Monday, March 21, 2011

Next on the International Radio Scene, Libya

The country that has suffered most in the recent political turmoil in the Middle East and Africa is Libya. According to the news reports that we have all seen on TV, vicious fighting has taken place, mainly in the areas nearby to their major cities in the northern coastal areas. Half a century ago, these areas featured prominently in the see-saw battles fought by the European powers during their North African campaigns.
The country of Libya is located in the north of Africa, approximately in the middle of the Mediterranean coastline. Libya is approximately 1,000 miles long and 1,000 miles wide, though with an irregular shape.
Almost the entire country is covered by the Sahara Desert, with a 50 mile strip of arable land along the coast, and a few oases inland. The hottest temperature ever recorded occurred in Libya on September 13, 1922, when the temperature was measured at 136 degrees Fahrenheit, 58 Celsius.
The population of Libya numbers around 7 million, their capital city is Tripoli, and their largest city is Benghazi. Oil was discovered in quantity in 1959, and these days the sale of oil forms 80% of the national economy.
This area of North Africa was inhabited by Berber tribespeople in earliest ancient times, and Phoenicians from the Palestine coast settled in the area around 700 BC. One hundred years later, the Greeks colonized the area, followed by the Romans, who were followed by the Vandals from central Europe, and then the Arabs came in around the 600s AD. In 1912, Italy took over Libya, and after World War 2, Libya gained independence in 1951.
For those who have an interest in Biblical backgrounds, the continent of Africa gained its name, according to the ancient historian, from two of the grandsons of the revered Patriarch Abraham; Ephah & Epher. The original Berber tribespeople are descendant from Noah’s son Ham; and Libya is mentioned by name more than a dozen times, with one statement yet to be fulfilled in coming events. The early Christian church remembered that a man by the name of Simon, from Cyrene in north eastern Libya, was arrested by Roman soldiers and forced to carry the cross along the via Dolorosa in Jerusalem on behalf of the Messiah.
Wireless communication came quite early to Libya, and the first stations were installed immediately after the end of World War 1. These early wireless stations were located in Tripoli as ICK; Benghazi as ICJ; and Tobruk as ICU; together with four other regional locations.
However, radio broadcasting came quite late to Libya, and interestingly, the first mediumwave stations were installed and operated by British & American forces personnel, not by the national government or commercial interests. According to all available references, there was a total of six different BFBS stations on the air in Libya giving coverage to four different localities on AM FM & SW; and just one AFRTS station on AM mediumwave.
We look first at the British stations. According to Doreen Taylor in her book, “A Microphone & A Frequency”, the first two British stations were erected somewhat simultaneously during the year 1946, in Benghazi & Tripoli. Both stations were quite small to begin with, using just whatever electronic equipment was available.
The original station in Benghazi was located on what had been the Italian airfield, and quite early, in 1947, an attempt was made to broadcast on shortwave. The transmitter was an American made RCA unit rated at 7½ kW and the chosen channel was announced as 11820 kHz, though monitoring observations in Australia stated that the channel was more like 11850 kHz. Unfortunately, these BFBS shortwave broadcasts caused interference to a regular BBC transmission, so the first attempt at shortwave broadcasting was aborted.
However, shortwave broadcasting was again attempted on two subsequent occasions; in 1949 on 4780 kHz, and in 1956 with 7½ kW on 4930 and 7220 kHz.
Two years after the station was inaugurated, Arabic programming was introduced for the benefit of local citizens; and four years later, the station was flooded following heavy rains in the hills nearby. However, due to quick action on the part of station personnel, very little damage was done to the station equipment.
The Benghazi station was closed in February 1958, but upon the insistence of King Idris, a smaller station with 1 kW on 833 kHz was installed in an empty ward in what had been the base hospital in Wavell Barracks. That was in 1960, but when most of the British forces left the area, the station was taken over temporarily by Signals personnel, and soon afterwards it was closed.
The BFBS station in Tripoli likewise had a double life. It was located initially in the British army barracks at Mareth, and ten years later the station was transferred to Miani Barracks four miles distant. Likewise, shortwave coverage was tried from this station, and it was noted in England on 4785 kHz in 1953. This station, with 1 kW on 1394 kHz, was finally closed in January 1966.
The BFBS station located at Tobruk came on the radio scene considerably later than the previous two. It was inaugurated in July 1964, it radiated 1 kW on apparently two channels, 1439 & 1484 kHz, and it was closed after six years of on air service.
Interestingly, the the programming from the Benghazi BFBS station was also on the air from an FM relay station located at El Adem, 17 miles inland. This relay station received its program feed via a landline connection, and it was likewise on the air for only six years.
BFBS in Libya was therefore on the air shortwave from two different locations, Benghazi in 1947, 1949 & 1956; and from Tripoli in 1953. And yes, these BFBS stations in Libya did issue QSL cards, though these days they are quite rare. The Indianapolis collection does contain one card, verifying BFBS Benghazi on shortwave with 4 kW on 3305 kHz in 1954.
The American AFRTS station was located at Tripoli and the best information would suggest that it was launched with 100 watts on 1510 kHz in 1954. Very little is known about this station; it must have had an American callsign, but of that we do not know. It was closed, we would suggest during the year 1970, and at the time, it was operating with 1 kW on 1594 kHz.
Next week here in Wavescan, we will look at the earlier shortwave radio scene in Libya.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 108 via Adrian Peterson)