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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, October 13, 2013

Tribute to Shortwave WYFR-5: The Parade of New Callsigns

Back in the mid 1920s when shortwave broadcasting began to emerge in the United States, the Department of Commerce issued callsigns that looked like what we would call today amateur callsigns, though with a mandatory X included, meaning experimental. Thus, the early forerunner to shortwave WYFR in New York City was issued the callsign 2XAL on June 1, 1925.

Then, on October 1, 1928, the subsequent Federal Radio Commission (FRC) required that all amateur and experimental stations should insert the letter W into these callsigns, and thus 2XAL, now at Coytesville, New Jersey, became W2XAL. Three years later, when the station was moved into an existing radio TV building in Boston, this call was adjusted to W1XAL.

Interestingly, in mid 1936, magazine columnist Charles Morrison in the United States issued a call, stating that the time had come for all American experimental callsigns in use on shortwave to be regularized. However, another two or three years went by before any significant move in this direction began to take place.

In many other countries, similar procedures were taking place. For example, the callsign for the experimental government shortwave station in Australia, VK3LR at Lyndhurst in Victoria, was modified to the more familiar VLR on December 1, 1937.

We come now to the pivotal year 1939. Angry political clouds were forming over continental Europe and the shortwave broadcasting scene in many countries around the world was changing to accommodate these events.

On May 23, 1939, the radio broadcasting scene in the United States was now supervised by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC_ and they issued a mandate requiring that the usage of all experimental shortwave callsigns in the United States should be terminated, and that new four letter callsigns should be adopted. The mandatory date for the adoption of the new callsigns was September 1 of that same year, 1939.

Now at this stage, the Boston shortwave station was on the air with two shortwave transmitters, both rated at 20 kW. These two units were licensed as W1XAL and W1XAR. The callsign W1XAL identified the original transmitter that was upgraded and moved into Boston some eight years earlier, and the new call W1XAR identified a new transmitter still under installation. The final letter R would seem to indicate, shall we say, the W1XAL call modified to W1XAR with the letter R standing for Radio.

The owner of this international radio broadcasting station in Boston was Walter S. Lemmon, and he decided that the callsigns for his two transmitters should honor his name. Hence, W1XAL became WSLA, standing for Walter S. Lemmon, the 1st transmitter as transmitter A; and W1XAR became WSLR, standing for Walter S. Lemmon, the 2nd transmitter with R for Radio. The official date for the introduction of these two new callsigns was August 1, 1939.

However, the Board Members associated with this shortwave radio station considered that the adoption of the two callsigns that identified the owner of the station would be detrimental to its future operation, and they recommended that new callsigns should be adopted that identified its university connection rather than the personal connection.

Hence it was that two new callsigns were chosen, and these were the more familiar WRUL and WRUW, indicating World Radio University Listeners and World Radio University Worldwide. Thus:


The date for the change from WSLA/WSLR to WRUL/WRUW was set as September 7, 1939, though one radio listener in the United States heard the new WRUW callsign over transmitter WSLR at Hatherly Beach during the evening of the previous day, September 6. Thus the temporary interim callsigns WSLA & WSLR were in use officially for a period of 37 days, stretching from August 1 to September 6, 1939.

However, it should be remembered that the two transmitters were off the air during the transfer from Boston to Hatherly Beach, Scituate from July 21 to August 25. Thus the temporary interim callsigns WSLA & WSLR were in use on air for a period of only 13 days, stretching from August 25 to September 6.

It can be remembered that all of the other experimental shortwave callsigns in use in the United States were modified around the same era. For example, the General Electric shortwave station W6XBE in San Francisco, California became KGEI; the Westinghouse shortwave station W8XK in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became WPIT; and the Crosley shortwave station W8XAL in Cincinnati, Ohio became WLWO.

And so the story continues. When we take the next look at the early fore-runners of the mighty shortwave station WYFR, it will be under the title, "Tribute to Shortwave WYFR: The Early Years at Hatherly Beach."