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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, August 26, 2012

Schenectady on Shortwave - Pt. 2: The Voice of Electricity

Here in Wavescan today, we take up the continuing story of the General Electric Company in Schenectady New York, and their involvement in international shortwave broadcasting in the era before World War II.

It was back in the year 1923, that an experimental 10 kW shortwave transmitter was installed at their "Radio Laboratory" in South Schenectady. This unit was licensed with the callsign 2XI, the same callsign that was issued to GE General Electric back 100 years ago, on August 13, 1912.

This new shortwave transmitter was inaugurated on January 1 of the following year, 1924, as a program relay for the comparatively new mediumwave station WGY. The shortwave 2XI was noted, for example, with a relay from WGY beamed to California on 3000 kHz early in that same year.

However, the usage of the 2XI shortwave transmitter at South Schenectady ended at mid year when it was removed and re-installed at the RCA station at Tuckerton in New Jersey for use in Morse Code communication traffic. The callsign at this new location was WGH, and the usual operating frequency was the same 3000 kHz.

However, quite simultaneously, two shortwave transmitters were under construction at South Schenectady for use in experimental radio broadcasting. A 25 kW unit was licensed under the callsign W2XAD, a callsign that was previously held by a shipping company in Jersey City, New Jersey; and a 40 kW unit was licensed under the callsign W2XAF, a callsign that was previously held by the International Radio Telegraph Company in New York.

Both of these new transmitters were installed in the large new transmitter building which was located on the east side of what is now the current WGY transmitter building in South Schenectady. Back then, this area was quite remote and undeveloped, though today the area is highly developed with housing subdivisions.

The antenna system for this new shortwave facility was a fan shaped center fed array made with 3/8 inch hemp rope overwound with fine copper wire.

In June 1925, W2XAF began a regular program relay from WGY; and in July of the following year, a similar service began from W2XAD. Both stations were often heard at a good level in Europe, throughout the Americas, and also in the South Pacific.

On many occasions, foreign radio stations received the broadcasts off air from the shortwave transmitters at South Schenectady and relayed the programming live to local audiences. For example, the WGY programming regarding the arrival in the United States of the German made Graf Zeppelin in September 1929 was relayed on shortwave back to Germany. In 1930, the programming from W2XAF was received at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and regularly fed into the local telephone system as a form of cable radio.

Then, during the year 1928, special programming was beamed to Canada for broadcast on the passenger trains operated by Canadian National Railways. This special programming was presented live by both mediumwave stations, WGY and KDKA, with a parallel relay on their shortwave outlets in both Schenectady, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It would be presumed that this special programming was received on shortwave in Canada and then fed to their own mediumwave network of CNR stations across the Dominion for reception on the trains as they were traveling.

There were also many occasions when GE Schenectady received shortwave programming from foreign countries and rebroadcast this programming via their own shortwave transmitters in an onward relay beamed to other locations. For example, on Christmas Day 1931, GE received a shortwave broadcast from Berlin in Germany and relayed it live on shortwave to the passenger liner "Bremen" at sea in the Atlantic.

In addition, there were occasions when special programming on mediumwave WGY was relayed on shortwave to foreign countries for direct reception by specific personnel. For example, GE Schenectady made a special series of broadcasts for reception by the American exploration party in Greenland in July 1927; and to the American expedition on the Paraguay River in South America in March 1928; and to the Byrd Expedition in Antarctica in 1930.

Beginning in very early 1935, the twin shortwave stations at South Schenectady were given a new identification signal, the massive crash of 10 million volts of electricity. Their new on air slogan became "The Voice of Electricity."

It is true that on occasions the GE shortwave programming was broadcast under supplementary callsigns and on other shortwave channels. For example, callsign W2XAC was noted with experimental broadcasts on 8690 kHz in October 1933; and in September 1934, W2XO was on the air with a regular schedule on 12850 kHz in parallel with the two shortwave transmitters W2XAD and W2XAF, and also mediumwave WGY.

However, during the 1930s, the regular daily scheduling from W2XAD was always transmitted on 9550 kHz, or 15330 kHz or 21500 kHz, depending upon the time of the day; and W2XAF was always noted on only one channel 9530 kHz. In fact, beginning in October 1929, both the 25 kW W2XAD and the 40 kW W2XAF were on the air with the transmission of radio broadcast programming only.

In August 1937, GE began the construction of a huge 100 kW shortwave transmitter for use in the broadcast of radio programming beamed to Europe, the Americas and the South Pacific. It was intended that this new high powered transmitter would replace either W2XAD or W2XAF at times during the broadcast day, according to the requirements of on air scheduling. A new curtain antenna system was also under construction at the same time.

The 1st known test broadcast from this new 100 kW transmitter was heard in the United States at 10:00 pm on July 26, 1939, under the callsign W2XAF. Additional test broadcasts were noted from this unit during the following weeks.

With the shadow of war looming over continental Europe, the FCC in the United States required all experimental shortwave broadcasting stations to adopt new callsigns in place of the experimental callsigns hitherto in use, effective on September 1, 1939. Thus, it was that General Electric adopted the new regularized callsigns of WGEA for W2XAD and WGEO for W2XAF. GE issued a circular letter dated August 8, stating that the new callsigns were already in use, a few weeks early. In addition, "Time" magazine for August 28 confirms that these new callsigns were in use already for a couple of weeks.

According to FCC publications, the new 100 kW transmitter was allocated the additional GE callsign WGEU effective on September 1, though this was changed one week later to WGEO.

OK! Now, in two weeks time, we plan to conclude the story of the General Electric shortwave stations at South Schenectady with their usage as relay stations on behalf of the Voice of America.