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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 272, March 12, 2000

Radio Cook Islands

A radio station operated by the local newspaper; one of the world's most exotic radio stations, and one that so many DXers wanted to QSL. Radio Cook Islands with its sea shell trumpet call as a tuning signal. Just 500 watts on the tropical band channel 5045 kHz.

Many DX programs and DX magazines around the world reported some years ago the demise of the shortwave service from Raratonga (RARE-a-TONG-ga) in the Cook Islands. A fire in May 1993 destroyed the transmitter building owned by Cable & Wireless. This building housed, among many other major items of electronic equipment, the old and small transmitter used by Radio Cook Islands for their shortwave service. Thus Radio Cook Islands has been off the air shortwave since then, and reports indicate that there is no move to re-instate this exotic little station.

The Cook Islands lie in the South Pacific about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. They are made up of some eight main islands which cover a total of less than 100 square miles. The capital city is Avarua (AH-va-ROO-a), which is located on the main island of Raratonga, and the total population of some 30,000 people are mostly Polynesian.

Captain Cook, in the year 1773, is credited as being the first European explorer to visit the Cook Islands, after whom they were named. This island paradise is made up of volcanic mountains rising from the ocean floor, together with white coral reefs encircling most of each island. Whether seen from the air or from tourist beaches, they present exquisite scenes of visual, tropical beauty. For the DXer, a radio is of course a necessity, but in the Cook islands, so is a camera.

Way back in the wireless era at the end of World War 1 the callsign for the maritime communication station at Raratonga in the Cook Islands was VMR. A few years later additional stations were erected at Aitutaki (EYE-too-TAH-kee) and Mangala (mun-GAH-la), with the callsigns, VLF and VLG.

Many years later, in the 1950s, the callsign VLF was used for a short while for one of the refurbished 100 kw transmitters at the Radio Australia facility located at Shepparton in Victoria. The callsign VLF was also the Australian callsign for the American communication station at North West Cape in Western Australia, though the American callsign is NMC. In addition, VLF is also the Line Callsign for a current 100 kw transmitter operated by Radio Australia at Shepparton.

The callsign VLG was taken over in 1941 as the callsign for the 10 kw home service shortwave transmitter at Lyndhurst in Victoria. Today this is the Line Callsign of a 10 kw transmitter located at Brandon in North Queensland which carries the Pacific service of Radio Australia.
The first broadcast station in the Cook Islands was an unofficial wartime project as a service for allied troops. A New Zealand radio engineer modified a longwave aircraft beacon on the island of Raratonga back in 1944, and operated it as a temporary radio broadcasting service.
In April 1954 a radio broadcasting service was inaugurated using spare time on a local communication transmitter. This station went on the air as Radio Raratonga with school broadcasts lasting an hour each, twice weekly. This service on the tropical band channel, 3390 kHz, was so popular that entertainment programs were soon added using the channel 6180 kHz. The transmitter power was usually 100 watts, though on occasions the 500 watt transmitter was used. The original callsign was ZK1ZA, which in reality was an amateur callsign. Subsequent shortwave callsigns were in the series ZK2-ZK6.

The original transmitter location was at Black Rock, but in 1961 a new facility was constructed, closer to Avarua, the capital city, and just 3-1/2 miles from the original location.

Programming on shortwave was usually in parallel to the main mediumwave channel. This was made up of local productions, as well as many relays from the BBC London, Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand. On one occasion, in 1976, Radio Cook Islands broadcast a special DX program for the benefit of the annual DX convention in New Zealand.

When the shortwave transmitter was destroyed in the fire, that left only the one mediumwave and two FM channels on the air in the Cook Islands.
The islanders living in the capital city area can hear the two stations quite clearly, and those living on the outlying islands can readily hear their official AM station, 5 kw on 630 kHz; but the international listener can now no longer tune in to the Cook Islands on shortwave. It is gone forever.

Back in 1989, the Ontario DX Association printed 500 QSL cards for Radio Cook Islands, using the same original design. The AWR historic collection in Indianapolis contains three QSL cards from the Cook Islands, all in the earlier printing, and all for ZK5 with just 500 watts on 5045 kHz.