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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 N311, February 11, 2015

Tribute to Shortwave WYFR-14: The Okeechobee Story

As we continue in our long and interesting series of topics on the illustrious history of shortwave station WYFR, we come now to the story of the current transmitter site which is located in Okeechobee, Florida. Okeechobee itself is a quite small regional city located above the northern edge of the rather large Lake Okeechobee, in the bottom part of the Florida peninsula.

Lake Okeechobee is itself a large freshwater lake, 35 miles long and 29 miles wide, with several small rivers and streams running into it. The name Okeechobee means "big water" in an old local American Indian language. The small town called Okeechobee, which caters for lake tourism, is situated near the northern edge of the lake itself.

The huge new mega-shortwave station for Family Radio was constructed on a leased property of 664 acres, some 20 miles north of Lake Okeechobee. The flat land in this area is utilized locally for animal grazing, and nearby are large citrus groves and areas for sod grass crops.

A single one-story building was constructed in the center of this property for use as the transmitter building, and the surrounding area was set aside for the installation of a massive series of antenna systems; rhomboid, curtain and log periodic. The pattern of the multitude of feeder lines, running from the transmitter building to the antenna systems, is described as resembling the spokes on a huge wheel. Construction work on this new shortwave station began nearly forty years ago, in late 1976.

During the following year (1977), the first shortwave transmitter was installed. This unit was a 100 kW Continental model 418D that Family Radio had purchased a few years earlier and it was taken out of storage in Dallas, Texas for installation in Okeechobee, Florida.

This new transmitter, now identified as WYFR1, was taken into scheduled service on November 23, 1977 with programming in two progressive segments which were beamed to Europe followed by the Spanish service to Latin America. At this stage, WYFR was now on the air from two widely separated locations; four transmitters, 50 kW and 100 kW at Scituate in Massachusetts, and the new 100 kW in Florida, all under the collective callsign WYFR.

The second transmitter for installation at the new Florida site was also a 100 kW Continental model 418D and this unit had been on the air earlier with Family Radio at Hatherly Beach, Scituate for just three years. This Scituate transmitter, WYFR(6), was shut down in late 1977 and made ready for the more than 1200 mile journey to Okeechobee, Florida where it was re-activated early in the following year and identified consecutively as WYFR2.

The 50 kW Continental 417B at Scituate, where it had been on the air under the previous owners as WNYW4, was shut down in the early part of the year 1978, and after installation at Okeechobee it was re-activated at the end of the same year as WYFR3. During the two years, 1978 & 1979, two more of the transmitters at Scituate, the 100 kW Harris Gates units, model HF100, WNYW2 & WNYW3, were shut down and re-activated at Okeechobee under the consecutive designations WYFR4 & WYFR5.

The last transmitter at Scituate, the 50 kW Harris Gates model HF50C, was closed down without ceremony at the end of its broadcast day on Friday November 16, 1979. A report in an Australian radio magazine atests the closing time as 2052 UTC; that is, 4:52 pm Eastern Daylight Savings time, at the end of the English Service to Africa on 21525 kHz. However, Dan Elyea, WYFR Engineering Manager, who was at the transmitter site at Hatherly Beach at the time, remembers that the final broadcast over WNYW ended sometime in the evening.

At the end of its 60 year era of illustrious service, Scituate now lay silent. Gone were the uncounted, innumerable broadcasts in a multitude of languages that were heard virtually in every country of the world, and gone were the life stories of the experienced radio personnel who kept the station alive over the life time of its active on air service.

After Family Radio, under Dan Elyea and his crew, had removed all usable equipment, the 40 acre property reverted to its owners and it lay idle for a score of years. Occasional radio visitors to the location described the property as abandoned and covered with so much undergrowth that it would be better described as overgrowth.

There were just a few identifiable objects that remained on the property as reminders of its previous glory. The transmitter building, which had been in use by the American army during World War 1 for an electric power generator was still there, and so was the old chimney, though minus either of the callsigns WRUL or WNYW. In addition, a few odds and ends of debris lay scattered around on the ground. However, some 20 years ago, the property was taken over for the construction of an upscale housing area, and it remains that way to this day.

