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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 N281, July 13, 2014

Focus on Asia: The Calcutta Story-4--American Radio Stations in Calcutta

This is the fourth episode in the long and interesting history of radio broadcasting in India's first capital city Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is known today. We look at the intriguing story of American radio broadcasting stations in or near Calcutta.

We go back to the year 1928, and we discover that one of the early shortwave stations in the United States made a special broadcast beamed specifically to the city of Calcutta. The date was December 26, which is known as Boxing Day in countries associated with British backgrounds.

This special broadcast was on the air from the two General Electric shortwave transmitters W2XAD & W2XAF in Schenectady, New York, which were operating at the time with 25 kW and 40 kW respectively. The programming was produced in the studios of mediumwave WGY and it featured speeches by congressmen from Washington, D.C. and from visiting Indian officials.

In 1943, All India Radio-Calcutta carried spasmodic programming that was produced by locally resident personnel at a nearby British army base. Around this time, there was a British soldier serving in the front lines in Assam, and his wife was ill in hospital in England and not expected to survive. The soldier was removed from battle and flown to Calcutta where he recorded a message to his wife and this was transmitted back to England. It is reported that the wife revived, and recovered completely.

On April 1, 1944, the Indian government gave official approval to the American forces stationed in India for the installation of six local stations at 50 watts each, including Calcutta. However, as time went by, there was somewhere around a score of these little local entertainment radio stations on the air throughout the widespread dominion of what was British India at that time. These Armed Forces Radio Service AFRS stations were allocated Indian style callsigns in the series beginning with VU2Z.

The new Calcutta station was allotted the callsign VU2ZU and it was inaugurated with 50 watts on 1355 kHz during the summer of 1944. Shortly afterwards, a new 1 kW mediumwave transmitter arrived and this was installed and officially inaugurated on the same frequency with due ceremony on Thursday September 7 (1944).

With the increase of power and lack of interference on the mediumwave band in those days, AFRS VU2ZU was heard during the dark hours of the early morning and verified in both Australia and New Zealand.

As time went by the transmitter level at Calcutta AFRS diminished until the power output was rated at just 300 watts. The station closed forever on April 22, 1946. The need was over.

A shortwave outlet had been inaugurated at Calcutta in August 1945 and this transmitter was heard also in both Australia and New Zealand under the callsign VU2ZZ. The initial frequency was 14983 kHz, though it was heard subsequently on 14870 kHz.

Curiously, daily programming from the new AFRS VU2ZZ was a relay of the regular AIR service from Delhi, followed by special programming in French. It is not known whether the French programming was beamed to the previous French territories in South East Asia, or to what had been the French territory at Pondicherry on the south east coast of India, or perhaps both. This AFRS shortwave station was closed in January 1946.

Two questions remain unanswered regarding these two AFRS stations at Calcutta during World War 2. The first question: Where did the French programming come from, for broadcast over shortwave VU2ZZ? Was it American VOA programming? Or part of the overseas service from All India Radio? Or produced locally? Or perhaps from some other source, such as the BBC?

The second question: Where were the two AFRS stations located? It would be reasonable to presume that mediumwave VU2ZU and shortwave VU2ZZ were collocated, at the same American base near Calcutta, though this might not be the case. During World War 2, the Americans operated four major bases near Calcutta beginning in early 1944; they were all located south of Calcutta, they were all rather near each other, and they were all associated with the American air force. One American base, Chakulia, had been established by the British two years earlier.

Nearly twenty years later, the American involvement in Calcutta became evident again. This is what happened.

It was back in the year 1963 that negotiations between the governments of the United States and India resulted in an agreement for the Voice of America to establish a giant mediumwave station on the edge of the city of Calcutta. It was intended that this new facility would also be available for the broadcast of programming on behalf of AIR, All India Radio, and also for Radio Free Asia.

This plan for this huge mediumwave station would be at a power level of one megawatt, and after 5 years, VOA would sell it to the Indian government for just R1. A transmitter, apparently already in storage, was procured for this new relay station; and it was in fact 2 transmitters at 500 kW each, manufactured by Continental Electronics in the United States.

However, when the information about the projected high powered American radio station near Calcutta was printed in the newspapers in India, public opinion rose up against the project, and the Indian government cancelled their agreement with the Voice of America to establish this station, over the issue of Indian non-alignment in regional politics. The American government then transferred the entire project from Calcutta to nearby Thailand.

The World's Most Valuable Postage Stamp and Postage Stamp Radio

The history of postal delivery goes way back in the mists of time to the very early empires that were established in the Middle East and Asia. Ancient Egypt lays claim to the earliest postal system, which was established by the pharaohs more than 4,000 years ago. Soon afterwards, the Xia dynasty in China established an official government operated courier service.

