Monday, June 06, 2016

Elephant Cage Radio and other Interesting Radio Stories on the Island of Guam

Elephant Cage Radio on the island of Guam!  There are no elephants on Guam, and no need for a cage to contain them.  Let’s go back to the middle of last century so that we can find out about the beginning of this strange phenomenon, Elephant Cage Radio.
            During the early part of the European War in the middle of last century, German radio personnel erected a huge new antenna system that would enable the reception of long distance shortwave stations and that would also enable accurate direction finding of these stations.  Under the direction of Dr. Hans Rindfleisch and with the participation of the German radio manufacturing company, Telefunken, a large circular array of receiving antennas was constructed at Skibsby in Denmark.  
            The outer ring of this circular antenna system with a diameter of 390 feet was made up of 40 vertical radiator elements based on true North.  An inner circle of reflectors was suspended on wooden poles, and the electronic receiving equipment was installed in a specially constructed building at the center of the circle.  This new and unusual radio receiving antenna system was given the code name Wullenwever.
             After the end of the European war, British radio personnel studied this Skibsby radio receiving antenna system and then had it demolished.  However, soon afterwards, Telefunken constructed a new Wullenwever antenna system in Germany itself at Langenargen/Bodensee.  Soon afterwards, the Americans disassembled this new Wullenwever antenna system, transported it to the United States, and re-erected it in Illinois.  
            Then a similar though considerably larger station was constructed near Bondville, a little to the south east of Champaign in Illinois.  This new American station with a diameter of 1,000 feet consisted of 120 wide band vertical monopoles that could tune shortwave signals from 2 MHz right up to 20 MHz.  Even though this station was long ago dismantled, the extended circle can still be seen quite readily on Google Earth.
            A large number of these circular antenna systems, now known under the adjusted name of Wullenweber, have been constructed by many different major countries around the globe.  The cost for each installation can be as high as $20 million, and the largest seems to be a German facility with a diameter of 1350 feet. 
            Over a period of time, the United States has installed a score of these stations in North America, as well as in Europe, Asia and the Pacific.  Russia installed 30 of these Krug antennas as they were known in their language, Canada had two, and Japan a couple also.  At Sugar Grove in West Virginia there were two of these Wullenweber antenna stations side by side; they became operational in 1969 for maritime communication, though they were demolished thirty or more years later. 
            The total number of these massive electronic structures throughout the world is thought to have been around one hundred; and somewhere less than a dozen are still active.  The satellite era finally brought an end to the half century Wullenweber era.  
            On the island of Guam, the American Wullenweber receiving station was located towards the north of the island.  The empty and abandoned circle can be seen on Google Earth at the end of Howth Street; though on Google Maps, you can see the station at the time when all of its equipment was still standing.
            Originally, the Germans named this massive antenna system, Wullenwever; the Americans changed the name to Wullenweber, though officially they were known as Circularly Disposed Dipole Arrays (CDDAs); the Russians called them Krug; though most people knew them colloquially as Elephant Cages, due to their massive size.
            While we are still on the island of Guam, we are reminded that back during the two year period in 1945 and 1946, the naval radio station NPN, under the tactical callsign KU5Q, often carried the relay of radio program inserts that were fed into the mediumwave networks in the United States.  These program relays consisted of news reports, news commentaries, feature programs and local music that were received from China, Japan and the Philippines and they were relayed onward to Honolulu and California.  On many occasions, these program inserts were spliced into the worldwide English language broadcasts from the Voice of America.
            In addition, during the Operation Crossroads atomic tests in the Bikini Islands in the same era, station NPN-KU5Q operated as a co-ordinating point for program relays to the Voice of America in California.
            Somewhere around the year 1980, the Voice of America gave consideration to the possibility of erecting additional relay stations at strategic locations in different parts of the world.  One of the possible locations that was investigated was the island of Guam, though nothing further came from this initiative.
            Then, back some forty years ago, the mediumwave station KUAM at Agana Guam announced that they planned on installing a shortwave transmitter that would relay their mediumwave programming throughout the island and to other islands in the Marianas and beyond.  Radio station KUAM was the first fully licensed commercial mediumwave station on Guam, and it was inaugurated on March 14, 1954.
            At 5:55 pm on that same day, Sunday March 14, the AFRTS station at Nimitz Hill signed off, for what they stated was the last time.  Then 5 minutes later on this the official opening day, that is at 6:00 pm on that same March 14 (1954) the new KUAM signed on with 1 kW on 610 kHz as the island’s first regular commercial broadcasting station. 
            The AFRS station had been on the air for nearly 10 years under the consecutive callsigns WXLI WVTG and FEN Guam, and it was then closed “forever”, giving way to the new commercial station KUAM.  However, as time went by, this was not at all the end of AFRTS stations in Guam.  Over a period of time, several new low powered AFRTS stations were subsequently installed on Guam, initially on mediumwave and later on FM.  
            In 1975, the WRTVHB listed a new 100 kW shortwave station as a future plan for mediumwave KUAM on Guam.  However, this projected station was never installed on Guam, but instead, the entire shortwave project was transferred to the nearby island of Saipan, and the station was inaugurated 7 years later under the callsign KYOI.
            More about the shortwave scene in the Marianas islands in coming editions of Wavescan
(AWR/Wavescan-NWS 379)