Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What is the Future for VOA on the Island of Tinian?

Super Typhoon Yutu (VOA News)
In our program today, we pick up Part 2 in the radio scene on the Pacific island of Tinian.  Last week, we presented the story of island backgrounds, and we mentioned just a little regarding radio stations on Tinian Island.  This time, we finalize the radio story on Tinian, with the following information regarding the shortwave radio stations on this island.

There is no evidence that an early wireless communication station or a mediumwave broadcasting station was ever installed on the island; no, not under the German administration and not under the Japanese administration, nor under the American.  However in 1944, Japanese forces rapidly strengthened their military presence on the island, and it is obvious that they would have used shortwave radio for distant communication.

American forces took over the island on August 1, 1944 and they then constructed the world’s largest air force base with the presence of 40,000 Americans.  It is obvious again, that the Americans would be using shortwave equipment for communication with airplanes, shipping, and distant headquarters. 

At this stage, the Americans designed the layout of the island similar to the layout of Manhattan Island in New York, even giving the same names to streets and localities as on Manhattan.  These days, the previous airways locality on Tinian is abandoned and inhabited by feral cats and rats.

However during the year 1996, the Voice of America in Washington DC announced that plans were already underway for the construction of a huge shortwave relay station on the island of Tinian.  It was envisaged that this station, on a land estate of 800 acres, would contain six shortwave transmitters at 500 kW each, together with an antenna system comprising seven pairs of curtain antennas. 

Ground work on the new station began in 1996; an experienced company in Kuwait was awarded the contract for the installation of the electronic equipment; the six transmitters would come from a closed shortwave station in Portugal; and the antennas would be installed by Continental-Telefunken.  Programming for the Tinian station would be provided by satellite from the studios of the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia in Washington DC.

The first test broadcasts from VOA Tinian began a little more than two years later on January 5, 1999, when two transmitters were activated at night in order to test for the possibility of arcing problems in the antenna systems.  These two transmitters began regular programming ten days later, on January 15 (1999); by which stage, a third transmitter had already been installed and it too was ready to be activated.

When the Tinian shortwave station was completed, it contained not six transmitters but eight.  There were two Continentals at 250 kW each from the United States, Model 419F2; and six transmitters at 500 kW each from ABB in Switzerland, Model SK552C3P.  These six units had previously been on the air for Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe in the shortwave relay station at Maxoqueira in Portugal.

The Tinian station was located at the northwestern coast of the island, and the antenna systems were arranged in an arc facing the ocean, and Asia.  A total of eleven curtain antennas were erected, including five pairs of active curtains with passive reflectors.

On October 24 last year (2018), Super Typhoon Yutu, described as the most violent wind storm ever on Earth, struck the island of Tinian and wrought untold havoc and destruction, though fortunately, few lives were lost.  According to VOA station management:   “Both stations (Tinian and Saipan), were completely wiped out.  Antennas mangled, roofs partially torn off, fence lines flattened.  Both sites will be off the air for a minimum of six months, possibly up to a year.”
As a result of the massive destruction wrought by Super Typhoon Yutu, programming from the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia has been farmed out to other available stations that provide shortwave coverage into Asia.

In the December 19 (2018) issue of the America journal, Radio World, writer James Careless provides an update to the Tinian radio scene.  So strong were the winds that the concrete counter-weights on the curtain antennas were literally shaken to pieces.  Feed lines and power lines were  knocked down, and the curtain antennas became a mangled mess.  Satellite dishes were either  fragmented, or blown away.  Fortunately, the transmitters themselves were not damaged, though there has been some water seepage.

In a comment by the well known Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott, he states that it would be wise for the United States to retain the usage of at least one of the two damaged shortwave stations (Tinian or Saipan) for Asian coverage.  However, he added, the cost of rebuilding the stations might mean an opportunity for their permanent closure.  Dr. Elliott is well known for his service in audience research with the Voice of America, his production of the former VOA DX program Shortwave Radiogram, and as an experienced international radio monitor.

So what will happen to the shortwave station on the Island of Tinian?  Will it be restored to active service or is it now gone forever?  Only time will tell.

After a week or two, we plan to begin the very interesting story of the other shortwave station that was destroyed by Super Typhoon Yutu, the VOA relay station on the island of Saipan.
(AWR-Wavescan/NWS 519)

Related article:

Super Typhoon Devastates USAGM Transmission Sites
Yutu scored a direct hit on two islands in the Northern Mariana Islands in October

James Carless, December 20, 2018
Two shortwave radio transmission/antenna farms used by the U.S. Agency for Global Media in Saipan and Tinian were ripped apart by 180 mph winds in October. That’s when Category 5 Super Typhoon Yutu ravaged the Northern Mariana island group in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.

Addtional story at: