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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 417, December 22, 2002

BBC Radio Station on Board Ship?

Dring the era when the Voice of America was operating a radio station on board the Coast Guard vessel ìCourier,î the BBC in London announced that they also planned on establishing a radio station on board a ship.  This was also at the time when there were several pirate radio stations on board ships in European waters as well as off the coast of New Zealand.  This is how it happened.

In the year 1888, mining rights were granted by the Matabele people to Cecil Rhodes, a prominent Englishman living in South Africa.  Seven years later, the Matabele territory was named Rhodesia in honor of its founder, though ten years later again, England divided the territory into two, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia.  In 1960, Prime Minister Ian Smith declared unilateral independence for Southern Rhodesia.

Following a long period of turmoil, Southern Rhodesia was finally granted independence from England in 1980 and the name of the country was changed to Zimbabwe.  It should also be mentioned that Northern Rhodesia is now known as Zambia.

In 1965, five years after Ian Smith declared independence for his country, the relay of the BBC news from London over the local radio stations in Rhodesia was cancelled.  Hurriedly, the BBC erected a new station at Francistown in Bechuanaland.  This new and temporary radio station operated with 50 kw on mediumwave and 10 kw on shortwave, and it was inaugurated on the last day of the year 1965.

There was speculation at the time that this new BBC station in Africa was in reality the previous VOA transportable station at Sugarloaf in Florida.  VOA Sugarloaf was also a 50 kw mediumwave unit, and it disappeared quietly around the same time.  The official explanation at the time was that the station was destroyed by a hurricane and bulldozed into a pit, though visitors to the area find no evidence to support this theory.

An additional 50 kw mediumwave transmitter was installed at the Francistown facility a few months later during the year 1966.

Unfortunately, the station was too close to Southern Rhodesia to be effective on shortwave, and in any case, jamming transmitters made reception in the target areas almost impossible.  In addition, the host country Bechuanaland was nearing independence as Botswana and it became necessary for the BBC to close this facility.

The final broadcast from the BBC Central African Relay Station was on March 31, 1968 and the entire facility was then donated to Radio Botswana.  Entries in subsequent editions of the World Radio TV Handbook would suggest that at least the 10 kw shortwave transmitter was taken into use by Radio Botswana, on the single channel 9590 kHz.

However, in the meantime, the BBC announced plans to establish a radio station on board a ship, though the details of its electronic equipment were not given.  It was intended that this ship would anchor in the Mozambique Channel on the east coast of Africa and make its broadcasts into Southern Rhodesia from this seabourne location.

That, dear listener, was the last that was ever heard of the BBC radio ship!

The Prime Minister's Birthday [Australia 1939]

In the content of the past more than 3,000 editions of DX programs from Adventist World Radio over the past 31 years, it has been our custom to present a radio-oriented Christmas edition. This is our plan again this year.

However, in view of the fact that we have presented so many Christmas editions over the years, we could ask the question, "What new radio information can we present for Christmas on this occasion?" And so we present something a little different this year, under the title, "The Prime Minister's Birthday".

As we check our records over the past quarter century for the two DX programs, "Radio Monitors International" and "Wavescan", we note that we have presented many interesting radio topics associated with Christmas. Back in 1975, for example, Victor Goonetilleke in Sri Lanka made his first broadcast with Jonathan Marks in the DX program from Radio Netherlands.

We have told the story of the radio stations on the two islands with the name Christmas Island, one in the Pacific and the other in the Indian Ocean. We interviewed Radio Kiribati about their program feed on shortwave beamed towards Kiritimati as the Pacific Christmas island is known in the local language.

We have also presented the story of a radio Christmas in the Arctic, and an American Christmas with pretty Christmas music. There was a royal Christmas about the annual radio broadcasts made by the king of England, and the first-ever radio broadcast made by the Canadian wireless inventor Reginald Fessenden on Christmas Eve 1906.

Famous for its Christmas launch is the pioneer Gospel station HCJB in Quito Ecuador, which made its inaugural broadcast on Christmas Day 1931. As we mentioned in Wavescan last week, the new shortwave station that is currently under installation for HCJB in Australia is scheduled also for a Christmas launch, just 71 years after the inauguration of their first facility in Ecuador.

Now it just so happened that the Prime Minister of Australia during the wartime era, Sir Robert Menzies, was born on a date near Christmas, December 20, 1894 to be exact. In 1939, the new war in Europe caught Australia unready, and feverish attempts were made to launch a new international radio broadcasting service.

Just three shortwave transmitters were ready for the occasion, and these were already on the air with other programming services. Two 10 kW transmitters at Pennant Hills, an outer suburb of Sydney, carried the familiar voice of experimental programming from AWA Sydney, and a 2 kW unit at Lyndhurst in Victoria was on the air with regional programming from the ABC.

The two transmitters at Pennant Hills were on the air with program broadcasting as VK2ME, and with international communication traffic as VLK and VLM. For the inauguration of the new shortwave service, "Australia Calling", VLK and VLM were re-designated as VLQ and VLQ2. The ABC station was on the air as VLR, and for the new international service, the same callsign VLR was retained.

The date for the inauguration of Australia Calling just happened to be December 20, 1939, the Prime Minister's 45th birthday. But that's not all. Another transmitter base for Radio Australia was also inaugurated on this same date, though in a subsequent year.

After the devastating Cyclone Tracy swept through Darwin on Christmas Eve in 1974, it was no longer possible for Radio Australia to transmit its programming to Asia from the large shortwave relay station on Cox's Peninsula. Another series of rapid events occurred and a new station was installed in an empty satellite tracking facility near Carnarvon in Western Australia.

On that same auspicious date, December 20, in the year 1975, a new 250 kW transmitter, designated as VLM, was taken into regular service at Carnarvon with programming from the Radio Australia studios in Melbourne. The two additional transmitters, VLK and VLL, were inaugurated consecutively some months later.

And so that's the radio story of the Prime Minister's Birthday. Happy Christmas everybody!