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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 N383, June 26, 2016

Focus on the South Pacific--Cook Islands 5: The World's Most Beautiful Island

The World's Most Beautiful Island! That is the distinction that has been awarded to the island of Aitutaki in the Southern Cook Islands. It is a place of unsurpassed natural beauty and tranquility, and in June 2010 the island was nominated by Tony Wheeler, the founder of the Lonely Planet Travel Guides, as "the world's most beautiful island."

Dotted around the island are many picturesque villages, some featuring old coral and lime church buildings. The villages are surrounded by lush vegetation where footpaths lead through palms to the beauty of Aitutaki lagoon. The aqua water, and the foaming breakers around the perimeter reef, and the broad sandy beaches at its many small deserted islets, make for a glorious scene. As the tourist brochure declares, from the air or on the water, Aitutaki will take your breath away.

Aitutaki atoll is just 45 minutes north by air from the national capital on Rarotonga island, but it feels like another world. Although there are some impressive, plush resorts on Aitutaki, this island is slower and much less commercialised. Some visitors arrive with Air Rarotonga's day tour for a few hours, while others opt to stay at upmarket resorts on the island for a few days.

Aitutaki is shaped like a curved fishhook, and you will fly into the north of the island near O'otu Beach and the private Aitutaki Lagoon Resort. On the west side of the island are most of the hotels, and Arutanga, the island's main town.

On the east coast are three small villages and the motu, small uninhabited islands, surrounding the edge of Aitutaki's picturesque lagoon. There's even a half submerged shipwreck for you to explore, the Alexander that sank in 1951 while carrying general cargo including motor cars from Suva Fiji to Avarua on Rarotonga.

More than a thousand years ago, the first Polynesian settlers from other Polynesian islands arrived at Aitutaki Island by sea-faring canoe and they established their settlements and villages. Missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived in 1821 and Aitutaki Island became the first of the Cook Islands to convert to the Christian religion. In 1942, a thousand American service personnel arrived on the island to construct an airstrip together with its subsidiary buildings; and in more recent years, several American and British movie films have been staged on this island.

It was back in the year 1941 during the fateful war era, that the New Zealand government established a series of coast watchers stations throughout the Cook Islands, eleven of them all told including Aitutaki. Each station had a radio operator, a soldier or two and some local volunteers, and it was their duty to make a report back to New Zealand regarding enemy shipping and aircraft movements.

In 1966, the New Zealand government operated a network of twelve radio communication stations throughout these islands; and subsequently, they installed a network of low powered mediumwave relay stations throughout the islands with an off air program relay from Radio Cook Islands in Avarua on the main island. It would appear that all of these low powered relay repeater transmitters successfully evaded attention on the part of international radio monitors elsewhere in the Pacific.

Some fifteen years later (1981), as the WRTVHB indicates to us, the new FM station on the main island Rarotonga, Radio Ikarungi with the callsign ZK1ZD, established a low power repeater station on the island of Aitutaki. It would be presumed that this new relay station operated with 10 watts in the standard FM band.

In 1992, the American Guy Atkins made a visit to the Cook Islands and he was informed that the government was in the process of converting all of the mediumwave slave relay transmitters to FM operation. These days there are three FM repeaters on the air on Aitutaki; Radio Cook Islands on 95.4 MHz and 100.0 MHz, and Avarua FM on 91.8 MHz.

We leave Aitutaki Island with its resident population of 2000 people, and we travel southeast in this cluster of South Cook Islands, to the next island, Manuae. This island is a coral atoll sitting upon a submerged inactive volcano.

Manuae Island was the first of the Cook Islands sited by the famous English explorer, Captain James Cook, aboard HMS Resolution on September 23, 1773. Half a century later, John Williams from the London Missionary Society stated that he found about 60 people living on the island. In 1888, the island was taken over by the British as a penal colony wherein the prisoners were employed in the copra industry, preparing locally grown coconuts for export. The usage of this island as a self-contained prison ended in 1915.

On May 30, 1965, a solar eclipse lasting more than 5 minutes occurred, and advance astronomical societies in six different nations made plans to view this major event at the island of Manuae. For a whole month, the total though temporary population of this island stood at around 120, the most ever on this island and the largest ever gathering of astronomers at any one eclipse location.

Several ships from host countries brought in supplies and personnel, and they all encamped on the island in temporary structures. A regular newspaper in English was edited and printed at the island, and an official post office was also installed, from which special First Day Covers could be purchased and postmarked. In addition, the Royal New Zealand Navy installed a communication radio facility on the island, for communication with nearby shipping and for external communication with Avarua on the capital city island Rarotonga and beyond.

Several airplanes were also involved with the events of this super solar eclipse, including a specially modified NASA plane that flew from Honolulu to the eclipse area, and chased the eclipse for an added almost five minutes. This plane carried a special radio receiver that was tuned to the 10 MHz transmissions from both WWV in Greenbelt, Maryland and WWVH at Kihei on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Interestingly, the WWV signal from the eastern area of the United States gave a better signal to the plane while flying over the central Pacific than did the much nearer WWVH signal from Hawaii.

Unfortunately, the cloudy weather conditions at Manuae spoiled the optical view of the eclipse. However, propagation conditions for shortwave radio transmissions provided some valuable scientific information. During the period of the totality of the eclipse as observed on Manuae Island, the noise floor on 18.2 MHz was considerably increased, due to changes in the ionized layers in the atmosphere.

In addition, the signal from shortwave station ZL7 at Titahi Bay near Wellington in New Zealand with 7.5 kW on 6080 kHz was received at a considerably enhanced level in Manuae, much better than even expected. We might also add that there was an increased level of reception from mediumwave stations in New Zealand as heard in the Cook Islands; and that Radio Tahiti on 6140 kHz and 11825 kHz was heard at a good level in California.

Eleven years later, and that was in 1976, Manuae Island was finally and totally abandoned, and abandoned it lies to this day. Not even tourists are permitted to visit this island nowadays, unless they obtain special permission.

More about our radio voyage around the Cook Islands on another occasion here in Wavescan.