Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Radio Scene on an Almost Scottish Island in the Caribbean

Lying some ten miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean is the lonely and almost isolated island called Vieques.  This island is 20 miles long and not quite 5 miles wide.  A dozen or so smaller islets and rocklets may be seen nearby.
            La Isla de Vieques has no permanent rivers or streams; it is subject to tropical storms and hurricanes; it boasts the world’s brightest oceanic bioluminescence in a bright neon blue; and one of its tourist attractions is a 300 year old Ceiba Tree, a silk cotton tree.  According to the international tourist authority, TripAdvisor, Island Vieques boasts several uncommercialized pristine beaches that are listed among the top 25 in the world.  One of these unique beaches is Black Sand Beach, where the sand at the waterfront is very finely ground volcanic rock.
               The very earliest settlers on Vieques were the Amerindians from the mainland areas of the Americas.  They arrived by small boat via the many intervening islands throughout the Caribbean.  About a thousand years ago, the combined inhabitants of Vieques with their various tribal backgrounds developed what is known as the Taino culture.
            It is said that the famous Iberian explorer, Christopher Columbus must have at least seen the island called Vieques during his visit to the Caribbean in 1493.  This small island came under Spanish influence at the same time as did nearby Puerto Rico.  It was described as a lawless outpost way back 500 years ago, and there were attempts by Spain, France, England and even Denmark to colonize the island, though with very little success.
            Interestingly, back during the early colonial era, Scotland ventured into establishing their own outpost settlements in the Americas, though with almost no success anywhere.  Their initial attempt was in the year 1629 when they established a small colonial settlement in what is now Nova Scotia (New Scotland) in Canada.  This was the first of a dozen Scottish settlements in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
            During the latter part of the 1600s, Scotland made numerous attempts to buy Vieques Island which was identified at the time by the British as Crab Island.  In a desperate attempt to obtain the island, a Scottish fleet made landfall and took possession of it in the name of the Company of Scotland in 1698.
            A total of five ships were on their way at the time to what is now Panama and a few of their colonial passengers dropped off on Vieques to found a small Scottish settlement.  However, because of European rivalries in the Caribbean, the Scottish settlement on Vieques was no more successful than any of the other Scottish settlements in the Americas.
            In 1811, Vieques was colonized from Puerto Rico; in 1854 the island was annexed by Puerto Rico; and in 1898 the island, along with Puerto Rico itself, was ceded by Spain to the United States.  These days there are two small towns on the island, Isabel and Esperanza; and the total population of the entire island numbers nearly 10,000. 
            On  September 1, 1922 the Department of Commerce in Washington DC issued a license for a new Commercial Land Station on Vieques under the sequential callsign WGW.  Station WGW was operated by the Bureau of Insular Telegraphy for communication with the main RCA communication station in the regional capital city San Juan on Puerto Rico.  
             An entry in Radio News for April 1925 lists station WGW as a program broadcasting station on 600 metres, 500 kHz.  Many other radio stations in the United States with callsigns beginning with the two letters WG were also listed as radio broadcasting stations, and this would lead us to believe that the Vieques communication station WGW was also on the air at times with entertainment and information programs.  In 1933, this same station WGW was listed with five different shortwave wavelengths, though 52 metres seems to have been their most used channel.
            In 1942, the United States Navy purchased or seized 2/3rds of the island for use in conjunction with their base at Roosevelt Roads on nearby Puerto Rico.  Their original intent was to construct a lengthy stone breakwater connecting the two islands, Pueto Rico and Vieques; thus forming a massive artificial harbor.  This artificial harbor was originally intended to be a refuge for the Royal Navy if Hitler should conduct a successful invasion against England, but it was never constructed.
            In April 2001, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (Vessel No CVN65) was in the waterways between Puerto Rico and Vieques and its planes were on patrol conducting a practice drill with bombing runs against vacant areas on Vieques.  In order to warn the local inhabitants, an American radio station was on the air with information in English and Spanish regarding the air raids.  We would presume that this station was on the air from the USS Enterprise and that one of its many radio transmitters was tuned to a mediumwave frequency in the AM mode.  
            In 2003, local citizens on Vieques began the production of a one hour weekly radio broadcast under the title Radio Vieques and this program was transmitted by two mediumwave stations in Puerto Rico; one in San Juan and the other in Humacao.  This program was on the air for five years, though when it ended in 2008, plans were formulated for the development of a community operated local FM station on the island.
            After five years of planning, preparation and fundraising, the new Radio Vieques was finally airborne four years ago on June 23, 2013 with 4 kW on 90.1 MHz.  Their very appropriate callsign is WVQR, with the W as an American prefix, and the VQ indicating rather obviously Vieques, and the R standing for Radio.

            Here is a brief excerpt of the top of the hour programming from Radio Vieques, the community FM radio station on Vieques Island, station WVQR:-
(AWR/Wavescan-NWS 424)