Home | Back to Wavescan Index

"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 N438, July 16, 2017

California QSL Cards in Red, White and Blue - 2

As our opening topic in Wavescan today, we examine a cluster of now historic and quite valuable QSL cards under the title, California QSL Cards in Red, White and Blue. These QSL cards were issued by OWI, the Office of War Information, on behalf of the Voice of America from their office at 111 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California during the years stretching from 1942 to 1946.

The 25-storey Hunter-Dulin Building at 111 Sutter Street had previously housed the offices and studios for the NBC radio network beginning in 1927. When NBC vacated their Sutter Street facility in San Francisco in favor of their new building in Hollywood (and elsewhere) in 1942, OWI took over the NBC suites on the 21st and 22nd floors of the Hunter-Dulin Building.

All of the famous California Red, White and Blue QSL cards were issued from the OWI office in Sutter Street. Each card contained the same QSL text in blue; a red colored block at the bottom of the left hand side of the card presented the country name, United States of America; and a large blue colored block on the left side of the card provided a large white space for the station callsign.

The well-known California radio station KGEI with its 20 kW shortwave transmitter made its first broadcast from Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay on the first day of the Golden Gate World Fair, February 18, 1939. Sometime after the World Fair ended, the General Electric shortwave KGEI was moved into new facilities at suburban Belmont, and together with some additional electronic equipment, the power output was raised to the newly mandated FCC requirement of 50 kW.

At the direction of the federal government, all shortwave stations in the United States were taken over by OWI on February 24, 1942, for the broadcast of programming that grew into the international shortwave service of the Voice of America. On earlier occasions before the Pacific War, KGEI had broadcast special programs that were beamed to South America, the Philippines and Asia.

The Red, White and Blue QSL card issued by OWI-VOA on behalf of the GE station KGEI gave the callsign of the station, KGEI, in large letters, and the operating frequency of the station was written in by hand or typed in below the callsign.

The GE sister station KGEX was taken into OWI-VOA service on July 1, 1944. Station KGEX was also a General Electric transmitter, Model No G100C, and it was co-installed at Belmont alongside the earlier 50 kW KGEI Model No 4G881. The QSL card for KGEX is exactly the same as the card for KGEI, except that the letter I in the KGEI callsign was changed to the letter X for the KGEX callsign.

It was back in the year 1931 that the well-known American telephone and radio company AT&T took into service their shortwave station some three miles southeast of downtown Dixon in California. The original shortwave transmitter KMI was rated at a power of 80 kW, though as time went by, a bevy of transmitters and antennas were installed. At the height of its usefulness, AT&T Dixon utilized 30 transmitters and 36 antenna systems.

In the era prior to the beginning of World War 2, most of the shortwave transmissions from the AT&T station at Dixon in California carried point-to-point telephone conversations across the Pacific. However, there were also many notable transmissions in which program material was relayed across the Pacific for rebroadcast in the Philippines, Asia and the South Pacific.

Three of the Dixon transmitters that were logged in the United States, Australia and New Zealand with the transfer of radio programming in those days were 20 kW units that identified on air under the callsigns KWV, KWU and KWY. During the Pacific War, these three stations were also noted carrying a relay of programming from the studios of the United Nations Network in the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, San Francisco.

Even though these three stations were, strictly speaking, communication stations, yet OWI issued QSL cards verifying the reception of all three stations, with a separate card for each, KWU, KWV and KWY.

Now, another communication station that carried radio programming during the Pacific War was the RCA station located near Bolinas in California. The OWI office verified three of these Bolinas callsigns each with a separate card, KES2, KES3 and KRCA. Station KRCA was actually the communication station KEI when it was on the air with a program relay on 9490 kHz.

Next we come to the enigmatic callsign KROJ. There is unfortunately insufficient information regarding the World War 2 California callsign KROJ, and the three additional similar callsigns KROS, KROU and KROZ. International radio monitors in Australia were led to believe that these four callsigns were associated with Mackay Radio in San Francisco, but subsequently it became evident that international radio monitors in the United States understood that the KROJ callsign at least was associated with Press Wireless in Los Angeles.

Reception reports for the KROJ callsign were verified with a specific Red, White and Blue KROJ QSL card, but details about QSLs for the other three callsigns remain largely unknown.

Then the twin stations KWID and KWIX were co-installed at Islais Creek in suburban San Francisco. They were operated by Associated Broadcasters and their signals were heard strongly throughout the Pacific. Separate OWI QSL cards were issued for each, KWID and KWIX, though after the end of the war, Associated Broadcasters issued their own similar QSL card with both callsigns listed on the same card.

