"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 503, August 22, 2004
The Story of Radio Broadcasting on Canton
To begin with, most people would ask the question: Where in the world is Canton Island? And maybe another equally important follow-up question: Why Is Canton Island important in the story of radio broadcasting? We answer the first question first.
Canton island is part of the recently independent nation of Kiribati out there in the Central Pacific, and it is the most northerly in the Phoenix islands. It is a low, flat, sandy island with little vegetation and almost no trees and it is surrounded by a coral reef with a large enclosed lagoon.
Canton was discovered by American and English whalers in the 1800s and it was named "Canton" by the American Commander Meade in honor of a British whaling ship that ran aground on the reef in 1854. Both the United States and England claimed Canton Island and several notices identifying these claims were posted on the island, beginning in 1936.
Soon afterwards, personnel from both nations were placed on the island to substantiate these claims of possession. However, in 1939 both countries signed a 50 year agreement for joint administration.
Now to answer the second question. It was in 1939 that
the United States airline, PanAm, established a modern re-fueling
facility on Canton Island for the benefit of the seaplanes in
their trans-Pacific Clipper Service.
The famous American aviator, Eddie Rickenbacker, flew out from California in 1942 via Canton to meet General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. However, the navigation systems in the plane were damaged on take-off and he had to ditch the plane when he inadvertently overshot Canton Island. The crew were finally rescued. Rickenbacker was already famous for his part in establishing the Indy 500 motor car race track in Indianapolis.
It was in 1937 that the British established the first radio station, a communication facility, on the island called Canton. A few months later, the Americans also brought radio equipment onto the island and established their own shortwave communication station, which was later allocated the callsign NSN.
The airline company, PanAm, established their own radio communication station on Canton in 1939 and it was noted on air with two different callsigns, KABS and KVZC, one for each channel. Over the years there have also been several DXpeditions to the island conducted by amateur radio groups and most of these were on the air under American callsigns. However, an expedition in 1956 under Danny Weil on the ship "Yasme" went on the air with a very different callsign, VR1B.
Over the years both AFRS, the American Forces Radio Service, and PanAm have established entertainment radio stations on Canton for the benefit of personnel stationed on this small and lonely island. The first station was launched in 1944 with the callsign WXLF, the same callsign that was in use by another station on Tarawa Island. This original station WXLF was closed 18 months later.
However, in 1971, the station on Eniwetok Island, WXLE, was transferred to Canton where it went on the air under the same callsign. This station was subsequently rebuilt into a 250 watt facility which was heard regularly in New Zealand. It finally left the air in 1979.
In the 1950s and 1960s, PanAM also established an entertainment radio station and this was noted on the air, first as KIBE, and later as KIBS. The most recent entertainment radio station on Canton was heard in 1994 by the noted Arthur Cushen in Invercargill, South New Zealand.
In addition to amateur radio QSL cards, there have been a few QSLs issued to verify the reception of the entertainment radio stations on Canton Island. It is noted that several QSLs were issued to listeners located in California, Hawaii and New Zealand on behalf of the AFRS station WXLE during the era when it was operating on mediumwave with 250 watts. In addition, Arthur Cushen also received a letter verifying his reception of the airways station in 1949.