Thursday, February 04, 2016

Guam Radio: Early Mediumwave Scene on the Island of Guam

Staiton WXLI (via Radio Heritage) 
This is a continuation featuring radio in Guam. Please see the original post The Early Wireless Scene on the Pacific Island of Guam  on January 30, 2016.

It was back in the year 1932, that three radio men got together and developed a plan for launching a radio broadcasting service on the island of Guam.  These three men were Chester Butler who owned a shopping complex in Agana, Foster Brunton an ex-military radio engineer, and George Tweed a navy radio engineer who later became famous as the only American fugitive who escaped and survived the Japanese occupation of Guam.  This group of three men ordered several items of amateur radio equipment from Scott Radio in Chicago, and they assembled a 5 watt transmitter that was installed in a room in Butler Building in Agana. 
            Of course, they needed a radio license and a station callsign for this new radio broadcasting service, and it could take many months to process these matters with government departments in the continental United States.  So they chose instead to borrow the amateur callsign OM2RC from the radio engineer Foster Brunton.  In those early days the initial letters in the callsign, OM stood for Oceania and Mariana Islands, and the number 2 stood for the Second District in that island cluster. 
            On the occasion of the inauguration of this new radio broadcasting station, Chester Butler’s 16 year old son Benny made the opening announcement: This is OM2RC, Agana Guam.  The time is 8:00 pm. 
            It is estimated that at the time when this fledgling radio broadcasting service was inaugurated, there were no more than 10 or 20 radio receivers on the entire island.  Continuing program broadcasts were on the air on Wednesday evenings for just two hours each week.
            During the following year, in May of 1933, the very low powered station OM2RC received a reception report from Mr. Ichiku Haciya in Nagoya Japan, a distance of more than 1,500 miles, but over a totally salt water pathway.
            Exactly one year later during the month of May (1934), station OM2RC was on the air with special programming for the occasion of the annual Fair.  The simple studio and the low power transmitter were still in the upstairs room in Butler Building, and a receiver was available for public listening in the Plaza de Espania. 
            This form of radio communication was so popular in Agana that the Butler family announced that they would place similar radio receivers in villages throughout the island  of Guam.  This wishful planning was never implemented, due probably to the very low power of the transmitter which could propagate a reliable signal for only a very short distance.
            Soon after these events, the callsign was changed from OM2RC to K6LG, due to a change in international radio regulations.  Then in 1936, after just five years of spasmodic radio broadcasting, this amateur radio broadcasting station, the very first on the island of Guam, was junked, never to be revived.
            Next on the international scene was the Japanese invasion and occupation of Guam beginning in December 1941; then came the American return invasion less than 3 years later in July and August 1944.  A couple of months later in October (1944), an AFRS American Forces Radio Service station was inaugurated on Nimitz Hill, Guam, under an American army callsign WXLI. 
            Initially, this new station was on the air with just 50 watts on 1380 kHz.  Even so, it was heard in New Zealand and Australia, due no doubt to the long salt water pathway between the station and the international radio monitors down south.  Soon after its inauguration, the power output of the AFRS WXLI transmitter was increased to 325 watts on the same mediumwave channel.
            To station WXLI goes the honor of being the first station in the world to announce the surrender of Japan at the end of the Pacific War.  It just happened that the on air personnel at WXLI at the time had quick access to the information in their time zone, and they announced it on air immediately. 
            Other radio broadcasting stations came across the information soon afterwards, via AFRS news feeds and other news sources, and thus the event was heralded world wide.  Interestingly, an international radio monitor living in a country town in South Australia gained the information off air quite quickly from a mediumwave station in the Pacific and he notified a radio station in the state capital, Adelaide.  This international radio monitor, Ern Suffolk, was a night shift worker, and he always claimed that he was the first person in Australia to obtain this information. 
            There is a certain amount of confusion regarding the  AFRS stations on Guam during this latter era in the middle of last century.  Station WXLI was installed in a single story Quonset Hut at the naval headquarters on Nimitz Hill, and it was noted regularly on 1380 kHz, though sometimes apparently on 980 kHz alternatively.
            Then there was another AFRS station at a nearby location and on the same channel as WXLI, and this station identified on air as Radio Barrigada.  Sometimes the two stations, WXLI and Radio Barrigada, carried the same programming, and sometimes different programming, and it was difficult in the South Pacific to identify which station was which.  Radio Barrigada was also installed in a single story Quonset Hut, and just a few miles separated the two stations.  Both stations at this stage were on the air with transmitters rated with an output power of 1 kW.
            To further confuse the issue, the callsign for station WXLI was changed to WVTG on January 1 1947, a callsign that had been in use previously for AFRS stations at other locations.  Initially WVTG was the American army callsign allocated to a 50 watt AFRS station on 1450 kHz at Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea.  At the time, Hollandia was the location for the Pacific Headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur.
            This station with the callsign WVTG was soon afterwards transferred to the island of Biak, and then to nearby mainland Dutch New Guinea; and the equipment was subsequently absorbed into a local broadcasting station.
            However, when the Americans took over some of the mediumwave stations in Japan, the callsign WVTG was apparently applied for just a short while to an already established station at Osaka, a 10 kW facility.

            As time went by, the number of AFRS mediumwave stations on Guam increased considerably, until for example, the WRTVHB for 1977 lists 10 such stations, including two on the same channel 1300 kHz.  Most  of these stations were low powered relay stations.  In 1985, all AFRTS stations on Guam were listed as FM only.

Youtube Island History AFRS WXLI Guam Station 1:  Off air programming WXLI and the subsequent WVTG became popular with the local Chamorro people for the local program production, the weekly Guamanian Hour.       
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 362)