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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, June 9, 2013

The Sri Lanka Story: Tribute to Ekala

According to the latest information from Sri Lanka, the large historic shortwave station located at Ekala near Colombo is going silent forever. During its long 2/3rds century on air usage, this station was heard almost worldwide, and it acted also as a relay station for several other international shortwave broadcasting organizations. On this historic and dramatic occasion, this is our "Tribute to Ekala."

The beginning of the story of the SEAC radio station at Ekala goes way back to the year 1941 when preliminary work began on the construction of a shortwave station for the home service radio broadcasting station, Radio Colombo. The chosen location for this new transmitter station was some ten miles north of Colombo city and about five miles from the deep waters of the nearby ocean.

Then, when Lord Louis Mountbatten came into the picture during the latter part of the war in Asia, work on this new shortwave station was taken over, enlarged and speeded up. The Ekala project, now under the auspices of SEAC, the South East Asia Command, became a matter of high priority.

A nearby radio communication station already in operation by the Royal Air Force became a temporary interim location for the broadcast of programming from the studios of SEAC Radio at 191 Turret Road, Colombo, just opposite the Town Hall. The first on air test from the RAF station at Ekala took place on October 11, 1944 with the use of a 7.5 kW RCA transmitter model ET4750. The on air slogan at this stage was United Nations Radio Kandy.

The ace international radio monitor in Sri Lanka, the noted Victor Goonetillike informs us that the two radio stations, RAF Ekala & SEAC Ekala, were both established on the same large property, though these days, a housing complex lies in between.

According to the historians, the first transmitter, and an antenna system taken from the Isle of Wight, were sent out from England by boat. However, the ship with its cargo was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ceylon. A second transmitter and antenna system were sent out from England by ship a few months later and these arrived safely in Colombo for installation at SEAC Ekala.

Another RCA transmitter ET4750 at 7.5 kW and the Marconi SWB18 at 100 kW were installed simultaneously in the new Transmitter Hall at SEAC Ekala towards the end of the year 1945, and test broadcasts began in early 1946. Both transmitters were taken into service on May 1, and the official opening ceremony was conducted one week later, on May 8, 1946.

Soon afterwards, a second RCA unit ET4750 at 7.5 kW was installed; and in addition, a 1 kW RCA shortwave unit was installed at Ekala, and we would conclude that this was the old original pre-war VPB from Welikada, modified and upgraded to 1 kW.

At this stage, four shortwave transmitters were on the air, three for international coverage and one for island wide coverage. International programming was beamed towards India, the North Pacific, Burma & Japan, and England.

With the rapid onward progress of the war in Asia, Mountbatten transferred his SEAC headquarters from Kandy & Colombo in Ceylon to Singapore in Malaya, and the new SEAC radio station at Ekala was then taken over by the War Office in London, though there seemed to be very little change in the programming content. Around this time, the station was receiving some 8,000 letters a month from listeners around the world and all were answered, usually with their rather plain, though these days highly prized, black text QSL card.

The War Office in London ended its control of Radio SEAC Ekala at the end of February 1949, at which time, it would seem, the station was closed for just a few weeks. However at this stage, the BBC in London needed a temporary fill-in station due to the fact that they were in the process of constructing a huge new station at Tebrau on the Malay peninsula and they were transferring their operations from Jurong on Singapore island to the new Malaya station.

Thus it was that the BBC London took over the ex-SEAC station at Ekala in Ceylon on April 1 and this station began the broadcast of BBC programming beamed to Asia. At the end of the following year, 1950, the BBC transferred their programming relay from Ekala to their new Far Eastern Relay Station at Tebrau in Malaysia, and they ended their temporary usage of the SEAC station in Sri Lanka.

However, during all of these events, the radio scene in Ceylon was also changing, and Radio Ceylon inaugurated a new Commercial Service under the program management of Clifford Dodd who had recently come in from Australia under the auspices of the Colombo Plan. This new Commercial Service was inaugurated on September 30, 1950, shortly before the BBC left the scene.

On the very next day, October 1, 1950, the Adventist church began a program relay from the new Radio Ceylon as the very first customer of this new Commercial Service on shortwave via the Ekala radio station. Thus began a long time association with Radio Ceylon, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, that developed ultimately into the formation of the international broadcasting unit AWR-Asia, Adventist World Radio in Asia.

Among the legendary announcers in the Commercial Service on shortwave from Colombo, whose names & voices became so well known throughout Southern Asia and beyond, were for example: Vernon Corea, Jimmy Bharucha, Shirley Perera, and Nihal Bharathi.

In fact, during the height of its success, it is stated that half of all shortwave radio receivers in India were tuned to the SLBC All Asia Service. For several years, they operated an additional commercial office in Bombay in neighboring India, and a specially designed QSL card was also available from this Bombay office.

At 7:18 on the morning of Thursday January 5, 1967, Radio Ceylon, the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, transmigrated and officially became the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

On the technical side, the Voice of America constructed their own transmitter building adjacent to the SEAC installation, in which six transmitters were installed: 2 at 10 kW, 3 at 35 kW and 1 at 100 kW. Around the same time, another 8 transmitters at 10 kW, all Philips from Holland, were installed in the main SEAC building.

Since that time, the Japanese installed two Kokosai shortwave transmitters at 300 kW in a new adjoining building, and they replaced four of the ailing 10 kW transmitters in the main SLBC Transmitter Hall.

