Monday, April 09, 2018

Animals & Insects in Radio

Back a quarter of a century ago, a news bulletin from the shortwave service of Radio New Zealand International at 1200 UTC on 9700 kHz told an interesting story.  An American alligator had escaped from a shopping arcade in suburban Sydney, Australia, and despite intensive searching, it had not been refound.  Here’s Ray Robinson.

            Thanks, Jeff.  As far as is known, the sequel to this rather strange event was never broadcast, but it would be presumed that the offending alligator was indeed recaptured.  However, this intriguing news item over a distant shortwave station reminds us that animals and insects have played their part in radio broadcasting over the years.  Somewhat intrusively, we might add.

            Back around the middle of the year 1936, a shortwave station in Colombia, South America, was making contact with another shortwave station in the United States. The Colombian station was the shortwave facility of HJ1ABB at Barranquilla with 1 kW on 9555 kHz, and the American station was W2XAF at Schenectady in New York State with 40 kW on 9530 kHz. 

            During the transfer of a radio program from Colombia for rebroadcast in the United States, the Colombian station suddenly went silent.  It was revealed later that a pet crocodile had wandered into the transmitter building, and with one mighty side-swipe of its strong tail, it had successfully wrecked one of the large transmitting tubes, thus effectively putting the station off the air.  According to Radio Guide for February 29, 1936, station HJ1ABB was off the air for two weeks.

            In more recent times, in 1993, the Chief Engineer at the large shortwave station located at Cahuita in coastal Costa Rica reported that a lonely crocodile ventured onto their property.  This wandering animal was promptly removed before it could enter the list of undesirable animals that have successfully put a radio station off the air.  The Cahuita shortwave station with its five shortwave transmitters on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in Central America was successively owned by Radio Impacto, Adventist World Radio, and finally Dr. Gene Scott in California, before it was finally closed in 2009.

            Over a period of years, several Radio Engineers have reported in the American journal Radio World that they have discovered snakes in transmitter buildings, and sometimes even in the transmitters themselves.  One transmitter engineer reported that he once found two snakes in a 5 kW Harris medium wave transmitter model DAX5, and he shared his findings with two photos in Radio World.

            Another radio engineer found a nest of black snakes in a communication building.  He states that snakes like to enter transmitter buildings due to the warmth emanating from the transmitters.  He also states that scattering mothballs around the internal floor of the building can act as a deterrent against the entry of snakes.

            In an article in Radio World for September 25, 2002, Engineering Director Aaron Winski states that he cared for the technical needs of 18 radio stations in Illinois and Wisconsin.  On one occasion, he received an emergency phone call from a radio station in Rushville, Illinois, that was off the air.
            Initially, Winski states, he could find no obvious reason as to why the station had been knocked off the air.  However, when he opened the door to the power supply, he found a snake that had been cooked as it crawled across the terminals of the power supply.  Although the station was not identified in the Radio World feature article, yet the context of the information would suggest that this radio station was an AM medium wave facility.

            Over in Africa back in the year 1988, the evening announcer at Radio Uganda in Kampala was just about to sign off for the evening at the end of the 10 pm news bulletin.  Right at that stage, a five foot long snake slithered into his broadcast booth.  Announcer Francis Bbaale, suddenly exclaimed on air, “Good Night”, and he quickly switched the station off, four minutes earlier than usual. The local newspapers reported that the snake was successfully despatched.

            In tropical lands, the agile mongoose can successfully kill a large snake.  However, on the main Hawaiian island of Oahu, a mongoose successfully knocked a country mediumwave station off the air.  The station was KLEI, the regional location was Kailua, the station was a 10 kW facility on 1130 kHz, and the year was 1982.  The unfortunate mongoose was electrocuted when it crawled across the large insulator at the base of the antenna tower.

            On shortwave, WRMI the large 14 transmitter shortwave station located near Lake Okeechobee in the center of the peninsular state of Florida, reports that: “At any given time, there are as many as 200 cattle on the ranch.  There is also a variety of other wildlife, including alligators, snakes, deer, wild hogs, armadillos, skunks, as well as many different kinds of insects and birds.”

            Radio World in 2014 published a color photograph of an interesting scene, taken by Thais White, wife of WRMI owner Jeff White, with this notation:  “Beside the transmitter building, a cow relaxes beside a pond, which it shares with a few alligators.”

            Well, Jeff – we can’t beat that at Voice of Hope.  In Zambia, we do have cattle that graze on the antenna field.  Here at KVOH, our transmitter building is on the top of isolated Chatsworth Peak, and we have had a few rats crawl into the high voltage power supply and unfortunately cook themselves, but to my knowledge, none has ever actually taken us off the air.  Fortunately we do not have to contend with either crocodiles or alligators in California.

            Well, Ray, I can tell you one more story about animals and radio transmitters.  In 1983, I was at the Association of North American Radio Clubs, or ANARC, Convention in Washington, DC.  At the time I produced a daily one-hour program called Radio Earth which was broadcast on the shortwave station Radio Clarin on 11700 kHz in the Dominican Republic. 

            One night during the convention, I gathered a group of people in my hotel room to do a live program by telephone during our Radio Earth program.  I called the station in Santo Domingo to establish communication just before the program was due to begin at the top of the hour. 

            I had a small portable shortwave receiver in my hotel room, and we were monitoring the station listening for the ID and our cue to begin the broadcast.  But just a few seconds before we were due to begin, the signal of Radio Clarin went off the air.  I got on the phone and spoke with Rudy Espinal in Santo Domingo, and he told me that the engineer at their transmitter site told him that a “cacata” had been electrocuted inside the transmitter and shorted it out. 

            I asked him what a “cacata” was, as I had never heard of that before.  He said he didn’t know the word in English, but it was a type of “araƱa,” which means spider.  I wondered how a spider could short out a transmitter. 

            A few weeks later, I visited the Radio Clarin transmitter site an hour or so outside of Santo Domingo in the middle of a sugarcane field, and I saw the largest spider I had ever seen -- a type of gigantic hairy tarantula -- on the ground just outside the transmitter building. 

            I didn’t know whether it was alive or dead, so I just jumped over it to get inside the building.  I asked Rudy, who was with me at the time, what it was, and he said, “That’s a cacata.”  Now I really believed that a spider could short out a shortwave transmitter.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 475)