"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 517, November 28, 2004
Pacific Nostalgia - WXLH Makin
Just a while back, David Ricquish, the well-known radio historian in New Zealand, noticed an interesting picture for sale on ebay. The picture that caught his attention was a colored photo showing one of the exotic entertainment radio stations that American forces established throughout the Pacific during the Pacific War. This particular picture was a page from a National Geographic magazine and it showed the station, WXLH, on the island of Makin.
In the purchasing arrangement regarding this picture, David asked our DX editor, Adrian Peterson, to receive the item from the seller. When the picture was received in Indianapolis, it was quickly discovered that it showed a very valuable piece of old radio history, portrayed in a beautiful dimension. The 60 year old picture was copied, and the original was then forwarded on to New Zealand.
This colored picture shows an idyllic scene on the island of Makin, complete with coconut palm trees, thatched huts, and servicemen relaxing in between duties. Large in the picture is another thatched building that contains the exotic radio station with an American homeland callsign, WXLH. The locally made but rather neat and ornate identification sign states: Radio Makin WXLH, American Expeditionary Station, Armed Forces Radio Service.
Very few pictures of these unique temporary radio stations have survived, so this item spurred us on to perform a spate of research in order to discover more about this AFRS unit, station WXLH. This is what we found.
The island of Makin is the most northerly island in what is now the Republic of Kiribati. In earlier times, Makin was one of the Gilbert Islands, a colonial outpost of the old British Empire.
Makin is described as a lagoonless tropical island of coral origin, about a dozen km. long and a couple of km. wide. The local people say that the shape of the island resembles an exclamation mark.
The original inhabitants came from Samoa 500 years ago, English traders and missionaries came to the island 150 years ago, and soon afterwards it was the home for the famous novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, for a year or two. The Japanese took over the islands in early December 1941, and the American forces arrived almost exactly two years later.
The only radio broadcasting station ever installed on the island of Makin was the aforementioned AFRS unit, WXLH. The best available information tells us that the station was inaugurated on July 15 in the year 1944. According to these records, station WXLH operated with 1 kW on 1400 kHz. A glimpse at the picture showing station WXLH would suggest that it was really quite a substantial station, in view of all of the local and temporary circumstances.
Throughout all of these years, Makin has boasted of just one radio station with just one transmitter and just one operating frequency, and it was the Gilbert Island unit in what was called at the time the Pacific Ocean Network. Programming for this unique little radio station came from the PON network headquarters in Hawaii and AFRS headquarters in California, as well as from off-air relays from California on shortwave, and locally produced programs.
This station was on the air on Makin Island for a little less than six months, running from mid-July to sometime in December during the year 1944. With the changing tide of events in the Pacific, station WXLH was closed, dismantled, transferred, and re-erected on another island, this time on Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands.
The records tell us that it was the same station with the same callsign, though on a different channel, that took to the air at this new location. The inauguration date on Okinawa for the transferred WXLH was May 20, 1945, and the new operating channel was 680 kHz.
No, there are no known QSLs from this station while it was on Makin, though several international radio monitors in Australia and New Zealand, and probably California also, did send reports to the station.
We could ask the question: If the long gone station WXLH was the only radio broadcasting station ever on this island of Makin, then what station do the people listen to today? There are some 1,500 inhabitants on this island these days, and they are able to pick up the programming from their capital city radio station on the island of Tarawa. Radio Kiribati with 10 kW on 846 kHz is 150 KM distant, straight across this wide section of the blue Pacific Ocean.