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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 19, 2013

Chicago on Shortwave: The Ten Year Story of the NBC Shortwave Station W9XF

The city of Chicago, located on the western edge of the Great Lakes, is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and also one of the largest. Its earliest history can be traced back to the first settler, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who came in from New Orleans and established a fur trading post on the north bank of the Chicago River, at the edge of Lake Michigan. That was back in the 1770s.

Greater Chicagoland, that is the city of Chicago together with all of its wide spread suburban areas, extends almost 50 miles inland from the lake, and northwards up into Wisconsin, and in the south east down into Indiana. Greater Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, with a total population around 10 million.

The city was named after the original Indian word for the Chicago River, Checagou. This name, with its French spelling, appears to honor the wild garlic plant that used to grow in the area. Interestingly, during the year 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River so that the lake would not be contaminated by inflowing water.

The city of Chicago is famous for its re-birth after the tragic fire in 1871 that destroyed much of the city; and for the grandeur of its tall towers that almost seem to rival New York City. Another claim to fame is the Chicago Post Office, the world's largest post office building, through which a main highway runs, the Eisenhower Expressway.

Not so well known is the fact that Chicago featured prominently in the early days of shortwave broadcasting back in the era before World War 2. The total number of shortwave stations on the air at one time or another in Chicagoland would probably be in excess of fifty, though most of these stations were in use for communication purposes, experimental TV, or the old Apex System of program broadcasting. However, sufficient evidence exists for us to presume that a dozen or so of these shortwave stations were actually on the air during the pre-war years with the broadcast of radio programming, music and speech.

Back there in that era, just two of the Chicago shortwave broadcasting stations stand out prominently, and these were identified as W9XAA in association with mediumwave WCFL; and the NBC station W9XF. On this occasion, we choose the story of the NBC shortwave station W9XF, together with its associated mediumwave NBC stations in Chicago during that era.

It was back on June 1, 1927, that Samuel Insull owner of the Great Lakes Broadcasting Company, bought the highly popular mediumwave station WENR from E. N. Rauland, owner of the All-American Radio Corp, both in Chicago. This sale was finalized on April 17, 1928 with the transfer of $1.5 million.

However, even before the finalization of the sale, Great Lakes Broadcasting applied to the Department of Commerce for a license to operate a Special Land Station on 1040 kHz under the callsign 9XF. Planning also began quite quickly for a complete new broadcasting station at an outer suburban location in Downer's Grove, a facility that would include offices, studios and several transmitters.

This brand new radio station came into service just before mid year 1929, and at the same time, the Department of Commerce approved an extension of the 9XF license to include three shortwave channels, 6020 kHz, 11800 kHz & 21500 kHz, all of which fell into what later became the standard international shortwave bands.

Known transmitters at this new location at this time were a 50 kW AM mediumwave unit for WENR, and a 5 kW shortwave unit for W9XF. It is probable that the same shortwave transmitter was also in use for experimental mechanical television under the callsign W9XR.

The first known logging of the new shortwave W9XF was noted in Australia in August of the following year (1930) on 6120 kHz with a program relay from mediumwave WENR. At this stage, WENR was also operating its on air studios in the electrical generating plant of Commonwealth Edison at 72 West Adams Street near downtown Chicago.

However, a few months later, Great Lakes Broadcasting sold their radio and TV facilities, including the Downer's Grove station, to the rather new National Broadcasting Company, NBC in New York. When NBC took over, they stated that the shortwave broadcasts from W9XF would continue (with programming from the Blue network), though they did close the mechanical TV service from W9XR.

Studios for the new NBC in Chicago were installed in the Merchandise Mart, which boasted as being the world's largest building at the time. Programming produced in this building was broadcast over several different transmitters, including mediumwave WENR & WMAQ, and shortwave W9XF.

Interestingly, an additional callsign was taken into usage for W9XF in 1933, and this was W9XQ. Both callsigns were in use on the same channel, 6100 kHz, at the same power level 5 kW, and it could be presumed that a second shortwave transmitter had been installed.

