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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, April 28, 2013

Focus on Africa: Radio Broadcasting in the Land of the Mountain Lion-3: The Shortwave Station in Sierra Leone Meets its Waterloo

Waterloo! If you do a Google search for the word Waterloo, you will find more than a hundred million entries in total altogether. Then, in the first few pages of these entries, you will find a dozen or more places in several different countries that are named Waterloo.

The original Waterloo was a small town in what is now Belgium and all of the other places named Waterloo have been given that name in honor of the famed Battle of Waterloo that took place nearly two hundred years ago. Back in those days, this original Waterloo was located in what was then a part of Holland, and the name in the Dutch language could be translated as Wet Forest, a low swampy area.

These days, children learn in their history lessons at school that the Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday June 18, 1815 and that Napoleon was disastrously defeated. Hence, he "met his Waterloo."

A total of some 173,000 soldiers were engaged in the battle of the day with a hideous total of 63,000 casualties. Napoleon surrendered and was exiled to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

The town of Waterloo in New Jersey in the United States has established a historic old village as a tourist attraction, recreating the early Indian days. Back in 1888, a nearly complete fossil skeleton was found near the Indiana town with the same name and this is on display in the Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Waterloo Station in London, England is a large double railway station, part underground in their tube system and part above ground as an international rail terminal. It is reported that nearly 100 million passengers are served at this massive railway station every year. The underground railway system in Sydney Australia also boasts its Waterloo Station.

The city of Waterloo in Sierra Leone is located twenty miles southeast of their national capital Freetown and it has a population of 40,000. It was established in 1819, just four years after the Battle of Waterloo and it was named in honor of this historic military event.

During the mid 1960s, a White Paper was submitted to the Sierra Leone government, outlining a proposal for a nationwide radio broadcasting system. This document suggested a large radio center at Magburuka in the middle of the country with three shortwave transmitters at 10 kW each and production studios in seven regional towns. This project was never implemented.

A subsequent suggestion called for a 100 kW shortwave transmitter to be established near Waterloo for nationwide coverage, instead of the Magburuka project. Neither was this project at Waterloo implemented, at least not in its original concept.

However, in 1971, the government decided to install a 250 kW shortwave transmitter at Freetown, and a contract was signed with the Swiss manufacturer during the following year. Now, it just so happened that the German government was negotiating a trade agreement with the Sierra Leone government during this era, and it appears that a German financial grant aided in establishing this new facility. However, the location for the 250 kW transmitter was now not at Freetown, nor at Goderich, but instead at Waterloo.

The facility housing this new 250 kW BBC transmitter from Switzerland, model SK53, was officially opened with due ceremony in August 1974, and initial test broadcasts began in October. These introductory test broadcasts were heard in Australia.

Then on October 15, and that was still in the same year 1974, the transmitter was inaugurated in a special ceremony in which the president of Sierra Leone participated. This ceremony was broadcast live on 5980 kHz and it was heard in New Zealand and reported in the Australian monthly journal, Electronics Australia.

Soon afterwards, irregular test broadcasts on behalf of Deutsche Welle in Germany were heard via this transmitter and these were listed in the World Radio TV Handbook for the following year. The well known international radio monitor, Wendel Craighead in suburban Kansas City, Kansas, received a QSL from Deutsche Welle confirming these broadcasts, and this seems to be the only known QSL for this DW relay via SLBS Waterloo.

Three years later, this high powered transmitter was reported as operating at half power, 125 kW, and then apparently only spasmodically. For the next ten years, almost nothing is known as to what was happening regarding the usage of this transmitter.

In January 1988, the Australian DX News reported that the 250 kW transmitter at Waterloo was already sold to a radio organization in Kuwait and that it was apparently on the air with new programming. Then, for another eight years, almost nothing more was heard about the usage of this transmitter under the Kuwaiti organization, though subsequently it was believed that is was already on the air in continuous usage, with the broadcast of Muslim programming under the title Radio Al Koran.

During this time, states the magazine printed by the Japan Shortwave Club, a studio was in operation at Newton, some twenty miles north of Freetown, though a French radio monitor, Bernard Chenal, visited the station in 1995 and described a studio at Kissytown in suburban Freetown. Perhaps both reports were correct, though covering different time periods.

In any case, the scheduling for Radio Al Koran from 1500-1900 UTC on 9630 kHz and the transmitter at Waterloo was powered by the station generator, with an omni-directional antenna system. These broadcasts apparently escaped the observations of distant international radio monitors all over the world for a period of some eight years, or perhaps many more, an event that is quite rare in the long history of shortwave broadcasting and monitoring.

The Danish Shortwave Club International, in a report from the editor, stated that in Europe only a jammer was noted on this channel, apparently against Taiwan. In addition, stated Andy Sennitt in Media Network from Radio Netherlands, the timing of the on air broadcasts did not support long distance propagation. However, the station reported that they had received letters from listeners living in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Four years later, Hans Johnson in the United States, reported in 1999 that he phoned the station, and they stated that yes, the Waterloo transmitter was indeed on the air and that the schedule showed:

3316 kHz 0600-0800 & 1800-2400
5980 kHz 0800-1800

That was the last known report from this enigmatic transmitter in West Africa, back in February 1999, when apparently the transmitter was on the air at half power. At the time, the station was carrying a relay of the regular broadcast service from SLBS, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service.

That was the end! On the next occasion when we examine the radio broadcasting scene in Sierra Leone, we will take a look at all of the relay services carried out on shortwave by SLBS, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service.