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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, November 18, 2012

The 3rd Radio Free Asia or The Voice of Free Asia: Was there also a 5th Radio Free Asia?

Over a period of time here in Wavescan, we have been stating that there was a total of 4 different radio broadcasting organizations on the air under the title, "Radio Free Asia." On previous occasions, we have told the story of the 1st, 2nd & 4th "Radio Fee Asias", and today, we present the story of the 3rd "Radio Free Asia."

Interestingly though, as a result of the spate of intensive research regarding these Radio Free Asia stations, we have discovered information that would suggest that a 5th Radio Free Asia was planned, and it would appear that construction work began on this project, maybe a couple of times, though apparently it never came to full fruition.

Anyway, let's look now at the story of what we would call in chronological order, the 3rd Radio Free Asia.

It was back in the year 1963 that negotiations between the governments of the United States and India resulted in an agreement for the Voice of America to establish a giant mediumwave station on the edge of the city of Calcutta, or Kolkata, as it is known today. It was intended that this new facility would also be available for the broadcast of programming on behalf of AIR, All India Radio, and also for Radio Free Asia.

This huge mediumwave station would be rated at a power level of one megawatt, and after 5 years, VOA would sell it to the Indian government for just R1. A transmitter, apparently already in storage, was procured for this new relay station; and this was in fact 2 transmitters at 500 kW each, manufactured by Continental Electronics in the United States.

However, when the information about the projected high powered American radio station near Calcutta was printed in the newspapers in India, public opinion rose up against the project, and the Indian government cancelled their agreement to establish this station, over the issue of Indian non-alignment in regional politics. The American government then transferred the entire project to nearby Thailand.

Two years later, on August 11, 1965, the United States & Thailand signed an agreement for the construction & operation of the projected new powerful mediumwave station and programming would be shared between the Voice of America & Radio Thailand as the Voice of Free Asia. However, the entries in radio magazines at the time stated that this new VOA/RFE station would be located in northern Thailand, and that it would operate at 400 kW, apparently with just one of the already available 500 kW transmitters on the air at a time at this location.

Then 2 years later, it was stated in an Australian radio magazine that work on the new one megawatt mediumwave station in northern Thailand was nearing completion. The location for this new radio station was given as Tak Li, 300 miles north of Bangkok (perhaps on the American Air Force base nearby). This location in northern Thailand is rather near the famous tourist resort, Chiang Mai.

Then in January 1968, test broadcasts from this new facility were noted in New Zealand & Australia on 1580 kHz, and the station announcement in English stated: "This is a test of Radio Free Asia relaying the programs of the Voice of America." Interestingly, our 1st QSL card verifying the reception of this station 2 years later, was the familiar VOA blue map card, but typed onto the card was the statement, "Free Asia R. S.", which we would read as "Free Asia Radio Station."

However, we should state that there never was a one megawatt mediumwave station located up in the areas of northern Thailand. This new megapower station was installed at twin locations quite near Bangkok. The transmitter station was/is located on 56 acres near the two villages known as Ban Pachi & Ban Ra Som, some 67 miles north of Bangkok. This station has been identified on occasions also as Bangkok and Ayuthaya.

Two 500 kW transmitters operate in combined mode on 1575 kHz, though the original frequency was 1580 kHz. The original transmitters were replaced with 2 new units at the same power level during a modernization project in the 1980s.

The 3 tower antenna system allows for two slightly different coverage areas oriented generally towards the north. Interestingly, when the broadcasts change from a VOA relay to the Thai programming of the Voice of Free Asia, there is a break in transmission, apparently for a change in antenna configuration.

The receiver station was/is located on 25 acres near the village of Ban Klang, some 25 miles north of Bangkok, and 40 miles distant from the transmitter station. VOA programming is received on satellite these days, though originally it was taken off air shortwave from the Philippines. Thai programming from Bangkok comes in on FM, and the compiled programming is transferred live from the receiver station to the transmitter station via a microwave relay.

Back in the year 1977, the noted American international radio monitor, Mike Hardester, was on service on the island of Okinawa, and he took the opportunity to make a visit to the VOA/VOFA radio station near Bangkok in Thailand. He was informed during that visit with the following information, and we quote from his article: "At present, the Government of Thailand is working on the construction of a Voice of Free Asia station near Lamphun (Hilltribe transmitter). The frequency in not known, however it is likely to be on mediumwave."

The information that Hardester received during his memorable visit to Thailand fits into the other known information about a northern location for a possible VOA-RFA/VOFA radio broadcasting station. The town of Lamphun in northern Thailand is also rather near the famous tourist resort, Chiang Mai.

So, in summary, what is the tangible information about VOA & RFA/VOFA in Thailand? We would suggest the following:

  1. The original plan for the station to be located near Calcutta was approved, and then cancelled.
  2. The entire project was then transferred to Thailand, with a northern location at Tak Li under consideration, as well as the twin locations much nearer Bangkok that were finally chosen.
  3. Preliminary work on a 2nd VOA-RFA-VOFA station at the northern location, Tak Li, apparently took place but never came to fruition.
  4. Originally, the station near Bangkok was known at times as Radio Free Asia, but more often as the Voice of Free Asia.
  5. The Thai government revived the project for a northerly version of the Voice of Free Asia, though this never came to fruition either.
  6. We should mention also the more recent VOA shortwave station that was installed near Udorn Thani in the northeast of Thailand, but that is another story for another occasion.