It is suggested that the power level of the second transmitter (or perhaps the two transmitters combined?) was raised to 10 kW during the following year and that this unit became the main transmitter for W9XF with programming from WENR-NBC Blue Network. At this stage, an additional shortwave service was commenced from Downer's Grove on 6425 kHz under the callsign W9XBS with programming from mediumwave station WMAQ, the NBC Red Network. This shortwave service from W9XBS was on the air for a couple of years, though the callsign was later taken into use for an Apex broadcast service in 1939.

In 1937, NBC lodged a request with the FCC for approval to install a 50 kW shortwave transmitter, though this request was denied. We would presume that the reason for this dismissal was the fact that NBC was already involved with a large shortwave station located at Bound Brook, New Jersey.

The programming from WENR-WMAQ over the shortwave outlet W9XF was on the air for a period of time approaching ten years and it was heard throughout the United States, as well as in Europe, South America, and the South Pacific. It is known that the programming from shortwave station W9XF was occasionally re-broadcast live by radio stations in New Zealand & Australia.

For example, in April 1932, the American radio magazine Broadcast News stated that the NZBS, New Zealand Broadcasting Service, "has had remarkably good results in re-broadcasting signals from this station." This was at a time when the (input?) power of the transmitter was rated at just 5 kW, thus providing, we would suggest, approximately 2.5 kW into the antenna system.

Radio transmitter W9XF was inaugurated in the Downer's Grove station just before mid year 1929. It began as a 5 kW unit (power input), seemingly an additional transmitter rated at 10 kW was installed in 1934, and the shortwave service was closed at the end of the year 1938 when the WENR-WLS transmitters were re-sited to Tinley Park.

The Downer's Grove site was sold during World War 2 for wartime manufacturing, and the manufacturing facility was closed in 1990. All buildings on the 40 acre site were demolished to make way for suburban housing.

There are no known QSL cards verifying the reception of W9XF under Great Lakes Broadcasting, though numerous QSL cards for W9XF were issued by NBC from about 1934 onwards, including the short term usage of the subsidiary callsign W9XQ.

Australian States on Shortwave-5: South Australia

Every state in the Commonwealth of Australia has at some time or another been involved in shortwave broadcasting, and on this occasion, we take a look at the shortwave story in South Australia. The callsigns for the mediumwave stations in this state, located at the central section of the continental south coast begin with the number 5, indicating the 5th radio district, South Australia.

It was back in the year 1928, that the new commercial station as it was then, 5CL, applied for a shortwave license, similar to 3LO in Melbourne, for the purpose of broadcasting their mediumwave service to outback areas throughout Australia. This request was denied.

However, during the following year 1929, station 5CL fed some of its programming to Melbourne for broadcast on shortwave over the AWA facilities of mediumwave 3LO. During the 1930s, after 5CL was absorbed into the government ABC network and a new set of studios was constructed in Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide, there were several occasions when the programming from 5CL was relayed over the AWA shortwave stations, VK2ME Sydney & VK3ME Melbourne.

In more recent time, during the 1970s, both of the ABC stations in Adelaide were noted with programming on shortwave from Radio Australia. For example, in February 1975, 5AN was heard with a relay on 17715 kHz for Northern Territory mediumwave via a 100 kW transmitter at Radio Australia, Shepparton. Then in April, 5AN was heard again from Shepparton, on 11810 kHz with a program relay specifically for the isolated mediumwave station in the Northern Territory, 8GO in Gove.

Then, two years later again, the other ABC station, 5CL, was heard with a similar relay to Darwin mediumwave via a 10 kW transmitter at Lyndhurst on 6115 kHz.

Going back to earlier times once more, the well known Adelaide commercial station, 5AD, organized its own DX radio club, and they were on the air generally on Sundays with special programming for shortwave listeners. Initially, these special programs were broadcast in 1934 over the suburban amateur station VK5WB, though soon afterwards the radio club obtained their own shortwave license and they were on the air under the callsign 5DI.

The shortwave broadcasts from 5DI were heard throughout Australia & New Zealand, and even distantly in the United States. This station also used the call of the Kookaburra bird as part of its sign on routine, as did several other shortwave stations in Australia back during that era.