Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Early Wireless Scene on the Pacific Island of Guam

International communication came to Guam when the undersea cable linking San Francisco in California with Manila in the Philippines was completed more than one hundred years ago.  The underwater section from San Francisco to Honolulu was completed during the year 1902; and in 1903, the three sections linking Honolulu to Manila via Wake Island and Guam were completed by two cable ships, the Anglia and the Colonia.  The final cable junction with Guam was connected on June 5, 1903. 
            Initially, a temporary wooden shack housed the equipment for the cable terminal just off the beach at Sumay near Agana on the western coast of the island of Guam.  On July 4, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt officially opened this new TransPacific cable system, and then on April 2 of the following year, a new and permanent cable house was taken into service.
            Running concurrently with the installation of this massively long cable system stretching for more than 8,000 miles across the almost empty Pacific Ocean was the development of a United States naval wireless system on the island of Guam itself.  Construction work on this new navy wireless station, which was installed on Mt. Macajna some two miles south west of the island capital Agana, began during the year 1904.
            The two wireless masts were imported into Guam, as was all of the electrical equipment, including a 3 kW spark transmitter and an electricity generator powered by a kerosene engine.  This new wireless station, under the American navy callsign NPN, was taken into service on January 26, 1906 and it served as an intermediate communication link between Honolulu in Hawaii and Manilla in the Philippines.
            Subsequently, a 5 kW German Telefunken transmitter was installed at Mt. Macajna, though in 1914 this was swapped for a 2 kW unit from Cavite in the Philippines in an attempt to obtain direct transmission between the Philippines and the American mainland.  Usage of this transmitter location at Mt Macajna was phased out around the end of World War 1.
             In 1917, a new naval wireless station was constructed on Nimitz Hill, at Asan a little south of Agana.  In earlier times, Nimitz Hill was known as Fonte Plateau, and subsequently as ComMar Hill. 
            This large new station was planned to accommodate two spark transmitters at 100 kW each, though initially only one at 30 kW was installed.  Two towers standing at 600 feet were raised for the antenna system.  The control point for this station was also at Nimitz Hill, and the on air signal from this wireless station was described as wideband and scratchy.
            In 1929, another new naval radio station was constructed at Libugon, a couple of miles inland from Nimitz Hill.  Initially, this station held three spark transmitters, two at 100 kW and one at 30 kW, though soon afterwards, additional regular shortwave and mediumwave transmitters were installed.
            However three years later, all of the transmitters were removed from Libugon and re-installed in an annex building on Nimitz Hill.  At this stage, a Radio Intercept facility was transferred from an isolated inland location to Libugon, and the tall towers were replaced by sloping V antennas.  This Intercept Station, identified as Station Baker B, was in use for monitoring all forms of Japanese radio transmissions during the era that led up to the beginning of the Pacific War.
            During this pre-war era, the navy experimented with the installation of radio stations at several additional locations on the island of Guam.  For three years, a receiving station was in use at Yigo on the northern tip of the island (1921 - 1924); a direction finding Radio Compass Station was in use on Mt. Santa Rosa for three years (1922 - 1925); and an additional transmitting and receiving station was in use at Merizo at the southern tip of the island (1922 - 1925).  The transmitters from Merizo were then re-installed at Nimitz Hill, and the main building at Merizo is used these days as a youth recreation center. 
            Back in the early 1930s, Globe Wireless established their own communication station on Guam, and the shortwave transmitter and tower were located on Globe Wireless Hill, an abutment overlooking the beach and the ocean, between the two Devils Horns on the central western coast of the island.  In July 1930, several shortwave frequencies were approved for use by Globe Wireless on Guam, though no callsign is shown in the official government documents. 
            In fact, no primary callsign is shown in any of the known documents of that era, though two apparently subsidiary channel callsigns, KDC and KFQ, are shown in a shortwave callsign list in 1933.  It is possible that the primary callsign for Globe Wireless on Guam back then was KFH, a callsign that Globe Wireless did use on Guam a half a century later. 
            This Globe Wireless shortwave radio station served a two-fold purpose: As an intermediate relay station between the Philippines and the American mainland, and also for the transmission of commercial traffic and news reports from Guam back to the American mainland. 
            There were two shortwave stations located in the waterfront area of Sumay on the central west coast, not far from the original cable terminal of 1904.  A Marine station was installed in a solid structure building in the waterways at the end of a causeway, a wooden jetty, in 1921, though it was subsequently moved ashore.
            Then in 1935, PanAm established a shortwave radio station in Sumay for communication with its fleet of TransPacific Clipper flights.  PanAM took over and modernized the old seaplane facilities that had been used previously by the Marines, and the PanAM shortwave station was installed in conjunction with the new and superior PanAm Hotel.
            Two days after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, the Japanese invaded the island of Guam and they accepted its surrender, so what happened to all of these many radio stations?  The navy communication station NPN at Nimitz Hill was destroyed in Japanese air raids, as was the Marine Corp station at Sumay.  The Globe Wireless station had been abandoned some months before the war began, though the tall self standing tower was still standing. 
            The PanAm station KNBG was bombed but not destroyed in the initial air raids, and in the evening of the second day of aerial attacks, a final message was transmitted to the continental mainland, and then the operator deliberately destroyed the electronic equipment.  The Libugon station that had served as a naval transmitter station and then as a secret monitoring station was destroyed in aerial attacks, and the location is now an overgrown jungle area on a jungle hiking trail that is popular with visiting tourists as well as with local residents.

            More on Guam next time.                 
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 360)