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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, September 23, 2012

The Olympic Games on Shortwave

The 2012 Olympic games in London, the 30th Olympiad, ended a little over a month ago, and now would be a good time for us to take a historic look at a radio related topic, the "Olympic Games on Shortwave." But first though, we delve into the ancient historic backgrounds of these now celebrated games.

It was back 3-1/2 thousand years ago, that the early Greek settlements over there in continental Europe began to hold religious festivals, to which were attached various forms of active games and sports events. According to the historians, it was 700 years later again, in the year 776 BC, that the 1st competitive sports were staged that are considered to be the actual ancient forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The location chosen for these events was Olympia which is located on the west coast of the southern Greek peninsula that looks like a large island. In those days, only young men could compete, and regardless of where they lived and which city-state they represented, it was a requirement that they could speak the Greek language. It was a time of political peace, of competitive sports and friendship association.

However, as time went by, the quality of performance in this original series of Olympic Games, which were staged every four years, deteriorated, and in 394 AD, that is a thousand years after they were first introduced, the Roman Emperor Theodosius ordered them closed. One hundred years later, a major earthquake destroyed the area of Olympia; and subsequently, a landslide buried the locality.

In the mid 1800s, a wealthy businessman in Athens funded a local version of the Olympic Games in Athens itself; and then in 1875, a German archaeologist discovered and unearthed the original historic site at Olympia. Comes the year 1894, and a wealthy French baron proposed the re-introduction of the Olympic Games on an international scale. Two years later, a revived version of the Olympic Games was staged in the city of Athens.

These days, the modern Olympics is a massive international extravaganza, lasting about 2-1/2 weeks, and staged in different world cities on each occasion, with 10,000 athletes from almost every country performing. The opening ceremony in London on July 27 this year, was watched by one billion people on TV around the world.

For the first time, radio entered the Olympic scene during the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. There were some news summaries presented on local radio, and the BBC London gave evening coverage to some of the major events. Likewise, at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928, there was a brief news roundup at the end of the day, but no live broadcasts.

Live radio coverage became a reality for the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. Both NBC & CBS presented live coverage of several of the main events and this was relayed live across the nation from New York to California, on both mediumwave and shortwave. It is clearly stated that the General Electric shortwave stations at South Schenectady, W2XAD & W2XAF, also carried this live programming from Lake Placid.

We would suggest that it is probable that several of the other shortwave stations that were active during this era also carried some of this live commentary, such as KDKA-W8XK, WABC-W2XE and WJZ-W3XL & W3XAL.

Quite recently, Jim Hilliker at Monterey in California released a document on the internet, comparing the radio coverage at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles with the recent Olympics in London England. In his well researched document, Hilliker reveals that there was no live coverage for the Los Angeles events, though several of the local mediumwave stations did present a resume of the day's events in special broadcasts each evening.

Interestingly, there was a New Zealand born aspiring film star in Hollywood at the time, the 37 year old Nola Luxford, and she applied to mediumwave station KFI in Los Angeles for the privilege of making a daily broadcast beamed to New Zealand during the Olympics. Her hour long broadcast was on the air every night at midnight, which coincided with early evening in New Zealand.

At the time, station KFI was on the air with a recently installed 50 kW transmitter on the mediumwave channel 640 kHz and this station was often heard at night with a listenable signal in New Zealand. In addition, the Luxford nightly program over KFI was also broadcast on shortwave for wide area coverage. It is not stated just which American shortwave stations carried the Luxford Olympic programming, but it is probable that the RCA shortwave station located at Bolinas, north of San Francisco, was on the air with this programming beamed across the Pacific.

The voice of the expatriate New Zealand girl, Nola Luxford with her nightly Olympic commentaries, was relayed live over the YA network throughout New Zealand. We could guess that the radio networks in Australia also took the same opportunity of featuring these regular evening broadcasts of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

The mediumwave stations in the YA network in New Zealand back at that time were:

1YA Auckland 820 kHz 1/2 kW
2YA Wellington 720 kHz 5 kW
3YA Christchurch 980 kHz 1/2 kW
4YA Dunedin 650 kHz 1/2 kW

However, shortwave coverage of the Olympics really took a great stride forward during the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. Up until that time, there was just one shortwave broadcasting station in Germany and this was located at Zeesen, around 10 miles south of Berlin.

There were just three shortwave transmitters initially on the air at Zeesen, though in preparation for the Berlin Olympics, a total of eight additional shortwave transmitters at 50 kW each were ordered. These transmitters, all of a similar design and designated as the Olympia model, were constructed by the Telefunken & Lorenz electronic companies in Berlin.

When these transmitters were installed, their many and varied frequencies were identified on air with a sequence of callsigns in the DJ series, beginning with DJA, DJB, DJC, etc. The live Olympic programming from these transmitters was heard around the globe and it was relayed by local stations in many countries throughout Europe, the Americas and the South Pacific.

In two weeks time, we will present the story of the rather different shortwave coverage for the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne Australia.