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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 449, August 10, 2003

Radio Broadcasting in the Islands of Sao Thome & Principe

A few weeks ago, some of the international news bulletins on radio and TV mentioned about political disturbances in the islands of Sao Thome & Principe.  These events must have been quite brief, as a Google search on the internet failed to bring up any significant items of interest.  Nevertheless, the mention of these islands in international news drew our attention in this direction, so we decided that we would look into the story of radio broaadcasting in these exotic islands.

The independent nation of Sao Thome & Principe lies about 125 miles off the west coast of Africa.  The total area of this islandic country is less than 400 square miles and it is made up of just the two main islands and a few very small islands.  The total population is less than 100,000, and the capital is Sao Thome on Sao Thome island.

These African islands were discovered in the era of European exploration by the Portuguese in 1470.  The Dutch and then the French subsequently took over, but the Portuguese again regained control of these islands.  The islands ultimately gained their independence in 1975.

Radio broadcasting got a late start in Sao Thome & Principe and it began, as often happened in those days, with the use of utility communication transmitters carrying broadcast programming part time.  In October 1950, the usage of the single shortwave transmitter on St. Thome was diverted one hour each day for the presentation of local programming.  Two frequencies were used with an amateur callsign for each channel, CR5SA and CR5ST.

After the initial launching of this new medium of public communication in the islands, "Radio Club de Sao Thome," the on-air schedule began to diminish until it became quite spasmodic.  However, in 1967 this station began the relay of programming from Portugal, with the title "The Voice of the West."

Soon afterwards, plans were announced for the construction of a radio broadcasting facility made up of two transmitters, 10 kw on shortwave and 10 kw on mediumwave.  They even said that they were planning on installing a very large shortwave station to act as a relay facility to the African mainland.

In 1971, "Radio Club de Sao Thome" became "Emissora Nacional" and the shortwave transmitter was soon afterwards deactivated.  FM coverage became the new norm for radio coverage in these islands.  Currently they are operating 20 kw on 945 kHz mediumwave and a small network of half a dozen FM transmitters.

The Voice of America installed a relay station at Pinheira in 1993.  The first unit on air was a temporary 100 kw operating on mediumwave.  This was later replaced by a 600 kw unit, and the four shortwave transmitters at 100 kw.  This VOA facility replaced the large VOA relay station in Liberia that was destroyed in the civil war there many years ago.

In the days when Emissora Nacional was on the air shortwave they were quite reliable in issuing their quite famous QSL sheet.  A QSL card direct from the VOA station at Pinheira shows an early photo of their facility with its buildings and antenna system.

The noted international radio monitor from Denmark, Anker Petersen, made a visit to Sao Thome & Principe a few months ago.  He states that the VOA station is located near the ocean at the southern edge of the main island, St. Thome.  He states also that the government mediumwave transmitter is colocated with the VOA facility, though the programming comes directly from the city and is produced quite independent of the VOA programming.

Radio Broadcasting from Airships

The famous airship, Graf Zeppelin, was constructed in Germany in 1928. This 800 ft. long giant was the only airship to fly right around the world. It could travel at 70 miles an hour with 50 passengers. The journey from Berlin to New York would take 21 days, and they established a regular flight schedule between Europe and South America.

As a publicity stunt, several radio broadcasts were made from the Graf Zeppelin, mainly over Europe and over New York City. However, on April 25, 1935, the Graf Zeppelin made a special broadcast while it was en route over the Atlantic to honor the birthday of the great radio inventor, Marconi. This was a worldwide broadcast, and many radio stations on land as well as on board ship joined in for the special occasion.

Another well-known airship that made several notable radio broadcasts was the Hindenburg. This airship was built in 1936, and it was just 12 feet longer than the Graf Zeppelin. The Bluthner piano company in Germany produced a special light weight piano for the Hindenburg. It was cast in aluminum instead of iron, and it was covered with painted parchment.

The first broadcast from the baby grand piano on the Hindenburg in the air was heard in 1936, but contemporary reports state that the tone from this aluminum piano sounded quite strange.

The last radio broadcast associated with the Hindenburg was made on May 6, 1936. Just as the airship was mooring at Lakehurst in New Jersey it burst into flame and was completely destroyed in a few minutes, killing many of its crew and passengers.

It happened to be that Herbert Morrison from station WLS in Chicago was making a recording of the arrival of the Hindenburg, and when it burst into flame he carried on with his broadcast, making an emotional commentary that was relayed nationwide next day on the NBC Red Network.

These days there are a few modern blimps flying the skies. The famous Goodyear blimp is often stationed overhead and nearby to large sporting events, and sometimes live commentaries are made from the sky.