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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, May 5, 2013

American States on Shortwave: Washington DC - Memories of an Eclipse

It is true, the District of Columbia in the eastern United States is not a state; it is designated as a District, and it is under the direct jurisdiction of the federal government. However, DC, the District of Columbia, is a defined territory, a defined area, and it does have an interesting background in shortwave broadcasting. Before the colonizing powers from Europe arrived in the area, this part of the North American continent was home to the Nacotchtank Indians, who spoke a dialect of the Algonquian language.

It was back on January 23 in the year 1788 that James Madison, even before he was elected president, made a call for the establishment of a federal capital territory for the United States. Two years later, congress gave approval for a federal territory to be established along the Potomac River, and during the following year this new city to be was named Washington, and the territory for this new federal city was named the District of Columbia.

Originally, DC was an exact ten mile square, derived from the states of Maryland & Virginia, though half a century later the Virginia section was transferred back into the state of Virginia. These days, the entire District of Columbia is completely built up and densely populated.

It is true, a shortwave broadcasting station has never been established in Washington, DC, but the federal capital has featured in several interesting aspects of shortwave broadcasting.

Back in its very earliest days, for example, the chronohertz station WWV was on the air at a Washington location, in the NBS building on Connecticut Avenue. Back then, WWV was also involved in the broadcast of radio programming, but that was never on shortwave.

However, in December 1922, WWV began the transmission of standard signals only; and in May of the next year, these signals were transmitted also on shortwave, with many different shortwave channels in use. At the time, their transmitter was rated at just 1 kW, and they utilized two antenna systems, one for mediumwave and one for shortwave. These antenna systems were supported by free standing lattice work towers, two towers for the mediumwave antenna and two towers for the shortwave antenna.

At the beginning of the year 1931, WWV left Washington, DC and was rebuilt in nearby College Park, Maryland, though these days they are located in a country area in the state of Colorado.

It was in 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge made a specific request to the Washington mediumwave station WRC and he asked them to commence a series of shortwave broadcasts beamed to Latin America. According to Elizabeth Fox in her document on Latin American Broadcasting, these regular broadcasts consisted of Latin American music, feature items and talks on current information.

These shortwave broadcasts were beamed to the various countries of Central & South America, and the programming was focused on one country at a time. Although the specific shortwave station that carried these broadcasts is not mentioned, it is probable that it was either KDKA-8XS at 10 kW, or W2XAD with 25 kW & W2XAF with 40 kW.

The United States navy also installed shortwave stations in the DC area, including NKF at the navy base in Anacostia, and NAA in Arlington, Virginia with controls in Washington itself. In July 1925, station NKF participated in trans-continental tests on shortwave with station W6XAD on the island of Catalina, just off the coast of Los Angeles in California. Among the frequencies in use for these cross country test transmissions were 4205 kHz & 7195 kHz.

During the year 1927, the navy agreed to implement radio broadcasts to South America via NAA with a program feed from the navy headquarters in Washington, DC. However, this project was never implemented.

Then, just before he left office, Coolidge tried again, and he issued Executive Order 5067 on March 2, 1929, directing the navy to begin the broadcasting of a regular schedule of programming for South America, and that two shortwave channels were approved, 6120 kHz & 9550 kHz. However, the new president, Herbert Hoover, never followed up on this matter and this project was never implemented either.

However, just two days after the Executive Order from the outgoing President Coolidge, the new incoming President Hoover was himself involved in a huge shortwave project. It was Inauguration Day for President Hoover, and AT&T established a multi-channel radio booth underneath the Capitol Steps for the control and distribution of special event radio programming.

A total of six microphones were installed, two for each distribution network; NBC, CBS and newsreel cameras. The radio programming was fed into the nationwide network of mediumwave stations throughout the United States, and on shortwave it was beamed both east and west.

From RCA Bolinas in California the Inauguration Day programming was beamed to Honolulu for rebroadcast by mediumwave KGU, and also to Tokyo and to Richard Byrd in Antarctica. Other shortwave transmitters at other locations also relayed the programming to Europe.

There was also another shortwave project on Inauguration Day and this was coordinated by mediumwave station WRC. A small shortwave transmitter was installed on an army airplane that was in the air above Washington, DC. The live reports from the commentator on board the plane were relayed over station WRC with 500 watts on 640 kHz. It can be remembered that the early radio station WRC is still on the air these days, though now it is a giant 50 kW station on 980 kHz under the callsign WTEM.

It was on June 8, 1937 that the Pacific world observed a most remarkable eclipse of the sun. It was the longest total eclipse in more than a thousand years, lasting for a full 93 seconds. The National Geographic magazine and the American navy cooperated in providing resources for worldwide radio coverage of the event.

A portable remote transmitter, W10XEP, with 25 watts on an Apex channel around 30 or 40 MHz was taken to isolated Enderbury Island in the Central Pacific, and a 1 kW composite shortwave transmitter, WMEF, was installed on the navy vessel "Avocet". This ship transmitter, weighing around 5 tons, was made up from parts previously in use with station KNRA on another ship, the "Seth Parker", and portable WOEH that had been on an aerial balloon and in different airplanes.

During the 1937 eclipse, shortwave commentaries from W10XEP on Enderbury and WMEF on board the "Avocet" at Canton Island were picked up by RCA Bolinas in California and relayed nationwide on mediumwave. On at least one occasion during the eclipse events, station WMEF made a radio broadcast on shortwave that was directed to station W3XZ in Washington, DC. This broadcast was logged by international radio monitors in the United States and it was reported in the DX bulletin from the International Shortwave Club.

It is known that there was a shortwave station in Washington, DC under the callsign W3XZ during the earlier years 1930-1934 operated by Francis Jenkins and it was in use, at least on some occasions, for experimental TV broadcasts in the mechanical mode. However, the eclipse broadcast received at W3XZ was in 1937, four years after the Jenkins station was closed and deleted from government records.

We would ask the question then: Who or what was the 1937 station under the callsign W3XZ? It could have been a recycled callsign; or a revived callsign, though it was not at that time an amateur station. The 1937 eclipse broadcasts were under the auspices of NBC, RCA, the U. S. navy and the National Geographic magazine, so, in some way it was connected with all three of these organizations.

Will we ever know what is the answer and what was the real connection? Maybe there is someone out there who does know the answer! And while we are speaking about the 1937 eclipse of the sun, did you know that another eclipse of the sun will take place out in the same areas of the Pacific next Friday, May 10?

And before we leave the story of shortwave broadcasting in Washington, DC, we should mention the massive studio facility operated by the Voice of America at its world headquarters on Independence Avenue on the edge of the famous National Mall. Construction of the large building covering one city block was completed in 1940, and the studios for the Voice of America were transferred into this building from a temporary location in New York City fifteen years later, in 1954.

The original Master Control unit for switching all VOA programming to the transmitter locations throughout various areas of the world was constructed by Gates Radio. An upgraded and enlarged Master Control was built by Utah Scientific and installed by VOA engineers in 1987; and a new digital version was manufactured and installed by Harris Broadcast in 1999. Tours of the VOA studio facilities are conducted each working day, beginning at 12:00 midday.