Monday, July 09, 2018

A nostalgic look at Radio Veritas Asia

According to the best available information, the shortwave station Radio Veritas Asia made its final broadcast just yesterday Saturday June 30, and the transmitter now lies silent in an isolated and lonely Philippine countryside.  In our program here in Wavescan last week, we presented the story of Radio Veritas on mediumwave, and this week we present the story of Radio Veritas Asia on shortwave.    
As with the mediumw ave story of Radio Veritas last week, so with the shortwave story of Radio Veritas Asia this week; we go back to the beginning, which was just after the end of the tragic Pacific War in the middle of last century.  Back during that era, most of the radio stations that began to appear on the radio dial in the Philippines were a dual operation, on both mediumwave and shortwave.  The mediumwave transmitter gave mostly reliable local coverage, and the shortwave transmitter served a double purpose; to provide fill in coverage for mediumwave shadow spots, and also for national coverage.

Shortwave station KZOK was inaugurated in Manila at the end of July 1947 with just 250 watts on 9690 kHz.  The transmitter was built by Technical Radio in San Francisco California, and the antenna system was a dipole antenna, oriented north and south for nationwide coverage.  Even at such low power, the shortwave station was heard over in England in islandic Europe, as well as you might expect down under in Australia and New Zealand in the South Pacific.  

During that initial era, the station was owned by PBC the Philippine Broadcasting Corporation and the programming was produced in their temporary studios on the 5th and 6th floors of the Pilipinas Building at Plaza Moraga in Manila.  The two transmitters, mediumwave and shortwave, were both located in Quezon City.  Mediumwave and shortwave KZOK was a sister station to the better known KZPI, and their QSL card showed the callsign KZOK in large red letters across the center of the card. 

On January 1, 1949, the Philippines implemented a new callsign sequence for radio stations throughout their island archipelago, in line with the then recently promulgated international radio regulations.  In addition, these two PBC stations were granted a change in their own callsigns, and thus mediumwave station KZOK became DZAB, and shortwave KZOK became DZH5.  Back then, the generic callsign DZH indicated a shortwave broadcasting station in the Manila area, and the number identified a specific shortwave station; in this case DZH5 identified the shortwave station associated with mediumwave DZAB. 

Two years later during the year 1951, station DZAB-DZH5 was taken over by the Catholic operated Santo Tomas University, and it was installed in the university’s Main Building.  At this stage, a new mediumwave callsign was granted, DZST, with the ST standing for the initials of the university, Santo Tomas.  They also issued a QSL card to verify listener reception reports.

However, on December 10, 1958, a high level committee that was meeting at the university gave approval for establishing a high powered mediumwave and shortwave station that would provide better coverage throughout the Philippines, and also for international coverage into the highly populated countries of Asia.  Soon afterwards, land was procured in a rice field on the edge of MacArthur Highway, at Barangay-Dakila on the southern edge of the large regional city, Malolos, some 20 miles northwest of Manila.

Two 100 kW Siemens transmitters were procured from Germany, and test broadcasts began from the first unit on 21675 kHz on November 10, 1967.  This new radio station near Malolos was granted a new sequence in callsigns, and mediumwave DZST became DZVR, with the VR of course indicating Veritas Radio.  The two shortwave transmitters were identified as DZN7 and DZN8.  The second transmitter was taken into service during the following year 1968.  

A new suite of studios was installed in the Catholic Center on United Nations Avenue in Manila, and programming was microwaved to Malolos in a special set of eleven channels, six broadcast and five telephone. 

However, the new Radio Veritas Asia was beset with problematic circumstances that took many years to resolve.  The two German made transmitters malfunctioned, experienced staffing was not available, studio production in the various languages of Asia was not well established, and lack of adequate funding was always a problem. 

For the next six years, from 1967 into 1973, Radio Veritas Asia was on the air with mainly just test broadcasts, made up of usually classical music and test announcements in English.  Interestingly back then, Vatican Radio was interested in the development of Radio Veritas Asia, and they also asked for reception reports of Veritas, with the intent of possibly using the Philippine station as a part time relay for Vatican programming.  

Ultimately in August 1973, Radio Veritas Asia went silent, while awaiting parts from Germany, and also while awaiting the modification and upgrading of the two 100 kW transmitters.  However during this interim period, Radio Veritas took over the 50 kW Gates shortwave transmitter from Radio SEARV, which had recently gone silent at Dumaguete in the southern Philippines through lack of funding.

Radio Veritas Asia was re-opened in May 1975, and the first test broadcasts from the newly installed 50 kW were noted in New Zealand and Australia on 9570 kHz and 11710 kHz.  Again, the test broadcasts consisted of music, and announcements in English.

Finally, the two 100 kW Siemens transmitters were re-activated, and they were taken into service in mid 1977.  Over a period of time, the test broadcasts were phased into regular programming in more than a dozen languages.  By this time, they were utilizing six antennas with various configurations, including log periodic, rhombic and cage.

All went well for the next ten years, until violent political disturbances swept across the entire nation.  Then, on Sunday and Monday February 23 and 24, 1986, insurgents stormed into the transmitter station at Malolos and badly damaged all of the transmitters, three shortwave and two medium wave, and also some of the antenna systems, though fortunately no personnel were harmed. 

As a result, a brand new transmitter station was quickly constructed at a new location, with funding from Catholics in Germany, as well as from the German government itself.  The new shortwave station was constructed near Palauig, almost at the northern tip of a jungle covered small tidal peninsula known as Luan Island.  This Luan Island/tidal peninsula occupies just .1 of a square mile, and it is located 100 air miles northwest from Manila, and 70 miles from its previous location at Malolos. 

Over a period of time, three large 250 kW shortwave transmitters were installed at the new Palauig site, each of which was a variation of the Swiss made Model SK53C3.  The first was inaugurated in 1986; the second in 1988; and the third in 1992.  Eighteen years after it was taken into service, the very first transmitter was dismantled, leaving just the two slightly younger transmitters to carry the full load of programming.

Throughout its more than half a century of on air service, this well known shortwave radio facility with its many consecutive callsigns, has always been a reliable verifier of listener reception reports.  In its latter years, these cards pictured Philippine regional scenes in full color.

Last Saturday (June 30, 2018), shortwave Radio Veritas Asia was closed.  So, what is left now of shortwave Radio Veritas Asia?  

It is stated that the elaborate studio building in Quezon City will remain in service, preparing programming in Chinese Mandarin for distribution over the internet, and Filipinas programming for distribution over a smart phone. 

The original transmitter building on the edge of Malolos was abandoned seven years ago, though efforts are underway to restore it as a historic museum piece. 

The shortwave facility of Radio Veritas Asia on Luan Island near Palauig lies silent, and somewhat abandoned.  What will happen to it next?  Well, we don’t know, but perhaps the future will provide another interesting chapter in this fascinating radio saga in the Philippine Islands
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 488)