Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Cook Islands - The Mystery of Another Missing Island

his is our final topic in the mini-series of nine feature articles in which we have presented the story of radio broadcasting in the exotic South Pacific nation of the Cook Islands.  You will remember in our opening topic on the radio scene in the Cook Islands earlier this year that we presented the story of a mystery island, a missing island.  That was the story of Tuanaki, the island with its entire population that apparently was engulfed by the Pacific waters, maybe somewhere around a century ago.
 Tuanaki was the most southerly of all of the Cook Islands; they spoke a Polynesian language almost identical to thyat of the people on other nearby islands; there was trade with nearby Mangaia Island; the island was known to European settlers who lived on other nearby islands in the South Pacific; several European sailors and whalers back in that era claimed that they spent time on Tuanaki; and some Cook Islanders  even today claim that they have at least one ancestor who was born on Tuanaki Island a hundred years ago.
 There was another island in the Cook Island cluster that apparently made a similar disappearance around a century ago, but before we investigate the known information about this another mystery island, we  present a miscellany of interesting left over radio items from the Cook Islands.

Communication Station VMR-ZKS-ZKA
The first wireless station in the Cook Islands was installed close to the settlement of Avarua, right on the beach front on the northernmost edge of the island of Rarotonga.  The land for this new international communication facility was acquired in 1915, though there was a delay in installing the equipment due to the war that was raging in continental Europe at the time.
 Early in the year 1918, work began on the installation of the wireless station, and on April 20, a temporary receiving station, consisting simply of an antenna and a crystal set receiver, was taken into official service.  The complete new wireless station, with both the transmitter as well as the receiver, was inaugurated on September 2, under the callsign VMR.  At this stage, it was stated that an objective of the new station was that all of the inhabited Cook Islands would be intercommunicated with wireless stations operating in Morse Code.
 The Cook Islands first wireless station was modernized in the 1920s with the installation of electronic valve equipment; and in the process of time, the callsign was amended to ZKS, with the usage also of a subsequent callsign ZKA.  This station was developed by C&W Cable & Wireless and it was nationalized into Cook Islands Communications in 1991.  The building that housed the C&W Cable and Wireless station at Avarua was destroyed by fire during the following year (1992).  
 It seems that the original 1918 wireless building at the waterfront is still in use, though these days apparently it is a family dwelling, and it can be seen on Google Earth at 21 12 00 S & 159 48 30 W. 

Coast Watch Stations
Beginning in 1941, the New Zealand government began to install coastwatch stations on eleven of the Cook Islands.  The parent station was located on the capital city island, Rarotonga, with ten substations on other islands. 
 During the crucial days of the Pacific War, Rarotonga reported all shipping and aircraft movements, both friendly and enemy, to Suva in Fiji, and Suva reported by wireless to Wellington in New Zealand.  There was also an interlinking with the coastwatch stations established by the Australian government on other islands in the South Pacific. 
 On February 18, 1942, a disastrous hurricane struck Suvarow Atoll, making it necessary for the operator and two guardian soldiers to climb nearby trees and to cling on until the waters of the tidal surge subsided.  When the ordeal was over, they reassembled the salvageable electronic equipment and radioed for help.  
 Five months later, a relief ship arrived, carrying 6 tons of earth to replace that which had been washed away by the storm, and also coconut palms and other forms of vegetation.  They also brought equipment for the erection of a strong wooden tower 20 feet high.
 On July 26, 1944, all of the coastwatch stations in the Cook islands were closed, due to the fact that the active warfare scene had moved far to the north.  However at this stage, the coastwatch stations on both Suvarow and Nassau Islands were taken over as weather reporting stations, though the Nassau station was closed during the following year (1945).