Meanwhile, down there in Florida, WNYW5 from Scituate was installed as WYFR6, where it was reactivated on its previous frequency, 21525 kHz in the English Service to Africa.

In addition, work continued on the construction of eight more transmitters at 100 kW, and the erection of the remaining antenna systems. Each of the new transmitters was constructed by WYFR staff on site at Okeechobee using the same design as the Continentals that were already on the air at WYFR. The first of their new locally made units, WYFR7, was activated on December 7, 1981, in the Family Radio English Service to Western Canada.

During the next four years, seven more locally made transmitters were installed at the shortwave site and the final unit, WYFR14, was activated on September 25, 1988. Thus they were now fully complemented with 14 shortwave transmitters, 2 at 50 kW and 12 at 100 kW, together with a bevy of 23 antennas; 12 log periodics, 5 nested double rhomboids (10), and a TCI curtain with a passive reflector.

Australian Shortwave Callsigns: VLB

Quite simultaneously more than 100 years ago, two 50 kW spark wireless stations were under construction in New Zealand, one at the northern tip of the North Island and the other at the southern tip of the South Island. Both of these stations, with identical equipment, were installed by German personnel who were working with the Telefunken company in Germany under contract with the Australasian Wireless Company in Sydney, Australia.

The second of these two wireless stations, at least in alphabetic order, was located on the Awarua Plain near The Bluff, right at the very bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. The triangular mild steel antenna tower for this new wireless station weighed 120 tons and it stood at 410 ft. high, resting on a ball and socket joint on a glass insulator. 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 and it was taken into regular service at the end of the same year, December 18. It is probable that the first and temporary callsign for this new station was ZLB, that is station B in New Zealand, indicating the second of these two new stations, and also the station at the Bluff. Soon afterwards, the callsign was modified to VLB, due to new international wireless regulations.

Somewhere around the year 1924, the electrical equipment at station VLB was changed from spark gap operation to electronic valve or tube operation. Then in 1927 the callsign was again amended, this time from VLB to ZLB, due again to a change in international radio regulations. The station was closed on August 30, 1991 at the end of its 3/4 century of illustrious service when its communication capability was no longer needed.

In the mid 1930s, the callsign VLB was taken over for usage with a small communication station located at the lighthouse on Maatsuyker Island at the very southern coast of the Australian island of Tasmania. Maatsuyker is a small uninhabited island which looks on the map like a tortoise sitting upright; it is just 1-1/2 miles long by 3/4 mile wide. The Maatsuyker Lighthouse is the most southerly lighthouse in Australia.

A few years later, the callsign VLB was removed from the little communication radio station on Maatsuyker Island and it was 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 original planned allocation of callsigns was VLA, VLC & VLM.

The driver and preliminary stages for the new VLB transmitter were constructed in Australia by AWA, and the modulator and final stages were constructed by STC, Standard Telephones and Cables, both in suburban Sydney. The VLB transmitter, with its two channel input allowing for quick frequency change, was activated in May 1946, and it was taken into scheduled service with test broadcasts and regular programming soon afterwards.

A postfix number after the callsign, such as VLB3, VLB6 or VLB8, 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.

During the year 1960, work was underway to bifurcate the two 100 kW transmitters and one of the 50 kW transmitters took over the VLB service. For example, the PMG Schedule dated September 4, 1960 shows both VLA & VLB shown as 50 kW each.

In 1961, the modifications were completed, the VLB transmitter was now bifurcated into two units, and with the insertion of additional electronic equipment, a complete new transmitter became available. This new unit was given the callsign VLE. The original VLB transmitter was finally withdrawn from service in 1983.

At the end of the same year in which VLB was bifurcated, Radio Australia dropped the usage of official callsigns, and instead the callsign VLB identified a specific program line from the Melbourne studios to the transmitter site at Shepparton. To this day, the identification B or VLB still refers to the specific program line that runs to Shepparton, though not necessarily a specific transmitter.

Radio Australia was usually a prolific verifier of reception reports and literally thousands of QSL cards under the callsign VLB 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 printing 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 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 VLB together with the frequency and transmitter location as Shepparton.