"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 17, 2013
An Almost Forgotten Shortwave Station on an American Island in the Pacific
An Almost Forgotten Shortwave Station on an American Island in the Pacific! Where is the island? And what was the station? That's our opening topic for today here in Wavescan.
Actually, the island is twenty two miles long and eight miles wide, and it is located on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, just twenty miles off the coast of California. It is a tourist island and a vacation location for a million visitors each year who come ashore from nearby Los Angeles. The island name is Catalina, or more completely, Santa Catalina, and the tourist town on this island is known as Avalon.
It was in the year 1918, that the 37 year old son of multi-millionaire New Yorkers, Major Jordan Lawrence Mott, came to live in Avalon on Catalina Island. During the Great War, he had served his country as an officer in the Army Signal Corps.
Just two years later, Mott constructed his own radio station and was granted an amateur operator's license with the callsign 6BX. During the following year, he accepted an off-site appointment as the Assistant Editor for the new radio magazine, Pacific Radio News. The March issue of this magazine gave two full stories with pictures about Mott's new amateur radio station 6BX. During the following year, the callsign for the Mott station was changed to 6ZW.
In the meantime, Mott was also granted an experimental callsign, 6XAD, and this was issued around mid-year 1920. This experimental license granted Mott the privilege of making test transmissions with music & speech, on what was described as variable wavelengths.
Another article about the Mott radio station 6XAD-6ZW with pictures was published in QST magazine for August 1922. Around this era, Mott was on the air usually in Morse Code and for example, he was one of the few who maintained continuing radio contact with the MacMillan expedition up towards the North Pole in 1922 & 1923. This expedition was carried in the newly launched ship "Bowdoin" and its wireless equipment was on the air under the callsign WNP, signifying Wireless North Pole.
During the year 1924, Mott began work on the installation of upgraded new equipment for station 6XAD-6ZW which was installed in his home in Clarissa Street (Avenue), in Avalon. This equipment enabled the broadcast of speech & music, and he made a series of initial test broadcasts during the afternoons in the winter of 1924.
One of these test broadcasts featured a local choir and it was radiated on what was called at the time, a "shorter wavelength". The allocated channels in use around this time were 196 m. (1530 kHz) & 172 m. (1745 kHz). In January 1925, it was announced that station 6XAD-6ZW was about to begin a series of transcontinental test transmissions with the navy radio station NKF, located at Anacostia in suburban Washington DC.
Just before Easter 1925, Mott made a series of test broadcasts on shortwave over 6XAD-6ZW beginning at 11:00 pm, and the channel on this occasion was 150 metres, 2,000 kHz. On Easter weekend, April 11 & 12, special broadcasts from the Easter events on Catalina were relayed to mediumwave station KHJ in Los Angeles on the mainland for a wider coverage area.
Other special programs that were relayed by 6XAD to the mainland on frequencies just above the mediumwave band were a four hour musical drama "The Sandman & Queen Titania", a concert on the Wurlitzer organ, and a program of band music from an open air concert in Avalon.
The reconstruction of his radio station was completed a few weeks later and this included new studio equipment in his home, as well as a grand piano and a new callsign. Initially, it was stated, the callsign for the mediumwave facility would be KFLM, though when the station was officially inaugurated in mid August 1925, the call was actually KFWO. Mott used the call letters KFWO to stand for Katalina for Wonderful Outings.
The technical equipment at the new KFWO, all of which was located in his Clarissa Avenue home, included a 250 watt transmitter on 211.1 metres (1420 kHz), and a flat top wire antenna. The shortwave equipment under the callsign 6XAD was still in use for the purpose of relaying the mediumwave programming of KFWO to distant mediumwave stations in the continental United States.
The new mediumwave station, even though on the air at only 250 watts, was often heard far afield, and reception reports came in from listeners in many of the American states, including from the staff at the high powered WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, and from New York City, and from various areas of Canada. Another correct reception report was received from a listener living in London, England.
In the early winter of 1927, the owner of Catalina Island, William Wrigley of chewing gum fame, organized a long distance swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland, a distance of twenty two miles. The Wrigley Ocean Marathon, covering a distance one mile greater than the swim across the English Channel, attracted 102 participants. It began at midday on Saturday, January 15, and ended at 3:00 am next morning, with only one successful contender, a 17 year old Canadian by the name of George Young.
In order to provide radio coverage of the entire 15-3/4 hour event, mediumwave station KNX in Hollywood placed its low power remote shortwave transmitter 6XA aboard the SS "Avalon". The continuous live coverage from shortwave 6XA was received off air on Catalina and rebroadcast by mediumwave KFWO in Avalon. In turn, many mediumwave stations throughout the continental United States relayed this programming, including for example, KNX in Hollywood, California, KGO in Spokane, Washington, KOA in Denver, Colorado and KMOX in St. Louis. Missouri.
In mid 1927, the licensing authorities required KFWO in Avalon to change channel from 1420 kHz to 1370 kHz, and during the following year to 1000 kHz. In a second change for the year 1928, KFWO was required to change again, this time to 1500 kHz, with a power drop to 100 watts and shared time with KWTC in nearby Santa Ana, California.
Around this time, Major Lawrence Mott attempted unsuccessfully to turn his home based radio station into a commercial operation. Instead, he surrendered the license to the Federal Radio Commission, gave the equipment to station KWTC at Santa Ana, left the island forever, and went to live in Hollywood. That was the end of the Mott radio stations in Avalon on Catalina Island: amateur 6BX & 6ZW, mediumwave KFLM & KFWO, and shortwave W6XAD.
During his 10 years of radio activity on the island, Mott was given very wide coverage of his radio events by the local newspaper, the Catalina Islander, and he issued many QSL cards. At least three QSL cards are known: a blank card printed with the callsign 6XAD, another similar card printed with two callsigns 6XAD & 6ZW, and a third card, a colored tourist card printed on the text side with the complete details of station KFWO. Also offered was a QSL stamp, printed specifically for station KFWO, showing a swimmer diving into the ocean.
The American island in the Pacific was Catalina, and the almost forgotten shortwave station was the experimental station W6XAD which made numerous program broadcasts during its ten year lifetime in the 1920s.