"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 N306, January 4, 2015
Focus on the South Pacific: New Caledonia and its American Radio Station
A French island with a Scottish name in the South Pacific that was discovered by an Englishman, and it was overwhelmed with a temporary American population far larger than its own citizenry. That, was New Caledonia!
This tropical island lies 750 miles off the east coast of Australia; it has a richer biodiversity of birds, animals and vegetation than what the noted English naturalist Charles Darwin discovered in the Galapagos Islands; and it is the locale for a home born population that speaks more than 40 local languages. This French territory of New Caledonia encompasses more than 250 islands, 40 of which are inhabited; and the main island, narrow and long, could be described on a map as looking like a wriggly worm, swimming towards New Zealand.
The original inhabitants of New Caledonia were the Lapita people, who, it is said, arrived from Taiwan two and three thousand years ago. Their culture had developed an ornate form of pottery that was discovered by two American archaeologists at more than 30 sites in New Caledonia.
Captain James Cook, an explorer with the Royal Navy in England, was the first European to site New Caledonia, and this was on his second voyage to the South Pacific in 1774. He named the island New Caledonia, a Latin name for Scotland, because the terrain he saw reminded him of Scotland. The first French visitor was Jean-Francois de Galaup with the French frigates "Astrolabe" and "Boussole" in 1788.
For more than half a century, there was very little European contact with New Caledonia, but from 1840 onwards, the Europeans developed a greater interest in this island, due to its highly desirable sandalwood, and also mineral mining, in particular nickel. Christian missionaries from England came to New Caledonia in the mid 1800s, and they stated that cannibalism was rampant among the local Kanaka peoples, much of which was involved with ceremonialism.
Under orders from Napoleon 3, Admiral Febvrier Despointes took formal possession of New Caledonia as part of the French empire in the Pacific on September 24, 1853; and Noumea, the capital city, was officially founded on June 25 of the following year, 1854. For the next half century, New Caledonia served as a penal colony for French criminals who were imprisoned there for varying periods of time.
After the fall of France during the European War in June 1940, the General Council in Noumea opted to support the Free French, and the pro-Vichy governor was forced out of office; he retired to French IndoChina.
With co-operation from Australia, New Caledonia became an important allied base during World War 2 and the first convoy of fifteen large American navy ships arrived on March 12, 1942. During the Pacific War, more than one million American service personnel were staged through New Caledonia. At the time, the total population of the island was only a quarter million.
The Americans built up the harbor facilities at Noumea, and they erected 85 steel warehouses to accommodate all of the incoming supplies for their forces in the South Pacific. The medical facilities for the American navy included two hospitals in Noumea, each with a capacity of 2,000 beds. Two airfields were developed, one at Tontouta 35 miles north of Noumea, and the other at Magenta Bay, across the waterway from Noumea.
The first radio broadcasting station on the air in New Caledonia for the benefit of forces personnel was a small unit that was installed in the International Red Cross Building in Noumea. The equipment for this mediumwave station was bought in Australia, and it was launched on September 5, 1943, apparently on 965 kHz.
This informal broadcasting station in Noumea was taken over by American forces personnel and then replaced by an official American station in January of the following year (1944), on the same channel 965 kHz. This station initially identified on air as All Services Radio, ASR, though this title was soon afterwards changed to AES, the American Expeditionary Station, and sometimes the Allied Expeditionary Station.
When official callsigns in the WV and WX series were allocated to the American forces entertainment stations throughout the world, the official callsign for Noumea became WVUS. At this time, all of the American forces stations around the world were identified under the same group nomenclature; AFRS, Armed Forces Radio Service.
Back at that time, three AFRS stations were set up quite simultaneously in the South Pacific; the first two were at Guadalcanal and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, with WVUS in Noumea New Caledonia as the third, and this was followed quite quickly by another station located at Espirito Santo in the New Hebrides. However, as was stated, the mediumwave WVUS, in the same Red Cross Building in Noumea, was better equipped than the two other stations located at Guadalcanal and Espirito Santo.
Station WVUS Noumea, with its 1 kW transmitter now on 975 kHz, acted as the main station in what became known as the Mosquito Network, a group of similar isolated stations in various islands of the South Pacific. The programming on each station was normally produced locally or taken off live shortwave broadcasts from the United States. However, in November 1944, a special program produced at WVUS Noumea was picked up off air and relayed live by three other stations in the Mosquito Network: WVUQ Guadalcanal, WVUR Espirito Santo & 1ZM Auckland in New Zealand.
Radio station WVUS in the Red Cross building in Noumea was closed in November 1945 and the transmitter was flown to Guadalcanal where it was reconditioned and installed for station WVUQ.
However, a new WVUS was inaugurated at the airport at Tontouta, 35 miles north of Noumea in the same month, November 1945. This new station, with different equipment, operated with the same power, 1 kW, and on the same channel, 975 kHz as the previous WVUS. However, this station was now under the control of the United States Air Force and it was no longer a part of the informal Mosquito Network.
