Thursday, December 24, 2015

* The Radio Scene on the World’s Largest Coral Island: Christmas Island Radio

The encyclopedias inform us that the largest coral island in the world is Christmas Island; that is, the Christmas Island that is located in the Central Pacific.  This particular Christmas Island is the largest island in the scattered nation of Kiribati and it lies 1200 miles directly south of Hawaii.  
            The name for their national entity in their national Gilbertise language is spelled as Kiribati
K I R I B A T I, where the T & the I at the end of the word is pronounced as the standard letter S in English.  Likewise, Christmas is spelled K I R I T I M A T I, but it is pronounced as KIRISMAS, which is very close to the standard English pronunciation Christmas.
            This very large coral island has a total circumference of 100 miles, and on the map its shape is that of a convoluted square with a handle.  It is a low scrubby island and it is located 2,000 miles east from the capital city of their nation, Tarawa.  The entire nation of Kiribati is made up of 34 islands, atolls and reefs widely spread along the  equator.
            In the era before European exploration, this Christmas Island was uninhabited, though it was
visited occasionally by wandering seafarers in their early primitive seacraft.  The first European explorer to sight this island was the Spanish captain Hernando de Grijalva in 1537.  In 1777, the famous English explorer Captain James Cook visited the island on Christmas Eve, December 24, hence the name Christmas Island.
            During the era when the United Kingdom administered the island as part of the Gilbert & Ellice islands, both England and the United States claimed this territory.  However, when England granted independence  to Christmas Island on July 12, 1979, the American claim also lapsed.
            The first settlement on Christmas Island was established in 1882, with a few fishermen and plantation workers, though 23 years later, the island was abandoned when a drought killed off most of the coconut trees.  Seven years later, a second attempt at colonization took place when a group of settlers was brought in from other colonial islands.
            During World War 2, American and Australian forces occupied the island, and the Americans built up an infrastructure made up of accommodations, an airport with a long runway, dockage for shipping, a weather reporting station and recreational facilities.
            In 1957, the British began a series of nuclear tests in the area under the technical eponym Operation Grapple; and five years later, the Americans conducted a series of 36 similar nuclear tests, under their working designation, Operation Dominic. 
            These days, the island contains a total population of local residents numbering a little more than 5500 and  they utilize twin currencies, the Kiribati dollar and the Australian dollar.  The International Date Line actually splits the scattered islands into two different calendar days.  However, Christmas Island has adopted a strange time zone, UTC + 14 hours, and this provides them with the same working day as all the other islands in their scattered nation.
            General Douglas MacArthur was evacuated from the Philippines to Australia in March 1942 and quite quickly he ordered the development of an army radio communication network across the Pacific.  A radio communication station was installed on this Christmas Island and it was taken into service in July 1942 under the callsign WVHW.  This event occurred soon after the Americans began to swarm onto the island for the Pacific War. 
            Two years later, in June 1944, the first entertainment radio station on Christmas Island was inaugurated under the callsign WVUU with 75 watts on 1480 kHz   The callsign WVUU was previously in use a quarter century earlier for a communication transmitter on board the seafaring vessel “Kanakee”.  This AFRS, the American Forces Radio Service, entertainment station was installed by the American Air Force and it was heard occasionally in New Zealand and Australia.
            According to Theodore DeLay in his memorable volume on the history of AFRS radio, station WVUU was closed on February 1 of the following year, 1945.  However, the station was still listed in radio magazines in Australian and New Zealand for two years more, and it was shown as a member station of the AFRS Pacific Ocean Network.
            The next radio broadcasting station on Christmas Island was installed by the British during their nuclear tests in the area which ran from 1957 to 1964.  Volunteer members of the Royal Air Force installed a small mediumwave station on the island and we would presume that it was located within the buildings associated with the Cassidy Air Field near the main settlement areas on the western edge of the island.
            This British radio broadcasting station was on the air with 50 watts on 1450 kHz and it was listed in the WRTVHB in the early 1960s simply as BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service.  This station was on the air with local programming, and it also carried relay programming from the BBC London, and also from BFBS in London. 
            The schedule of service from BFBS Christmas Island showed five hours daily, with twelve hours on Saturday and Sunday.  The station was closed in 1964 when the British forces departed after the conclusion of their series of nuclear tests.
            Probably the most exotic of all of the radio services on Christmas Island was the rebroadcast on mediumwave of a shortwave relay from Radio Kiribati on Betio Island, part of the national capital city atoll Tarawa some 2000 miles distant.  This relay service was first noted in 1980 and it was in use for a couple of years until a transmitter malfunction rendered the Christmas Island station inoperable. 
            This shortwave service was transmitted from Tarawa-Betio with a 1 kW communication transmitter on any of three different frequencies: 9825 kHz, 14802 kHz, or 16433 kHz.  It was in use for only two full years at the most, though it was shown as an entry in the WRTVHB for half a dozen more years. 
            We would presume that the mediumwave transmitter on Christmas Island, a 1 kW unit on 1115 kHz, was co-installed with the Telecom facility near the settlement of London, on the western coast of Christmas Island.  Apparently a projected move to 845 kHz was never implemented.
            The fourth radio broadcasting station on Christmas Island was constructed and installed by Australian personnel in late 1998.  Preliminary plans called for the station to be located quite close to the Telecom facility, but due to fears of mutual interference between the electronics in the two facilities, it was actually installed at another location, though still near to London.
            This new station was claimed by its founders as the first on the island.  It was the first privately operated station, though in actual reality, it  was their fourth radio broadcasting station.  It operated with 500 watts on 93.5 FM and it was on the air for six program hours daily.

            But unfortunately due to lack of funding, the station fell into disuse and it was taken over by the island government at the end of the following year, 1999.  Eight years later again, the station was re-opened under the national government, with a program feed from the distant national capital at Tarawa via satellite.  It is still on the  air to this day, with 500 watts on 93.5 FM. 
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 356)