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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 461, November 2, 2003

KDKA Shortwave

It is generally recognized that radio broadcasting began with station KDKA in 1920; and it is also generally recognized that international shortwave broadcasting was inaugurated somewhere around the year 1927.  However, it is also interesting to note that the berginnings of shortwave broadcasting can be traced back to the same station KDKA, in the same inaugural year, 1920.

In this edition of Wavescan, we look at the full story of Westinghouse shortwave broadcasting by KDKA, at its six different locations over a period of nearly fifty years. 

It was in August 1916 that Frank Conrad obtained a license as an amateur radio operator with the callsign 8XK.  He built his own equipment and installed it on the top floor of his garage in Wlkinsburg, in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  All amateur licenses were suspended in 1917, though Conrad was granted a special licence as 2WM for government experimental work during World War I. 

The ban on amateur radio was lifted on October 1, 1919, and two weeks later Conrad was on the air again with music broadcasts from his station 8XK.  One year later, his amateur music broadcasts were noted in the local newspaper.
During the war, the station with a special licence at the Westinghouse factory was designated as 2WE; and in the early part of 1920, Frank Conroy took his amateur station 8XC to the factory for a special demonstration.  Out of these events with Conrad and Conroy grew the concept of establishing a radio broadcasting station at the factory which was licensed initially as 8ZZ.

The notable date for the launching of the new mediumwave station, now known as KDKA, was November 2, 1920.  This same program was relayed on shortwave by Frank Conrad from 8XK in his suburban garage as a back-up precaution. 

Two years later, a 1 kw. shortwave transmitter was installed at the factory in East Pittsburgh under the callsign 8XS; and two years later again, the mediumwave and shortwave units were moved out to a new facility at Forest Hills, where the shortwave callsign reverted back to the more familiar 8XK. 

However, in 1931, both KDKA and 8XK were moved again, this time to another new facility at Saxonburg, another suburban location within Pittsburgh.  Here it was that the callsign was regularized in 1939 to the four letter callsign, WPIT.  By this time, four shortwave transmitters were in use for the broadcast of the Westinghouse radio programming.

Right towards the end of the year 1939, the final split came between mediumwave KDKA and shortwave WPIT, with the transfer of KDKA to another new location again, this time Allison Park in Pennsylvania, and the transfer of WPIT to Hull in Massachusetts.  Production staff and studios for the shortwave service were re-located some months later to the home of another Westinghouse mediumwave station, WBZ in Boston.

However, during the following year the other Westinghouse shortwave station, WBOS, was transferred from Millis near Boston, to Hull, which is located right at the end of a narrow peninsula opposite Boston.  Here it was that the equipment of both stations was integrated and the WPIT callsign was dropped, with the usage now of only the one call, WBOS.

For a period of twelve years, station WBOS in Hull carried VOA programming to Europe and Africa.  When this term of service was over, the equipment was sold and transferred to shortwave station WRUL which was located further down the coast at Hatherley Beach, near the town of Scituate. 

There was a disastrous fire at station WRUL in 1967 in which all of the World War II equipment was destroyed.  This then would mark the final end of the historic shortwave station, 8XK-WPIT, after nearly half a century of international radio coverage.  

As a postscript, station WRUL in Scituate became WNYW, and then it was bought by Family Radio and re-designated as WYFR, which is on the air these days with fourteen shortwave transmitters at Okeechobee in Florida.

The Recent Radio Canada Hoax

A few weeks ago, there was a flurry of email messages on the internet which stated that Radio Canada International was planning to establish a shortwave relay station on the west coast, somewhere in British Columbia. Almost as quickly, there was a denial about the veracity of this information from the RCI QSL host, Bill Westenhever.

It turned out that this information about a projected RCI relay station in British Columbia came from an unauthorized internet website, and it was no more than a hoax. Alas, it is true; Radio Canada International is not planning to establish a shortwave relay station in western Canada.

It reminds us of the fact that a similar hoax about Radio Canada International was perpetrated a few years ago, back in May 1998. The unofficial and incorrect information at that time gave many details about the so-called projected shortwave relay station. It would contain seven transmitters, ranging in power from 100 kW to 500 kW, and it would be located at Cable Bay.

It is true, though, that there were valid announcements back in the 1990s regarding two other projected shortwave stations out west. Radio for Peace International in Costa Rica announced that they intended to erect a shortwave radio station in the western areas of continental North America. One location they considered was in Oregon, where a 50 kW shortwave station would be erected. Another location they considered was Salmon Arm, in the mountainous areas of British Columbia, where they were considering the installation of two transmitters at 10 kW.

Another genuine announcement around the same era stated that a commercial company was planning to establish a shortwave station somewhere near the American border, maybe south of Calgary in Alberta. The purpose for this station would be to relay European shortwave stations into the United States.

Neither of these two projected stations, Radio for Peace International nor the commercial company, ever eventuated.

However, news about the Canadian RCI hoax did bring to light an interesting item of information, and that is that Radio Canada did conduct a series of test transmissions from Vancouver in British Columbia way back some thirty years ago. This is what happened; and this information comes from the published writings of the late Arthur Cushen in New Zealand, and also from Jerry Berg, William Matthews, and Walter Salminiw.

During the late 1960s, Radio Canada International began the installation of five new transmitters at 250 kW in their shortwave building located at Sackville, New Brunswick. Test broadcasts from two of these units began in July 1971, and at the end of that same month, these two units were taken into regular service, augmenting the three older 50 kW units.

During this era, RCI conducted a whole slew of test broadcasts on shortwave, to Europe, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, using these two new transmitters at 250 kW.

However, somewhat simultaneously, RCI also conducted another series of test broadcasts, to Asia and the Pacific, using two transmitters at a communication facility located near Vancouver in British Columbia. Several different frequencies were tested during a brief period of time lasting just two weeks.

This communication station was owned and operated by the Canadian Overseas Telecommunication Corporation, and the two transmitters at 20 kW were fed into rhombic antennas for this short series of test broadcasts. These test broadcasts were announced in advance, though it was not stated at the time that they were from another facility located on the west coast.

The assembled information would suggest that these test broadcasts from Vancouver, BC, on behalf of Radio Canada International were on the air in October 1971. It is probable that several listeners in Japan, Australia and New Zealand are holding rare QSL cards from Radio Canada International, verifying these broadcasts, and the listeners themselves are quite unaware of the temporary location that was in use at the time.