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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 N411, January 8, 2017

The Early Wireless Scene on the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico

As the first topic in our 2017 year-long emphasis on the radio scene in the Middle Americas, we visit the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and we turn the clock back more than one hundred years, to the early 1900s. Back at that stage, wireless was very young, and spark transmissions were the only way to transmit Morse Code messages through the air.

Puerto Rico is listed as the largest American island; 110 miles long and 40 miles wide. It is a mountainous tropical island with many adjacent smaller islands, two of which are inhabited: Culebra and Vieques, both of which lie a few miles off the eastern edge of Puerto Rico.

The original inhabitants of Puerto Rico back before the colonial era, were Amerindians who migrated in from North America, Central America and South America, usually via the intervening island groups. At the time of the visit by the famed Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus, it is estimated that the island population was as many as 50,000 local tribespeople.

On November 19, 1493, Christopher Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain. A dozen years later, the first European settlement was established by the Spanish at Caparra, in what has since become a southern suburban area of the capital city San Juan. Local historians claim the Caparra settlement as the oldest European settlement in the Americas. The city of San Juan was established in 1521, and this is claimed as the second oldest European city in the Americas.

Settlement on Puerto Rico was established by the Spanish, it was attacked in succeeding centuries by the Dutch and the British, and it was annexed by the United States more than one hundred years ago. The total population today stands at 3.4 million; with two official languages, Spanish and English.

The first wireless station in Puerto Rico was established by the United States navy in December 1903 at Fort Morro on Old San Juan Island. This introductory wireless station was a low powered 3 kW Slaby-Arco unit that was installed on a high bluff overlooking the ocean and the city of San Juan. One of the stipulated requirements for this station was the capability for communication with another American navy station, NAV, that was installed on Culebra Island off the east coast of Puerto Rico.

During the following year (1904), work commenced on the construction and installation of a new high powered wireless station about a mile distant at Fort Cristobal, still on Old San Juan Island. Three tall towers at a height of 210 feet were spaced in a triangle 300 feet apart. Three descending fan antennas of 15 wires each were strung between the three towers, two for transmitting and one for reception.

The electrical equipment for the new 35 kW Morse Code station was manufactured by the de Forest company and initially the power source was the local electricity generating company. However, the drain on the city power system was so heavy that the navy soon afterwards installed their own generating plant.

After the final testing and tweaking that was performed by a de Forest electrician from the United States, station SA was taken into service in December 1905. When the navy regularized their wireless callsigns worldwide seven years later in 1912, station SA San Juan became NAU.

Amateur radio was introduced into Puerto Rico when Joaquín Agusty Ramírez de Arellano organized the Puerto Rico Radio Club in 1914. His subsequent amateur callsign was 4JE.

The first radio broadcasting station on the island was inaugurated on December 2, 1922 under the callsign WKAQ and it was the same Joaquín Agusty Ramírez who made the opening announcement. The new WKAQ was installed atop the Puerto Rico Telephone Building under the auspices of RCA and ITT in New York, and the Radio Corporation of Puerto Rico.

Back then, WKAQ operated with 500 watts on 880 kHz and it was a twin construction with another radio broadcasting station in the Caribbean, PWX in Havana, Cuba. The two tall towers for mediumwave WKAQ San Juan stood at ground level adjacent to the RCA Telephone Building.

Station WKAQ is currently owned by Univision Radio and it operates with 10 kW on 580 kHz. The WKAQ programming is also relayed for islandwide coverage on WUKQ with 1 kW on 1420 kHz in Ponce, and WYEL with 5 kW on 600 kHz in Mayaguez.

Another early mediumwave station was the original WNEL, also with 500 watts, on 1290 kHz. This station was inaugurated in the island capital, San Juan, on November 17, 1934.

These days, there are almost a hundred mediumwave stations located throughout the various areas of the island of Puerto Rico, and in addition there is a dial full of FM stations. Most of the mediumwave stations are at a lower power level, in the range of 1 kW to 5 kW, and lower.

