Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Radio Scene on an almost Canadian Island in the Caribbean

During the past century or more, there have been several calls on the part of the Canadian government, and at times by the Canadian populace, to accept a distant and isolated territory into the Canadian federation.  For example, at some time or another, consideration has been given to the political possibility of various island groups in the areas of the Americas joining with Canada in some form of union. 

Among the islands for which some form of union with Canada has been considered over the years are the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica and the West Indies Federation, all British territories.  However, the island cluster for which the most frequent consideration has been given for a union with Canada are the Turks and Caicos Islands on the edge of the Caribbean and the Atlantic.

The earliest consideration for the Turks and Caicos Islands joining Canada came from the Canadian Prime Minister Dr. Robert Borden in 1917.  Since then, serious consideration has been given to this matter on many occasions, including as recently as 2014 when Premier Rufus Ewing of the Turks and Caicos Islands made a visit to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. 

During his visit Premier Ewing stated that he was open to a possible marriage between his islands and Canada, sometime in the future.  During the 1990s, 90% of the citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands were in favor of a special relationship with Canada. 

Back during the year 2007, Dr. Kim Elliott with the Voice of America in Washington DC, observed that Canada has given consideration on several occasions to the possibility of annexing the Turks and Caicos Islands and that this would provide a suitable location for a shortwave relay station for RCI Radio Canada International.  Back then, RCI was still on the air worldwide.   

The Turks and Caicos Islands are sister archipelagoes lying side by side north of the island of Hispaniola (which contains Haiti and the Dominican Republic).  The Turks and Caicos are made up of 8 main islands with 299 small island cays, 40 of which are inhabited.  They are a British Overseas Territory and they are a holiday destination for North America and Europe.

The Turks were named after the Turk’s Cap Cactus, and the Caicos received its name from two words in the local language meaning string of islands.  The total population is 35,000; and the United States dollar is the official currency.   According to Trip Advisor Travelers Choice, the Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales Island received the best beach in the world award for 2016.

As with all of the islands in the chain of islands located along the edge of the Caribbean and the Atlantic, the original inhabitants were Amerindians who had migrated into the area.  It is thought that the first European to sight the Turks and Caicos was the famous Italian born Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, though the first historically recorded actual visit was made by the Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de León twenty years later, in 1512.

During the following year (1513), the Spanish captured all of the inhabitants of the Turks and Caicos and transported them for slave labor to Hispaniola and other nearby islands.  Thus, it is reported, the Turks and Caicos Islands lay uninhabited for more than a century.

Around 1680, salt collectors from Bermuda settled in the Turks and Caicos and slave labor was brought in from Africa.  The Spanish and French showed an interest in the islands and then in 1799 the English annexed the islands as part of the Bahamas.  The capital city for the Turks and Caicos is Cockburn Town on the quite small island known as Grand Turk Island.  Grand Turk is just 6½ miles long and 1½ miles wide.

The first wireless station in the Turks and Caicos Islands was installed in December 1939.  We would presume that the location was Grand Turk, and that this facility was a forerunner to Cable and Wireless C&W in this island cluster.  The operating frequency was 5975 kHz, and the power level was just 20 watts.

According to the Turks and Caicos entries in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Handbooks, which were issued every second year back then, the usage of a low power C&W transmitter each evening for a brief news bulletin lasting ten minutes or so began in the mid 1950s.  The annual editions of the WRTVHB picked up the information regarding this rare country on shortwave in 1961.  At that time, these evening news bulletins were on the air with 200 watts on 4560 kHz under the callsign VSI8.
Six years later, Arthur Cushen at the tip of South New Zealand reported in the Australian monthly magazine Radio and Hobbies that the transmitter on Grand Turk was a Marconi
unit at 100 watts and the signal was fed into a half way center fed T type antenna system 50 feet high.  At that time, the brief daily transmissions were logged on exactly 8000 kHz.

The shortwave news broadcasts were gradually extended over a period of time but they came to an abrupt end in 1976 when a 1½ kW mediumwave transmitter was inaugurated on 1550 kHz under the callsign VSI.  Both the studios and transmitter were located at Governor’s Beach on Grand Turk Island.

 Four years later (1980), the transmitter power was increased to 2½ kW, the operating frequency was adjusted to 1460 kHz, and a new callsign was in vogue, VHT.  However, the mediumwave station was closed fourteen years later (1994) when a 1 kW FM transmitter was launched on 94.9 MHz.  These days, the capital city area Cockburn Town receives its FM coverage from the government operated radio broadcasting station on the adjusted channel 101.9 MHz.

More about the radio scene in the Turks and Caicos Islands next time, including: What happened to the projected VOA relay station in the Turks and Caicos Islands?
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 439)