We should also mention that several other international radio broadcasting organizations have also utilized the relay services of SLBC Ekala. For example, back in the 1940s, the live programming from All India Radio Delhi was relayed at times via the Ekala shortwave station. Then, in the 1980s, the programming from Trans World Radio was carried over at least three different shortwave transmitters at Ekala; a 10 kW Philips, the 12.5 kW standby transmitter, and a 35 kW VOA transmitter.

The programming of Family Radio & FEBA Radio were also heard from Ekala, as were other well known Christian programs. Back in the earlier years, Ekala carried the broadcast of special sports programs from Radio Australia, as an onward relay to the BBC London. Then in the 1980s, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation made a gracious offer to Radio Moscow to act as a relay station on their behalf, though this offer was never implemented.

The venerable 100 kW Marconi transmitter that was inaugurated under SEAC back in 1945 was still on the air, it is reported, even just 10 years ago. According to some authorities, the official callsign for the Ekala shortwave station, at least in recent time, was 4SN.

Regarding the closure of the Ekala shortwave station, we quote a recent email message from Victor Goonetilleke:

This historic station which began at Ekala under the wartime South East Asia Command, Radio SEAC, is now on its last legs. Of the three VOA 35 kW transmitters, only two are working, though the two NHK transmitters from Japan are both still in good condition, but spares are not available and they are too expensive to repair and run. The old 10 kW Philips transmitters are almost gone, and the old Marconi from the Radio SEAC days is rusty with cobwebs, and gone forever.

This old, historic and venerable transmitter base at Ekala on the island of Sri Lanka is silent forever and a modern housing complex will take its place. Taking its place on the shortwave radio scene is the former shortwave relay station operated by Deutsche Welle at Trincomalee on the east coast of the island of Sri Lanka.

All that we can say is: Ekala you performed well. Thank you, and Goodbye!

On the Air in the Island: DX Programs from SLBC Ekala

The world renowned annual publication, World Radio TV Handbook for the year 1969 carries two listings for the first DX program that was on the air via the shortwave station at Ekala in Sri Lanka. This program of fifteen minute duration was on the air twice each month, the second and last Saturdays, under the title, "DX Panorama."

Victor Goonetilleke tells us that he and Sarath Amakotuwa of the Ceylonese Shortwave Listener Club researched and wrote the program and that each program was on the air twice, in the South East Asia Service and the European Service of Radio Ceylon. The script for this DX program was read by Mrs. Myrle Walpola Williams and Nihal Bharathi and it was included in the highly acclaimed program, Radio Journal.

The listings for this original DX program on shortwave from Colombo, "DX Panorama," are included in three consecutive issues of the WRTVHB, 1969, 1970 & 1971.

A second attempt at a DX program on shortwave from Colombo took place in 1974 and this is recorded in the edition of the WRTVHB for that year. This new program, under the new title "DX Corner," was intended to be a half hour program as part of Radio Journal with Nihal Bharathi. However, as Victor Goonetilleke tells us, this revived DX program never went any further than the planning stage.

However, soon after we as a family took up residency in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Victor invited me (Adrian Peterson) to make contact with the Program Director for the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, Jimmy Bharucha, with the suggestion of preparing and presenting a weekly DX program as a regular insert in their program, Radio Journal. Thus was born the new DX program, "Radio Monitors International", which initially was recorded in the SLBC Torrington Square studios in Colombo. This first broadcast, just ten minutes in duration, took place on Sunday, June 1, 1971.

A few months later, I was transferred to Poona India, where a radio recording studio was already in operation and so the production of "Radio Monitors International" was transferred from SLBC Colombo to what became AWR-Asia in Poona, India. The recordings of this DX program were sent from Poona, India to Colombo, Sri Lanka by air mail post.

On February 19, 1978, "Radio Monitors International" became a fifteen minute self contained program that was on the air twice each Sunday from SLBC Ekala, in the All Asia Service and the South East Asia Service. One year later, RMI as this DX program was known affectionately by its listeners, was expanded to a half hour duration each week.

The second half of each program was given a special title, Window on the World, and inserted into this section of the program were taped recordings from other well known DX programs, which included:

Ron Meyers World DX News Adventist World Radio Europe
Ian MacFarland DX Listeners Digest Radio Canada International
Jonathan Marks Media Network Radio Netherlands
David Hermges Shortwave Panorama ORF Vienna Austria
The Two Bobs SW Merry-Go-Round Swiss Radio International

As an expansion for the DX programming in Radio Monitors International in 1980, the regular half hour program was included in the Home Service broadcasts from the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation on mediumwave, shortwave and FM. At the same time, a quarter hour version of this broadcast was included in the SLBC Service to the Middle East. Then too, back then Jeff White with his earlier Radio Earth programming, included Radio Monitors International in the shortwave outreach from Radio Clarin in the Dominican Republic.

Back then, the two announcers in the program, in addition to myself as the DX host, were Sonia Christo Poddar, who is now living in England, and she sends her greetings to SLBC in memory of the historic shortwave station at Ekala. The other announcer was Maxine Bell, who is now living somewhere in the United States.

Several thousand QSL cards were issued for the broadcasts of Radio Monitors International, and in fact way back then for one particular program a total of 900 reception reports was received. We are issuing a special QSL card for the one time broadcast today of this our special edition of Radio Monitors International.

Thank you Ekala! Welcome to the international radio scene, SLBC Trincomalee!