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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 N319, April 5, 2015

In the Land of a Thousand Hills: National Radio in Rwanda

On this occasion here in Wavescan, we return to the radio scene in the small landlocked country of Rwanda in Africa. Last weekend, the final broadcasts from Deutsche Welle Kigali were noted by international radio monitors in many countries throughout the world, and this majestic shortwave station has now gone silent. Also silenced at the same time, was the national broadcasting system on shortwave in Rwanda, and that is our story for today.

The first radio broadcasting station to go on the air for coverage of Rwanda was not located in Rwanda itself; it was located in neighboring Burundi, which at the time was linked with Rwanda as a politically double territory. In 1960, Radio Usumbura, located in their capital city Usumbura, was inaugurated with 10 kW on 6195 kHz.

In preparation for Rwanda's coming independence, a radio broadcasting service was officially organized on May 19, 1961. Their first transmitter, we would suggest, was located at the government wireless station that had been established in Kigali in 1930. The first known reference to this new radio broadcasting service is found in the Australian magazine Radio & Hobbies for January 1962 in a note from the highly esteemed Arthur Cushen in New Zealand. Arthur Cushen appears to be quoting from another source for this item, perhaps in the United States or maybe in Sweden.

Programming from this new shortwave station, it was stated, was in the French language, and also in local languages. Perhaps some, if not all of this radio programming, was relayed from the new shortwave station already on the air in neighboring Usumbura in Burundi.

In 1962, the government of Belgium granted independence to the double unit Rwanda-Burundi, and Rwanda became a separate and independent nation in its own right. At this stage Germany had already begun work on establishing a shortwave relay station for Deutsche Welle, near Kinyinya, some ten miles north of the now capital city, Kigali. The inaugural broadcast from this new shortwave station in Rwanda took place on August 30 of the following year 1963, with the usage of a temporary 600 watt transmitter on 7225 kHz (mornings) and 7295 kHz (evenings).

However, around that same time, a 5 kW transmitter was installed in the same Deutsche Welle facility and this radiated programming on behalf of Rwanda National Radio on 6050 kHz. Then during the following year, a 50 kW Philips transmitter model 8FZ514/01 was installed and this took over the same shortwave channel in the 49 metre band, which was stabilized on approximately 6055 kHz.

Programming was produced locally in a studio in the capital city, though Radio Rwanda also relayed daily news bulletins in French from neighboring Radio Burundi.

A dozen years later, the 5 kW transmitter was reactivated in 1976, this time on the tropical band channel 3330 kHz. As time went by, a 20 kW RIZ transmitter from Croatia model OR20K1 was installed (1984) followed by a 100 kW ABB model SK51F3-2P (1992), apparently operating at half power. For the last decade or so, Radio Rwanda shortwave has been noted on usually just one channel, the same 6055 kHz.

Radio Rwanda has never been on the air on mediumwave, though two high powered mediumwave transmitters were planned in the early 1980s; 100 kW on 1512 kHz for Kigali, and 50 kW on 1530 kHz for Gitirama. Instead, Radio Rwanda continued the development of a nationwide network of FM stations beginning around the mid 1970s and they abandoned the plans for mediumwave coverage.

During the time of trouble in Rwanda, the Deutsche Welle/Radio Rwanda shortwave station was safeguarded by a two mile long wall with metal spears on top completely surrounding the station, and the approach road was barricaded and mined. On April 13, 1994, the German staff (seven men, three wives and a child), were rescued by two Belgian helicopters and these personnel were taken to Nairobi in Kenya for safety.

At times during the long drawn out era of intertribal fighting, the relay station was sometimes off the air, particularly when the electric power was interrupted. During this era of turmoil, Radio Rwanda was still on the air at times with the usage of a standby generator powering the 20 kW transmitter. However, in all of these tragic events, the station remained undamaged.

However, after more than 40 years of on air service, the Deutsche Welle relay station was closed over the last weekend of March, and thus the broadcasts from Radio Rwanda on shortwave also came to an end. At the time, there were five active shortwave transmitters, four at 250 kW and one at 100 kW. These days, the nationwide network for Radio Rwanda is on the air on FM only.

Several Rwanda QSL cards of interest are known. The DW card that was issued from their headquarters in Cologne in Germany showed a map of Africa in yellow superimposed upon a background of strong blue, though other DW cards were also issued to verify the reception of their African relay station, with Kigali written in as the location.

The generic Radio Rwanda QSL card shows a bullseye target of circles with no specific QSL details. A Radio Netherlands card verifies their relay via Kigali; and AWR also issued many different types of QSL cards to verify their relay via Kigali, usually with what is now a rare Kigali QSL stamp.

We should also mention that AWR established an FM station in Kigali some 10 years ago. The station is installed in the building that serves as the headquarters for the Adventist denomination in Rwanda, and it is located in the Kacyiru sector of Gasabo district in Kigali. This FM station was inaugurated on March 10, 2005 and it can be heard at 106.4 MHz.

And before we leave the Rwanda scene, we should mention that Adventist World Radio made two earlier attempts at instigating a relay over the Deutsche Welle shortwave station at Kigali. The first attempt was in mid 1975, when a series of daily half hour test broadcasts in the Swahili language was scheduled, and the second attempt was two years later.

