Thursday, March 12, 2015
Focus on the South Pacific-New Caledonia
French Radio in the South Pacific
In our program today, we return to the radio scene on the island of New Caledonia in the exotic South Pacific. On this occasion, we pick up the story in the year 1940 and this was at the stage when the amateur broadcasting station FK8AA was beginning to fade away and give place to the new government station, Radio Pacifique.
The main island of New Caledonia is long and thin, rugged and mountainous, and in fact it is over 200 miles long, with a population today of more than ¼ million. To cover that area with radio programming, the new Radio Pacifique/Radio Noumea introduced a low power 100 watt transmitter, co-located with the communication station in Noumea, FJP. Their transmission on 6122 kHz was first heard in Eastern Australia in April 1940 and it was described as a loud signal.
Around the same time a mediumwave transmitter was noted on the air under the same callsign FJP and it was heard first in Sydney Australia on 558 kHz (and later on 560 kHz) with a parallel relay from the shortwave service. This unit probably at 300 watts was in use from July 1941 but it was closed in May of the following year due to what was described as wartime conditions.
During the Pacific War, Radio Pacifique remained on the air with locally produced programming in the French language, though occasionally they did venture into English language programming. On occasions also, this station was noted with special programming under the title All Services Radio which was beamed to servicemen on active duty in the South Pacific.
The signal from Radio Pacifique, Radio Noumea, was usually transmitted in the 49 m band, and over a period of time, half a dozen different channels in this band were noted in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Towards the end of the war, Radio Pacifique was on the air with the usage of two transmitters; one on mediumwave with 300 watts on 700 kHz and another on shortwave with ½ kW on exactly 6000 kHz. It should be noted also that Radio Pacifique was often wrongly identified in radio magazines in that era under the amateur callsign FK8AA. When the new Radio Pacifique consolidated its on air presence, the amateur radio broadcasting service FK8AA was retired until it re-entered amateur radio status only, subsequent to the end of the war.
In 1953, two new transmitters were installed for Radio Noumea. The first unit was a French made 1 kW that radiated on 6035 kHz through a doublet antenna. The second unit, rated at ½ kW, had previously been in use on the mediumwave channel 1500 kHz. It was reactivated with a vertical antenna on the tropical band channel 3375 kHz in August 1953. It is understood that these units were installed in the transmitter facility that was already on the air in suburban Noumea.
During the 1960s, Radio Noumea prepared programming for broadcast on shortwave that was beamed to the New Hebrides in French, and to the Wallis & Futuna Islands in French and Wallisian. These broadcasts were on the air as an External Service for somewhere around ten years.
However in 1968, work began on the construction of a totally new radio-TV station for New Caledonia. The site for the studio building was on Rue Guynemer in an outer suburban area of Noumea, and the transmitter facility was located on St. Marie Island, opposite Noumea city.
Then in 1970, Radio Noumea was noted with a signal on mediumwave 1420 kHz. This 4 kW unit carried the main service temporarily for the capital city area during work on the major mediumwave station on 666 kHz.
A local map of the capital city area and nearby coastal waters shows three islands that were classified as St. Marie, three islands that fringed the Noumea harbor area. A Google Earth search shows the three islands, two of which seem to have been the site for the radio transmitter stations.
The irregularly shaped Ile N’gea is the largest of the three St Marie Islands, and in the centre of this island is a white building that looks like it could have been the transmitter building containing the three shortwave transmitters at 20 kW each. Interestingly, the eastern, almost semi-circular bay on this island is known as Antenna Bay. The shortwave service was retired in 1994 in favor of nation wide FM coverage.
Off the southern edge of the larger island Ile N’gea is the smaller St. Marie Island known as Uere island where the transmitter building and mediumwave antenna are quite clearly shown on Google Earth. The tower appears almost as a short shadow, with a circular ground pattern around it. This transmitter site was activated somewhere around the year 1986.
There seems to be no indication of electric power generation on these two otherwise vacant islands, so it is possible that an undersea cable provided an electrical feed from nearby Noumea.
During the 1980s and 1990s, an extensive nationwide network of FM stations was built, and in 1994, Radio Noumea closed out its shortwave service for island wide coverage and beyond in favor of this network of FM relay stations. However, the 20 kW mediumwave outlet on 666 kHz is still on the air and it is heard quite widely throughout the South Pacific vastness due to the saltwater take off for the radio signal.
Then, around the middle of the 1980s, Radio Noumea was noted with a signal on another mediumwave channel, 1260 kHz. The transmitter for this temporary broadcast service was probably the same 4 kW unit which had been on the air previously in Noumea on 1420 kHz.
The transmitter for this 1260 kHz channel was now installed at another location, Mt Aoupinie in almost the exact center of the island of New Caledonia. This temporarily installed unit carried a relay for the islandwide FM radio service while a new FM unit was readied at the same location for use as an intermediate relay unit.
In the second week of September 2005, international radio monitors in the United States and Australia heard a new mediumwave station on the air in New Caledonia. This new facility on 729 kHz proved to be a 5 kW unit at Toupo, a little more than half way up the east coast of the island.
These days, Radio Noumea is on the air via a multitude of network FM stations throughout their islands, as well as via the two mediumwave units; Noumea on 666 kHz with 20 kW, and Touho on 729 kHz with 5 kW. The shortwave units were closed 21 years ago, never to return.
Interestingly, back in the year 1984, RFI Radio France International in Paris, gave serious consideration to building a large shortwave relay station on the island of New Caledonia. At the time, they were studying the feasibility of building an international shortwave relay station on New Caledonia. or taking out a part time relay via the SLBC Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation shortwave station at Ekala in Sri Lanka. However, as things worked out, neither option was taken up.