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Thursday, March 19, 2015
The End of an Era as Rwanda closes Kigali relay site
The unwelcome news, that another important shortwave station is closing, is making headline news in the international radio world. On this occasion, the station that is closing is a Deutsche Welle DW relay station, and the location is at Kigali in the small African nation of Rwanda.
Identified in travel brochures as the Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda is a small landlocked densely populated independent nation located almost in the center of the bottom half of Africa. The entire country, quite hilly, is only 150 miles long and 75 miles wide, and it is completely surrounded by four other independent countries.
The history of Rwanda goes back into the early days of tribal migrations in Africa, and it is understood that the first peoples to move into the territory now known as Rwanda were the Pygmy people known as the Twa. Then, two and three thousand years ago, various sub-tribes of Bantu peoples also moved into Rwanda and they settled into their territories where they became known as the Hutus and Tutsis.
At an international conference in Berlin in 1884, the Rwanda territory was assigned to Germany as part of German East Africa; and the first European to explore the area was Dr. eight years later. During World War 1, Belgian forces occupied the territory; and in 1962, Rwanda was separated from neighboring Burundi and given independence in its own right. In 1994, Rwanda suffered through a horrendous civil war during which anywhere up to a million people were killed.
These days, Rwanda is an independent self-governing country with a population of 12 million; its capital city is Kigali with one million. The peoples of this nation speak three official languages; English, French and Kinyarwanda.
Communication by Morse Code wireless was introduced to Rwanda with the installation of a wireless station in Kigali in 1930. This station operated with French TSF equipment and it was established for communication with a similar station in Bujumbura in neighboring Burundi. A small regional network of similar TSF stations was subsequently installed throughout the twin territories of Burundi/Rwanda.
It was in 1963 that the German shortwave station was constructed in the rolling hillsides a few miles east of Kinyinya, ten miles north of the city of Kigali. This African shortwave station was the first relay station that was established by Deutsche Welle, whose head office at the time was in Cologne in West Germany.
Their first transmitter was a small unit rated at just 600 watts and it was taken into service on August 30, 1963. The morning service was transmitted on 7225 kHz and the evening service on 7295 kHz.
The earliest known monitoring report of the new Deutsche Welle Kigali was from a listener in New Zealand who heard this original low power unit in February of the next year (1964). At the time, it was suggested that the power level would soon be raised to 10 kW.
Initially, programming for DW Kigali was prerecorded on tape at the studios in Cologne and flown out to Kigali where it was subsequently played on air in parallel with the same programming as was heard from the DW shortwave station at Julich in Germany. Occasional off-air programming on shortwave from Germany was received in Kigali and fed into the low powered transmitter for reception in nearby areas in Africa.
When the 600 watt transmitter in Kigali was not on the air with a program relay, the station engineers reduced the power level and operated it as an amateur station under the call 9X5 for communication with DW headquarters in Germany.
On October 24 of the following year (1965), a 250 kW Marconi shortwave transmitter from England, model BD272, was officially inaugurated and this replaced the temporary low power unit. The antenna systems at this stage were made up of a pair of curtains with a passive reflector in between, and also a set of omni-directional quadrant radiators.
At the same time, a receiver station located a dozen miles from the transmitter station was also taken into service. Rhombic antennas at the receiver station were focused on Germany and they received the program feed via a shortwave transmitter located at the Deutsche Telekom communication station at Bockhagen in West Germany.
A second Marconi transmitter at 250 kW, model B6122, was installed in 1969 and taken into regular service in July. At this stage, the antenna farm was made up of 4 pairs of curtain antennas with a passive reflector in between, and also the previously mentioned omni-directional quadrant.
The 10th anniversary of DW Kigali was celebrated on October 24, 1975 and many Rwandan government dignitaries as well as senior German personnel attended the event that was staged in the Transmitter Hall at Kinyinya, overlooking the national capital ten miles distant.
A modernization program was implemented at DW Kigali in 1992 with new transmitters and new antenna systems, replacing all of the 30 year old equipment. Two BBC/ABB transmitters at 250 kW, model SK53C3-2P, were installed and activated in 1992; and two more transmitters of the same model were activated during the following year (1993), together with 4 pairs of new curtains.
Quite recently, Deutsche Welle announced the closing of their African relay station effective at the end of the current B14 Transmission Period, next weekend. The station will be effectively closed, and completely dismantled.
Currently, Deutsche Welle Kigali can be seen on Google Earth, directly north of Kigali in Rwanda. Also clearly visible in the associated colored photographs are the two transmitter buildings adjutting each other, and the two sets of feeder lines leading north and south to the two separated areas in the antenna farm.
The international radio world is saying goodbye to one of the world’s important shortwave relay stations, and we too would say to Deutsche Welle Kigali: Goodbye, and thank you for a work well done.
We are living in an era when there seems to be a cavalcade of shortwave stations leaving the air for ever. However we might add, as all international radio monitors know so well, that the shortwave bands these days still remain overcrowded with a host of active shortwave broadcast stations.