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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 N466, January 28, 2018

The Radio Scene in Central America: Belize - 1

The independent Central American country of Belize has been the third smallest country on the isthmus land bridge that joins North America with South America. The smallest country in Central America was the Panama Canal Zone, a temporary country that was carved out of Panama in 1903, and it was under the authority of the United States for three quarters of a century before it was reintegrated back into Panama.

The second smallest country in Central America, or now the smallest, since the Panama Canal Zone no longer exists, is El Salvador, which lies on the west coast of the isthmus, abutting against Guatemala and Honduras. El Salvador has the highest density of population in Central America.

Next comes Belize on the Caribbean coast, and though it is now the second smallest country in Central America, yet it has the least people density with a total population of just one third million. Belize is just 180 miles long and 70 miles wide. It is stated that the government of Belize holds 9,000 square miles of undistributed land which could be available for purchase and development.

The former capital city is also identified as Belize, though a new capital city, Belmopan, is under development 50 miles inland in an endeavor to avoid the frequent and disastrous hurricanes that strike the coastal areas. The country of Belize hosts a quarter million tourists each year.

The largest employer in Belize is the banana industry; one of their largest exports is petroleum oil; their Wildlife Sanctuary is the world's premier site for the preservation of the Jaguar population; and the cost of electricity in Belize is the highest in Central America.

The world's second largest Barrier Reef runs parallel to the country's east coast for 560 miles; only the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of eastern Australia is longer. One of the major tourist attractions in the Belize Barrier Reef is the Great Blue Hole, which is a giant underwater sink hole, perfectly round, 1,000 feet across and 480 feet deep.

The Great Blue Hole protects more than 500 species of plants and animals that are unique to the area. Back in 2012, the American TV network Discovery Channel presented the Great Blue Hole in the Belize Barrier Reef as their number one choice at the top of their list of the Ten Most Amazing Places on Earth.

Back two thousand years ago, it is estimated, the total Mayan population in what is now Belize was around one million people. When the Spanish explorers arrived five hundred years later, they reported that there were three separate Mayan communities in the area. The Spanish did establish a few minor settlements in Belize, though when there were no rich sources of gold, they left and settled elsewhere.

The British established their first settlement in Belize, or British Honduras as it was known at the time, in 1638, and a flourishing trade in mahogany was soon developed for use as an ornamental wood working timber and for use as a strong fabric dye. The country changed its name from British Honduras to Belize on June 1, 1973, and the country obtained its independence from Great Britain eight years later on September 21, 1981.

During the year 1911, the United Fruit Company in the United States made an appeal for the establishment of a wireless station in British Honduras as an aid to the development of the banana industry. During the following year (1912), plans were announced for the projected wireless station, and a callsign was allocated for this new facility, UCF, a callsign indicating the United Fruit Co.

Two years later (1914), work commenced on a new wireless station in Belize, though it was a function of the British government, not the United Fruit Co. This new wireless station, under the callsign VPP, was installed in the British Military Camp on the extreme northern edge of the city of Belize near the ocean front. Two tall towers at a height of 250 feet supported the antenna system; and all of the electrical equipment was imported from the United States.

Two longwave channels were chosen for this new wireless station; 600 metres (500 kHz) for general communication transmissions, and 1,000 metres (300 kHz) for communication with Swan Island out in the Caribbean. Back at that time when the station was officially opened (1915), the wavelengths for these two transmission channels were listed, not in the metric system in metres, but in the imperial system in feet, as 1969 feet and 3281 feet. All messages intended for the United States and Europe were relayed from Belize via the wireless station on Swan Island.

In November of the following year (1916), an American weather station was co-sited with the wireless station, and weather reports and forecasts were broadcast in Morse Code for onward transmission to the United States.

During the year 1920, there was a recognized need to upgrade the Belize wireless station. In fact, during the following year (1921), the American wireless magazine, The Wireless Age, a publication from the Marconi company in New York, stated in its February issue that the Belize spark wireless station was underpowered, and that a completely new station was under consideration.

Three years later (1924), a photograph of Belize town was taken from one of the towers of the wireless station in the army barracks, and this was published as a black and white postcard. The photograph is looking south along the coast towards the small town nearby.

During the mid-1920s, the spark wireless system at station VPP in the British army encampment was changed over to valve/tube operation, and at the same time a small network of country communication stations was installed throughout Belize. It would appear that the old wireless callsign VPP was discarded at that stage, and a new callsign, ZIK, was applied to the new transmitter equipment in the Belize encampment.

That's where we leave the story for today. On the next occasion when we pick up the story of the radio scene in Belize, we plan to present the information regarding their earliest endeavors at the broadcast of radio programming.

On the Air and in the Air - 1: Stories about Radio & Aviation

As an interesting historical fact, the era of wireless experimentation and the era of airplane development ran largely parallel with each other. During almost the same era, while Marconi was experimenting with ever increasing distances in the transmission of wireless signals over Salisbury Plain in England, the Wright brothers were experimenting with mechanical flight over the sand dunes of North Carolina in the United States.

