Monday, August 12, 2019

Andorra-Small Country, Two Large Radio Stations

site of Radio Andorra
Radio Andorra, shortwave and medium wave  
The European DX Council plans to hold their annual meeting for this year (2019) in the small country of Andorra from Friday September 6 - Sunday September 8.  All who are interested to do so, are most welcome to attend, and you can find the full details on several appropriate web sites. EDXC events & scheduling, presented by Jeff White

In recognition of this coming EDXC event in Andorra, we present here in Wavescan today, the second episode in a four part mini-series on the radio scene in Andorra.
The small independent European country of Andorra, with its total area of less than 200 square miles, is the 6th smallest country in continental Europe.  This small largely independent mini-country, with its own independent language, has a total population of less than 80,000 people, though it welcomes more then ten million visiting tourists each year.

Geographically, Andorra is a small country of rugged mountains and narrow valleys in the high Pyrenees mountains and it is sandwiched in between France and Spain.  This country is just 15 miles wide and 15 miles long, and it experiences many very low level earthquakes, though it has never been struck by a massive disastrous earthquake.

The residents of Andorra pay no income tax; the  country’s main income is derived from tourism; they have no standing army and no navy; and they did not fight in World War 1 nor in World War II.  Most foodstuffs are imported, and their currency is the European Euro, even though Andorra is not a member of the European Union. Their national language is Catalan, though fluency also in French, Spanish or Portuguese is quite common.  English is understood, particularly in the main tourist areas.

The history of ancient Andorra can be traced way back to the earliest settlements in France and the Iberian Peninsula.  Due to its mountainous location, together with the French influence to the north and the Spanish influence to the south, Andorra has maintained some form of independence during the past two thousand years and more.  These days the leadership of Andorra is shared by the President of France, and the Catholic Bishop of Catalonia in Spain.

Andorra lies hidden, high up in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain; there have been two postal systems, French and Spanish; there are two school systems, French and Spanish; and for many years, there were two major radio stations, French and Spanish.

These days however, there are three dozen FM stations on the air in Andorra, thus providing complete radio coverage of their entire country, though there are now no medium wave nor shortwave stations.  However, back in their earlier years, there were two important radio stations on the air in Andorra, on both medium wave and shortwave.  These stations were best known under their titles, as Radio Andorra and Sud Radio.  Here now is the story of the first of these stations, Radio Andorra.

It was way back in the year 1935, that a small consortium of business interests obtained a concession from the ruling authorities to establish a powerful commercial radio station in Andorra.  This concession for thirty years was granted on August 19, 1935.  One of the businessmen in this new venture was Jacques Tremoulet, who afterwards was very influential in establishing several other large medium wave and shortwave stations, including Radio Africa in Tangier, Radio Antilles in Montserrat in the Caribbean, and Radio Trans Europe (Deutsche Welle) at Sines in Portugal.

Construction work for this new large and powerful radio station in Andorra began in mid 1937.  A strong four storey building made of granite was constructed in the main valley in Andorra, between Encamp and Las Elcaldes. This complete new building was constructed on the edge of Pena de les Anelletes overlooking the main highway running between France and Spain, and it contained the commercial offices, the on air and production studios for Radio Andorra, and some have suggested, the two original transmitters also. 

A lengthy Station Profile as published in the American radio journal Radio News in March 1949, states quite clearly that the two transmitters, medium wave and shortwave, were both installed on the first floor above ground level in this four storey studio building.  However, all of the available evidence suggests that the two original transmitters were installed actually in a separate building, the ornate castle like building, right from the beginning.  We would suggest then, that the original plans called for the two transmitters to be installed in the studio building, but when construction was underway, then the ornate castle like building was chosen.

Both transmitters, medium wave and shortwave, were constructed by the French-Swiss transmitter company SFR, which is better known these days by some of its subsequent names, including Thomcast.  The 60 kW medium wave transmitter was designed to radiate on two channels 425 metres 704 kHz (during the day) and 274 metres 1095 kHz (at night).  The 25 kW shortwave transmitter was designed for operation in any of the standard shortwave bands between 5 MHz and 15 MHz.  Two medium wave towers 400 feet tall were erected on the edge of the mountain top Lake Engolasters, high above Radio Andorra’s hillside building, and a feeder line more than half a mile long ran from the medium wave transmitter in the building up to the twin towers on the edge of the lake.

The entire project for Radio Andorra was completed in July 1939, and the first test broadcast went on the air on Sunday August 7.  At that stage, several different channels around 11.8 MHz were noted on the air in Europe and in the United States.  One unusual channel for a broadcast station was 8570 kHz, which was reported in England.

However, due to what was described as a “wartime accident”, the station was off the air for several weeks; and in the meantime, the horrors of World War II began in continental Europe over the first weekend in September.  The so called technical problem was corrected, and Radio Andorra returned to the air with test programming in Spanish and French in February of the following year 1940.  A regular program schedule was introduced a few weeks later on April 27.

However, as the events of World War II heated up, then the programming events at Radio Andorra began to make change. In June (1940), Radio Andorra dropped programming in the French language; shortly afterwards, the Germans attempted, unsuccessfully, to take over Radio Andorra; and the British made a subsequent and equally unsuccessful attempt to take the station over also.  During the subsequent events of the war, Radio Andorra was noted at times with programming beamed to soldiers on service in North Africa, mainly morale boosting music, with very little comment or information. 

In May 1945, Radio Andorra made what we would call a peace time move towards postwar programming, with some of its scheduling drawn from the revived Radio Luxembourg.  Then three years later, the French tried to jam the medium wave signal from Radio Andorra; some said the jamming transmitter was in Bordeaux France, and others said it was actually Radio Monte Carlo (perhaps with Bordeaux programming).

Somewhere around 1950, Radio Andorra first introduced the usage of its famous little 3½ kW shortwave transmitter which was noted over a period of time on several channels at the top end of the 49 metre band. Then in 1980, two used shortwave transmitters at 10 kW each were installed in the castle like transmitter building.   

However at that stage, the license for Radio Andorra was up for renewal, and amidst a lot of political wrangling, the station was closed down soon after 1900 UTC on Thursday April 2, 1981.  Give six more days, and Radio Andorra was back on the air again.  However on the next day, that is, on Thursday April 9, again at the same time 1900 UTC, the police arrived and ordered the station closed.  That was the end.

Six months later, the station engineer stated that he was still testing both transmitters, mediumwave and shortwave, twice each week; and that really was the end for Radio Andorra.
More about the radio scene in Andorra next time.
(Jeff White/AWR-Wavwscan/NWS 548)

Radio Andorra - 1961 (Spanish)

Radio Andorra Jingles (French)

Radio Andorra (Spanish)