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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 N298, November 9, 2014

100th Anniversary Panama Canal: The Radio Story - Part 2

Two weeks back we presented part 1 in this two part series of topics on the story of radio broadcasting in the Panama Canal Zone in honor of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal in Central America. Today, we complete the Panama Canal Zone story and we pick up the historic radio information regarding radio program broadcasting from this narrow slice of tropical territory. But first we present the outline story of one of America's well known early wireless stations.

Back in August 1918, the American navy inaugurated their first high powered wireless station in the Panama Canal Zone. This station, rated at 200 kW, was launched under an American navy callsign, NPJ, though this was soon afterwards regularized to the better known NBA.

The station location for NBA was always given as Balboa, though originally it was located in the Darien district about half way along the canal. When electronic valve equipment was installed at a new location in 1929, a new callsign was allotted, NDG. The transmitter was at the Summit, and the receiver station was located across the canal at Farfan.

However, a do-it-yourself typed QSL card verifies the usage of the callsign NBA in 1972. Reception of NBA as heard in the United States was on July 27, and the frequency was 17697.5 kHz with a power of 5 kW.

Around the same time, the American army established a communication station at Quarry Heights under the callsign WVL and the purpose for this facility was intercommunication with other army stations in the area. However, in 1940, a small low powered broadcasting transmitter was co-installed with station WVL in the basement of the army barracks for the purpose of disseminating army information to army outposts.

In January of the following year (1941), army personnel began broadcasting music over this small transmitter for the entertainment of army personnel. The unofficial callsign was PCAC, standing for Panama Canal Artillery Command. Daily broadcasts of news were taken from the Panama Star & Herald, and on Sundays news was read from the latest available issue of Time magazine.

This small, unofficial, irregular and unlicensed radio broadcasting station is considered to be the first American army entertainment station, a forerunner to AFRS, the Armed Forces Radio Service. Regular programming began in April, and it was carried on two channels in parallel, WVL shortwave and WVUB mediumwave.

In an attempt to obtain additional suitable programming, the staff wrote to the NBC network in the United States, requesting recordings, and soon afterwards almost one ton of pre-recorded program discs arrived at the station in Quarry Heights. However, a few months later, on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, the Panama station was closed so that it could not be used as a homing beacon for incoming enemy bombers.

The radio broadcasting station was re-opened with new imported equipment as a regular unit of the AFRS network a little over a year later at the same location in Fort Clayton. That was in March 1943, and four broadcast transmitters were now available:

WVL 5 kW 790 kHz Regular programming
WVUB .25 kW 1420 kHz Parallel relay
WVUC .25 kW 1480 kHz Occasional special programming
WVL .4 kW 2380 kHz Subsequently modified to 2390 kHz

At the same time as the new station was installed at Fort Clayton, a relay station was installed at Fort Gulick on the Atlantic coast of the Canal Zone. This station radiated with 1 kW on 1420 kHz. Then in 1948, the entire facility at Fort Clayton was transferred to a permanent home, into Building 209 at this same army barracks.

According to entries in the World Radio TV Handbook, the twin AFRS mediumwave stations located at Fort Clayton and Fort Gulick (or Fort Davis under its newer name) were closed sometime around the year 1971. We would suggest that the programming was still on the air for the next many years, though now only in the standard FM Band 2.

During the short era of military confrontation between the United States and president Manuel Noriega of Panama in December 1989, the United States implemented its psychological warfare procedures under the project title "Operation Just Cause". The active FM station(s?) at the American base(s?) carried programming of special music and information for this purpose, beginning on December 20.

In addition, the Americans activated a mediumwave station (the previous 5 kW AFRS unit?) and it was on the air under the identification slogan, "Radio Liberacion". There was also a mobile radio transmitter on the air under the identification slogan, "Voice of Liberty". These temporary stations ended their service under Operation Just Cause when hostilities culminated a little over a week later, on December 29.

Just a very few QSLs from the AFRS stations in the Panama Canal Zone are known, and these were letters from WVL Quarry Heights on shortwave in the immediate postwar era.

The Calcutta Radio Story: QSL Cards & Letters - 5

In our program today, we present part 5 in the five part series on the wireless and radio history in Calcutta, or Kolkata, area in the Indian state of West Bengal. Calcutta was the capital city for India for a period of time, up until a little over one hundred years ago when the functions of the national capital were transferred to New Delhi.

In this our final report on the Kolkata scene, we draw attention to the many QSL cards and letters that have been issued by All India Radio in Kolkata. The QSL collection in Indianapolis holds more than 300 QSL cards and letters from Indian radio broadcasting stations, and more than 30 are from Kolkata itself.

The oldest Calcutta QSL is dated in the year 1935. It is a letter addressed to an international radio monitor who was living in Christchurch New Zealand. The small style letterhead itself states that it was issued by the Calcutta Station of the Indian State Broadcasting Service and this was in the era before the now familiar All India Radio was established. At the time, station VUC was on the air mediumwave with 2.5 kW on 810 kHz and with 2 kW on 6110 kHz, though the QSL letter does not specify which outlet was logged by the listener in New Zealand.

Next, VUC issued a Form Letter QSL and our copy is dated in 1938 when the shortwave unit VUC2 was operating at 10 kW with a daily schedule of 4850 kHz morning and evening and 9530 kHz during the day. Their first QSL card was the Silver Logo network card which showed Calcutta with the same three frequencies, mediumwave and shortwave.

In the 1970s, AIR Calcutta was issuing picture postcards with the QSL text in the left panel on the address side of the card. Those cards issued from Calcutta showed local Calcutta scenes, such as the Howrah Bridge and the Victoria Memorial. Those cards issued from the AIR headquarters in New Delhi on behalf of Calcutta portrayed any number of colorful scenes all throughout India. Many of the other Kolkata QSL cards in the Indianapolis Heritage Collection are self-prepared Postal Cards with the QSL text rubber stamped onto the blank side.

We should also mention that the Calcutta-Kolkata QSL cards verify some twenty different mediumwave, shortwave and FM channels with power ratings ranging from 2.5 kW through 10, 20 and 50 kW, up to 1,000 kW over a period of 3/4 of a century.