Monday, January 19, 2015

Focus on the South Pacific-French Radio in New Caledonia

The introduction of wireless technology into New Caledonia, the French colony in the South Pacific, took place in the year 1920 when a new wireless station was installed at the Semaphore Station in Noumea, the island capital.  The Semaphore Station was a white square tower located on a hill top, a little over 300 feet high.  The callsign for this new maritime wireless station was FQN, indicating a French territorial possession.
            The equipment at the station was changed from electrical spark operation to electronic valve or tube operation in 1924, and a new callsign was adopted, HZG.  Then 8 years later, the transmission equipment was upgraded and modernized at apparently a new location, and again a new callsign was allocated, this time FJP.   Test broadcasts from this new facility were noted in the United States on exactly 6000 kHz, and also 7100 kHz in 1936.
            Two years earlier, in the month of July 1934, photographer and electrician, Charles Graveau in Noumea New Caledonia began to implement procedures in order to obtain government approval to establish his own amateur radio station.  He took to the air during the next year with the use of his home made transmitter rated at just 20 watts input; that is 12 watts output, as listed in a historic document.
            At this time, the Charles Graveau station, licensed with the amateur callsign FK8AA, was simply an amateur operation in use to communicate with any other amateur radio station that could hear his low power signal.  However, as was the custom in those days, there were occasions when FK8AA radiated music from whatever gramophone records were available.
            However, the real objective of Charles Graveau was to establish a radio broadcasting station, and on April 28, 1937 he began a regular program service over his amateur station, FK8AA.  Each Wednesday and Saturday evening his radio broadcasts went on the air, an hour in duration beginning at 5:30 pm.
            This new radio broadcasting service was inaugurated over his amateur radio station in the family home at 44 Rue del Alma, in Noumea, New Caledonia.  He identified the station on air as Radio Noumea", though the official callsign FK8AA was still in vogue.
            The new Radio Noumea FK8AA was first noted internationally in New Zealand in January of the following year 1938, and from that time onwards, the station was sought by many international radio monitors in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.  Even at such a low power, the station was heard occasionally at a great distance.  Even though QSL cards were available, obtaining one was just as difficult as even hearing the station. 
            The hobby and commercial radio magazines in the same three countries, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, frequently reported news about the station, and on occasions even showed successful loggings.  Initially FK8AA was logged on 6120 or 6122 kHz, though in the earlier part of the year 1940, the frequency was adjusted to 6130 kHz.  Perhaps the transmitter was modified at this stage to increase the power a little.
            Around a year later, the station in its sign off routine added two more anthems to its scheduling.  In addition to the French Le Marseillaise, listeners now heard also God Save the King and the Star Spangled Banner, as a tribute to the islands allies.  Soon afterwards, March Lorraine became a signature tune for these still twice weekly program broadcasts.
            However, due to the international attention that was coming to New Caledonia with the massive American presence, the local government began active planning in 1942 for an official government radio broadcasting station.  This new station was inaugurated on air towards the end of that year, or perhaps very early in the next year, 1943.  At that stage, the original FK8AA as a broadcast station was retired, though the amateur operation was revived again after the end of the Pacific War.
            The Australian magazine Radio & Hobbies reported the new government station for the first time in April 1943, when a new channel 6155 kHz was noted, though the previous callsign FK8AA was still shown, perhaps incorrectly.  The final listing with the FK8AA callsign in this same magazine was in July 1946.   
            Programming and scheduling over the new Radio Pacifique Noumea was very similar to the earlier FK8AA, and apparently the concept and perhaps some of the family staff were transferred from the old station to the new.  During the latter part of the war years, the new Radio Noumea increased its hours of on air programming and they also broadcast special programming for troops serving in the Pacific arena.
            That is the story of the amateur become professional radio broadcast station, FK8AA in Noumea, New Caledonia.  Interestingly though, there was another radio broadcasting station on another French island in the South Pacific with a similar amateur background and with a similar callsign.  This other station was on the air under the callsign, not FK8AA but rather FO8AA, and it was not located in New Caledonia but rather in Tahiti.  Thats the story for another occasion here in Wavescan.   

 (AWR Wavescan/NWS 308)