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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 499, July 25, 2004

Island Hopping in the Central Pacific - Tarawa

During the era of the Pacific War, many radio broadcasting stations were established by the Americans to provide entertainment and information to service personnel on duty in nearby areas.  Some of these mediumwave stations were landbased fixtures, while others were more mobile and could be moved from one location to another as circumstances would require.

While performing the research for the feature article on radio broadcasting in Kiribati a few weeks back, we were reminded again of the unique events involving several of the AFRS stations located on these small tropical islands in the territories of what are now Kiribati and Tuvalu.  Today we cover Tarawa, and in coming programs, Eniwetok and Canton.

These days, Tarawa is the small capital city of the recently independent Kiribiti, but in earlier years it was simply an island village, built on a small island in a coral atoll.  Other inhabited islands in the Tarawa atoll are Betio, Nanikaai and Bairiki, all of which have subsequently featured in the radio scenario under the government of Kiribati.

Anyway, back to the story of radio broadcasting around the middle of last century under the umbrella of AFRS, the American Forces Radio Service.  To make things quite complicated, we note that there were two different stations on different islands in the same country on the air simultaneously with the same callsign, and two different locations for another station, using the same callsign.  This is what happened on Tarawa.

According to the official AFRS records, it was on July 15, 1944 that station WXLF began broadcasting on 1340 kHz onTarawa island in the Tarawa atoll.  The rated power output of this new station at this time is not given in any of the known references. 

Around this era, most of these exotic little radio stations in the Pacific were heard in New Zealand and Australia.  However, there is no known record of any logging of this station in either Australia or New Zealand, and this would suggest that the station was indeed emitting at quite a low power level.  We could suggest that the rated power output could be as low as 5 watts, similar to the stations in the same area on Johnston Island, Midway and Canton Island.

The doctoral thesis prepared by Theodore DeLay in 1951 states that this radio station on Tarawa was soon afterwards transformed into what was called a "sound system station" with loud speakers installed in various buildings throughout the service encampment.  However, station WXLF was still listed at this stage as a radio broadcasting station on 1340 kHz, as printed in Pacific island radio lists published in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.       

Just before the declaration of peace in the Pacific in 1945, this station was indeed heard on 1340 kHz by an unidentified "reader" somewhere in the South Pacific.  Then a few months later, the noted Ern Suffolk, who later wrote the scripts for the first DX program on Radio Australia, stated that he heard a station on 1550 kHz announcing as "The Voice of Tarawa."  Apparently station WXLF had been revived and it was now listed with a power output of 1 kw.

There are no known QSLs from station WXLF on Tarawa Island in the Gilberts way out there in the Pacific.

Now, the matter of the confusing callsigns.  AFRS Tarawa was indeed listed with one and only one callsign, WXLF.  However, another station on another island in the same country, Canton, was on the air at the same time under the same callsign, WXLF, though on a different channel. 

We could ask several questions about this matter.  Why two stations on two different islands in the same country with the same callsign?  Was this just a coincidence, or did the second station just simply borrow the callsign of the Tarawa station, and maybe also take an off air relay when propagation conditions were good?  Or perhaps it was just a simple mistake due to communication difficulties in isolated and underpopulated islands?

These questions are at present unanswerable, but maybe there is someone out there who does know the answer, maybe someone who was working at the stations at the time.