Friday, November 25, 2011

Jungle Radio in South America: The Terry-Holden Expedition

The South American country of Guyana is located at the top of the continent. It is just a small tropical country, 400 miles long and 300 miles wide, with a total population of less than one million, half of whom trace their origins back to India, over there in Asia. The capital city is Georgetown, with its unique floating bridge more than one mile long.
If only the noted Charles Darwin had visited this country now called Guyana in South America, he would have discovered a multitude of unique varieties there, more than he did in his famous expedition to the Galapagos Islands during the 1830s. It is stated that Guyana has 4,000 plants that are not found anywhere else in the world, as well as many unique animal species, including the Golden Frog.
In ancient times, Guyana was inhabited by Indians of three different tribes; the Arawak, Carib & Warrau. It was Christopher Columbus who sailed along the coast line of Guyana as the first European visitor to the area in 1498. Almost a century later, the Dutch established the first European settlement, but they ceded the area to England in 1814. The British colony of British Guiana was formally established in 1831.
In 1966 British Guiana gained its independence as Guyana; and four years later, this new country became a republic. Guyana became a center of international interest in the terrible events associated with what is known as the Jonestown Massacre when nearly 1,000 people committed suicide.
Back in the year 1937, a group of six American explorers left the United States for a season of exploration in the northern jungle areas of South America on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This expedition, known as the Terry-Holden Expedition, arrived at Georgetown; and they then departed from Bartica, at the mouth of a confluence of local river systems on September 29, 1937 in flat bottom boats for a 500 mile journey inland.
Three weeks later, the expedition established a base camp in the foothills of the Sierra Akarai Mountains near the border with Brazil. Here, they installed a 200 watt RCA shortwave transmitter in a grass hut; this unit was allotted the callsign VP3THE, with the letters THE in the callsign identifying the Terry-Holden Expedition.
An advance party travelled a further 200 miles on horse back, and they took a small 50 watt Collins mobile transmitter with them for regular contact with the base camp.
It was on October 13, 1937, that the expedition station VP3THE was first heard in the United States, on 13900 kHz. On this occasion, VP3THE was in contact with amateur station VP3BG in Georgetown; and interestingly, as the years went by, VP3BG & neighboring VP3MR grew into a commercial broadcasting station with a regularized callsign.
One month after the first test transmission, the expedition station VP3THE was officially inaugurated with the broadcast of a weekly radio report back to the United States for nationwide coverage in the NBC Red & Blue networks. Sometimes the program relay was made via VP3BG & VP3MR in Georgetown Guyana, and sometimes the relay was carried out direct with the RCA station at Rocky Point on Long Island.
Three months after the initial test broadcast, the expedition station VP3THE left the air, never to return again. The final broadcast was made early in the new year, on January 15, 1938. The operator,
Orison Hungerford, arrived back in New York three months later, during the month of April.
Two very different QSL cards were issued to verify reception reports of the Terry-Holden Expedition. One was the familiar duplicated plain text card with a hand drawn microphone issued by NBC in New York. These cards were non-specific regarding the information in the QSL text. The other card was a large folder card, containing three photos of the station out in the jungle, and brief details of the expedition, as well as full QSL details.
(NWS 125 via Adrian Peterson)