"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 N473, March 18, 2018
The Radio Scene in Zimbabwe
Author: Colin Miller, Ontario, Canada. Originally published in Monitoring Times, May 2001. Updated by Ray Robinson, Los Angeles, USA, March 2018.
One of the greatest mysteries on the African continent is located in a country that bears its name. It was a place suitable for a king, an oasis in the wilderness of Africa, with pleasant breezes blowing up the valley to produce a mild and healthy climate. It was discovered in 1867, and opinions as to its age vary. Some think that it dates back to the time of the Biblical King Solomon, others to just a few centuries ago. However, radioactivity tests have determined that it is about 1,000 years old.
This is the complex of massive stone structures known as Great Zimbabwe, located about 20 miles southeast of Masivingo, formerly Fort Victoria. The civilization must have been quite large, as there is evidence of major trading activities in southeastern Africa. It was only in the 15th century that the first Bantu peoples emigrated to the area from the north. The name Zimbabwe is derived from the Shona maDzimbabwe, meaning "a great stone building".
The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country that lies in south central Africa. Zambia borders it to the north, Mozambique to the east, South Africa to the south and Botswana to the west. The northwestern corner touches Namibia, where the borders of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet.
The area is about 151,000 square miles, or somewhat larger than Japan or Montana, but smaller than California. The population is about 11-1/2 million, of which 98% are Black African and 2% are European or Asian. English is the official language; Shona and Ndebele are the main African languages.
The climate in Zimbabwe is tropical, with the low veld being hot and humid. The high veld, along the central plateau where most of the major towns are situated, has more moderate temperatures. This forms the watershed for the two great rivers of Zimbabwe; the Limpopo along the southern border with South Africa, and the Zambezi along the northern border with Zambia. The world's largest man-made lake, Lake Kariba, is situated on the Zambezi.
The rainy season occurs during southern hemisphere spring and summer, from September to March. Zimbabwe has seen droughts as well as severe flooding in recent years.
Mining is a major industry, including coal, chromium, asbestos and gold. Other major industries include steel manufacturing, clothing and foodstuffs. Agriculture used to account for about 18% of the GDP, but sadly that production is now a fraction of what it used to be, since the government nationalized the farms owned by white farmers in the early 2000's.
Portuguese slave traders had been active in this region since the 16th century. About 300 years later, mineral concessions were granted to Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) and the area became a British protectorate in 1888.
Rhodes was a statesman and financier, making his fortune in diamonds. Many consider him to be the man who has had the greatest influence on the history of the African continent.
The British South Africa Company governed Rhodesia until 1923, when it was divided into Northern and Southern Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively. In 1961 a constitution was adopted, which provided for White rule in Rhodesia. The British governments in the early 60's refused to accept that as a basis for independence, so on November 11, 1965, the then Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (or UDI) from Britain.
This was not recognized by the British government, which demanded voting rights for the black majority. The United Nations introduced sanctions, and a guerilla war followed that would ultimately claim the lives of thousands.
Today the country is facing a struggling economy, resulting partly from years of drought followed by floods, partly from corruption and mismanagement, partly from its involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and also the high incidence of AIDS.
Inflation rose from about 60% in 1999, to the heights of hyper-inflation in the 2000's, reaching a peak of 79.6 billion percent in November 2008. In 2009, Zimbabwe stopped printing its own currency, and for a few years used the currencies of other surrounding nations. In 2015, the United States Dollar was officially adopted as the currency of the country (as in fact is currently used in the DR Congo also).
Broadcasting began in Southern Rhodesia in 1932, when stations were opened in Salisbury and Bulawayo, using callsigns ZEA and ZEB respectively. During World War II, studios were built in the old Post Office building on Manica Road in Salisbury.
Early editions of the World Radio Handbook indicate shortwave use by 1 kW stations at Salisbury and Bulawayo, and 1.5 kW transmitters at Gwelo and Umtali. By 1954, the shortwave facilities had been upgraded to two transmitters of 7.5 kW and one of 300 watts at Salisbury.
A chain of 2 kW medium wave stations was established in towns along the main railroad route. For economic reasons, these facilities were installed in existing Post Office buildings and linked to the main studios by telephone lines.
During the 1950's, the Central African Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was created, consisting of present-day Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The Federal Broadcasting Corporation was set up in 1958, modeled on the BBC. It existed until the end of 1963, when the Federation was dissolved prior to the independence of Malawi and Zambia. Southern Rhodesia then became a separate country, and the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (or RBC) was formed.
