Focus on Africa: BBC West Africa Relay Station in the Twin Congos
In two previous editions of Wavescan
about this time last year, we presented the story of radio broadcasting in the
two Congos, French Congo & Belgian Congo as they were at the time, but
perhaps better known these days as Congo & Zaire.The twin capital cities Leopoldville &
Brazzaville face each other across the Congo River, and these cities are known
today as Kinshasa & Brazzaville.
in the middle of last century two shortwave transmitters were installed on the
edge of these two cities, one in each.Both of these transmitters were American made RCA units at 50 kW, they
were both installed at the same time, they were both used for wide area
coverage on behalf of their respective governments, and they were both in use
as relay stations on behalf of the BBC London, though in very different ways.
is our story today in Focus on Africa: the story of the BBC West Africa Relay
Stations in the Twin Congos.
begin with Radio Leopoldville, located in Leopoldville in the Belgian Congo
(Zaire) on the eastern side of the River Congo.The studios for Radio Leo, RNB, Radio National Belge at this stage were
located in the College Albert Cultural Centre in Leopoldville, and the
transmitter was located on a site at the edge of town.
broadcasts from the new 50 kW RCA shortwave transmitter at RNB began in early
1943, it was officially inaugurated on May 16, and next day it was taken into
full service as a shortwave broadcast station presenting the Belgian story to
the world, and also as an official BBC relay station.
programs from the BBC London were broadcast from their Daventry shortwave
station and received off air in Leopoldville, and rebroadcast to Southern
Africa, to North America, and also to South America in Spanish.When the Leopoldville shortwave station was
carrying a relay on behalf of the BBC, the frequency in use was usually in the
31 metre band, variously 9785, 9783, 9745, 9750 or 9763 kHz.
November 1945 for example, the Leopoldville relay of the BBC North American
Service was listed in the official BBC schedules for a period of 3½ hours
daily, beginning at 8:15 pm EST on 9745 kHz.However, one listener in the United States heard the BBC North American
Service on relay from RNB Leopoldville in the 25 metre band on 11645 kHz on
October 8, 1944.
the 1944 winter, the manager of the BBC office in New York stated that
consideration was being given to the possibility of using 2 transmitters at
Leopoldville to carry the BBC relay to North America.This would entail the usage of the regular 50
kW RCA transmitter, as well as the lower powered 7½ kW transmitter that was
installed in 1940.However, it is not
known whether this suggested additional scheduling was ever implemented.
BBC office in New York issued printed QSL cards verifying the reception of the
BBC relay from Leopoldville.It is
presumed that this official BBC relay from RNB Leopoldville concluded at the
end of the year 1956.
Let’s cross the River Congo now and
go to the scene at Radio Brazzaville, which was located in Brazzaville on the
western edge of the Congo River, in the territory that was known in earlier
times as French Equatorial Africa.The
studios for Radio Brazzaville were located in town, and the transmitter was
located 2 miles out, at M’Pila.
The 50 kW American RCA transmitter
was installed in 1942, and it was officially inaugurated in May 1943.This station was under the auspices of
General Charles de Gaulle, who had initiated a Free French broadcasting service
2½ years earlier via a 5 kW transmitter that he brought into the country from
50 kW shortwave transmitter was on the air under the callsign FZI, and it
broadcast locally produced programming, as well as Free French programming from
the BBC in London.The Free French
programming was beamed to Africa as well as daily to North America, and the
usual frequency was 11970 kHz.QSL cards
for this service were issued from Brazzaville, verifying the reception of
is presumed that the BBC relay via Radio Brazzaville was concluded at the end
of the year 1945.Even though station
FZI, with its 50 kW transmitter did relay BBC programming from London, yet this
station was never considered to be a true BBC relay station in the same way as
the other station just across the river at Leopoldville.
should remember that both of the these stations, Leopoldville &
Brazzaville, also relayed the programming from the Voice of America back then
as part of the agreement in providing the two transmitters for use in Africa.