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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 26, 2013

Focus on Africa: Radio Broadcasting in the Land of the Mountain Lion-4: Relay Services

From the very earliest days, the various radio broadcasting services in Sierra Leone were very dependent upon the relay of available programming from other sources as a supplement to that which was produced locally in their own studios. For a lengthy period of nearly 3/4 century, the BBC London was heard over local distribution in Freetown.

Beginning at the time when the cable radio service was implemented in 1934, most of the programming that was provided by wire to the connected homes in Freetown was an off air relay from the BBC in London, their Empire Service and their services to Africa on shortwave. The cable system was in operation for some thirty years and the BBC programming was piped into the rediffusion system with the insertion of very little local productions, and that quite frequently just for special events.

For a total of sixty six years, the BBC programming was heard in Sierra Leone consecutively via:

In recent years, right up to the present time, the BBC is still heard on radio in Sierra Leone, though now via dedicated FM relay stations in Freetown and the regional city Kenema.

According to the information in several editions of the World Radio TV Handbook, the next relay service heard in Sierra Leone was provided, strangely enough, by Radio Moscow. An off air relay of their news bulletin in English was heard on shortwave and mediumwave at 1700 UTC daily for a period of some fifteen years, beginning around 1968. This programming was carried by all of the active transmitters in Sierra Leone at the time; mediumwave from Goderich and shortwave from Goderich & Waterloo.

Shortly after the commencement of the relays of English news from the Radio Moscow World Service, a similar relay of news from the Voice of America was introduced into the programming from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service. Initially, this was one bulletin of VOA news each day, though beginning around 1975, the duration of the daily relays from the VOA was increased.

The WRTVHB shows the scheduling of VOA news at 1530 & 1600 UTC on all active transmitters in Goderich & Waterloo, shortwave & mediumwave. However, it is quite possible that this relay from the Voice of America was actually continuous for at least an hour back during that era.

The SLBS relay of VOA programming ended simultaneously with the end of relay programming from the BBC & Radio Moscow, though these days VOA is heard on FM in Freetown 102.4 MHz. There are no known FM relays in Freetown from Radio Moscow.

The experimental programming from Deutsche Welle in Germany was on the air irregularly from the 250 kW shortwave transmitter at Waterloo in 1974 & 1975. Station announcements in this DW programming were given in English, French & German, and the broadcasts identified the transmitter location as Waterloo. These test broadcasts also included news and music.

No information is given as to how the Deutsche Welle programming from Germany was received for rebroadcast in Sierra Leone. It would be possible for this programming to be on pre-recorded discs or tape, or on live relay from regular DW programming, or via telephone lines from Germany, or even by local production at the SLBS studios in Freetown.

However, two key items in the programming that was broadcast from Waterloo on behalf of Deutsche Welle would seem to indicate that the programming was prepared in the DW studios in Cologne in Germany and apparently fed to Freetown via a live relay from a communication transmitter. The inclusion of the Waterloo identification would indicate specific programming, not a relay of regular programming; and the inclusion of news bulletins would indicate a live relay. It is known that on a few occasions over the years, Deutsche Welle programming was carried via unannounced communication transmitters.

Only one QSL is known for the DW test broadcasts from Waterloo and that was received by Wendel Craighead of Prairie Village, Kansas in the United States for his reception report dated January 28, 1975. This broadcast was heard on 5980 kHz and the programming consisted of news and music, with station announcements in English, French, and German, and specific identification of the Waterloo location.

We could also mention that the United Nations also produced radio programming for broadcast into Sierra Leone, as did the Hirondelle Foundation in Switzerland which was also in some ways associated with the United Nations.

On May 18, 2000, a total consignment of radio equipment was imported into Sierra Leone, and just four days later, the FM transmitter was inaugurated on 103 MHz. This new station was identified as Radio UNAMSIL, Radio United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone.

Soon afterwards a 1 kW Harris shortwave transmitter was inaugurated on 6140 kHz, though the signal was usually noted slightly off channel around 6138 kHz. The studios for this new station were installed in the Mammy Yoko Hotel at Aberdeen Beach, Freetown; and the station was on the air twenty four hours daily.

Nine years later, that is in 2009, the station left the air; some of the programming was absorbed into the official SLBS government station and some of the equipment was donated to a local public service radio station. A few international radio monitors were fortunate enough to receive a form letter QSL in response to reception reports on their shortwave channel.

However, a couple of years before the termination of Radio UNAMSIL, the organization Hirondelle of Switzerland, established a radio broadcasting service for Sierra Leone. This organization established a radio broadcasting studio in the Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown.

This new broadcasting station was inaugurated in February 2007 under the slogan, Cotton Tree News. In the center of Freetown there is a large and very old Cotton Tree, several hundred years old, and it is a national symbol for Sierra Leone, commemorating freedom for their people.

Initially, the broadcast of the programming from Cotton Tree News was heard in Freetown on FM, and throughout Sierra Leone via a relay on international shortwave. The FM service was on the air twenty four hours daily with two channels in use, 103 MHz & 107.3 MHz. The broadcast on shortwave was via the BBC relay station on Ascension Island for just half an hour daily on the channel 9525 kHz, though another channel, 13760 kHz, was in interim usage for just a short period of time.

Two years after the inauguration of Cotton Tree on shortwave, a replacement relay was taken into usage, Rampisham in England on 11875 kHz. The shortwave relays were discontinued in 2011, though the FM programming is still on the air on the single channel 107.3 MHz.

We could also mention two other radio stations that were part of the broadcasting scene in Sierra Leone. In 1991, a mobile transmitter under the legal government callsign for Liberia, ELBC, was on the air as the Voice of Peace, Harmony & Reconciliation. The well known Danish international radio monitor Anker Petersen states that it was operated by the West African Peace Keeping Force.

This mobile transmitter was actually located not in Liberia, but just across the border in Sierra Leone. No channel is given though, as to whether it was operating on mediumwave or shortwave.

Then in May 2009, the American radio magazine, Monitoring Times, listed a new Gospel station at 10 kW for use on shortwave, though it apparently never got beyond the licensing stage.