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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 N308, January 18, 2015

Focus on the South Pacific: French Radio in the South Pacific-New Caledonia–2

The introduction of wireless technology into New Caledonia, the French colony in the South Pacific, took place in the year 1920 when a new wireless station was installed at the Semaphore Station in Noumea, the island capital. The Semaphore Station was a white square tower located on a hill top, a little over 300 feet high. The callsign for this new maritime wireless station was FQN, indicating a French territorial possession.

The equipment at the station was changed from electrical spark operation to electronic valve or tube operation in 1924, and a new callsign was adopted, HZG. Then 8 years later, the transmission equipment was upgraded and modernized at apparently a new location, and again a new callsign was allocated, this time FJP. Test broadcasts from this new facility were noted in the United States on exactly 6000 kHz, and also 7100 kHz in 1936.

Two years earlier, in the month of July 1934, photographer and electrician, Charles Graveau in Noumea, New Caledonia began to implement procedures in order to obtain government approval to establish his own amateur radio station. He took to the air during the next year with the use of his home made transmitter rated at just 20 watts input; that is 12 watts output, as listed in a historic document.

At this time, the Charles Graveau station, licensed with the amateur callsign FK8AA, was simply an amateur operation in use to communicate with any other amateur radio station that could hear his low power signal. However, as was the custom in those days, there were occasions when FK8AA radiated music from whatever gramophone records were available.

However, the real objective of Charles Graveau was to establish a radio broadcasting station, and on April 28, 1937 he began a regular program service over his amateur station, FK8AA. Each Wednesday and Saturday evening his radio broadcasts went on the air, an hour in duration beginning at 5:30 pm.

This new radio broadcasting service was inaugurated over his amateur radio station in the family home at 44 Rue del Alma, in Noumea, New Caledonia. He identified the station on air as "Radio Noumea", though the official callsign FK8AA was still in vogue.

The new Radio Noumea, FK8AA, was first noted internationally in New Zealand in January of the following year 1938, and from that time onwards, the station was sought by many international radio monitors in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Even at such a low power, the station was heard occasionally at a great distance. Even though QSL cards were available, obtaining one was just as difficult as even hearing the station.

The hobby and commercial radio magazines in the same three countries, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, frequently reported news about the station, and on occasions even showed successful loggings. Initially FK8AA was logged on 6120 or 6122 kHz, though in the earlier part of the year 1940, the frequency was adjusted to 6130 kHz. Perhaps the transmitter was modified at this stage to increase the power a little.

Around a year later, the station in its sign off routine added two more anthems to its scheduling. In addition to the French Le Marseillaise, listeners now heard also God Save the King and the Star Spangled Banner, as a tribute to the island's allies. Soon afterwards, March Lorraine became a signature tune for these still twice weekly program broadcasts.

However, due to the international attention that was coming to New Caledonia with the massive American presence, the local government began active planning in 1942 for an official government radio broadcasting station. This new station was inaugurated on air towards the end of that year, or perhaps very early in the next year, 1943. At that stage, the original FK8AA as a broadcast station was retired, though the amateur operation was revived again after the end of the Pacific War.

The Australian magazine Radio & Hobbies reported the new government station for the first time in April 1943, when a new channel 6155 kHz was noted, though the previous callsign FK8AA was still shown, perhaps incorrectly. The final listing with the FK8AA callsign in this same magazine was in July 1946.

Programming and scheduling over the new Radio Pacifique Noumea was very similar to the earlier FK8AA, and apparently the concept and perhaps some of the family staff were transferred from the old station to the new. During the latter part of the war years, the new Radio Noumea increased its hours of on air programming and they also broadcast special programming for troops serving in the Pacific arena.

That is the story of the amateur become professional radio broadcast station, FK8AA in Noumea, New Caledonia. Interestingly though, there was another radio broadcasting station on another French island in the South Pacific with a similar amateur background and with a similar callsign. This other station was on the air under the callsign, not FK8AA but rather FO8AA, and it was not located in New Caledonia but rather in Tahiti. That's the story for another occasion here in Wavescan.

Underwater Radio

It is known that at least five radio broadcasting stations, or major components thereof, are lying at the bottom of the ocean in the ship that was carrying the equipment at the time. Four of these sunken ships were due to enemy action, and one was the result of a fierce winter storm.

