Friday, November 25, 2011

The Voice of America: Shipboard Relay Stations - Radio Ship Phoenix

VOA Ship No. 2: The Mystery Story of the Radio Ship Phoenix

The story of the radio broadcastings ship, Phoenix, has always been wrapped in mystery ever since its inauguration more than ½ a century ago. The ship was fitted out as a radio broadcasting ship and it was in use in the Pacific at the latter end of World War 2 with broadcasts aimed at Asian rim countries, and in particular, Japan.
But where did the ship come from? And what happened to it afterwards? And what about international monitoring reports while it was on the air? In answer to all of these questions, a lengthy and intense spate of research has produced some interesting and unexpected information. That is the opening story in Wavescan today; The Mystery Story of the Radio Ship Phoenix, the 2nd ship broadcasting station that was on the air with programming on behalf of VOA, the Voice of America.
Let’s go back to the beginning, and we discover that the ship itself was not named the Phoenix; its real name was Triton Maris. The name Phoenix indicated the wartime project under which the purpose of the ship was developed, and it was never the name of the ship.
To make the matter more confusing, there was an American battleship in the Pacific during the same era and this was named the USS Phoenix. The official designation for the navy vessel was CL46, but this ship was never in use as a relay station for VOA programming.
Old shipping documents show that the Triton Maris was an Italian ship, not Greek as was mistakenly suggested for the Phoenix on previous occasions. It was constructed in the year 1898 as a dry bulk carrier, a cargo ship. It was nearly 250 feet long and 35 feet wide with an empty weight of 2300 tons.
The ship, Triton Maris, was taken over by the American army, and then granted to OWI, the American Office of War Information for modification as a radio broadcasting ship, we would suggest during the year 1943. Originally, this ship was intended for use as a floating radio station for deployment in European waters, quite similar to the usage of the American battle ship, USS Texas, a few months earlier, off the Mediterranean coast of Morocco in Africa.
A 50 kW mediumwave transmitter, a Western Electric Model 7A, was obtained from the well known broadcasting station, KSL in Salt Lake City Utah. This 8 year old transmitter was installed in the ship Triton Maris, probably at some port along the California coastline.
However, there was a delay in the deployment of this radio broadcasting ship, brought about because the navy was apprehensive that this slow moving vessel could become a liability in any active theatre of war. In view of the fact that the ship was finally not making its way towards Europe, General Douglas MacArthur ordered its deployment in the Pacific. Maybe they made some test broadcasts before leaving the sheltered waters of the United States.
The ship Triton Maris was temporarily moved to Hawaiian waters, probably at Pearl Harbor, and it was inaugurated as a radio broadcasting station on December 25, 1944. The nearby landbased shortwave station KRHO was inaugurated on the same date, and both stations were on the air with a relay of VOA programming from the new California shortwave station KWID. At this stage, the mediumwave transmitter aboard the Triton Maris was on the air under the callsign KRHO.
At the end of February, in the New Year 1945, the Triton Maris was moved to the coastal waters off the recently liberated island of Saipan. The 1st broadcast from this new location, as monitored in New Zealand, was on March 4, and the callsign at this stage remained KRHO. Programming was again taken off air from shortwave KRHO.
However, in June the transmitter was removed from the ship Triton Maris and re-installed at Tanapag on Saipan Island. At this stage, a new callsign was employed for this now landbased mediumwave relay station, the now familiar KSAI.
Mediumwave radio station KSAI was located on Saipan in a set of quonset huts, which was also the location of the AFRS mediumwave station WXLD. KSAI was on the air on Saipan until the middle of the year 1946, when, according to some reports, it was simply abandoned.
However, that is not the case. VOA documents indicate that the transmitter was instead removed from Saipan and re-installed in the Philippines at Malolos, on the site of an early VOA relay station north of Manila. This transmitter was inaugurated at its new location as VOA Manila A on March 7, 1948. By now, the old Western Electric 7A transmitter, still rated at 50 kW, was noted on 920 kHz with programming directed towards Asia.
Over a period of time, the mediumwave transmitter, while still aboard the Triton Maris, was heard in Australia, New Zealand & the United States on many different channels, in an attempt to avoid Japanese jamming. The original channel in Hawaiian waters was 1,000 kHz, though there were often quick moves to other channels, such as 1010, 860 & 960 kHz. When the station was installed on land at Tanapag on Saipan Island, usually only one constant channel was in use, 1010 kHz, though in July 1945, tests were made on two other channels, 1280 & 850 kHz.
Programming for mediumwave KRHO-KSAI was usually in parallel with shortwave KRHO in Hawaii, though there were occasions when local programming was produced on the island of Saipan in the Japanese language. At times the local AFRS 1 kW mediumwave station on Saipan, WXLD, was also in parallel with the programming from the 50 kW KSAI, with the signals from both stations beamed towards Japan.
During the year 1945, there were at least two navy reviews regarding the effectiveness of the OWI broadcasts from the Triton Maris, and these documents are lodged in the Eisenhower Library in Abilene Kansas.
So, that is the story of the Italian cargo vessel, the Triton Maris, that was transformed into a radio broadcasting ship for use under Project Phoenix, and that was heard from the end of 1944 till the middle of 1946 with a very strong signal in many countries around the Pacific Rim.

The Rest of the Story: The VOA Triton Maris

As the well known Paul Harvey would sometimes say: And now the rest of the story. What happened to the ship Triton Maris after it was no longer in use as a radio broadcasting station? This is
what happened.
The Italian crew returned to their homes in Italy, the remaining electronics were removed, and the ship was put on sale in the United States in February 1946. No one bought the old ship, so in April 1947, it was returned to its original owners in Italy.
What about the mighty 50 kW Western Electric mediumwave transmitter? Originally from KSL Salt Lake City, as mentioned by Shanon Hunniwell in the American radio magazine, Popular Communications, it was deployed aboard the Triton Maris in the Pacific, reinstalled on the island of Saipan, and later transferred to Malolos in the Philippines, its 4th location.
Around the middle of the 1960s, the Philippine Broadcasting service upgraded the electronics at their recently acquired station at Malolos and removed old obsolete equipment from service. Apparently, the venerable 50 kW mediumwave WE7A was simply removed at that time, demolished, and sold for scrap.
And the Tanapag location on Saipan? The old VOA location is now the site for the Tanapag Elementary School.
And QSL cards? Yes, numerous VOA cards in two different styles were issued from Honolulu and San Francisco for the mediumwave broadcasts under the callsigns KRHO & KSAI. And during the earlier part of that broadcast era, the programming was actually on the air from a radio broadcasting ship, though most listeners were not aware of it, the now historic but obscure Triton Maris.
(NWS 133 via Adrian Perterson)