Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Mystery of the Unfinished Shortwave Station in South Africa

For nearly half a century, stretching from soon after the end of World War II up till almost the turn of the century, the nation of South Africa endured a lengthy era of political turmoil and internal unrest.  During this almost a lifetime of disruption for many peoples, the era of apartheid, the national government began work on the construction of two major shortwave stations; secret stations that were intended for nationwide and international radio coverage and that were never totally completed. 

            One of these secret shortwave stations, the larger of the two, was installed at a somewhat isolated country location near the west coast of South Africa.  The location of the other station, the smaller of the two, has never been revealed, though we could guess that it might have been somewhere up towards the north east of South Africa.  It was back during the year 1989 that work began on both of these secret shortwave stations.

            The west coast station was installed at Langefontein, a large hilly farm property with a small river meandering through it.  It appears that this property was named way back in the colonial era for its original Dutch settler with the family name Lange.  The Dutch-Afrikaans name, Langefontein, can be translated into English as Long Fountain.

            The Langefontein Farm forms part of a military enclave about an hour north of the provincial capital, Capetown.  A small town with the same name has since grown up as somewhat of an annex to the military site. 

            The original plans for this large radio broadcasting station at Langefontein called for 11 shortwave transmitters at 100 kW each, together with the installation of a bevy of antenna systems to enable complete nationwide coverage as well as coverage of major target areas in Africa and beyond.  Initially, 9 transmitters were intended for installation in this phase of this electronic project. 

            However as events turned out, only 8 of the planned transmitters were actually installed, and a ninth still in its original crates, was never installed.  All 8 of these shortwave units, Thomson Model Number SK51C3-3P from Europe were installed during the year 1991. 

            All 8 transmitters were activated and tested into a dummy load, so that none were ever detected on air by any international radio monitors anywhere in the world.  They were never tested into any of the regular antenna systems that had been erected on the Langefontein Farm.

            The entire project was pretty well completed by 1992 but then it was stalled.  With the unwinding of apartheid through negotiations between opposing parties, the station was no longer necessary.  Consequently, the South African government contracted with Sentech to dismantle the station and to dispose of the equipment.    

            Some of the transmitters were installed elsewhere in South Africa, the still crated transmitter was transferred to Meyerton for intended installation at one of their twin shortwave bases on the air with the programming of Radio South Africa, and 4 of the transmitters at Langefontein were uninstalled and shipped to the island of Guam.  In addition, the still crated transmitter at Meyerton was also shipped to Guam.

            The military shortwave station at Langefontein is no more.  Quite recently the government has been studying the possibility of establishing a Wind Farm on the Langefontein property, for the generation of electricity.  However, the government is currently also placing the ex-radio property on the market for sale. 

            What happened to the subsidiary smaller military radio station that was constructed at an undisclosed location simultaneously with the station on the Langefontein Farm?  This secondary station was intended to fulfill the same purposes as the larger station near the west coast, but its role was intended to be more that of an emergency station to fill in as needed if interruptions occurred at Langefontein.

            Work was well underway on this additional station which would accommodate four transmitters at 100 kW each; they had been procured but never installed.  Where this station was located and what happened to it afterwards, we just don’t know.  But there are some people out there who do know, and perhaps one of these days they will fill in the picture and provide the missing details of this another mystery shortwave radio broadcasting station also.

            And what about the 5 transmitters that were shipped to the island of Guam?  Well, that’s a story for another occasion here in Wavescan.
(AWR/Wavescan-NWS 392)