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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 450, August 17, 2003

The Story of Another Radio Ship - The VOA Phoenix

According to Greek mythology, the "phoenix" was a large and beautiful bird which could die in a fire and then arise as a new and young creature.  Very little else is known about this mysterious bird.

Almost as mysterious is the story of the radio ship "Phoenix,,," which was fitted out with a bevy of electronic equipment to serve as a mobile broadcasting station.  There are just two main sources for the brief story about the "Phoenix"; one is a university dissertation on the history of the Voice of America, and the other is a brief reference in a book on the history of radio broadcasting from ships.  All other references to VOA "Phoenix" seem to stem from these two earlier sources.

It is known that the "Phoenix" was not a war vessel, but rather a Greek merchant ship that was converted in the United States for use as a radio broadcasting station.  Gerry Bishop, in his memorable compilation of radio ships with the title "Offshore Radio," refers to this Greek merchant vessel as the "Doddridge," and then he briefly refers to the later ship, the "Courier."  It is suggested that, in reality, the "Doddridge" became VOA "Phoenix," not VOA "Courier."

We could ask the question, What was the radio equipment on the "Phoenix"?  The only information we can find is that it contained just one transmitter, rated at 85 kw.  If this information is correct, then it was a mighty big transmitter for a small ship.  It would seem that the only broadcast transmitter on the "Phoenix" was a mediumwave unit rather than shortwave.

The original purpose for the radio ship "Phoenix" was to act quickly as a temporary radio broadcasting station in the Mediterranean until a permanent station could be built at a satisfactory location.  However, by the time the "Phoenix" was ready to fulfil its intended role in the Mediterranean, the European conflict was almost over, and so the ship was then diverted for use in the Pacific.

The official date for the end of the European conflict is given as May 8, 1945, so it would appear then that the "Phoenix" left the United States for its journey across the Pacific around March or April, 1945.

Actually, it is stated that the United States Navy delayed giving approval for the ship to move into the Pacific, and by the time it did arrive in Far Eastern waters the war in the Pacific was over.  However, it is understood that the "Phoenix" did go on the air with test broadcasts off the coast of California, and also in Far Eastern waters.  The fact that there are no known DX reports of these test broadcasts would seem to confirm that these were made on mediumwave rather than on shortwave.

What happened to the "Phoenix" after the war, and what happened to all of its electronic equipment?  No one seems to know.  What is known is that it was a slow ship and that it did go on the air with test broadcasts in the Pacific around mid-1945, though it is officially stated that the ship was never used for regular radio broadcasting.  In addition, there are no known loggings of this ship broadcasting station in any radio magazines at the time.

It would appear, then, that the radio broadcasting ship "Phoenix" was a temporary and very short lived project that never fully fulfilled its intended purposes.

Underwater Broadcast from a Sunken Ship

It was in August 1919 that the 200 ft. long freighter, "David W. Mills", went aground at Ford Shoals, five miles west of Oswego Harbor in Lake Ontario. This event occurred during a fog caused by forest fires in Canada. Efforts to free the ship failed, and it broke apart and sank during a violent storm a few days later.

In 1993, TV station WCNY, the PBS Public Broadcasting Station in Syracuse, New York State, ran a 30 minute documentary regarding this ship, and this broadcast honored the efforts of local tourist personnel to establish an underwater marine preserve for use by recreational divers. This dive site is located a few miles off shore in about 20 ft. of water.

Eighty-one years after the ship sank, and seven years after the earlier TV documentary, another TV broadcast was made from the same location, this time live from the site of the wreck, under the water. This live coverage marked the official opening of the underwater site as a recreational dive site.

In advance of the TV program, several dives were made at the site to film footage of the wreck itself which were later spliced into the live underwater program. Above the wreck was another boat, the "Russell B", which was fitted out for use as a live TV studio. This surface boat was owned by the Lighthouse Marine of Port Ontario.

On the date of the broadcast, May 3, 2000, several TV personnel donned their diving suits and went down to the wreck of the "David W. Mills". Here they presented a live commentary as part of the special 20-minute TV feature. The complete program was broadcast live by station WIXT9 in Syracuse, and it was relayed also to Rochester. Segments of this unique program were seen nationwide on ABC television all across the States.

It is now just 84 years this month since the good ship "David W. Mills" sank, an event that was memorialized in two different series of TV programs that went on the air in the years 1992 and 2000.