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, September 9, 2012

The Voice of American Relay Station at Schenectady in New York - Pt. III

On two previous occasions, we have investigated the origins of the mighty shortwave station operated by General Electric at South Schenectady, in New York state. In those two earlier editions of Wavescan, you heard the story of the early origins of this shortwave station, followed by its usage during the era of experimentation in the 1920s & 1930s. In our program today, you will hear the 3rd segment in the story of this shortwave station, the era when it was on the air as a relay station for the Voice of America.

At the time when the experimental callsigns were regularized to standard broadcast callsigns in September 1939, GE General Electric operated just 3 shortwave transmitters that were in use for the broadcast of informational and entertainment radio programs. These transmitters were:

W2XAD 25 kW which was redesignated as WGEA
W2XAF 40 kW which was redesignated as WGEO
New 100 kW for service as WGEA & WGEO

In 1941, the 25 kW WGEA was upgraded to 50 kW; and likewise, two years later, the 40 kW WGEO was upgraded, also to 50 kW.

However, in a very interesting and unexpected move, the federal government bought the very new 100 kW transmitter in December 1941. This transmitter was on the air at South Schenectady for just 2-1/2 years, and during this time, it was in service under five different callsigns.

Initially, it took over some of the regular transmissions of W2XAD & W2XAF at various times of the day. Then after the regularization of experimental shortwave callsigns in September 1939, it was in use with the same programming, but now under the new callsigns WGEA or WGEO, depending on beam and frequency. However, at the time of the 1939 callsign change, this 100 kW transmitter was allocated its own specific callsign, WGEU, though this was officially changed just one week later to the more familiar WGEO.

From this time onwards, up until it was procured by the American government, the 100 kW GE transmitter was on the air as an augmentation of the regular GE services beamed to Europe & the Americas. This transmitter was subsequently transferred to the West Coast and installed at Islais Creek in San Francisco, California under the callsign KWID where it remained for a period of 13 years.

In 1959, transmitter KWID was sold to the Far East Broadcasting Company and remodeled for installation on Okinawa as mediumwave KSBU. Then, when Okinawa reverted to Japanese sovereignty, the station was removed in 1977, and reusable parts were taken to Cheju Island in South Korea for use with their superpowered mediumwave station HLDA.

Immediately following the removal of the original 100 kW transmitter at South Schenectady, the very old remodeled 50 kW standby unit was taken into regular service on a temporary basis. However, simultaneous to all of these developments, GE was constructing another 100 kW transmitter, and this was officially inaugurated on September 21, 1942.

Soon after the outbreak of war in continental Europe, GE increased the output of programming beamed across the Atlantic. Much of their broadcast time was taken on relay from the NBC network, though GE did produce some of its own programming.

Then, on November 1, 1942, the federal government took over all of the available shortwave stations still on the air in the United States. At that time, GE at South Schenectady was on the air with 3 active shortwave transmitters. These were:

WGEA-WGEO 100 kW 2nd high powered transmitter

During the following year, an older 25 kW transmitter in the transmitter building at South Schenectady was rebuilt and taken into service as WGEX. Initially, this unit, which was inaugurated on July 15, 1943, was on the air on behalf of the Voice of America with news bulletins in Morse Code. However, beginning on April 3 of the following year, WGEX was in use also for the broadcast of voiced programming for the Voice of America.

A whole bevy of callsigns, regular, new and short term, were in use to identify the Schenectady transmitters during the latter part of World War 2 and beyond. In addition to the regular calls, WGEA, WGEO & WGEX, the following supplementary callsigns were noted by international radio monitors in the United States and the South Pacific:

WGEC 11847 kHz April & May 1943
WGED 9525 kHz 1948 Listed in WRHB
WGER 15330 kHz March 1943
WGES 11840 kHz May 1944

And also the strange

"A" 11845 May 1943

as heard in Australia with test broadcasts.

In August 1950, the three regular shortwave transmitters at South Schenectady were redesignated with a new series of callsigns, and:

100 kW WGEO became WGEO1
50 kW WGEA became WGEO2
25 kW WGEX became WGEO3

Then 7 years later again, the use of the numeric designator was discontinued, and each of the shortwave transmitters at Schenectady identified on air simply as WGEO, regardless of which unit was active.

General Electric, Schenectady was a very reliable verifier of reception reports and throughout the years they issued untold thousands of QSL cards. Current research indicates that they issued anything up to 20,000 QSL cards in the familiar blue map series, in probably more than a dozen different printings. Then there were also some special printings of specific QSL cards, such as for example, the double sized folded card in Spanish and Portuguese for Latin America. In addition, multitudes of QSL cards were issued by VOA headquarters from February 1943 onwards for the relay of their programming over the WGEO transmitters.

The end came in 1963. The old and tired shortwave transmitters at South Schenectady were switched off for the last time in 1963. The new large VOA station at Greenville, North Carolina was now active, and these old and now unreliable GE units at South Schenectady were no longer needed.

The transmitter building at South Schenectady was demolished, and the shortwave rhombic antenna system, all were dismantled a few years later. The only reminders of this historic and at one time very large shortwave station are a few unidentified pieces of debris. Nearby to what was this old shortwave location is the current transmitter and tower for mediumwave WGY; and the areas around this transmitter facility are either vacant or built up as a housing estate.