Friday, April 17, 2015

The Radio Scene in Isolated Andaman Island

At the beginning of March, an important radio event was held in Port Blair, the capital city of the Andaman Islands.  This radio event was a large international amateur radio convention lasting nearly two weeks, and the initial venue was the Hotel Megapode Nest.  Hamtec 2015 was held for two days, March 6 & 7, and the following ten days were given to lectures and presentations about the many varied aspects of amateur radio operating and activity.
            This event was organized by NIAR the National Institute of Amateur Radio in Hyderabad, India, and two special callsigns were issued for the occasion; VU4A for foreign amateur radio operators who were visiting for the occasion, and VU4I for Indian amateur radio operators from the Indian mainland.  Among the NIAR officials visiting Port Blair for this occasion, was Jose Jacob VU2JOS, who also provided us with an update on the radio and TV scene in the Andaman Islands.
            The Andaman & Nicobar Islands are a long chain of 572 tropical islands that extend for a distance of some 600 miles, though only 36 are inhabited.  They are located in the Bay of Bengal on the edge of the Indian Ocean, and they are a territory belong to the Republic of India.  The total population is a little over rd million, with Port Blair as the capital city, and the only city in the entire island cluster.                    
            Some of the small primitive tribes living on isolated islands prefer to remain in isolation without any contact with the outside world.  Some of these languages have not been identified and the relationship to other known languages is to this day completely unknown.
            Port Blair is located on the east coast of South Andaman Island.  It is the administrative center for both sections of the island cluster, the Andamans and the Nicobars, and it is developing into a recognized tourist destination.
            The original inhabitants of the Andaman Islands are aboriginal peoples whose origins and languages are not fully substantiated.  It is thought that they arrived more than 2,000 years ago and until European exploration of Asia and the Pacific took place, they lived in almost complete isolation.  Occasional early travelers, such as the famous Marco Polo and others, described the islanders as very primitive, practicing a form of cannibalism.
            The British came in 1789 and they established a settlement at what is now Port Blair, on South Andaman Island.  The islands were occupied by the Japanese for two and half years beginning in March 1942.
            The first wireless station in the Andaman Islands was installed by the British in Port Blair just before the beginning of World War 1 and it was on the air in Morse Code under the callsign ROB.  Callsigns for early wireless stations in the eastern area of what was greater India under the British raj all began with the twin letters RO.  After the war, the call in Port Bair was amended to VTP.
            The first radio broadcasting station installed in Port Blair was a 1 kW mediumwave unit operating on 1440 kHz.  The transmitter was located in the studio building at suburban Dilanipur which was built on an 8 acre property on an elevated area. 
            This first transmitter was a Japanese NEC Model No. MB122 and it was officially inaugurated on August 15, 1959.  When the mediumwave band in Asia and elsewhere was changed from 10 kHz spacing to 9 kHz on November 23, 1978, Port Blair remained on the same 1440 kHz.     
            In 1975, an additional transmitter facility was constructed for All India Radio on a 40 acre property at Brookshabad, 10 miles south from the studio building.  Two 10 kW Indian made transmitters Model HMB104 were installed and these were inaugurated on  
November 6, 1975. 
            The original frequency was 680 kHz and this was modified to 684 kHz under the 9 kHz spacing in 1984.  At this stage, the  original 1 kW unit was taken into alternative programming, though subsequently it was in use only for emergency purposes, including as a studio to transmitter program link when needed.  This unit was removed from service and dismantled in November 2004 and it was replaced in t5he same space by an FM transmitter.
            In order to provide adequate coverage to distant islands in the Andamans & Nicobars, a Japanese 10 kW NEC shortwave transmitter Model HFB7840 was installed with a dipole antenna system beamed north & south.   A lengthy series of drawn out test broadcasts began in September 1988, and it was taken into full service on March 11, 1989.  Test frequencies back then were 4760 kHz, 6000 kHz, 7180 kHz & 9690 kHz, though 4760 kHz & 7115 kHz became its standard frequencies.   
            Fourteen years later, one of the exciters developed a fault, and the transmitter power was dropped back to 4 kW.   A specially made Indian exciter was installed in January of the following year (2004) and the transmitter power was then increased to 8½ kW.
            In 1992 an additional studio building was constructed on the hill top property adjacent to the older building.  The total staff at AIR Port Blair in all areas of activity these days is a little more than 100, and they produce programming in the national and local languages.
            A new 100 kW mediumwave transmitter manufactured by Thales in Switzerland was commissioned on the same 684 kHz channel in May 2003, and the twin 10 kW units were retained for standby usage.  A 10 kW Nautel FM transmitter was installed at the studio premises in Dilanipur for direct broadcast of the VB Vividh Bharati network programming during the following year (2004).

            During the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 2005, AIR Port Blair carried special emergency programming.  When power was not available locally and the station was off the air, a 250 kW shortwave transmitter in Delhi carried special programing beamed to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 319)