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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, March 10, 2013

Focus on Africa: Radio Broadcasting in the Land of the Mountain Lion - 2: The Radio Era on Shortwave & Mediumwave

This is now part 2 in our series of topics on the story of radio broadcasting in the coastal African country of Sierra Leone and we cover the entire era of shortwave and mediumwave broadcasting which stretches from 1951 to 2002. We begin with the brief introduction of an experimental broadcast service on shortwave from their capital city, Freetown.

It was in the earlier part of the year 1951 that this experimental radio broadcasting service was introduced, and it was on the air from a 300 watt transmitter on the frequency 9630 kHz. It would be presumed that this was a utility transmitter already in use for communication purposes. The address for postal communication was given as the Public Relations office at 3B Trelawney Street in Freetown.

Due to a lack of adequate funding, this initial experimental radio broadcasting service was terminated in July, no more than a few months after its original introduction. The 1952 edition of the World Radio Handbook lists this shortwave station, though by this time this program service was already ended.

However three years later, a new endeavor began for the commencement of a radio broadcasting service in Sierra Leone. The British government provided a grant to establish a radio broadcasting station and an engineer from the BBC London was sent out to Freetown to work on this new facility.

This new radio broadcasting station was officially inaugurated in 1956, with a new set of studios at Pademba Road New England, a new 5 kW shortwave transmitter on top of the hill at Hill Station, and the government administration of the station at the Public Relations Office now located at 26A Westmoreland Street in Freetown. The signal from the shortwave transmitter on the familiar channel 3316 kHz was fed into a single wire dipole antenna, and the programming was mainly an off air relay on shortwave from the BBC in London.

The 1st known reception report for the broadcasts of the new Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service with the 5 kW transmitter on 3316 kHz at the hill top location was from Sweden and it was dated around September 1956. However, even though QSL cards were printed subsequently, most reception reports were ignored due to limited funding for the operation of the station.

Now, by the time the engineer from London finally took over as the Station Director in April 1958, he found the station in complete disarray. The station was run down, the finances were an unorganized mess, the studio had no sound proofing, the one microphone was suspended from the ceiling, the transmitter was running at low power, no spare parts were available, and the hill top property was so small that there was insufficient space for an adequate antenna system.

Consequently, ambitious plans were developed for nationwide radio coverage, with new studios & transmitters in Freetown, regional studios at seven country locations, and three shortwave transmitters at 10 kW at Magburaka in the center of the country. These tentative plans were subsequently modified with the suggestion of providing nationwide radio coverage via a 100 kW shortwave transmitter on the edge of Freetown. However, almost none of those projected plans were ever implemented.

What actually happened was that the original studios at Pemba Road were refurbished and enlarged, and a new and more adequate transmitter station was built on a new site at Goderich, closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Two Marconi transmitters at 10 kW each were installed; one for mediumwave coverage of the capital city area, and a shortwave model BD268 for nationwide coverage. A multi-element antenna system was installed for national coverage on shortwave.

The 5 kW shortwave transmitter was also removed from Hill Station and re-installed at the new Goderich facility. The inauguration of this new mediumwave & shortwave station took place in 1961. The BBC engineer left Sierra Leone in the same year 1961 and returned to London, and by this time most of the developmental work had been completed.

During the 1980s, the two Marconi transmitters, 10 kW each on mediumwave & shortwave, were replaced by two new Continentals at the same power output; and then some 10 years later in 1995, these two Continentals were refurbished.

During an attack by the Nigerian Air Force on October 16, 1997, it was stated that a large radio station was destroyed in a bombing run. However, the station that was destroyed was an FM & TV station on top of Leicester Peak in Freetown, and not the mediumwave & shortwave station at Goderich.

A 50 kW mediumwave station was on the air for a few years from a country location at Kenema; and the main city service on mediumwave was provided with a 50 kW transmitter around the same time.

In 1966, it was stated, a 1/2 kW Rediphone shortwave transmitter was in use on the frequency 5980 kHz, and according to the WRTVHB, this unit was on the air for a few years, into the earlier 1970s. It would be presumed that this low powered transmitter was also located at the Goderich transmitter station.

The final listing for mediumwave coverage in Sierra Leone is shown in the WRTVHB for the year 2002, and the final listing for shortwave is shown for the year 2005, though it was inactive at the time. The last known logging of the 10 kW shortwave unit on the familiar channel 3316 kHz is found in the British DX Club Bulletin in January 2002. All radio broadcasting coverage anywhere in Sierra Leone these days is on the standard FM band 2.

The usual broadcast frequencies on mediumwave in Freetown were around the 1200 kHz range; at 1200, 1205 & 1206 kHz, with 10 kW initially and 50 kW during the subsequent era. On shortwave, the usual frequencies at Hill Station & Goderich were 3316 kHz & 5980 kHz, initially with 5 kW and subsequently with 10 kW.

Anyone who holds a valid QSL letter, or the printed QSL card from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting station, does indeed hold a historic treasure from the earlier days of radio broadcasting in this small West African country.

Next time here in Wavescan, the shortwave station in Sierra Leone meets its Waterloo.