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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 359, November 11, 2001

The Flight of the Blue Eagle

Just recently, the United States began a series of radio broadcasts to the people of Afghanistan, using a total of seven different airplanes for this purpose. According to a report from BBC Monitoring, these new broadcasts began about three weeks ago, on October 14.

These airplane broadcasts are heard in Afghanistan on two mediumwave channels, 864 kHz and 1107 kHz, which were the channels in use by Radio Afghanistan in Kandahar and Kabul. These broadcasts are in alternating languages, Dari and Pashto, which are the twin official languages in Afghanistan. The program feed to the airplanes can be heard on the shortwave channel 8700 kHz in the upper sideband mode, though it is not yet known where this transmitter is located.

Each of these radio broadcasting airplanes contains a bevy of electronic equipment, which includes three broadcast transmitters at 10 kW for use in the mediumwave and FM bands. Electric power for all of the onboard electronic equipment is generated by four generators which are driven by the propeller engines on the aircraft.

The story of these aircraft used for radio broadcasting goes back over a period of some 30 years. Today in this additional Wavescan feature, we trace the fascinating story of "The Flight of the Blue Eagle".

It all began back in 1962 during the Kennedy era and the Cuban Missile Crisis. A large cargo plane operated by the United States navy was quickly stowed with broadcasting equipment and flown over the waters separating Florida and Cuba.

For these inaugural broadcasts, a radio receiver in the plane took an off-air program feed from the VOA mediumwave station at Marathon in Florida. The ground-based VOA channel was 1180 kHz, and the plane re-transmitted this programming on 1040 kHz.

Since this historic, though unannounced, beginning, airplanes have been used for local broadcasting in the mediumwave, FM, TV and shortwave bands, while flying over a total of at least 11 different countries.

Two years later, in the summer of 1964, a series of mysterious radio broadcasts were heard by DXers living in the central coastal areas along the Atlantic seaboard in the United States. These broadcasts were first noted on the shortwave channel 19,100 kHz, and later on 532 kHz on the lower edge of the mediumwave band with identification announcements as "The Blue Eagle". Programming consisted of their own presentation of popular music, and sometimes a relay of local mediumwave stations such as WLDB and WMID in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Subsequent information revealed the fact that these broadcasts from the "Blue Eagle" were actually test broadcasts from an airplane before transferring over to Vietnam for use as an aerial broadcast unit. It should be noted that the Blue Eagle is a symbol of the United States navy.

A total of six Lockheed Constellation C130 aircraft were fitted out with similar equipment for the purpose of aerial broadcasting, and these are operated by the 193rd Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Currently, new Constellation aircraft are beginning to replace the 30 year old planes, though the same electronic equipment will be transferred from the old planes into the new.

The broadcasts from these airplanes were originally identified on air as "The Blue Eagle", though this radio broadcasting network of six Constellations is now known collectively as "Command Solo". On each occasion of active deployment, the identification is changed to meet local circumstances.

When flying over Vietnam during the Vietnam War, the Blue Eagles identified as "AFRTS, the American Forces Radio TV Network". In Vietnamese, their programming identified as VPMF, "The Voice of Patriotic Militiamen's Front".

During the invasion of Haiti in 1994, in an attempt to restore democracy, the radio programming from the aircraft was identified in French as "Radio Democracy". While flying over Serbia and Bosnia, the identification was "Radio Allied Voice", and in the Gulf War, it was "Voice of the Gulf". In the current broadcasts over Afghanistan, no clear identification announcements in the local languages have yet been noted.

These planes have also flown on active broadcast missions over several other countries, including the Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, and Somalia. Very few QSLs have been issued for these unique broadcasts, though at least three QSLs are known.

QSLs from American "Blue Eagles" and "Command Solo" Planes

This Week in Radio History - Radio Netherlands, Nov 6, 1919

The well-known international shortwave station, Radio Netherlands, was equally well known in its earlier days also. In fact, radio broadcasting in Holland can be traced right back to the very earliest days.

The standard volume, "BBC Engineering," by Edward Pawley, tells us that the first regular broadcast from station PCGG in the Hague began on November 6, 1919. These transmissions were made by Mr. H.H. Idzerda, the founder of the company known as "Netherlands Radio Industry". The regular Sunday evening music concerts from PCGG were advertised in advance, and they became very popular in England as the "Hague Concerts".

International radio station PCJ began broadcasting in 1927 as one of the first regular shortwave broadcasting stations in the world. They were famous in the pre-war days, with their remarkable rotatable antenna which ran on a track and could be turned to beam programming towards any part of the world. This large and unique antenna system was featured on many of their early QSL cards.

In subsequent years, PCJ became Radio Netherlands, and they have been on the air from Lopik in Holland, and more recently from Flevo, where they are now operating with four transmitters at 500 kW and one at 100 kW.

Currently over there in Holland they are remembering 82 years of radio broadcasting history.