In the early 1960's, all short-wave operations were centralized at the Guinea Fowl site near Gweru. This station is situated almost at the geographical center of Zimbabwe. The first transmitters were rated at 10 and 20 kW.
At the end of 1965, the BBC set up a relay station in Francistown, not far from the border in neighboring Botswana. This station used a 10 kW shortwave transmitter and relayed both the BBC World and African Services. Whenever the current affairs program "The World and Rhodesia" was broadcast, the station was heavily jammed by the Rhodesian authorities. The BBC station eventually closed in 1968.
Inside Rhodesia, high-powered Thomson transmitters of 100 kW were installed in 1968. Vertical-incidence omnidirectional antennas served an area within a 200-mile radius of Gweru. Also in 1968, the RBC expanded its services further with a number of local community stations. The first of these was known as Radio Jacaranda in Salisbury, named for the purple-blossomed trees that line its streets in September and October.
This was followed by Radio Matopos in Bulawayo. The Matopos is a hilly area near the city, and also the site of Cecil Rhodes' grave. The last local station, Radio Manica, was located in Umtali, a picturesque town situated on the Mozambique border. In 1975 the first FM stations opened in the Salisbury and Bulawayo areas and the network was gradually expanded to 22 stations covering the whole country.
White minority rule in Rhodesia ended on April 18, 1980, following many years of guerilla warfare and insurgency. Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (or ZANU-PF), was elected as the country's first black Prime Minister, a position he held for seven years. Then, in 1987 he proclaimed himself President, and he held onto that position until he was finally forced to resign in November 2017.
Under black majority rule, the name of the country was changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, and the names of many towns were changed also. Salisbury became Harare, Gwelo became Gweru, and Umtali was renamed Mutare.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was created as the sole broadcasting authority in the country. And, under the ZBC, the radio services were reorganized. The General Service was renamed Radio 1, while the African Service was changed to Radio 2.
Today, the ZBC operates four radio channels. There's Radio 1 (or, "S-FM") which broadcasts for 19 hours a day in English, thus covering a broad spectrum of listeners. Programs include news and information, a variety of music, light entertainment, sport, comedy, quizzes and drama.
Radio 2 (which also identifies as "Radio Zimbabwe") also broadcasts for 19 hours a day, in Shona, Ndebele and other vernacular languages. The station serves the majority of the rural and urban population that is largely black. Two thirds of music played on Radio 2 is produced locally. The station's program lineup includes discussions, features and drama on social, cultural, sporting and economic issues.
Radio 3 (or "Power FM") is a 24-hour commercial music station aimed at the youth. It provides fast-paced music, entertainment, information and education. The majority of its listeners are young people who are highly receptive.
Finally, Radio 4 (also known as "National FM") is an educational channel, which broadcasts for 19 hours a day in Shona, Ndebele, English and the minority languages of Chewa, Tonga, Venda, Kalanga and Shangani.
The audience demographics depend on the nature of the educational programs being broadcast at the time. Radio 4 works closely with the Ministry of Education's Audio Visual Services, as well as other relevant government ministries and non-governmental organizations.
Shortwave transmissions were temporarily discontinued in 1991, as it was felt that the country was adequately covered by FM transmitters. However, in October 1994 relays of Radio 1 and Radio 2 were resumed on a test basis, and on December 5, 1994, President Mugabe officially re-inaugurated the short-wave service at the Guinea Fowl site near Gweru. The site now consists of two log-periodic antennas and two Continental 100 kW transmitters.
Throughout the late 90's and early 2000's, the ZBC attempted to carry the Radio 2 and Radio 4 services on frequencies in the 60 meter and 49 meter bands, but struggled with equipment failures and lack of funds for maintenance and spare parts, resulting in spasmodic transmissions.
In the year 2000 the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe passed a Bill that ended the government's monopoly on broadcasting. Since that time, a number of local low-powered private stations have been licensed on FM.
In 2007, the ZBC changed the focus of the shortwave broadcasts from domestic, to reaching the diaspora of Zimbabwean people in surrounding countries. On May 25th of that year, a new External Service went on the air in English.
Equipment parts had apparently been cannibalized from one transmitter to keep the other one running, and that was then on the air from 1600-2200 UTC on 4828 kHz. Also from Gweru, they ran 24x7 on 999 kHz medium wave.
This external service was officially launched three years later on 30th July 2010. But, it was irregular, and short lived. It is last listed in the WRTH for 2014, and these days Zimbabwe is silent on both shortwave and medium wave.
Here's a recording of the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation signing on shortly before 6 a.m. local time, on the morning of Tuesday 24th February, 1976.