Mountbatten himself present for the occasion. Special test broadcasts went out in advance on the Friday and Saturday. However, during the Saturday evening test broadcast, the modulator on this temporary shortwave transmitter failed, due to the fact that apparently it had not been tropicalized at the time of manufacture.

The now faulty modulator was replaced by a spare unit, and this failed also, for apparently the same reason; that is, it had not been prepared at the time of manufacture for use in the harsh climatic conditions found in the tropics.

Now, it just happened that there was a small .5 kW transmitter in the RAF Transmitter Building that was in use for voice communication with aircraft. This transmitter was a BC610, designed by Hallicrafters and manufactured in the United States for army voice communications.

This small low powered unit was hurriedly taken over for the prestigious opening ceremony during the evening of the next day, Sunday April 15, 1945. It is not known what channel was in use, but it is presumed that it was a shortwave communication frequency, and this would mean that almost no one heard the official opening ceremony. Mountbatten, of course, knew nothing of these goings on.

The studios at the time were located at 191 Turret Road, opposite the Town Hall in Colombo. However, the main building was still under renovation, and a temporary studio was installed in the wash house opposite.

In reality then, Radio SEAC Kandy was a shortwave broadcasting station:

Now, we would ask: Why the secrecy regarding this new radio broadcasting station? We would suggest that disinformation regarding the SEAC shortwave station in Ceylon was for the same reason as we have discovered regarding at least three other cases of similar disinformation; that is, a convenient cover up regarding the actual specific locations during wartime conditions. We should also remember that this new SEAC radio broadcasting station was temporarily located in a high security area, the Royal Air Force Transmitting Station at Ekala.

On another occasion, we will present the story of the other three disinformation shortwave stations from this same time period; and some time soon, we will continue in our series of topics regarding the radio broadcasting scene in Sri Lanka.