Towards the end of the war, two large shortwave stations were constructed in California; NBC at Dixon and CBS at Delano. Interestingly, the OWI QSL cards identifying these two stations showed a double callsign on each card; KNBA-KNBC and KNBI-KNBX for NBC Dixon and KCBA-KCBF for CBS Delano. In these circumstances each pair of transmitters was tied together with parallel programming. There was also a separate transmitter at Delano, KCBR, with its own separate QSL card.

As far as is known, this above list contains all of the known California Red, White and Blue QSL cards. If any additional Red, White and Blue QSL cards were to turn up unexpectedly with an additional shortwave callsign, that would indeed be a new revelation of interesting radio history.

Australian Shortwave Callsigns VLM

The Australian shortwave callsign VLM was initially applied to a passenger/cargo ship in service with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. The ship was the Moeraki and it was launched in Scotland on July 9, 1902.

The Moeraki plied across the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia, and it also served as a troop carrier for New Zealand army personnel who were taken to Samoa for their attack against the German colony there in 1914. The ship was ultimately sold to Japan in 1932, and it was broken up in Osaka during the following year.

A shipping list in 1914 shows the callsign VLM with the Moeraki, which call they retained until 1927 when the official radio prefix for New Zealand was changed from V to Z. That was the first usage of the callsign VLM.

The second usage of the callsign VLM began on July 5, 1931 when a new 20 kW shortwave transmitter at the AWA center near Pennant Hills in Sydney Australia was taken into service. When Australia Calling, the forerunner for Radio Australia, was inaugurated on December 20, 1939, transmitter VLM was taken into service under a new callsign VLQ2. However, when in use for international communication, the old call VLM was still retained. That station was closed in 1956.

When plans were laid for a major new shortwave station for Radio Australia at Shepparton in Victoria, three transmitters were envisaged, two at 100 kW and one at 50 kW. It is suggested that originally the projected 50 kW transmitter would be designated as VLM. However, when the lone RCA 50 kW transmitter from the United States was installed in 1944, the call was instead VLC.

Beginning in 1949 and over a period of almost 20 years, four different shortwave transmitters were installed at the Bald Hills radio station, a few miles north of Brisbane in Queensland. The first transmitter installed was a temporary 200 watt and it was taken into service under the callsign VLM, the third usage of this call.

Subsequently, when the first of three additional STC transmitters at 10 kW each were installed, the 200 watt unit was removed and the new unit took the call VLM. Ultimately, the three 10 kW transmitters were each on the air in rotation for the ABC's VLQ and VLM regional shortwave service. This station VLM, along with VLQ also, was closed on December 17, 1993.

The next usage of the callsign VLM occurred down in the Antarctic. The American base at Wilkes in Antarctica was abandoned in 1958 and some of the structures and equipment were taken over for a new Australian base at nearby Casey. The Casey Base is directly south of Perth in Western Australia.

A radio station hut at American Wilkes was completed three years later (1961) and then it was transferred to Australian Casey three years later again (1964). Subsequently, radio telex equipment was installed, and a communication service was opened with Sydney in Australia.

However, in the meantime, a new Casey Base was under construction less than a mile distant and a new 1 kW Dansk transmitter from Denmark was installed into a new building. The allotted callsign for this communication transmitter was VLM, and again it was in use for telex communication with Sydney.

International radio monitors noted this VLM transmitter on 7470 kHz at night and on 11455 kHz during the day. However, Casey Base was closed in 2006 and that was the end of the Antarctic usage of the callsign VLM.

And finally regarding the Australian shortwave callsign VLM, we note that the Radio Australia shortwave station at Cox Peninsula, across the bay from Darwin, was officially opened on September 5, 1971. Three program lines were opened between Melbourne and Darwin and these were designated with the line callsigns VLK, VLL and VLM.

However, as a backup for the relays to Darwin, three different transmitters at Lyndhurst carried the VLM program relay at various times, and these were: a 5 kW SSB single side band transmitter manufactured by STC, a regular 10 kW broadcast transmitter, and a 30 kW SSB transmitter that had previously been in use with the ABC at Wanneroo in Western Australia.

In addition, the VLM service was at times also conveyed to Darwin via a 100 kW transmitter located at Shepparton. Then, when the Darwin station was disabled by Cyclone Tracy during the Christmas season in 1974, the VLM service was transferred to Shepparton.

However, after the so-called temporary relay station at Carnarvon in Western Australia was opened, the VLM service was transferred again from Shepparton to Carnarvon beginning May 6, 1984. Initially the 250 kW transmitter at Carnarvon carried the VLM service, though subsequently the VLM service was transferred to the 100 kW transmitter. Backup for the VLM program service was continuously available via a 30 kW SSB transmitter located at Lyndhurst in Victoria.

When Carnarvon was closed in 1996, some of the VLM programming was returned back to a transmitter located at Shepparton.

Unfortunately, as we are all painfully aware, Radio Australia no longer exists and their last major shortwave station, at Shepparton in Victoria, is still up for sale.