Multitudes of additional participants soon assisted in the development of wireless and radio, and so also with the development of mechanical flight; until today, both electronic communication and aircraft flight are two of the major wonders of our modern age.

In our program today, we begin a mini sequence of topics linking together both radio and aviation in a series of interesting topics and exploits. As an introduction to this miniseries of interesting topics, we present a cluster of events linking both radio and aviation; perhaps a little different, and perhaps even a little strange.

In February 2002, there was a brief news item on TV in the United States regarding an airplane on the tarmac at an airport in California. According to the news item, which our DX editor himself saw on television, the airplane was being readied for take-off and the instruments were set for automatic take-off. At a stage when the pilot was not on the plane, it suddenly roared down the runway, lifted up into the air, and disappeared into the distant blue sky.

That story sounds like an April 1 story; or perhaps in more accurate reality, it was the story of an early drone. And there were many other attempts at flying unmanned drones back around that era.

Back in the 1960s, radio controlled model airplanes were introduced into the tourist shops in Singapore, and they became very popular with the well to do young people in that island city. It was a favorite pastime to go to the sand dunes at Changi Beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon and control the flight of a model airplane with the little toggle switches on a small handheld transmitter apparatus.

There was also another almost equally popular pastime. Some young people on the edge of the flight area would wait until a radio controlled model airplane would fly nearby, and then with their own control unit tuned to the same radio channel, they would steal that plane.

Back more than half a century ago, Australian and American authorities at Woomera, near the center of Australia, were experimenting with full-sized radio-controlled aircraft. These drones, with no pilot aboard, were controlled completely from the ground with radio signals.

On one occasion, one of these drones got out of range of the radio control system at Woomera and it just flew off aimlessly into the distance. As the bulletin of radio news from the ABC stated, and as heard by our DX editor, the plane was just simply lost.

Sometime later however, Woomera control received a phone call from a homestead some 50 miles distant. The man on the phone asked Woomera control: Have you lost an airplane? The reply from Woomera stated: Yes, we have. The answer came back over the phone: I think I have got your plane out here. For almost an hour, an airplane has been flying circles around our tall radio tower.

Back during the year 1947, Radio Australia received a phone call from the captain of a Qantas passenger airliner in which he made a request that Radio Australia should broadcast time signals at certain times during the day as a navigation aid for incoming flights. Radio Australia management therefor issued a staff directive, requiring the broadcast of the observatory time signals at specific times each day on certain shortwave channels.

Back many years ago, mediumwave station VOAR, the Voice of Adventist Radio in St. John's Newfoundland, received a letter from the captain of a passenger liner flying across the Atlantic. In his letter, the captain explained that while he was flying across the Atlantic, he happened to tune in to the programming from VOAR mediumwave. He stated that he enjoyed the music and the programing so much that he fed the programming over the loud speaker system so that all of the passengers could enjoy the programming also.

In times of international emergency, there have been occasions when airplanes are used to broadcast needed information for listeners on the ground. The United States maintains a small fleet of radio equipped planes that can be flown to any location anywhere in the world in order to provide emergency programming where needed.

It was back in the mid-1960s that the United States first developed the Commando Solo radio system, in which electronic equipment has been installed into a cargo plane so that broadcasts on radio and TV could be received on the nearby ground area below. It is stated that the equipment on these flying communication stations includes mediumwave, shortwave and FM radio transmitters, and also TV transmitters that are compatible with any of the TV systems throughout the world.

The radiated power from the transmitters is usually in the order of around 10 kW, and the antenna systems are generally single trailing wires suspended from the plane. One trailing antenna is a wire with a 500 pound weight attached.

The original Commando Solo plane was a modified Hercules transport, though these days there are generally around half a dozen planes that can be flown to any needed locality around the world and activated electronically. Commando Solo planes have been noted over the years by international radio monitors as being active over the Americas, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Programming for broadcast from the Commando Solo planes has been available from two different sources; prerecorded on tape and computer, and live from a radio receiver. Programming is usually in the languages of the potential listeners on the ground.

In 2003, for example, the Commando Solo planes associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom relayed live off air the BBC broadcasts in Iraqi Arabic; and in 2010 the Commando Solo planes associated with earthquake relief in Haiti relayed off air the broadcasts of VOA News.

In that situation, their emergency broadcast service quickly sprang into action (2010) and they sent their plane to fly lazy circles above the ocean just off the coast of Haiti. Programming was broadcast on three channels; mediumwave 1030 kHz, and FM 92.5 and 104.1 MHz. The mediumwave antenna was a 264 ft. wire hanging from the plane with this time a quarter ton weight at the end.

Programming from the 1030 kHz channel was heard by several listeners in Europe. As a part of the earthquake relief project, the American military delivered 50,000 portable radio receivers that gain their power from solar energy and the hand crank mechanism.