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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 N274, May 25, 2014

The Voice of the Eastern Caribbean on Shortwave: The Barbados Story

The island of Barbados is located on the eastern edge of the Caribbean and the western edge of the Atlantic, some 300 miles north of Venezuela in South America. Barbados is a small island, just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, with a mostly undulating landscape though there is one hilly area rising to a height of just 1120 ft.

The capital city of Barbados is Bridgetown which is located on the west coast towards the bottom of the island. The total population of the island is around 1/3 million residents.

Barbados is a very popular tourist destination with many places of interest for the foreign visitor, including an underground cave system with internal waterfalls, two tropical forests for nature lovers, and crystal clear waters along the white and pink sand beaches. Or perhaps you can take an hour long underwater cruise aboard the tourist submarine Atlantis, and visit one of the many shipwrecks scattered around the edge of the island.

The warm winter weather on tropical Barbados has a special appeal making it a delightful vacation destination for those who live in the snow covered northern areas of Europe and North America. Each year, 1/2 million tourists visit the island by plane and by boat for their on-island vacation; and another 1/2 million make a one day sightseeing and shopping visit during a cruise ship stop over.

The earliest settlers on Barbados came over from mainland South America anywhere up to 2,000 years ago. They called the island in their Arawak language: Ichirouganaim, meaning the red island with teeth, that is, the surrounding reefs.

It is said that the Spanish called the island Barbados, in reference to the fact that the islanders wore beards. However, a subsequent suggestion is that the name refers to the Bearded Fig Tree that grows on the island.

The island of Barbados was discovered by the Spanish, visited by the Portuguese, and in 1624 claimed by the British. The first settlers from England arrived on the ship Orange Blossom three years later, in 1627. Barbados was granted independence within the British Commonwealth of Nations on November 30, 1966.

It was in 1912 that an Anglo-French company announced plans to establish a wireless station on Barbados, but soon afterwards they withdrew their offer. Then, during the following year, the Marconi company in England announced their plans to establish a wireless station on the island, though likewise, this project was never implemented either.

Thus it was that a group of local wireless enthusiasts took the matter in hand and they constructed their own wireless station and installed it at St. Ann's Fort. This station was made up of a spark transmitter and a crystal receiver and it adopted the internationally recognized callsign VPO. It is understood that V was a prefix for Barbados, and PO stood for Post Office as in the system in use in England. With this primitive equipment, operators were able to communicate in Morse Code with ships up to 100 miles out at sea.

In the early 1920s, a new wireless station was installed adjacent to the Dover Beach cable station and it was constructed by the American RCA company according to British Post office specifications. This new communication station was inaugurated on December 1, 1924, under the same original callsign VPO.

Then in 1943, a complete new radio communication station was constructed at Bearded Hall, in the center of the island to the south. The electronic equipment for this new station in Barbados was assembled at the Marconi factory in England and originally planned for installation in Singapore, as a replacement for equipment that was lost when a ship was sunk by enemy action in 1940.

However, with the change in the fortunes of war in Asia, the new consignment of electronic equipment destined for Singapore was diverted to Barbados instead. The large new station at Boarded Hall on Barbados, together with its transmitter hall and several towers and sets of antennas, was inaugurated in the early part of the year 1944, still under the same callsign VPO.

However five years later (1949), a new callsign was allocated for this Barbadian station and VPO became ZNX. Then, at the time of independence in 1966, another callsign was allocated for this station and ZNX became 8PO.

During the following year, a mobile radio station was flown into Barbados for use as a news gathering facility in any possible areas of nearby emergency.

The first radio program service that was installed on Barbados was a Rediffusion system, or cable radio as we would call it today, that was introduced in 1935. The first subscriber was connected on April 2, and all programming was on relay via shortwave reception from the BBC London and commercially operated stations in the United States and Canada.

Five hours of daily programming was available on telephone lines from the distribution point of Radio Distribution (Barbados) Ltd. in Trafalgar Street. A local production studio was installed in 1947, and in 1951 the system was bought by the Rediffusion Service Ltd. of London in England.

Some eleven years later, this cable radio service was transferred into its own facilities in a new building on Riverside Road. Then in 1979, the system was bought by the Nation Corporation of Barbados. Cable radio on Barbados came to an end on November 30, 1997, and by this time, radio (and TV also) had supplanted the usefulness of this older system.

Mediumwave radio broadcasting was introduced into Barbados on December 15, 1963 with the inauguration of the government owned Radio Barbados, with 10 kW on the split channel 785 kHz. The station announcement during this era stated: This is Radio Barbados, the Voice of the Eastern Caribbean, 785 on your radio dial. Sometimes though the channel was announced as 790.

The transmitter and antenna tower were installed together with the Cable & Wireless communication station ZNX at Bearded Hall. Around eight years after its inauguration, the radiating channel for this mediumwave station was changed from 785 to 900 kHz.

A second mediumwave station began service in Barbados on May 1, 1981 under the slogan The Voice of Barbados. This station, also at 10 kW, took over the previous channel of the government station, 790 kHz, and it was operated by the previously mentioned cable radio system.

Shortwave radio broadcasting on Barbados began in 1935 when amateur radio operator Thomas Archer carried live descriptions of major sporting events on behalf of the Barbados Radio Association over his station VP6YB. These occasional and intermittent program broadcasts were last noted in the United States in December 1939.

However, soon afterwards the shortwave communication station operated by Cable & Wireless, VPO, introduced a daily half hour news bulletin which was heard at a good level on 3950 kHz. This station also relayed occasional special news events to the BBC London on 11475 kHz. In addition, occasional commentaries on major sports events were broadcast for reception and relay by other radio broadcasting stations throughout neighboring areas of the Caribbean.

These occasional and special events were heard quite widely over station VPO and also under the subsequent callsign ZNX. Many reception reports were received from listeners in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

It would be presumed that the sporting commentaries and other news items, together with occasional music and announcements, were presented on shortwave in co-operation with the cable radio system, local newspapers, and the government radio station with the slogan: The Voice of the Eastern Caribbean.

Back towards the end of last century, several religious organizations approached Cable & Wireless, enquiring regarding the possibility of using shortwave 8PO as a relay station for their programming. However, nothing came of these ventures.

Cable & Wireless was noted as a good verifier of transmissions from their station under all three consecutive callsigns; VPO, ZNX & 8PO. Letters were used to verify programming under the callsign VPO. Under the subsequent callsign ZNX, QSL cards were initially in the style of duplicated cards; and then in the mid-1960s, a printed QSL card with a yellow ornamental bar was introduced.

Shortwave Broadcasting on Barbados
1935-1940 Nightly broadcasts from amateur VP6YB, 3700 or 4200 kHz
1940-1944 Nightly 1/2 hour news bulletins on shortwave, 3950 kHz, VPO at The Reef
1944-1949 Nightly 1/2 hour news bulletins on shortwave, 3950 kHz, VPO at The Reef
1949-1965 Nightly 1/2 hour news bulletins on shortwave, 3950 kHz, VPO at The Reef