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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, September 1, 2013

100 Years of Wireless & Radio in Bulgaria - Part 8: Regional Radio on Shortwave, Radio Varna

The South East European nation of Bulgaria lies at the edge of the Black Sea, a large inland sea some 730 miles across. The waters of half a dozen major rivers flow into the Black Sea and the historians tell us that there was a time when the Black Sea was not a sea, but instead a massive inland lake.

These days, the Black Sea is connected towards the Mediterranean by the narrow 17 mile long waterway known as the Bosphorus which is described as the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation. The encyclopedia tells us that the waters of the Black Sea are less salty than the Mediterranean.

The major Bulgarian city lying on the edge of the Black Sea is Varna with a population of 1/3rd million, and an inflow of five million tourists each year. The main tourist attractions at Varna are the many popular beach locations, the nearby hot water mineral spas, and the early Christian basilicas.

Originally known as Odessus, Varna was entered in ancient times by Alexander the Great; and subsequently it became an early Christian center, established, it is believed, by Ampliatus, one of the Seventy Disciples in the early Christian church.

The city of Odessus ultimately became Varna, and in 1949 it was renamed Stalin. However, on October 20, 1956, the city reverted back to its more familiar Bulgarian name, Varna.

The story of wireless and radio in Varna goes way back to the very earliest days. It was in the year 1896 that a consignment of primitive wireless equipment was imported into Bulgaria for experimental use by both the army and the Post Office. Due to the fact that there was a major army base near Varna, it is thought that some of this equipment was in use at Varna experimentally during this era.

The first verified usage of wireless at Varna occurred in the year 1912 when the Bulgarian army established a wireless station at Franga, some fifteen miles east of Varna itself. This station operated in the Morse Code mode under the callsign FRG, indicating rather obviously, Franga.

It was stated during the following year that Varna was the only town in Bulgaria with a wireless station. When international callsigns were regularized in the events after World War 1, the callsign for this station was modified to LZF.

Quite soon after the end of World War 2, a maritime radio station was installed at Varna with a 100 watt German Lorentz transmitter under the callsign LZW. The inverted L antenna system for this station was erected on top of two downtown buildings, Allianz Bulgaria & Nettinvestbank.

This new maritime station was inaugurated on December 12, 1947, and three days later a more powerful transmitter, another German Lorentz at 2.5 kW, was activated in the 2nd floor of the building Yuchormanski. Three years later again, Varna Radio was re-installed in an outlying two story villa, with the transmitters on the ground floor and the receivers on the 2nd floor.

In more recent time, two transmitters at 100 kW were installed at the nearby country location for Radio Varna LZW, though nothing seems to be visible these days on Google Earth at the known geographic location in this open farming locality.

On mediumwave, a locally assembled transmitter was activated on September 10, 1934 with just 15 watts on 1276 kHz. The opening ceremony was held three months later, on December 9. Initially, programming was produced locally, though on January 7 of the following year 1935, a program relay from Sofia was inaugurated with the usage of a landline telephone circuit.

During the following year, five tons of electronic equipment from the Hungarian Standard company was imported into Bulgaria for installation at Varna and it was transported for the last stage of its journey on a large cart pulled by eight horses. The first test broadcasts from this new 2 kW facility were made on March 23, 1936 and regular program broadcasting was inaugurated just two months later, on May 21.

The Varna mediumwave station was renovated and upgraded to 10 kW by the Hungarian Standard company in 1952.

A second mediumwave station with 30 kW on 773 kHz was opened in the early 1970s; and two more channels, 981 kHz with 150 kW and 1143 kHz with 50 kW, were opened in the mid 1990s. However, by the year 2012, only one mediumwave station in Varna was still on the air, 774 kHz with 75 kW; all others had closed in favor of FM, at first in Band 1 though subsequently in Band 2. This lone mediumwave station in Varna finally also closed, along with most other mediumwave and shortwave services throughout Bulgaria at the end of January last year.

However, of real interest to many international radio monitors is the story of the regional shortwave station that carried the programming of mediumwave Radio Varna.

It is suggested that mediumwave Radio Varna took out a relay on shortwave from the maritime station LZW some time back in the year 1989. This must have been sometime around the era when two shortwave transmitters at 100 kW were installed for this coastal radio station in a somewhat isolated open farming area inland from Varna.

In his monumental volume, Broadcasting on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today, Jerome Berg in suburban Boston tells us that the Radio Varna radio program in 1991 was on the air shortwave on Sundays only on the frequency 15330 kHz.

Over a period of time, Radio Varna LZW relayed the programming from the local mediumwave broadcasting station on several other shortwave channels, including 7400, 7600, 9300, 9500 & 9900 kHz. Initially, these broadcasts were radiated on Friday evenings, though subsequently this program relay was rescheduled to Sunday evenings, usually four hours in duration as a direct relay from the mediumwave & FM service. The content of the programming was made up from the Radio Horizont relay from Radio Sofia in Sofia followed by locally produced programming from the local Radio Varna mediumwave itself.

This shortwave service from Radio Varna was on the air for a little over a score of years, beginning around 1989 and ending in September 2011.

Radio Varna was noted as a regular verifier of reception reports and many international radio monitors in Europe, the Americas and Asia are the proud holders of a QSL that confirmed the reception of a shortwave program channel that was on the air only one day a week for a period of only a few hours on each occasion.