It is stated that ancient Persia established the first real postal delivery system with written messages carried by couriers along established mail routes, with change of couriers and horses at established postal stations one day's journey apart.

It is claimed that Cyrus the Great established this Persian mail system around 500 BC, and interestingly this system is referred to in the Holy Bible, in the Book of Esther, chapter 11, and reading verse 9. This verse states that the scribes of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) translated a government decree into all of the local languages throughout the empire and the official postal service delivered the messages to the local government authorities in all 127 provinces of the ancient Persian Empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia.

In 1653, a Frenchman by the name of de Valayer established a commercial postal service in Paris. He set up mail boxes and delivered all letters placed in them, provided that the customers used only the envelopes that he himself sold. An adversary put live mice into the letter boxes and ruined this new postal system.

It is conceded that the world's first prepaid postage stamp was introduced by Sir Rowland Hill in England and it was validated for use beginning May 6, 1840. This new postage stamp, known as the Penny Black, shows the youthful, 18 year old, Queen Victoria and it was printed in unperforated sheets with 240 stamps per sheet.

The world's most valuable postage stamp is not the Penny Black in England, but rather a single copy of a hastily prepared stamp issued in British Guiana in South America in 1856. At a stamp auction in New York just a few weeks ago in mid-June, the only known copy of this emergency issue stamp, originally priced at just 1 cent, sold for $9-1/2 million.

We might say these days, that the world is full of postage stamps, so many that they cannot be totally and accurately accounted. Stamp collecting is considered to be the top worldwide collecting hobby, and these days, many people narrow their own collecting field to a specific country or to a specific theme, including of course, postage stamps that honor wireless or radio. A thematic count would suggest that some 700 or more postage stamps honoring wireless and radio in various ways have been issued in countries all around the world during the past almost one hundred years.

The first known postage stamp honoring wireless or radio was issued by Guatemala in Central America in 1919.This 30 cent stamp in red and blue was overprinted on several subsequent occasions, for change in value and usage. This stamp shows the two wireless towers and the antenna system suspended between them and it is presumed that the station shown on the stamp was located at Guatemala City. Around that same era, the United Fruit Company announced plans to establish another wireless station in Guatemala, at Puerto Barrios on the Gulf of Mexico, for maritime communication.

Other countries have also issued postage stamps showing wireless towers and antenna systems. For example, during the following year 1920, the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean issued a blue and green stamp that depicted the two wireless towers and the connecting antenna system at their new wireless station.

The South American country of Peru has issued two postage stamps under the same design, showing their national radio station at San Miguel; in 1938 and again in 1946, both at $1.50. Their mediumwave and shortwave callsigns are shown on this stamp:

The original color for this stamp was in purple, though a second re-issue in 1950 was printed in light plum.

Radio Luxembourg, both the building and the antenna towers, was shown in a 1953 issue from Luxembourg; a 1967 stamp from the Virgin Islands shows Radio Chalwell; and a 1970 stamp from the Netherlands Indies shows Bonaire Radio. A stamp commemorating the opening of the BBC relay station on Ascension Island in 1966 shows a symbolic representation of the British lion; a 1966 stamp for the Australian Antarctic Territories shows a man at the microphone with the callsign VLV on the shortwave transmitter at Mawson Base; and the 20th anniversary of Gospel station ELWA at Monrovia in Liberia was commemorated on a 1974 stamp from Liberia.

Many countries have honored the many pioneer experimenters who developed various phases of wireless and radio communication in the earlier years: such as Guglielmo Marconi with his 1895 experiments at Bologna in Italy and his first transmission across the Atlantic in 1901; Alexander Popov with his early wireless experiments in Russia; Joseph Murgas with his experiments in the eastern United States; Heinrich Hertz in Germany; and Edwin Armstrong with his introduction of clarity radio in the FM mode in the United States.

In more recent years, much of the emphasis in the preparation of postage stamps with a radio theme has concentrated more on the stylistic mode rather than the realistic. For example, the 1967 stamp commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Voice of America shows a radio tower with radiating circles around it, as does the 2003 stamp honoring Deutsche Welle in Germany, and also the 1982 stamp from Cuba. A similar concept was presented in Australia in a 1989 stamp honoring Radio Australia, though only one quadrant of the radiating circles is shown.

Radio receivers of various styles are also featured on postage stamps. An old receiver with a directional web antenna is featured on a 1973 stamp from San Marino; an old horn loud speaker is shown on a 1972 5 pence stamp in England; and a very old receiver on a 1974 stamp from Sweden. A modern radio receiver is shown on a 1983 blue stamp from Jamaica, and also in yellow on a 1999 stamp from New Zealand.

How many radio related stamps do you have in your stamp collection? Are you collecting all types of radio related postage stamps? Or are you collecting just one style, perhaps just transmitters, or just receivers?