Today there are several stations at 10 kW; and just one station at 25 kW, WVOZ San Juan on 1520 kHz. There is also just one at 50 kW and this lone maximum powered station in Puerto Rico is WKVM Radio Paz on 810 kHz in San Juan. Mediumwave WKVM is a Catholic station and it was inaugurated in 1951.

Australian Shortwave Callsign VLL

The Australian shortwave callsign VLL began its usage on board a cargo/passenger liner in the South Pacific a little more than a century ago. The ship was the SS Talune, it was built in Scotland, it was operated by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, and during its term of commercial service it plied across the Tasman Sea to Australia, and throughout the South Pacific to many of the varied island groups.

During World War 1, the Talune served as a troop carrier for New Zealand military personnel, and after the war was over the Talune returned to its former duty with cargo/passenger traffic in the South Pacific. Unfortunately, in 1919, some of the crew and passengers came down with the early stages of the horrendous Spanish Flu, and this epidemic was carried to other islands in the South Pacific, with deadly results.

The callsign VLL was applied to the SS Talune somewhere around the year 1912, and it was in use until the ship was withdrawn from service nine years later, in 1921. Four years later, the Talune was filled with rock and scuttled in shallow water at Waikokopu in upper Hawkes Bay on the eastern edge of the North Island of New Zealand.

This stricken ship served as a breakwater for many years, and these days the broken up wreckage can still be easily viewed on Google Earth. The town of Waikokopu no longer serves as a small country port, though it is now no more than a few scattered country dwellings.

The next known usage of the callsign VLL was applied to the transmissions from the now silent shortwave station that was located a little inland from the coastal town of Carnarvon in Western Australia. This station was originally intended to be a temporary fill-in station for Radio Australia after the Darwin station was disabled due to Cyclone Tracy at Christmas time in December 1974, and it remained in service for a little over 20 years.

Radio Australia took over the empty America NASA Space Station at Carnarvon and the second transmitter that was installed there was an American made Harris SW100. Sometime earlier, three Harris 100 kW transmitters had been obtained from the United States and these had been held in storage at the new ABC mediumwave station located at Pimpala on the coast south of Adelaide in South Australia.

It was originally intended that these three shortwave transmitters would be installed at suitable though yet undecided locations in South Australia and the Northern Territory, as a regional shortwave service for dwellers in Australia's outback. Among the locations that had been given preliminary consideration were, for example, somewhere on the outskirts of suburban Adelaide, Alice Springs in Central Australia, and Darwin at Cox Peninsula in the Northern Territory.

However, as changing circumstances would have it, one of these Harris 100s was taken to Carnarvon and installed as Transmitter VLL, while the two other units were ultimately taken to Shepparton in Victoria and installed for Radio Australia. Test broadcasts from Carnarvon VLL began on February 15, 1975, though it was removed from service during the next month due to frequent troublesome transmitter problems. Design engineers flew out from the states to correct the problems.

When VLL was taken into regular on air service, the program feed from the Melbourne studios of Radio Australia was provided by a 2,000 mile microwave link to Perth and thence by telephone line to Carnarvon. In addition, there was a VLL program feed from a 30 kW transmitter located at Lyndhurst which operated as an ISB independent side band unit on 12290 kHz.

Then too, a 100 kW transmitter at Shepparton carried a parallel relay of the VLL service in the Indonesian language and this could be utilized as a back up program feeder if needed. The Shepparton VLL service was on the air for eight years, from 1976 to 1984. At that stage, the Indonesian service was transferred to the revived Radio Australia shortwave station near Darwin. Two years later (1986), the program feed to Carnarvon was carried by satellite and it was no longer necessary to receive the VLL service via Lyndhurst or Shepparton.

The shortwave service from Radio Australia, Carnarvon, ended on July 31, 1996, at which time transmitter VLL was removed and sold locally for scrap.

During its 20 years of on air service, transmitter VLL was verified by Radio Australia in Melbourne with a multitude of colorful QSL cards, and for a few years at one stage by Form Letters indicating the callsign and station location.