There is no record that the two projected AWR relays via DW Kigali ever went to air, even though the first tapes were delivered to the station. There were unexpected delays in the production of AWR programing in the Swahili language.

On the third occasion for an AWR relay via Kigali, the programs were on the air for 2-1/2 hours daily for just the recent B14 transmission period which ended during the last weekend in the month of March when the station was closed.

The Radio Scene in the Isolated Andaman Islands

At the beginning of March, an important radio event was held in Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman Islands. This radio event was a large international amateur radio convention lasting nearly two weeks, and the initial venue was the Hotel Megapode Nest. Hamtec 2015 was held for two days, March 6 & 7, and the following ten days were given to lectures and presentations about the many varied aspects of amateur radio operating and activity.

This event was organized by NIAR, the National Institute of Amateur Radio in Hyderabad, India, and two special callsigns were issued for the occasion; VU4A for foreign amateur radio operators who were visiting for the occasion, and VU4I for Indian amateur radio operators from the Indian mainland. Among the NIAR officials visiting Port Blair for this occasion, was Jose Jacob, VU2JOS, who also provided us with an update on the radio and TV scene in the Andaman Islands.

The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are a long chain of 572 tropical islands that extend for a distance of some 600 miles, though only 36 are inhabited. They are located in the Bay of Bengal on the edge of the Indian Ocean, and they are a territory belong to the Republic of India. The total population is a little over 1/3 million, with Port Blair as the capital city, and the only city in the entire island cluster.

Some of the small primitive tribes living on isolated islands prefer to remain in isolation without any contact with the outside world. Some of these languages have not been identified and the relationship to other known languages is to this day completely unknown.

Port Blair is located on the east coast of South Andaman Island. It is the administrative center for both sections of the island cluster, the Andamans and the Nicobars, and it is developing into a recognized tourist destination.

The original inhabitants of the Andaman Islands are aboriginal peoples whose origins and languages are not fully substantiated. It is thought that they arrived more than 2,000 years ago and until European exploration of Asia and the Pacific took place, they lived in almost complete isolation. Occasional early travelers, such as the famous Marco Polo and others, described the islanders as very primitive, practicing a form of cannibalism.

The British came in 1789 and they established a settlement at what is now Port Blair, on South Andaman Island. The islands were occupied by the Japanese for two and one-half years beginning in March 1942.

The first wireless station in the Andaman Islands was installed by the British in Port Blair just before the beginning of World War 1 and it was on the air in Morse Code under the callsign ROB. Callsigns for early wireless stations in the eastern area of what was greater India under the British raj all began with the twin letters RO. After the war, the call in Port Bair was amended to VTP.

The first radio broadcasting station installed in Port Blair was a 1 kW mediumwave unit operating on 1440 kHz. The transmitter was located in the studio building at suburban Dilanipur which was built on an 8 acre property on an elevated area.

This first transmitter was a Japanese NEC Model No. MB122 and it was officially inaugurated on August 15, 1959. When the mediumwave band in Asia and elsewhere was changed from 10 kHz spacing to 9 kHz on November 23, 1978, Port Blair remained on the same 1440 kHz.

In 1975, an additional transmitter facility was constructed for All India Radio on a 40 acre property at Brookshabad, 10 miles south from the studio building. Two 10 kW Indian made transmitters Model HMB104 were installed and these were inaugurated on November 6, 1975.

The original frequency was 680 kHz and this was modified to 684 kHz under the 9 kHz spacing in 1984. At this stage, the original 1 kW unit was taken into alternative programming, though subsequently it was in use only for emergency purposes, including as a studio to transmitter program link when needed. This unit was removed from service and dismantled in November 2004 and it was replaced in the same space by an FM transmitter.

In order to provide adequate coverage to distant islands in the Andamans & Nicobars, a Japanese 10 kW NEC shortwave transmitter Model HFB7840 was installed with a dipole antenna system beamed north & south. A lengthy series of drawn out test broadcasts began in September 1988, and it was taken into full service on March 11, 1989. Test frequencies back then were 4760 kHz, 6000 kHz, 7180 kHz & 9690 kHz, though 4760 kHz & 7115 kHz became its standard frequencies.

Fourteen years later, one of the exciters developed a fault, and the transmitter power was dropped back to 4 kW. A specially made Indian exciter was installed in January of the following year (2004) and the transmitter power was then increased to 8-1/2 kW.

In 1992 an additional studio building was constructed on the hill top property adjacent to the older building. The total staff at AIR Port Blair in all areas of activity these days is a little more than 100, and they produce programming in the national and local languages.

A new 100 kW mediumwave transmitter manufactured by Thales in Switzerland was commissioned on the same 684 kHz channel in May 2003, and the twin 10 kW units were retained for standby usage. A 10 kW Nautel FM transmitter was installed at the studio premises in Dilanipur for direct broadcast of the VB Vividh Bharati network programming during the following year (2004).

During the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 2005, AIR Port Blair carried special emergency programming. When power was not available locally and the station was off the air, a 250 kW shortwave transmitter in Delhi carried special programing beamed to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.