Back in the year 1940, soon after the onset of the European Conflict, a 100 kW shortwave transmitter, manufactured at the Marconi company in Chelmsford, England, was shipped out to Singapore Island. It was intended that this transmitter would be installed at a new shortwave station still under construction, adjacent to the early Radio Malaya station at Jurong on the western side of Singapore island. When activated, this station was to act as a relay for the BBC London, with coverage into Asia and the Pacific.

However, due to an attack by an enemy submarine, the ship was sunk en route and the entire cargo was lost, including the electronic equipment for the new BBC shortwave relay station. Instead, a 50 kW RCA shortwave transmitter was subsequently consigned to Singapore, but before it could be activated, it was removed and taken to Barbados in the Caribbean where it was installed for Cable & Wireless at Boarded Hall under the callsign VPO.

Back in the year 1941, plans were laid for the installation of a megapowered mediumwave station at a secret underground location near Crowborough in England. This station was intended to beam surreptitious programming in various languages to continental Europe, and also to act as a BBC relay station for coverage into the same continental areas.

At the time, a super powered 500 kW transmitter was nearing completion at the RCA factory in Camden, New Jersey which had been ordered by NBC for mediumwave WJZ at Bound Brook, New Jersey. However, the FCC had imposed a 50 kW power limit for mediumwave stations in the United States and NBC-WJZ no longer needed this huge transmitter.

China demonstrated an interest in procuring this megalithic transmitter, but while negotiations were still underway, the British government arranged to purchase it and have it shipped across the Atlantic. The transmitter was re-engineered for 600 kW, disassembled into smaller units, crated and stowed separately into several different ships.

One of these cargo ships, carrying the antennas and towers, was sunk in the Atlantic by an enemy submarine and the equipment was lost. Very hurriedly, new towers and antennas were manufactured in the United States and freighted across the Atlantic where it was all installed above ground for the underground American transmitter, known as Aspidistra, at Crowborough.

During the latter half of the European Conflict, PWI Press Wireless International, manufactured and shipped across the Atlantic numerous transmitters, large and small, for use in islandic and continental Europe. Some of these shipments contained their famous 40 kW shortwave transmitter, and other shipments contained complete mobile radio broadcasting stations. The mobile stations usually contained a 400 watt transmitter, always capable of high speed Morse Code, and sometimes also capable of voice transmission.

Much of this radio equipment was manufactured at their new factory quite near to their large shortwave station at Hicksville on Long Island, New York and then shipped across the Atlantic. PWI states that at least one of these mobile stations was sunk by an enemy submarine in 1944, and that station still lies to this day on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

Also in the year 1944, Lord Louis Mountbatten expedited the construction of a large shortwave station at Ekala, a dozen miles north of Colombo in Ceylon, as it was known in those days. A large shipment of radio equipment, including electronic items from the Marconi factory at Chelmsford and redundant antenna systems from the Isle of Wight, were shipped out from England.

However, the entire consignment was lost to enemy submarine action in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka. Ultimately, a new consignment of equipment was sent out from England, and this was installed at the SEAC installation at Ekala, where it was in use for many years for the relay of programming by the BBC London, the Voice of America and Adventist World Radio. This SEAC station also carried programming on behalf of SLBC, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

Back in 1965, Ronan O'Rahilly in England ordered a 50 kW mediumwave transmitter from Continental Electronics in Dallas, Texas for installation on the ship Mi Amigo, which was on the air at the time as the famous pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. During that era, Continental was constructing several 50 kW mediumwave transmitters, Model 317C, for various clients.

However, the BBC suddenly needed two 50 kW mediumwave transmitters for its new Central Africa Relay Station at Francistown in Botswana and entrepreneur O'Rahilly agreed to allow the BBC to take the No 12 transmitter that he had ordered. The BBC also took an additional unit, No 13, so O'Rahilly agreed to accept transmitter No 14 in this series which he installed on board the Mi Amigo.

Some 15 years later, on March 19, 1980, the ship Mi Amigo encountered a Force 10 storm and she drifted for 10 nautical miles before running aground on the Long Sand Bank. The ship sank next day where she now lies in 10 feet of water in the Thames Estuary out from London.

The 50 kW mediumwave transmitter also went down with the ship, and that is where it lies to this day, at the shallow bottom of the North Sea!