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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 N421, March 19, 2017

Focus on the Middle Americas - The First Radio Broadcasting Station in Central America: The Early Radio Scene in El Salvador

The Central American isthmus joins South America to North America, and these days there are seven countries in Central America, with El Salvador as the smallest. (However it should also be stated that the Panama Canal Zone held that honor for almost a century, during its American occupation from 1904 to 1999.)

In the pre-colonial eras, Amerindians inhabited Central America, and when the Spanish arrived nearly five hundred years ago, the Nahua speaking Pipil people from southern Mexico occupied what is today the independent country of El Salvador. These tribal peoples knew the area as Kuskatan, meaning the Land of Precious Jewels.

The first European visitor to the area was the Spanish Admiral Andres Nino, who led an expedition that landed on Meanguera island, which they named Petronila. That was on May 31 in the year 1522. Three years later, Spanish colonists established a settlement, though there was considerable turmoil with the local tribal people during that era.

Fifteen years later, El Salvador was recognized as a Spanish colony; in 1821 El Salvador gained independence from Spain; and in 1840, El Salvador achieved its own independence as a separate country in Central America. However, it seems that El Salvador has subsequently experienced more than its share of political and internal unrest and turmoil.

This smallest of countries in Central America is considerably less than 200 miles long and considerably less than 100 miles wide. It is the most densely populated country in Central America with a population of six million. The country has 25 volcanoes (together with many associated earthquakes), 14 lakes, a thousand species of butterfly, and just three major cities: San Salvador, Santa Ana and San Miguel.

Tourism is one of the main sources of income for El Salvador, with over a million visitors each year. In 2001 the country adopted the American dollar as its official currency, replacing the Colon; and El Salvador is sometimes described as: The country with a smile.

The first wireless station in El Salvador was installed in Las Lomas de Candelaria, on the southern edge of the capital city San Salvador, and it was already in operation in 1921. Four years later, the location was shown as Venustiano Carranza, and the official callsign was given as SDA.

However, the geographic co-ordinates for the 1921 listing are impossible, way out to sea; and the 1924 co-ordinates are listed as only approximate. Nevertheless, the available information would show that this first wireless communication station in El Salvador was indeed located in a forested area on the southern edge of suburban San Salvador.

It was on Monday March 1, 1926 that El Salvador's first radio broadcasting station was inaugurated by President Alfonso Quinonez Molina under the callsign AQM, the initials of the president himself. El Salvador lays claim that this was the first radio broadcasting station in Central America.

This new radio broadcasting station, with studio and transmitter, was installed on the second floor level of the National Theater Building in San Salvador. The original transmitter was an imported 500 watt unit from Western Electrical in England. The Teatro Nacional de El Salvador, completed and officially inaugurated in 1917, is itself the oldest National Theater in Central America.

A subsequent callsign for this original radio broadcasting station was RDN, standing for Radio Nacionales, and when internationally approved callsigns were enjoined, RDN was allocated the three now well-known call letters YSS. In 1933, the mediumwave channel was listed as 864 kHz.

On September 14, 1977, El Salvador issued four postage stamps, each with the same design, though in different colors and values, commemorating the 50th anniversary of radio broadcasting in their country. Fifty years earlier from September 14, 1977 would bring us back to September 14, 1927, which is one and a half years after the recognized date for the first broadcast over the original station AQM. So perhaps the four postage stamps honored the occasion when the early experimental station AQM-RDN metamorphosed into YSS, an officially recognized government radio broadcasting service.

As the years went by, station YSS Radio Nacional grew into a nationwide network; at first on mediumwave only, and subsequently with a transfer to the standard FM Band 2 that is still on the air to this day. The earliest mediumwave frequency listing was on 864 kHz, and subsequent mediumwave channels have been 638 kHz, 640 kHz, and then their familiar split channel listing, 655 kHz.

During the 1980s, additional mediumwave relay stations were installed in regional city locations, and ten years later there was a total of 6 stations in the network. During that era, their international callsign YSS was modified to YSSS, in conformity with the national system of station identification with four letters, each beginning with the two letters YS.

The largest number of mediumwave stations in El Salvador was around the mid-1990s, with by that time almost 100 nationwide. These days there are somewhere around 60 mediumwave stations on the air throughout El Salvador, together with a full band of FM stations throughout the country. Radio Nacional in San Salvador is heard these days on 96.9 FM, and their national program is heard throughout the country on a network of FM relay stations.

More about the radio scene in El Salvador in a coming edition of our DX program Wavescan.