   FM Comes to the Cook Islands
  The first FM station in the Cook Islands was an informal irregular station that was set up by Mr. Gordon Brereton around 1978 so that he could demonstrate FM reception for the benefit of customers in his duty free shop in Avarua.  Brereton constructed an FM tuner in his own radio shop, and his unofficial music service became quite popular with the local residents. 
 At the time there was no other FM station on the air anywhere in the Cook Islands and his informal, irregular and unofficial FM service apparently received tacit approval from the local authorities.  Even though it was operating at a low power, yet the signal covered most of the capital city island.
 On the first occasion that Brereton submitted an application for a regular FM license, this was denied.  However in a follow up application in November 1979, he was indeed granted an official license , and thus Radio Ikurangi was born. 
 Radio Ikurangi, which was named after one of the mountains that can be seen from the windows of the radio station, was granted a power of 500 watts with the official callsign ZK1ZD and it has always operated on 103.3 MHz.  Over a period of time, repeaters have been installed at different locations, including suburban Avarua, Mt Tekou in the center of the island, and on distant Aitutake Island. 
 In order to relay shortwave programming from other countries, such as from Radio New Zealand International and Radio Australia, Radio Ikurangi has used the famous FRG7 recdeiver, manufactured by Yaesu in Japan, as their shortwave receiver.  They also receive recordings from the BBC and from radio stations in the United States, as a form of delayed program relay.
     Adventist Radio in the Cook Islands
 It was back in July 1982 that Adventist radio programs were first broadcast from Radio Cook Islands and they were on the air twice weekly on mediumwave 630 kHz and shortwave 11760 kHz.  A few enterprising radio aficionados in the South Pacific took the opportunity to tune in to these programs for which QSL cards were issued.
 Then in the mid 1980s, the Cook Islands  along with several other Pacific and Asian locations were given preliminary consideration as a location for establishing the new shortwave service of Adventist World Radio.  However, as subsequent events have demonstrated, Guam became the location of choice.
 Give a few more years, and then the main Adventist church in the Cook Islands began to lay plans for the installation of their own local FM station.  That was in the year 2000, and six years later they obtained a license.  Just three days later, on Sunday April 23, their first test transmissions went on the  air.
 Give three more days and the new gospel radio station was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Jim Maurai.  Station TK ANA 3 is located in the national capital Avarua, and it is heard on 98.7 MHz.  Programming is a mix of local productions and a satellite relay from Life Talk Radio in Riverside California.

Radio Cook Islands QSL (Gayle Van Horn Collection)
Radio Cook Islands QSL Cards
 During the past 60 years and more, Radio Cook Islands has issued more than half a dozen different QSL cards and generally they have been artistic representations depicting local scenes and local people.  The best known QSL card from the Cook Islands shows a man blowing a conch shell, with full QSL text details to be filled in by pen or typewriter.  In 1982, a group of international radio monitors from Australia and New Zealand printed a limited edition QSL card which they took with them on a visit to the Cook Islands.  Then in 1989, the Ontario DX Association in Canada printed 500 copies of a special QSL card for Radio Cook Islands that were sent out by boat.  
Another Missing Island: Victoria Island And now we come to the brief story of the other missing island in the Cook cluster.  Victoria island is, or probably was, located in the far north of the Cook Islands, even further north than Penrhyn Island.  It is reported that a group of copra cutters from other South Pacific Islands visited uninhabited Victoria Island in 1875, and they remained there in their employment for 18 months.  When they departed, the island was again uninhabited.
 During the 1880s, William Marsters claimed that he and a friend by the name of Levy joined a gang of laborers from Fiji and elsewhere who visited Victoria for the purpose of planting coconut groves on the island.  They were left on the island with sufficient food for several months.  In the meantime though, the employment company went bankrupt and the toilers on Victoria Island were forgotten. 
 By the time they were finally rescued, they had eaten everything they could find, including the coconuts that they had brought for planting.  William Marsters described Victoria as a fairly well  wooded volcanic island with a barrier reef and a lagoon.  It was some time after this episode that Marsters settled on nearby Palmerston Island where he was subsequently identified as the father of a thousand descendants. It is reported that Victoria Island had disappeared by the year 1921 when Captain Andy Thomson aboard the schooner Tagua ship went searching for it, but was unable to locate it. 

Strange Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
 In 1937, during a flight over the South Pacific the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan vanished without any apparent trace.  One unsubstantiated theory as to what happened, to them though it is seldom suggested these days, is that they landed their plane on an island and the island subsequently disappeared, in the same way as did Tuanaki and Victoria in the Cook Islands a century ago.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 402)