This new WVUS was on the air for less than a year and it was closed at the end of the broadcast day, Saturday night June 15 of the following year 1946. However, a weekly Australian radio magazine for November 2, 1946 reported in its radio news column that three AFRS stations in the South Pacific, each previously closed, were heard in New Zealand in late September, including the comparatively new WVUS at the American air force base at Tontouta in New Caledonia.
Radio station WVUS on New Caledonia was often heard with a good signal by international radio monitors in New Zealand and Australia, and at least one QSL is known. The noted Arthur Cushen in New Zealand reported in a book he wrote, The World in My Ears, that he received a prepared QSL card from this station during the era of the Pacific War.
The Story of Australian Shortwave Callsigns: VLA
In our program today, we present the first topic in a series on shortwave callsigns in Australia. Each of these callsigns begins with the two letters VL followed by another letter in the English alphabet, in progressive order from A to Z. Here today, as we begin this long sequence of interesting radio information, we present the fascinating story of the callsign VLA.
Back more than one hundred years ago, two wireless stations were under construction in New Zealand. The electrical equipment for these two coastal communication stations was manufactured by the Telefunken company in Germany, and German technicians were performing the installation procedures under the auspices of the Australasian Wireless Company in Sydney, Australia.
The first of these two wireless stations, at least in alphabetic order, was located at the edge of Doubtless Bay, near Awanui, right at the very tip of the North Island of New Zealand. This new wireless station was installed on a 100 acre site; the triangular mild steel antenna tower weighed 60 tons and it stood at 400 ft. high, resting on a ball and socket joint on a glass insulator; and a 70 horse power motor generated the electricity. Both the receiver and the transmitter were installed in the same building, though in separate rooms.
This new wireless station was activated on March 27, 1913 under the original callsign, NZA, standing for New Zealand station A at Awanui and Auckland. It was taken into regular service at the end of the same year, December 18, and by that time the callsign had been modified from NZA to VLA, due to new international wireless regulations.
In 1924, the electrical equipment at station VLA was changed from spark gap operation to electronic valve or tube operation. Then in 1927 the callsign was again amended, this time from VLA to ZLA, due again to a change in international radio regulations. The station was ultimately closed on February 10, 1930 when its communication service was no longer needed.
And then a few months later, we find the callsign VLA in use on Bruny Island, a small island located near the south east coast of the Australian island state of Tasmania. The island is very rugged and its shape is very irregular, and in reality, it is more like two separated islands joined by a very narrow isthmus. Bruny Island is named in honor of the French explorer Bruni d'Entrecasteaux.
When European explorers first came to the area, the twin islands were inhabited by a small tribe of Tasmanian Aborigines. The landmark Lighthouse, now a tourist attraction, was built in 1838 at the very bottom tip of South Bruny Island, facing Antarctica.
A small communication radio station was installed at the lighthouse in 1930, and the first entry in the log book is dated June 1. Eight years late, the equipment at the radio station was updated with the installation of a pedal wireless transmitter which was powered by a generator attached to a stationary bicycle.
A brief report in an Australian radio magazine, dated in August 1941, gives the callsign for this small communication radio station at the Bruny Island Lighthouse as VLA, and it operated just above the standard mediumwave band, as it was at the time, on 1579 kHz.
During the war, the callsign VLA was unassigned from the small communication radio station on Bruny Island and held in readiness for a powerful 100 kW shortwave transmitter that was under construction for installation at Shepparton in Victoria. Three transmitters at 100 kW each were envisaged for deployment at Shepparton, and the planned allocation of callsigns was VLA, VLC & VLM.
The driver and preliminary stages for the new VLA transmitter were constructed in Australia by AWA and the modulator and final stages were constructed by STC, the Standard Telephones and Cables, both in suburban Sydney. The VLA transmitter, with its two channel input allowing for quick frequency change, was activated on August 13, 1945, and it was taken into scheduled service two days later, August 15.
A postfix number after the callsign, such as VLA3 VLA6 or VLA8, indicated a specific frequency for on air usage. Beginning on June 1, 1951, the usage of the postfix numbers was modified, so that the number itself indicated a particular megahertz band.
In 1961, the VLA transmitter was bifurcated, and with the insertion of additional electronic equipment, a complete new transmitter became available, and it was assigned a new callsign, VLF. The original VLA transmitter was withdrawn from service in 1983.
Also at the end of the same year in which VLA was bifurcated, Radio Australia dropped the usage of official callsigns, and instead the callsign VLA identified a specific program line from the Melbourne studios to the transmitter site at Shepparton. To this day, the identification A or VLA still refers to the specific program line that runs to Shepparton, and not necessarily a specific transmitter.
Radio Australia was a prolific verifier of reception reports and literally thousands of QSL cards under the callsign VLA were posted out to listeners all around the world. During the quarter century when this callsign was in vogue, two different QSL cards were in use, though half a dozen slight variations are known.
The first card was in use from 1946 to 1950 and it depicted a map of Australia in yellow with a stylized antenna; and the second card which was in use during the 1950s, depicted a more detailed map with the famous laughing bird, the Kookaburra. This second card had two major variations, one with the station name, Radio Australia, in yellow and the other with the station name in red. Form letter QSLs were issued for a few years during the 1990s, giving the usage of the line callsign VLA together with the frequency and transmitter location as Shepparton.