Monday, January 20, 2014

Tribute to WYFR: The Wartime Years and Beyond

On the previous occasion when we presented an episode in the historic backgrounds of shortwave station WYFR, we came to the year 1942.  At this stage, there were just three transmitters on the air at the newly developed shortwave station located at Hatherly Beach, near Scituate in coastal Massachusetts.  These transmitters were on the air with 20 kW as WRUL & WRUW, and WRUS at 5 kW.  Under construction and not yet fully completed at this time were two 50 kW transmitters that could be combined for a total output power of 100 kW.
Our story today covers the events that took place in the unfolding history of this large radio station and its service with the Voice of America during the wartime years, and into the first years of the new peace time back in the middle of last century.
Actually, even before the entry of the United States into World War II and the formation of the Voice of America, station WRUL was on the air with special programming on behalf of the United States government.  Back in September 1939, WRUL began transmitting programming beamed towards Europe in co-operation with the British Security Commission which had established an office in New York City.
Then, in April 1940, WRUL made a series of shortwave broadcasts on behalf of the western powers, urging all Norwegian ships still at sea to head towards neutral or allied ports.  Later in the same year, WRUL began programming in the Norwegian language on behalf of the Royal Norwegian Information Services in New York City.
Special programming in the Arabic language began on February 9, 1942.  Several of the regular programs produced and broadcast by WRUL, together with the other two transmitters WRUW & WRUS, were relayed by the BBC in London and by the Free French station in the Congo, Radio FZI in Brazzaville.  
When the United States government, under the newly formed OWI, Office of War Information, negotiated with the active shortwave stations on the air at the time for a takeover, Walter Lemmon at WRUL fiercely resisted.  It is stated that Walter Lemmon’s loyalty was not questioned; he just wished to retain his station as an independent unit.  During those years, station WRUL was on the air in 24 languages, beamed to Europe, Africa and Latin America.
All of the other shortwave stations in America were taken over on November 1, 1942, and under this agreement, they were still operated by their owners on behalf of the American government. Programming was still produced by many of these stations, though now under the purview of OWI.  
Three days later, at 3:30 pm on November 4, the FCC and the Board of War Communication signed an Order in Washington DC requiring the closure of WRUL and a takeover by the government.  At the same time next day, Thursday November 5, federal agents moved in, entered the station, and officially closed it down.  The program line from their new studios in New York City was cut, and the station went silent.
Next day, OWI programming was fed to WRUL, and the station became an effective part of the newly developing Voice of America network.  That was Friday November 6, 1942.
Then two days later, Sunday November 8, the United States navy carried out its initial invasion of North Africa.  The battle ship USS “Texas” was already off the Atlantic coast of Morocco near Rabat with a 5 kW mediumwave transmitter tuned to 601 kHz.
At 4:30 am local time, the untested ship board transmitter was activated and fed with live programming from its own studio, as well as with off air relays from the BBC London and OWI from the United States.  Shortwave WRUL at Hatherly Beach was now on the air with a co-operative relay of this concerted OWI programming.
That same evening, WRUL was on the air to Latin America with the news of the day, and the list of transmitters shows that the old 5 kW WRUS was now relicensed as WRUX.  The new 50 kW WRUS, still under installation, was now on the air for this broadcast to Latin America, though apparently only on a temporary basis.
In April of the next year, 1943, the FCC cancelled the license for the 5 kW callsign WRUS; and
on May 1, the new 50 kW WRUS was ready for programming.  The additional 50 kW WRUA was ready for programming in the middle of the month, May 15.  Both WRUS & WRUA were combined at times into a single 100 kW unit, usually under the single callsign WRUA.
The old 5 kW WRUS when reactivated as WRUX, was in use for the relay of news bulletins in Morse Code; and later, when a new power amplifier at 80 kW was added, it was noted with regular programming on behalf of the Voice of America.  During this era, the WRUL transmitters were on the air radiating from five rhombic antennas beamed towards Europe, Africa and Latin America.
  During the year 1947, Walter Lemmon gained the right to program his stations at 25% of the time, with VOA-AFRS programming at 75%.  In anticipation of the return of WRUL to its own programming, Walter Lemmon held a celebration at the Boston studios at 133 Commonwealth Avenue on February 7.  However, this matter was not fully settled until mid year as part of the Smith-Mundt Act before Congress.
A new set of callsigns appeared for the shortwave transmitters at Scituate in August 1950, and these were finally formalized by the FCC on January 1, 1951.  Instead of a different callsign for each transmitter, they were all bundled together under the one callsign WRUL, with a suffix number indicating each specific unit.  These are the details of the new consolidated callsigns:-  

NYC Coytesville Boston     Hatherly Beach       1950 kW Consolidated Call


The date for the end of official service with the Voice of America and the Armed Forces Radio Service, VOA & AFRS, was set for June 30, 1953.  Beginning next day, WRUL was now back into full private ownership with only its own programming.  However, in spite of this declaration, station WRUL continued to relay some of the VOA and AFRS programming, for the next six years.
That’s where we pick up the story again next time.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 256)

Additional story- Scituate's radio station helped save the world at: